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Thus nor the day with brightness, nor the night
With darkness gave them peace. The very earth
On which they lay they feared; nor leaves nor straw
They piled for couches, but upon the ground
Unshielded from the fates they laid their limbs,
Cherished beneath whose warmth in chill of night
The frozen pests found shelter; in whose jaws
Harmless the while, the lurking venom slept.
Nor did they know the measure of their march
Accomplished, nor their path; the stars in heaven
Their only guide. ' Return, ye gods,' they cried,
In frequent wail, ' the arms from which we fled.
' Give back Thessalia. Sworn to meet the sword
' Why, lingering, fall we thus? In Caesar's place
' The thirsty Dipsas and the horned snake
' Now wage the warfare. Rather let us seek
' That region by the horses of the sun
' Scorched, and the zone most torrid: let us fall
'Slain by some heavenly cause, and from the sky
' Descend our fate! Not, Africa, of thee
' Complain we, nor of Nature. From mankind
' Cut off, this quarter, teeming thus with pests
' She gave to snakes, and to the barren fields
' Denied the husbandman, nor wished that men
'Should perish by their venom. To the realms
' Of serpents have we come. Hater of men,
' Receive thy vengeance, whoso of the gods
' Severed this region upon either hand,
' With death in middle space. Our march is set
'Through thy sequestered kingdom, and the host
' Which knows thy secret seeks the furthest world.
' Perchance some greater wonders on our path
' May still await us; in the waves be plunged
' Heaven's constellations, and the lofty pole
'Stoop from its height. By further space removed
' No land, than Juba's realm; by rumour's voice
' Drear, mournful. Haply for this serpent land
' There may we long, where yet some living thing
' Gives consolation. Not my native land
' Nor European fields I hope for now
' Lit by far other suns, nor Asia's plains.
' But in what land, what region of the sky,
' Where left we Africa? But now with frosts
' Cyrene stiffened: have we changed the laws
' Which rule the seasons, in this little space?
' Cast from the world we know, 'neath other skies
' And stars we tread; behind our backs the home
' Of southern tempests: Rome herself perchance
' Now lies beneath our feet. Yet for our fates
' This solace pray we, that on this our track
' Pursuing Caesar with his host may come.'
Thus was their stubborn patience of its plaints
Disburdened. But the bravery of their chief
Forced them to bear their toils. Upon the sand,
All bare, he lies and dares at every hour
Fortune to strike: he only at the fate
Of each was present, flew to every call;
And roused their hearts to fight the poison germ.
Not life he brings them, but the strength in death
To die without a groan-to groan were shame
When he was witness-over him what power
Had plague or venom? In a comrade's breast
They see him conquer anguish; and they learn,
Gazing on him, how weak the power of pain.
Some aid from Fortune, weary of their woes,
At length they gained. Of all who till the earth
The Psyllians only are by snakes unharmed.
Potent as herbs their song; safe is their blood,
Nor gives admission to the poison germ
E'en when the chant has ceased. Their home itself
Placed in such venomous tract and serpent-thronged
Gained them this vantage, and a truce with death,
Else could they not have lived. Such is their trust
In purity of blood, that newly born
Each babe they prove by test of deadly asp
For foreign lineage. So the bird of Jove
Turns his new fledglings to the rising sun
And such as gaze upon the beams of day
With eyes unwavering, for the use of heaven
He rears; but such as blink at Phoebus' rays
Casts from the nest. Thus of unmixed descent
The babe who, dreading not the serpent touch,
Plays in his cradle with the deadly snake.
Nor with their own immunity from harm
Contented do they rest, but watch for guests
Who need their help against the noisome plague.
Now to the Roman standards are they come,
And when the chieftain bade the tents be fixed,
First all the sandy space within the lines
With song they purify and magic words
From which all serpents flee: next round the camp
In widest circuit from a kindled fire
Rise aromatic odours: danewort burns,
And juice distils from Syrian galbanum;
Then mournful tamarisk, costum from the East,
Strong panacea mixed with centaury
From Thrace, and leaves of fennel feed the flames,
And thapsus brought from Eryx: and they burn
Larch, southern-wood and antlers of a deer
Which lived afar. From these in densest fumes,
Deadly to snakes, a pungent smoke arose;
And thus in safety passed the night away.
But should some victim feel the fatal fang
Upon the march, then of this magic race
Were seen the wonders; with saliva first
They smear the limb, whose silent working keeps 1
The venom in the wound. From foaming mouth
Next with continuous cadence would they pour
Unceasing chants-nor breathing space nor pause-
Else spreads the poison: nor does fate permit
A moment's silence. Oft from the black flesh
Flies forth the pest beneath the magic song:
But should it linger nor obey the voice,
Repugnant to the summons, on the wound
Prostrate they lay their lips and from the depths
Now paling draw the venom. In their mouths,
Sucked from the freezing flesh, they hold the death,
Then spew it forth; and from the taste shall know
The nature of the snake whose bite they cure.
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