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Now Anxur's hold was passed, the oozy road
That separates the marsh, the grove sublime 1
Where reigns the Scythian goddess, and the path
By which men bear the fasces to the feast
On Alba's summit. From the height afar-
Gazing in awe upon the walls of Rome
His native city, since the Northern war
Unseen, unvisited-thus Caesar spake:
'Seat of the gods, have men deserted thee,
'Thee, Rome, without a blow? Then for what town
'Shall men do battle? Thank the gods, no host
'From Eastern climes has sought Italia's shores
'To wreak its fury; nor Sarmatian horde
'With northern tribes conjoined; by Fortune's gift
'This war is civil: else this coward chief
'Had been thy ruin.'
Trembling at his feet
He found the city: deadly fire and flame,
As from a conqueror; gods and fanes dispersed;
Such was the measure of their fear, as though
His power and wish were one. No festal shout
Greeted his march, no feigned acclaim of joy.
Scarce had they time for hate. In Phoebus' hall
Their hiding places left, a crowd appeared
Of Senators, uncalled, for none could call.
No Consul there the sacred shrine adorned
Nor Praetor next in rank, and every seat
Placed for the officers of state was void:
Caesar was all; his private voice was heard;2
All else were dumb. They sat prepared to vote
For him a throne or temple; for themselves
Or death or exile. Thank the gods that he
Blushed more to order than did Rome to serve.
Yet in one breast the spirit of Freedom rose
Enraged lest force should override the laws;
For hot Metellus, when he saw the gates
Of Saturn's temple yielding to the shock,
With rapid step burst in between the ranks
Of Caesar's troops, and stood before the doors
As yet unopened. 'Tis the love of gold
Alone that fears not death; no hand is raised
For perished laws or violated rights:
But for this dross, the vilest cause of all,
Men fight and die. Thus did the Tribune bar
The victor's road to rapine, and with voice
Clear ringing spake: ' Save o'er Metellus dead
'This temple opens not; my sacred blood
' Shall flow, thou robber, ere the gold be thine.
'And surely shall the Tribune's power defied
'Find an avenging god; this Crassus knew,3
' Who, followed by our curses, sought the war
'And met disaster on the Parthian plains.
' All Rome is empty; draw thy falchion then,
'Nor fear a crowd to gaze upon the crime.
'Not from our treasury reward for guilt
'Thy hosts shall ravish : other towns are left,
'And other nations; seek thy gifts from them;
'Nor drain Rome's peace for spoil: war still is thine.'
Aroused to anger then the victor spake:
' Vain is thy hope to fall in noble death;
'Dost reckon Freedom safe with thee for guard?
' With all thine honours, thou of Caesar's rage
'Art little worthy: never shall thy blood
' Defile his hand. Time lowest things with high
' Confounds not yet so much that, if thy voice
' Could save the laws, it were not better far
'They fell by Caesar.' Such his lofty words.
But as the Tribune yielded not, his rage
Rose yet the more, and at his soldiers' swords
One look he cast, forgetting for the time
What robe he wore; but soon Metellus heard
These words from Cotta: ' When men bow to power
' Freedom of speech is only Freedom's bane,4
' Whose shade at least survives, if with free will
' Thou dost whate'er is bidden thee. For us
' Some pardon may be found: a host of ills
' Compelled submission, and the shame is less
'That to have done which could not be refused.
' Yield, then, this wealth, the seeds of direful war.
' A nation's anger is by losses stirred,
' When laws protect it; but the hungry slave
' Brings danger to his master, not himself.'
At this Metellus yielded from the path;
And as the gates rolled backward, echoed loud 5
The rock Tarpeian, and the temple's depths
Gave up the treasure which for centuries
No hand had touched: all that the Punic foe
And Perses and Philippus conquered gave,
And all the gold which Pyrrhus panic-struck
Left when he fled: that gold,6 the price of Rome,
Which yet Fabricius sold not, and the hoard
Laid up by saving sires; the tribute sent
By Asia's richest nations; and the wealth
Which conquering Metellus brought from Crete,
And Cato 7 bore from distant Cyprus home;
And last, the riches torn from captive kings
And borne before Pompeius when he came
In frequent triumph. Thus was robbed the shrine,
And Caesar first brought poverty to Rome.
2 He held no office at the time.
4 That is, the liberty remaining to the people is destroyed by speaking freely to the tyrant.
5 Quoted by Dante and applied to the gates of Purgatory. 'Purg.,' ix., 129.
6 That is, the gold offered by Pyrrhus, and refused by Fabricius, which, after the final defeat of Pyrrhus, came into the possession of the victors.
7 See Plutarch, 'Cato,' 34, 39.
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