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But Caesar carried from the conquered west
His eagles to another world of war;
When envying his victorious course the gods
Almost turned back the prosperous tide of fate.
Not on the battle-field borne down by arms,
But in his tents, within the rampart lines,
The hoped-for prize of this unholy war
Seemed for a moment gone. That faithful host,
His comrades trusted in a hundred fields,
Almost forsook him. The sad trump perchance
Mute for a moment, and the blade in sheath
Grown cold, had tamed their frenzy for the war;
Or else in hope of greater gifts, their cause
And leader they betrayed, and sold the sword
Still soiled with murder. By no other risk
Caesar more surely learned how as he looked
O'er all things else, the height on which he stood
Trembled beneath him. But a moment since
His high behest drew nations to the war;
Now, maimed of all who smote, no weapon left
Saving his own, he knows that swords unsheathed
Are wielded by the soldier, not the chief.
No timorous voice was there; no silent wrath
Concealed; nor doubting mind, as though alone
Indignant at the wrong, and in distrust
Of those in turn distrusting. Fear in each
Had fled before the boldness of the host:
The crime is free where thousands bear the guilt.
They hurled their menace: 'Caesar, give us leave
'To quit thy crimes; thou seek'st by land and sea
'The sword to slay us; let the fields of Gaul
And far Iberia, and the world proclaim
'How for thy victories our comrades fell.
'What boots it us that by an army's blood
'The Rhine and Rhone and all the northern lands
'Thou hast subdued? Thou giv'st us civil war
'For all these battles; such the prize. When fled
'The Senate trembling, and when Rome was ours
'What homes or temples did we spoil? Our hands
'Reek with offence! Aye, but our poverty
'Proclaims our innocence! What end shall be
Of arms and armies? What shall be enough
'If Rome suffice not? and what lies beyond?
'Behold these silvered locks, these nerveless hands
'And shrunken arms, once stalwart! In thy wars
'Gone is the strength of life, gone all its pride!
'Dismiss thine aged soldiers to their deaths.
'How shameless is our prayer! Not on hard turf
'To stretch our dying limbs; nor seek in vain,
' When parts the soul, a hand to close our eyes;
'Not with the helm to strike the stony ground:1
' Rather to feel the dear one's last embrace,
' And gain a humble but a separate tomb.
'Let sickness end old age. If Caesar's slaves,
' Let something more than battle be our doom.
' Deem'st thou we are thy dupes? that we alone
' In civil war are ignorant what crime
' Will fetch the highest price? What thou canst dare
' These years have proved, or nothing; law divine
' Nor human ordinance shall hold thine hand.
'He was our leader on the banks of Rhine;
' Now is our equal; for the stain of crime
' Makes all men like. And for a judge ingrate
' We waste our valour; for as fortune's gift
' He takes the victory which our arms have won:
'But we his fortunes are, his fates are ours
'To fashion as we will. Boast that the gods
' Shall do thy bidding! Nay, thy soldiers' will
' Shall close the war.' With threatening mien and speech
Thus through the camp the troops demand their chief.
When faith and loyalty are fled, and hope
For aught but evil, thus may civil war
In mutiny and discord find its end!
What general had not feared at such revolt?
But mighty Caesar trusting on the throw,2
As was his wont, his fortune, and o'erjoyed
To front their anger raging at its height
Unflinching comes. No temples of the gods,
Not Jove's high fane on the Tarpeian rock,
Not Rome's high dames nor maidens had he grudged
To their most savage lust: that they should ask
The worst, his wish, and love the spoils of war.
Nor feared he aught save order at the hands
Of that unconquered host. Art thou not shamed
That strife should please thee only, now condemned
Even by thy minions? Shall they shrink from blood,
They from the sword recoil? and thou rush on
Heedless of guilt, through right and through unright,
Nor learn that men may lay their arms aside
Yet bear to live? This civil butchery
Escapes thy grasp. Stay thou thy crimes at length;
Nor force thy will on those who will no more.
Upon a turfy mound unmoved he stood
And, since he feared not, worthy to be feared;
And thus while anger stirred his soul began :
' Thou that with voice and hand didst rage but now
' Against thine absent chief, behold me here;
Plunge in this breast, all ready for the wound
And bare, thy sword; and end the war and flee.
This mutiny devoid of daring deed
Betrays your coward souls, betrays the youth
' Who tires of victories which gild the arms
Of an unconquered chief, and yearns for flight.
Leave me to fate; with that I'll wage the war
You I cast forth. For every weapon left,
Fortune shall find a man, to wield it well.
Shall Magnus in his flight with such a fleet
Draw nations in his train; and not to me
' My victories bring legions? They shall reap
' For its mere close the prizes of the war
' Won by your toil, and scatheless join the train
'That leads my chariot to the sacred hill:
' While you, despised in age and battle worn,
' Gaze on our triumph from the civic crowd.
' Think you your dastard flight shall give me pause?
' If all the rivers that now seek the sea
' Were to withdraw their waters, it would fail
' By not one inch, no more than by their flow
'It rises now. Have then your efforts given
' Strength to my cause? Not so: the heavenly gods
' Stoop not so low; fate has no time to judge
' Your lives and deaths. The fortunes of the world
' Follow heroic souls: for the fit few
'The many live; and you who terrified
' With me the northern and Iberian worlds,
' Would flee when led by Magnus. Strong with me
' Was Labienus:3 vile deserter now;
' A homeless exile with his chief preferred.
' Nor were your faith more firm if, neither side
'Espoused, you ceased from arms. Who leaves me once,
'Though not to fight against me with the foe,
'Joins not my ranks again. Surely the gods
'Smile on these arms who for so great a war
'Grant me fresh soldiers. From what heavy load
'Fortune relieves me! for the hands which aimed
'At all, to which the world did not suffice,
'I now disarm, and for myself alone
'Reserve the conflict. Quit ye, then, my camp,
'And leave my standards to the grasp of men,
'Coward 4 Quirites! But some guilty few
'I keep, not as their captain, but their judge.
'Lie, traitors, prone on earth, stretch out the neck
'And take th' avenging blow. And thou whose strength
'Shall now support me, young and yet untaught,
'Behold the doom and learn to strike and die.'
Such were his words of ire, and all the host
Drew back and trembled at the voice of him
They would depose, as though their very swords
Would from their scabbards leap at his command
Themselves unwilling; but he only feared
Lest hand and blade to satisfy the doom
Might be denied; till they submitting pledged
Their lives and swords alike, beyond his hope.
To strike and suffer5 holds in surest thrall
The heart inured to guilt; and Caesar kept,
By dreadful compact ratified in blood,
Those whom he feared to lose.
2 Montaigne (Book I., cap. 23) compares Caesar with Louis XI., 'the most mistrustful of our kings,' who committed his life and liberty into his enemies' hands in order to show his absolute confidence in them.
3 Labienus left Caesar's ranks after the Rubicon was crossed, and joined his rival. In his mouth Lucan puts the speech made at the oracle of Hammon in Book IX. He was slain at Munda, B.C. 45.
4 That is, civilians; no longer soldiers. This one contemptuous expression is said to have shocked and abashed the army. (Tacitus, 'Ann.,' I., 42.)
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