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And crime let loose we sing: how Rome's high race
Plunged in her vitals her victorious sword;
Armies akin embattled, with the force
Of all the shaken earth bent on the fray;
And burst asunder, to the common guilt,
A kingdom's compact; eagle with eagle met,
Standard to standard, spear opposed to spear.
Whence, citizens, this rage, this boundless lust
To sate barbarians with the blood of Rome?
Did not the shade of Crassus, wandering still,2
Cry for his vengeance? Could ye not have spoiled,
To deck your trophies, haughty Babylon?
Why wage campaigns that send no laurels home?
What lands, what oceans might have been the prize
Of all the blood thus shed in civil strife!
Where Titan rises, where night hides the stars,
'Neath southern noons with fiery rays aflame,
Or where keen frost that never yields to spring
In icy fetters binds the Scythian main:
Long since barbarian Araxes' stream,
And all the distant East, and those who know
(If any such there be) the birth of Nile,
Had felt our yoke. Then, then, with all the world
Beneath thee, Rome, if for nefarious war
Such be thy passion, turn upon thyself:
Not yet was wanting for thy sword a foe.
That crumbled houses and half-ruined homes
Now mark our cities; that the ancient streets
Scarce hear the footfall of the passer-by;
That mighty fragments lie beside the walls;
That hearths are desolate; that far and wide
Fields thick with bramble and untilled for years
Demand the labours of the hind in vain:
All this nor Pyrrhus caused, nor Punic chief,
Nor sword thrust deep. 'Twas civil strife alone
That dealt the wound and left the death behind.3
Yet if the fates could find no other way
For Nero's coming, nor the gods with ease
Gain thrones in heaven; and if the Thunderer
Prevailed not till the giants' war was done,
We plain no more, ye gods! for such a boon
All wickedness be welcome and all crime;
Thronged with our dead be dire Pharsalia's fields,
Be Punic ghosts avenged by Roman blood;
Add, Caesar, to these ills the Mutin toils;
Perusia's dearth; on Munda's final field
The shock of battle joined; let Leucas' Cape
Shatter the routed navies; servile hands
Unsheath the sword on fiery Etna's slopes:
Still Rome is gainer by the civil war.
Thou, Caesar, art her prize. When thou shalt choose,
Thy watch relieved, to seek at length the stars,
All heaven rejoicing; and shalt hold a throne,
Or else elect to govern Phoebus' car
And light a subject world that shall not dread
To owe her brightness to a different Sun;
All shall concede thy right: do what thou wilt,
Select thy Godhead, and the central clime
Whence thou shalt rule the world with power divine.
And yet the Northern or the Southern Pole
We pray thee, choose not; but in rays direct
Vouchsafe thy radiance to thy city Rome.
Press thou on either side, the universe
Should lose its equipoise: take thou the midst,
And weight the scales, and let that part of heaven
Where Caesar sits be evermore serene
And smile upon us with unclouded blue.
Then may all men lay down their arms, and peace
Through all the nations reign, and shut the gates
That close the temple of the God of War.
Be thou my help, to me e'en now divine!
Let Delphi's steep her own Apollo guard,
And Nysa keep her Bacchus, uninvoked.
Rome is my subject and my muse art thou!
First of such deeds I purpose to unfold
The causes task immense what drove to arms
A maddened nation and from all the world
Struck peace away.
By envious fate's decrees
Abide not long the mightiest lords of earth;
Too great the burden, great shall be the fall.
Thus Rome o'ergrew her strength. So when that hour,
The last in all the centuries, shall sound
The world's disruption, all things shall revert
To that primaeval chaos, stars on stars
Shall crash; and fiery meteors from the sky
Plunge in the ocean. Earth shall then no more
Front with her bulwark the encroaching sea:
The moon, indignant at her path oblique,
Shall drive her chariot 'gainst her brother Sun
And claim the day for hers; and discord huge
Shall rend the spheres asunder. On themselves
The great are dashed: such end the gods have set
To height of power: nor ever Fortune shares
With other lands the weapons of her spite
Against a nation lord of land and sea.
Thou, Rome, degraded, sold, the common prey
Of triple despots, of a tyrant rule
Partnered as ne'er before-thyself art cause
Of all the ills. Ye chiefs, with greed of power
Blind, leagued for evil, is your force conjoined
To hold the world in common as your prize?
So long as Sea on Earth and Earth on Air
Lean for support while Titan runs his course,
And night with day divides an equal sphere,
No king shall brook his fellow, nor shall rule
Endure a rival. Search no foreign lands:
These walls are proof that in their infant days
A hamlet, not the world, was prize enough
To cause the shedding of a brothers blood.
Concord, on discord based, brief time endured,
Unwelcome to the rivals; and alone
Crassus delayed the advent of the war.
Like to the slender neck that separates
The seas of Graecia: should it be engulfed
Then would th' Ionian and Aegean mains
Break each on other4: thus when Crassus fell,
Who held apart the chiefs, in piteous death,
And stained Assyria's plains with Latian blood,
Defeat in Parthia loosed the war in Rome.
More in that victory than ye thought was won,
Ye sons of Arsaces; your conquered foes
Took at your hands the rage of civil strife.
By sword the realm is parted; and the state
Supreme o'er earth and sea, wide as the world,
Could not find space for two.5 For Julia bore,
Cut off by fate unpitying,6 the bond
Of that ill-omened marriage and the pledge
Of blood united, to the shades below.
Hadst thou but longer stayed, it had been thine
To keep the parent and the spouse apart,
Strike sword from grasp and join the threatening hands;
As Sabine matrons in the days of old
Joined in the midst the bridegroom and the sire.
With thee all trust was buried, and the chiefs
Could give their courage vent, and rushed to war.
Lest newer glories triumphs past obscure,
Late conquered Gaul the bays from pirates won,
This, Magnus, is thy fear; thy roll of fame,
Of glorious deeds accomplished for the state
Allows no equal; nor will Caesar's pride
A prior rival in his triumphs brook;
Which had the right 'twere impious to enquire;
Each for his cause can vouch a judge supreme;
The victor, heaven: the vanquished, Cato, thee.7
Nor were they like to like: the one in years
Now verging towards decay, in times of peace
Had unlearned war; but thirsting for applause
Gave to the people much, and proud of fame
His former glory cared not to renew,
But joyed in plaudits of the theatre,8
His gift to Rome: his triumphs in the past,
Himself the shadow of a mighty name.
As when some oak, in fruitful field sublime,9
Adorned with venerable spoils, and gifts
Of bygone leaders, by its weight to earth
With feeble roots still clings; its naked arms
And hollow trunk, though leafless, give a shade;
And though condemned beneath the tempest's shock
To speedy fall, amid the sturdier trees
In sacred grandeur rules the forest still.
No such repute had Caesar won, nor fame;
But energy was his that could not rest-
The only shame he knew was not to win.
Keen and unvanquished,10 where revenge or hope
Might call, resistless would he strike the blow
With sword unpitying: every victory won
Reaped to the full; the favour of the gods
Pressed to the utmost; all that stayed his course
Aimed at the summit of power, was thrust aside:
Triumph his joy, though ruin marked his track.
As parts the clouds a bolt by winds compelled,
With crack of riven air and crash of worlds,
And veils the light of day, and on mankind,
Blasting their vision with its flames oblique,
Sheds deadly fright; then turning to its home,
Nought but the air opposing, through its path
Spreads havoc, and collects its scattered fires.
Such were the hidden motives of the chiefs;
But in the public life the seeds of war
Their hold had taken, such as are the doom
Of potent nations: and when fortune poured
Through Roman gates the booty of a world,
The curse of luxury, chief bane of states,
Fell on her sons. Farewell the ancient ways!
Behold the pomp profuse, the houses decked
With ornament; their hunger loathed the food
Of former days; men wore attire for dames
Scarce fitly fashioned; poverty was scorned,
Fruitful of warriors; and from all the world
Came that which ruins nations; while the fields
Furrowed of yore by great Camillus' plough,
Or by the mattock which a Curius held,
Lost their once narrow bounds, and widening tracts
By hinds unknown were tilled. No nation this
To sheathe the sword, with tranquil peace content
And with her liberties; but prone to ire;
Crime holding light as though by want compelled:
Great was the glory in the minds of men,
Ambition lawful even at point of sword,
To rise above their country: might their law:
Decrees were forced from Senate and from Plebs:
Consul and Tribune broke the laws alike:
Bought were the fasces, and the people sold
For gain their favour: bribery's fatal curse
Stained every yearly contest of the Field.
Then covetous usury rose, and interest
Was greedier with the seasons; and all trust
Was crushed; and many found a boon in war.
Caesar has crossed the Alps, his mighty soul
Great tumults pondering and the coming shock.
Now on the marge of Rubicon, he saw,
In face most sorrowful and ghostly guise,
His trembling country's image; huge it seemed
Through mists of night obscure; and hoary hair
Streamed from the lofty front with turrets crowned:
Torn were her locks and naked were her arms.
Then thus, with broken sighs the Vision spake:
What seek ye, men of Rome? and whither hence
Bear ye my standards? If by right ye come,
My citizens, stay here; these are the bounds;
No further dare.' But Caesar's hair was stiff
With horror as he gazed, and ghastly dread
Restrained his footsteps on the further bank.
Then spake he, ' Thunderer, who from the rock
Tarpeian seest the wall of mighty Rome;
Gods of my race who watched o'er Troy of old;
Thou Jove of Alba's height, and Vestal fires,
And rites of Romulus erst rapt to heaven,
And God-like Rome; be friendly to my quest.
Not with offence or hostile arms I come,
Thy Caesar, conqueror by land and sea,
Thy soldier here and wheresoe'er thou wilt:
No other's; his, his only be the guilt
Whose acts make me thy foe.' He gives the word
And bids his standards cross the swollen stream.
So in the wastes of Afric's burning clime
The lion crouches as his foes draw near,
Feeding his wrath the while, his lashing tail
Provokes his fury; stiff upon his neck
Bristles his mane: deep from his gaping jaws
Resounds the muttered growl, and should a lance
Or javelin reach him from the hunter's ring,
Scorning the puny scratch he bounds afield.
From modest fountain blood-red Rubicon
In summer's heat flows on; his pigmy tide
Creeps through the valleys and with slender marge
Divides the Italian peasant from the Gaul.
Then winter gave him strength, and fraught with rain
The third day's crescent moon; while Eastern winds
Thawed from the Alpine slopes the yielding snow.
The cavalry first form across the stream
To break the torrent's force; the rest with ease
Beneath their shelter gain the further bank.
When Caesar crossed and trod beneath his feet
The soil of Italy's forbidden fields,
Here,' spake he, 'peace, here broken laws be left;
Farewell to treaties. Fortune, lead me on;
War is our judge, and in the fates our trust.'
Then in the shades of night he leads the troops
Swifter than Balearic sling or shaft
Winged by retreating Parthian, to the walls
Of threatened Rimini, while fled the stars,
Save Lucifer, before the coming sun,
Whose fires were veiled in clouds, by south wind driven,
Or else at heaven's command: and thus drew on
The first dark morning of the civil war.
Now stood the troops within the captured town,
Their standards planted; and the trumpet clang
Rang forth in harsh alarums, giving note
Of impious strife: roused from their sleep the men
Rushed to the hall and snatched the ancient arms
Long hanging through the years of peace; the shield
With crumbling frame; dark with the tooth of rust
Their swords; 11 and javelins with blunted point.
But when the well-known signs and eagles shone,
And Caesar towering o'er the throng was seen,
They shook for terror, fear possessed their limbs,
And thoughts unuttered stirred within their souls.
O miserable those to whom their home
Denies the peace that all men else enjoy!
Placed as we are beside the Northern bounds
And scarce a footstep from the restless Gaul,
We fall the first; would that our lot had been
Beneath the Eastern sky, or frozen North,
To lead a wandering life, rather than keep
' The gates of Latium. Brennus sacked the town
' And Hannibal, and all the Teuton hosts.
' This is the path when Rome's the prize of war.'
Deep in their breasts they breathed the silent moan;
But dared not speak their sorrow nor their fear.
As when in winter all the fields are still,
And birds are voiceless, and no murmured sound
Breaks on the silence of the central sea;
So deep the stillness. But when through the shades
The day had broken, lo! the torch of war!
For by the hand of Fate is swift dispersed
All Caesar's shame of battle, and his mind
Scarce doubted more; and Fortune toiled to make
His action just and give him cause for arms.
For while Rome wavered and her patriots' names
Were loud and frequent in the mouths of men,
The Senate angered and in scorn of right 12
Drove out the Tribunes who withstood their will.
To Caesar's troops already on the march
They haste with Curio, who in former days
With bold and venal tongue had dared to speak
For Freedom, and to voice the people's wrongs,
And summon to their side the chiefs in arms.
Who, when he saw that Caesar doubted still,
Spake out; ' So long as I the rostrum held
' By this my voice against the Senate's will
' Was thy command prolonged, and to thy side
' By me were drawn the wavering men of Rome.
' Mute now are laws in war; we from our hearths
Are driven, yet willing exiles; for thine arms
Shall make us citizens of Rome again.
'Strike;13 for no strength as yet the foe hath gained.
'To pause when ready is to court defeat:
'Like risk, like labour, thou hast known before,
'But never such reward. Could Gallia hold
'Thine armies ten long years ere victory came,
'That little nook of earth? One paltry fight
'Or twain, fought out by thy resistless hand,
'And Rome for thee shall have subdued the world:
'Tis true no triumph now would bring thee home;
'No captive tribes would grace thy chariot wheels
'Winding in pomp around the ancient hill:
'Spite, gnawing spite, denies thee all thy due;
For all thy conquests, for a world well won
'Scarce shalt thou go unpunished. Yet 'tis fate
'Thou should'st subdue thy kinsman: share the world
'With him thou canst not; rule thou canst, alone.'
As when at Elis' festival a horse
In stable pent gnaws at his prison bars
Impatient, and should clamour from without
Strike on his ear, bounds furious at restraint,
So then was Caesar, eager for the fight,
Stirred by the words of Curio. To the ranks
He bids his soldiers; with majestic mien
And hand commanding silence as they come.
Comrades,' he cried, ' victorious returned,
'Who by my side for ten long years have faced,
'Mid Alpine winters and on Arctic shores,
'The thousand dangers of the battle-field---
Is this our country's welcome, this her prize
' For death and wounds and Roman blood outpoured?
' Rome arms her choicest sons; the sturdy oaks
' Are felled to make a fleet;-what could she more
' If from the Alps fierce Hannibal were come
' With all his Punic host? " By land and sea
' Caesar shall fly!" Fly? Though in adverse war
' Our best had fallen, and the savage Gaul
' Were hard upon our track, we would not fly.
'And now, when fortune smiles and kindly gods
' Beckon us on to glory! -Let him come
' Fresh from his years of peace, with all his crowd
' Of conscript burgesses, Marcellus' tongue 14
' And Cato's empty name! We will not fly.
' Shall Eastern hordes and greedy hirelings keep
' Their loved Pompeius ever at the helm?
' Shall chariots of triumph be for him
'Though youth and law forbad them? Shall he seize
' On Rome's chief honours ne'er to be resigned?
' And what of harvests 15 blighted through the world
' And ghastly famine made to serve his ends?
' Who hath forgotten how Pompeius' bands
' Seized on the forum? the grim sheen of swords
' When outraged justice trembled, and the spears
' Hemmed in the judgment-seat where Milo 16 stood?
' And now when worn and old and ripe for rest,17
' Greedy of power, the impious sword again
' He draws. As tigers in Hyrcanian woods
' Wandering, or in the caves that saw their birth,
' Once having lapped the blood of slaughtered kine,
' Shall never cease from rage; e'en so this whelp
' Of cruel Sulla, nursed in civil war,
' Outstrips his master; and the tongue which licked
' That reeking weapon ever thirsts for more.
' Stain once the lips with blood, no other meal
' They shall enjoy. And shall there be no end
' Of these long years of power and of crime?
' Nay, this one lesson, ere it be too late,
' Learn of thy gentle Sulla-to retire!
' Of old his victory o'er Cilician thieves
' And Pontus' weary monarch gave him fame,
' By poison scarce attained. His latest prize
' Shall I be, Caesar, I, who would not quit
' My conquering eagles at his proud command?
' Nay, if no triumph is reserved for me,
' Let these at least of long and toilsome war
''Neath other leaders the rewards enjoy.
' Where shall the weary soldier find his rest?
' What cottage homes their joys, what fields their fruit
' Shall to our veterans yield? Will Magnus say
' That pirates only till the fields aright?
' Unfurl your standards; victory gilds them yet,
' As through those glorious years. Deny our rights!
' He that denies them makes our quarrel just.
' Nay! use the strength that we have made our own.
' No booty seek we, nor imperial power.
' This would-be ruler of subservient Rome
'We force to quit his grasp; and Heaven shall smile
'On those who seek to drag the tyrant down.'
Thus Caesar spake; but doubtful murmurs ran
Throughout the crowd; their household gods and homes
Made pause their minds though long inured to blood:
But fear of Caesar and the pride of war
Drew them to him. Then Laelius, who wore
The well-earned crown for Roman life preserved,
The foremost Captain of the army, spake:
'O greatest leader of the Roman name,
'If thou dost ask it, and the law permits,
'I tell thee all: our just complaint is this,
'That gifted with such strength thou didst refrain
'From using it. Hadst thou no trust in us?
'While the hot life-blood fills these glowing veins,
' While these strong arms avail to hurl the lance,
'Wilt thou in peace endure the Senate's rule?
'Is civil conquest then so base and vile?
'Lead us through Scythian deserts, lead us where
'The inhospitable Syrtes line the shore
'Of Afric's burning sands, or where thou wilt:
'This hand, to leave a conquered world behind,
'Held firm the oar that tamed the Northern Sea
And Rhine's swift torrent foaming to the main.
'To follow thee fate gives me now the power:
'The will was mine before. No citizen
'I count the man 'gainst whom thy trumpets sound.
'By ten campaigns of victory, I swear,
'By all thy triumphs, bid me plunge the sword
'In sire or brother or in pregnant spouse,
By this unwilling hand the deed were done:
'Bid spoil the gods and set the fanes ablaze,
Great Juno's shrine were kindled with our fires;
'Bid plant our arms o'er Tuscan Tiber's stream,
'Italian land I'll quarter for the camp:
'Bid raze the wall, I'll drive the fatal ram
'And rive the stones asunder, though the prize
' Were Rome herself.' His comrades lift their hands
And vow to follow wheresoever he leads.
And such a clamour rends the sky as when
Some Thracian blast on Ossa's pine-clad rocks
Falls headlong, and the loud re-echoing woods,
Or bending, or rebounding from the stroke,
In sounding chorus lift the roar on high.
When Caesar saw them welcome thus the war
And Fortune leading on, and favouring fates,
He seized the moment, called his troops from Gaul,
And breaking up his camp set on for Rome.
The tents are vacant by Lake Leman's side;
The camps upon the beetling crags of Vosges
No longer hold the warlike Lingon down,
Fierce in his painted arms; Isere is left,
Who past his shallows gliding, flows at last
Into the current of more famous Rhone,
To reach the ocean in another name.
The fair-haired people of Cevennes are free:
Soft Aude rejoicing bears no Roman keel,
Nor pleasant Var, since then Italia's bound;
The harbour sacred to Alcides' name
Where hollow crags encroach upon the sea,
Is left in freedom: there nor Zephyr gains
Nor 18 Caurus access, but the Circian blast
Forbids the roadstead by Monaecus' hold.
Left is the doubtful shore, which the vast sea
And land alternate claim, whene'er the tide
Pours in amain or when the wave rolls back
Be it the wind which thus compels the deep
From furthest pole, and leaves it at the flood;
Or else the moon that makes the tide to swell,
Or else, in search of fuel 19 for his fires,
The sun draws heavenward the ocean wave; -
Whatever the cause that may control the main
I leave to others; let the gods for me
Lock in their breasts the secrets of the world.
Those who keep watch beside the western shore
Have moved their standards home; the happy Gaul
Rejoices in their absence; fair Garonne
Through peaceful meads glides onward to the sea.
And where the river broadens, neath the cape
Her quiet harbour sleeps. No outstretched arm
Except in mimic war now hurls the lance.
No skilful warrior of Seine directs
The chariot scythed against his country's foe.
Now rest the Belgians, and th' Arvernian race
That boasts our kinship by descent from Troy;
And those brave rebels whose undaunted hands
Were dipped in Cotta's blood, and those who wear
Sarmatian garb. Batavia's warriors fierce
No longer listen for the trumpet's call,
Nor those who dwell where Rhone's swift eddies sweep
Saone to the ocean; nor the mountain tribes
Who dwell about its source. Thou, too, oh Treves,
Rejoicest that the war has left thy bounds.
Ligurian tribes, now shorn, in ancient days
First of the long-haired nations, on whose necks
Once flowed the auburn locks in pride supreme;
And those who pacify with blood accursed
Savage Teutates, Hesus' horrid shrines,
And Taranis' altars, cruel as were those
Loved by Diana,20 goddess of the north;
All these now rest in peace. And you, ye Bards,
Whose martial lays send down to distant times
The fame of valorous deeds in battle done,
Pour forth in safety more abundant song.
While you, ye Druids,21 when the war was done,
To mysteries strange and hateful rites returned:
To you alone 'tis given the heavenly gods
To know or not to know; secluded groves
Your dwelling-place, and forests far remote.
If what ye sing be true, the shades of men
Seek not the dismal homes of Erebus
Or death's pale kingdoms; but the breath of life
Still rules these bodies in another age-
Life on this hand and that, and death between.
Happy the peoples 'neath the Northern Star
In this their false belief; for them no fear
Of that which frights all others: they with hands
And hearts undaunted rush upon the foe
And scorn to spare the life that shall return.
Ye too depart who kept the banks of Rhine
Safe from the foe, and leave the Teuton tribes
Free at their will to march upon the world.
When strength increased gave hope of greater deeds
Caesar dispersed throughout Italia's bounds
His countless bands, and filled the neighbouring towns.
Then empty rumour to well-grounded fear
Gave strength, and heralding the coming war
In hundred voices 'midst the people spread.
One cries in terror, ' Swift the squadrons come
' Where Nar with Tiber joins: and where, in meads
'By oxen loved, Mevania spreads her walls,
'Fierce Caesar hurries his barbarian horse.
' With all his eagles and his standards joined
'He leads the throng that sweeps along the land.'
Nor as they knew him do they paint the chief,
But stronger than the truth, and pitiless
And fiercer far-as from his conquered foes
Advancing; in his rear the peoples march,
Snatched from their homes between the Rhine and Alps,
To sack the city while her sons look on.
Thus each man's panic thought swells rumour's lie:
They fear the phantoms they themselves create.
Nor did the terror seize the crowd alone:
But fled the Fathers, to the Consuls 22 first
Issuing their hated order, as for war;
And doubting of the peril, doubting too
Where safety lay, through all the choking gates
In dense array they urged the people forth.
Thou wouldst believe that blazing to the torch
Were men's abodes, or nodding to their fall.
So streamed they onwards, frenzied with affright,
As though in exile only could they find
Hope for their country. So, when southern blasts
From Libyan whirlpools drive the boundless main,
And mast and sail crash down upon a ship
With ponderous weight, but still the frame is sound,
Her crew and captain leap into the sea,
Each making shipwreck for himself. 'Twas thus
They passed the city gates and fled to war.
No aged parent now could stay his son;
Nor wife her spouse, nor did they pray the gods
To grant the safety of their fatherland.
None linger on the threshold for a look
Of their loved city, though perchance the last.
Ye gods, who lavish priceless gifts on men,
Nor care to guard them given! thus was Rome
Teeming with conquered nations, whose vast walls
Had compassed all mankind, by coward hands
To coming Caesar left an easy prey.
The Roman soldier, when in foreign lands
Pressed by the enemy, in narrow trench
And hurried mound finds guard enough to make
His tented sleep secure: thou Rome alone
Upon the rumour of advancing war
Art left a desert, and thy battlements
Not trusted for a night. Yet for their fear
This one excuse was left; Pompeius fled.
Nor found they room for hope; for nature gave
Unerring portents of worse ills to come.
The angry gods filled earth and air and sea
With frequent prodigies; in darkest nights
Strange constellations sparkled through the gloom:
The pole was all afire, and torches flew
Across the depths of heaven; with horrid hair
A blazing comet stretched from east to west
And threatened change to kingdoms. From the blue
Pale lightning flashed, and in the murky air
The fire took divers shapes; a lance afar
Would seem to quiver or a misty torch;
A noiseless thunderbolt from cloudless sky
Rushed down, and drawing fire in northern parts
Plunged on the summit of the Alban mount.
The stars that run their courses in the void
Of night, came forth at noontide, and the moon
Whose orb complete gave back her brother's rays,
Hid by the shade of earth, grew pale and wan.
The sun himself, when poised in mid career,
Shrouded his burning car in blackest gloom
And plunged the world in darkness, so that men
Despaired of day-like as he veiled his light
From that fell banquet23 which Mycenae saw.
The jaws of Etna were agape with flame
That rose not heavenwards, but headlong fell
In smoking stream upon th' Italian flank.
Then black Charybdis, from her boundless depth,
Threw up a gory sea. In piteous tones
Howled the wild dogs; the Vestal fire was snatched
From off the altar; and the flame that crowned
The Latin festival was split in twain,
As on the Theban pyre,24 in ancient days;
Earth tottered on its base: the mighty Alps
From off their summits shook th' eternal snow.25
In huge upheaval Ocean raised his waves
O'er Calpe's rock and Atlas' hoary head.
The native gods shed tears, and holy sweat
Dropped from the idols; gifts in temples fell:
Foul birds defiled the day; beasts left the woods
And made their lair among the streets of Rome.
All this we hear; nay more: dumb oxen spake;
Monsters were brought to birth and mothers shrieked
At their own offspring; words of dire import
From Cumae's prophetess were noised abroad.
Bellona's priests with bleeding arms, and slaves
Of Cybele's worship, with ensanguined hair,
Howled chants of havoc and of woe to men.
Arms clashed; and sounding in the pathless woods
Were heard strange voices; spirits walked the earth:
And dead men's ashes muttered from the urn.
Those who live near the walls desert their homes,
For lo! with hissing serpents in her hair,
Waving in downward whirl a blazing pine,
A fiend patrols the town, like that which erst
At Thebes urged on Agave,26 or which hurled
Lycurgus' bolts, or that which as he came
From Hades seen, at haughty Juno's word,
Brought terror to the soul of Hercules.
Trumpets like those that summon armies forth
Were heard re-echoing in the silent night:
And from the earth arising Sulla's 27 ghost
Sang gloomy oracles, and by Anio's wave
All fled the homesteads, frighted by the shade
Of Marius waking from his broken tomb.
In such dismay they summon, as of yore,
The Tuscan sages to the nation's aid.
Aruns, the eldest, leaving his abode
In desolate Luca,28 came, well versed in all
The lore of omens; knowing what may mean
The flight of hovering bird, the pulse that beats
In offered victims, and the levin bolt.
All monsters first, by most unnatural birth
Brought into being, in accursed flames
He bids consume. Then round the walls of Rome29
Each trembling citizen in turn proceeds.
The priests, chief guardians of the public faith,
With holy sprinkling purge the open space
That borders on the wall; in sacred garb
Follows the lesser crowd: the Vestals come
By priestess led with laurel crown bedecked,
To whom alone is given the right to see
Minerva's effigy that came from Troy.30
Next come the keepers of the sacred books
And fate's predictions; who from Almo's brook
Bring back Cybebe laved; the augur too
Taught to observe sinister flight of birds;
And those who serve the banquets to the gods;
And Titian brethren; and the priest of Mars,
Proud of the buckler that adorns his neck;
By him the Flamen, on his noble head
The cap of office. While they tread the path
That winds around the walls, the aged seer
Collects the thunderbolts that fell from heaven,
And lays them deep in earth, with muttered words
Naming the spot accursed. Next a steer,
Picked for his swelling neck and beauteous form,
He leads to the altar, and with slanting knife
Spreads on his brow the meal, and pours the wine.
The victim's struggles prove the gods averse;
But when the servers press upon his horns
He bends the knee and yields him to the blow.
No crimson torrent issues at the stroke,
But from the wound a dark empoisoned stream
Ebbs slowly downward. Aruns at the sight
Aghast, upon the entrails of the beast
Essayed to read the anger of the gods.
Their very colour terrified the seer;
Spotted they were and pale, with sable streaks
Of lukewarm gore bespread; the liver damp
With foul disease, and on the hostile part
The angry veins defiant; of the lungs
The fibre hid, and through the vital parts
The membrane small; the heart has ceased to throb;
Blood oozes through the ducts; the caul is split:
And, fatal omen of impending ill,
One lobe o'ergrows the other; of the twain
The one lies flat and sick, the other beats
And keeps the pulse in rapid strokes astir.
Disaster's near approach thus learned, he cries-
' Whatever may be the purpose of the gods,
' Tis not for me to tell; this offered beast
' Not Jove possesses, but the gods below.
' We dare not speak our fears, yet fear doth make
' The future worse than fact. May all the gods
' Prosper the tokens, and the sacrifice
' Be void of truth, and Tages (famous seer) 31
' Have vainly taught these mysteries.' Such his words
Figulus, to whom
For knowledge of the secret depths of space
And laws harmonious that guide the stars
Memphis could find no peer, then spake at large:
' Either,' he said, ' the world and countless orbs
' Throughout the ages wander at their will;
' Or, if the fates control them, ruin huge
' Hangs o'er this city and o'er all mankind.
' Shall Earth yawn open and engulph the towns?
' Shall scorching heat usurp the temperate air
' And fields refuse their timely fruit? The streams
' Flow mixed with poison? In what plague, ye gods,
'In what destruction shall ye wreak your ire?
'Whate'er the truth, the days in which we live
' Shall find a doom for many. Had the star
' Of baleful Saturn, frigid in the height,
' Kindled his lurid fires, the sky had poured
'Its torrents forth as in Deucalion's time,
' And whelmed the world in waters. Or if thou,
' Phoebus, beside the Nemean lion fierce
' Wert driving now thy chariot, flames should seize
'The universe and set the air ablaze.
' These are at peace; but, Mars, why art thou bent
' On kindling thus the Scorpion, his tail
' Portending evil and his claws aflame?
' Deep sunk is kindly Jupiter, and dull
' Sweet Venus' star, and rapid Mercury
' Stays on his course: Mars only holds the sky.
'Why does Orion's sword too brightly shine?
' Why planets leave their paths and through the void
'Thus journey on obscure? Tis war that comes,
' Fierce rabid war: the sword shall bear the rule
' Confounding justice; hateful crime usurp
' The name of virtue; and the havoc spread
' Through many a year. But why entreat the gods?
' The end Rome longs for and the final peace
'Comes with a despot. Draw thou out thy chain
'Of lengthening slaughter, and (for such thy fate)
' Make good thy liberty through civil war.'
The frightened people heard, and as they heard
His words prophetic made them fear the more.
But worse remained; for as on Pindus' slopes
Possessed with fury from the Theban god
Speeds some Bacchante, thus in Roman streets
Behold a matron run, who, in her trance,
Relieves her bosom of the god within.
' Where dost thou snatch me, Paean, to what shore
'Through airy regions borne? I see the snows
'Of Thracian mountains; and Philippi's plains
'Lie broad beneath. But why these battle lines,
'No foe to vanquish-Rome on either hand?
'Again I wander 'neath the rosy hues
'That paint thine eastern skies, where regal Nile
'Meets with his flowing wave the rising tide.
'Known to mine eyes that mutilated trunk
' That lies upon the sand! Across the seas
'By changing whirlpools to the burning climes
'Of Libya borne, again I see the hosts
'From Thracia brought by fate's command. And now
'Thou bear'st me o'er the cloud-compelling Alps
'And Pyrenean summits; next to Rome.
'There in mid-Senate see the closing scene
'Of this foul war in foulest murder done.
'Again the factions rise; through all the world
Once more I pass; but give me some new land,
'Some other region, Phoebus, to behold
'Washed by the Pontic billows! for these eyes
'Already once have seen Philippi's plains! '32
The frenzy left her and she speechless fell.
2 Crassus had been defeated and slain by the Parthians in B.C. 53, fouryears before this period.
3 Mr. Froude in his essay entitled 'Divus Caesar' hints that these famous lines may have been written in mockery. Probably the five years known as the Golden Era of Nero had passed when they were written: yet the text itself does not aid such a suggestion; and the view generally taken, namely that Lucan was in earnest, appears preferable. There were many who dreamed at the time that the disasters of the Civil War were being compensated by the wealth and prosperity of the empire under Nero; and the assurance of universal peace, then almost realised, which is expressed in lines 69-71, seems inconsistent with the idea that this passage was written in irony. Lecky ('European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne,' vol. i. p. 240) describes these latter verses as written 'with all the fervour of a Christian poet.' See also Merivale's ' Roman Empire,'chapter liv.
4 See a similar passage in the final scene of Ben Jonson's ' Catiline.' The cutting of the Isthmus of Corinth was proposed in Nero's reign, and actually commenced in his presence; but abandoned because it was asserted that the level of the water in the Corinthian Gulf was higher than that in the Saronic Gulf, so that, if the canal were cut, the island of AEgina would be submerged. Merivale's 'Roman Empire,' chapter lv.
6 This had taken place in B.C. 54, about five years before the action of the poem opens.
7 This famous line was quoted by Lamartine when addressing the French Assembly in 1848. He was advocating, against the interests of his own party (which in the Assembly was all-powerful), that the President of the Republic should be chosen by the nation, and not by the Assembly; and he ended by saying that if the course he advocated was disastrous to himself, “'Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.'”
8 “'Plausuque sui gaudere theatri.'” Quoted by Mr. Pitt, in his speech on the address in 1783, on the occasion of peace being made with France, Spain, and America; in allusion to Mr. Sheridan. The latter replied, 'If ever I again engage in the compositions he alludes to, I may be tempted to an act of presumption-to attempt an improvement on one of Ben Jonson's best characters-the character of the Angry Boy in the "Alchymist."'
9 Mr. Canning, in his speech on the vote for the Windsor Establishment, said of King George III., 'Scathed by Heaven's lightning, but consecrated as much as blasted by the blow, he yet exhibited to the awe and veneration of mankind a mighty monument of strength and majesty in decay. He stood like the oak of the poet stripped of that luxuriant foliage and spreading those denuded arms which had afforded shelter to successive generations: “et trunco non frondibus efficit umbram”.'
11 Marlowe has it:
“' ... And swords
With ugly teeth of black rust foully scarred.'
12 In the Senate, Curio had proposed and carried a resolution that Pompeius and Caesar should lay their arms down simultaneously: but this was resisted by the Oligarchal party, who endeavoured, though unsuccessfully, to expel Curio from the Senate, and who placed Pompeius in command of the legions at Capua. This was in effect a declaration of war; and Curio, after a last attempt at resistance, left the city, and betook himself to Caesar. (See the close of Book IV.)
14 Marcus Marcellus, consul in B.C. 51.
15 Plutarch, 'Pomp.,' 49. The harbours and places of trade were placed under his control in order that he might find a remedy for the scarcity of grain. But his enemies said that he had caused the scarcity in order to get the power.
16 Milo was brought to trial for the murder of Clodius in B.C. 52, about three years before this. Pompeius, then sole Consul, had surrounded the tribunal with soldiers, who at one time charged the crowd. Milo was sent into exile at Massilia.
17 See Book II., 631.
18 The north-west wind. Circius was a violent wind from about the same quarter, but peculiar to the district.
19 This idea that the sun found fuel in the clouds appears again in Book VII., line 7; Book IX., line 375; and Book X., line 311.
20 This Diana was worshipped by the Tauri, a people who dwelt in the Crimea; and, according to legend, was propitiated by human sacrifices. Orestes on his return from his expiatory wanderings brought her image to Greece, and the Greeks identified her with their Artemis. (Compare Book VI., 93.)
21 The horror of the Druidical groves is again alluded to in Book III., lines 460-490. Dean Merivale remarks (chapter li.) on this passage, that in the despair of another life which pervaded Paganism at the time, the Roman was exasperated at the Druids' assertion of the transmigration ofsouls. But the passage seems also to betray a lingering suspicion that the doctrine may in some shape be true, however horrible were the rites and sacrifices. The reality of a future life was a part of Lucan's belief, as a state of reward for heroes. (See the passage at the beginning of Book IX.) But all was vague and uncertain, and he appears to have viewed the Druidical transmigration rather with doubt and unbelief, as a possible form of future or recurring life, than with scorn as an absurdity.
22 Plutarch says the Consuls fled without making the sacrifices usual before wars. (' Pomp.,' 61.)
23 Compare Ben Jonson's ' Catiline,' I. 1:
The day goes back,
Or else my senses.
As at Atreus' feast.
24 When the Theban brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, were being burned on the same pyre, the flame shot up in two separate tongues, indicating that even in death they could not be reconciled. (Mr. Haskins' note, citing Statius, 'Theb.')
26 Book VI., 420.
29 Such a ceremonial took place in A.D. 56 under Nero, after the temples of Jupiter and Minerva had been struck by lightning, and was probably witnessed by Lucan himself. (See Merivale's 'History of the Roman Empire,' chapter lii.)
30 See Book IX., 1177.
31 Tages. A dwarf, with the figure of a child, but with grey hairs, ploughed up by a peasant near Tarquinii. He betrayed the secrets of Etruscan lore and straightway died. (Mommsen, vol. i. p. 190; Dennis, 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria,' vol. i. p. 373.)
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