This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Now Caesar left the walls of trembling Rome
And swift across the cloudy Alpine tops
He winged his march; but while all others fled
Far from his path, in terror of his name,
Phocaea's 1 manhood with un-Grecian faith
Held to their pledged obedience, and dared
To follow right, not fate; but first of all
With olive boughs of truce before them borne
The chieftain they approach, with peaceful words
In hope to alter his unbending will
And tame his fury. 'Search the ancient books
Which chronicle the deeds of Latian fame;
Thou'lt ever find, when foreign foes pressed hard,
Massilia's prowess on the side of Rome.2
And now, if triumphs in an unknown world
Thou seekest, Caesar, here our arms and swords
Accept in aid: but if, in impious strife
Of civil discord, with a Roman foe
Thou arm'st for battle, tears we give thee then
And hold aloof: no stranger hand may touch
Celestial wounds. Should all Olympus' hosts
Have rushed to war, or should the giant brood
Assault the stars, yet men would not presume
Or by their prayers or arms to help the gods:
And, ignorant of the fortunes of the sky,
Taught by the thunderbolts alone, would know
That Jupiter supreme still held the throne.
Add that unnumbered nations join the fray:
Nor shrinks the world so much from taint of crime
That civil wars reluctant swords require.
But grant that strangers shun thy destinies
And only Romans fight-shall not the son
Shrink ere he strike his father? on both sides
Brothers forbid the weapon to be hurled?
The world's end comes when other hands are armed
' Than those which custom and the gods allow.
' For us, this is our prayer: Leave, Caesar, here
' Thy dreadful eagles, keep thy hostile signs
' Back from our gates, but enter thou in peace
' Massilia's ramparts; let our city rest
' Withdrawn from crime, to Magnus and to thee
' Safe: and should favouring fate preserve our walls
' Inviolate, when both shall wish for peace
' Here meet unarmed. Why hither dost thou turn
' Thy rapid march, when to Iberian fights
'The war commands thee? Weight nor power have we
' To sway the mighty conflicts of the world.
' We boast no victories since our fatherland
'We left in exile: when Phocaea's fort
' Perished in flames, we sought another here;
'And here on foreign shores, in narrow bounds
' Confined and safe, our boast is sturdy faith;
' Nought else. But if our city to blockade
' Is now thy mind-to force the gates, and hurl
' Javelin and blazing torch upon our homes-
' Do what thou wilt: cut off the source that fills
' Our foaming river, force us, prone in thirst,
' To dig the earth and lap the scanty pool;
' Seize on our corn and leave us food abhorred:
' This people shall not shun, for freedom's sake,
' The ills Saguntum bore in Punic siege; 3
' Torn, vainly clinging, from the shrunken breast
' The starving babe shall perish in the flames.
' Wives at their husbands' hands shall pray their fate,
' And brothers' weapons deal a mutual death.
' Such be our civil war; not, Caesar, thine.'
But Caesar's visage stern betrayed his ire
Which thus broke forth in words: ' Vain is the hope
Ye rest upon my march: speed though I may
Towards my western goal, time still remains
To blot Massilia out. Rejoice, my troops!
' Unsought the war ye longed for meets you now:
The fates concede it. As the tempests lose
Their strength by sturdy forests unopposed,
And as the fire that finds no fuel dies,
Even so to find no foe is Caesar's ill.
When those who may be conquered will not fight,
That is defeat. Degenerate, disarmed
Their gates admit me! Not content, forsooth,
With shutting Caesar out they shut him in!
They shun the taint of war! Such prayer for peace
Brings with it chastisement. In Caesar's age
Learn that not peace, but war within his ranks
Alone can make you safe.'
He turns his march
Upon the fearless city, and beholds
Fast barred the gate-ways, while in arms the youths
Stand on the battlements. Hard by the walls
A hillock rose, upon the further side
Expanding in a plain of gentle slope,
Fit (as he deemed it) for a camp with ditch
And mound encircling. To a lofty height
The nearest portion of the city rose,
While intervening valleys lay between.
These summits with a mighty trench to bind
The chief resolves, gigantic though the toil.
But first, from furthest boundaries of his camp,
Enclosing streams and meadows, to the sea
To draw a rampart, upon either hand
Heaved up with earthy sod; with lofty towers
Crowned; and to shut Massilia from the land.
Then did the Grecian city win renown
Eternal, deathless, for that uncompelled
Nor fearing for herself, but free to act
She made the conqueror pause: and he who seized
All in resistless course found here delay:
And Fortune, hastening to lay the world
Low at her favourite's feet, was forced to stay
For these few moments her impatient hand.
Now fell the forests far and wide, despoiled
Of all their giant trunks: for as the mound
On earth and brushwood stood, a timber frame
Held firm the soil, lest pressed beneath its towers
The mass might topple down.
1 Massilia (Marseilles) was founded from Phocaea in Asia Minor about B.C. Lucan (line 392) appears to think that the founders were fugitives from their city when it was stormed by the Persians sixty years later. See Thucydides I., 13; Grote, ' History of Greece,' chapter xxii.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.