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But after Varus' rout, unseen till then,
All eager for the glory to be his,
By stealth came Juba: silent was his march;
His only fear lest rumour should forestall
His coming victory. In pretended war
He sends Sabura forth with scanty force
To tempt the enemy, while in hollow vale
He holds the armies of his realm unseen.
'Tis thus the sly ichneumon 1 with his tail
Waving, allures the serpent of the Nile
Drawn to the moving shadow: he, with head
Turned sideways, watches till the victim glides
Within his reach, then seizes by the throat
Behind the deadly fangs: forth from its seat
Balked of its purpose, through the brimming jaws
Gushes a tide of poison. Fortune smiled
On Juba's stratagem; for Curio
(The hidden forces of the foe unknown)
Sent forth his horse by night without the camp
To scour more distant regions. He himself
At earliest peep of dawn bids carry forth
His standards; heeding not his captains' prayer
Urged on his ears: ' Beware of Punic fraud,
' The craft that taints a Carthaginian war.'
Hung over him the doom of coming death
And gave the youth to fate; and civil strife
Dragged down its author.
On the lofty tops
Where broke the hills abruptly to their fall
He ranks his troops and sees the foe afar:
Who still deceiving, simulated flight,
Till from the height in loose unordered lines
The Roman forces streamed upon the plain,
In thought that Juba fled. Then first was known
The treacherous fraud: for swift Numidian horse
On every side surround them: leader, men-
All see their fate in one dread moment come.
No coward flees, no warrior bravely strides
To meet the battle: nay, the trumpet call
Stirs not the charger with resounding hoof
To spurn the rock, nor galling bit compels
To champ in eagerness; nor toss his mane
And prick the ear, nor prancing with his feet
To claim his share of combat. Tired, the neck
Droops downwards: smoking sweat bedews the limbs:
Dry from the squalid mouth protrudes the tongue,
Hoarse, raucous panting issues from their chests;
Their flanks distended: and on every curb
Dry foam of blood; the ruthless sword alone
Could move them onward, powerless even then
To charge; but giving to the hostile dart
A nearer victim. But when the Afric horse
First made their onset, loud beneath their hoofs
Rang the wide plain, and rose the dust in air
As by some Thracian whirlwind stirred; and veiled
The heavens in darkness. When on Curio's host
The tempest burst, each footman in the rank
Stood there to meet his fate-no doubtful end
Hung in the balance: destiny proclaimed
Death to them all. No conflict hand to hand
Was granted them, by lances thrown from far
And sidelong sword-thrusts slain: nor wounds alone,
But clouds of weapons falling from the air
By weight of iron o'erwhelmed them. Still drew in
The straightening circle, for the first pressed back
On those behind; did any shun the foe,
Seeking the inner safety of the ring,
He needs must perish by his comrades' swords.
And as the front rank fell, still narrower grew
The close crushed phalanx, till to raise their swords
Space was denied. Still close and closer forced
The armed breasts against each other driven
Pressed out the life. Thus not upon a scene
Such as their fortune promised, gazed the foe.
No tide of blood was there to glut their eyes,
No members lopped asunder, though the earth
Was piled with corpses; for each Roman stood
In death upright against his comrade dead.
Let cruel Carthage rouse her hated ghosts
By this fell offering; let the Punic shades,
And bloody Hannibal, from this defeat
Receive atonement: yet 'twas shame, ye gods,
That Libya gained not for herself the day;
And that our Romans on that field should die
To save Pompeius and the Senate's cause.
Now was the dust laid low by streams of blood,
And Curio, knowing that his host was slain,
Chose not to live; and, as a brave man should,
He rushed upon the heap, and fighting fell.
In vain with turbid speech hast thou profaned
The pulpit of the forum; waved in vain
From that proud 2 citadel the tribune flag:
And armed the people, and the Senate's rights
Betraying, hast compelled this impious war
Betwixt the rival kinsmen. Low thou liest
Before Pharsalus' fight, and from thine eyes
Is hid the war. 'Tis thus to suffering Rome,
For arms seditious and for civil strife
Ye mighty make atonement with your blood.
Happy were Rome and all her sons indeed,
Did but the gods as rigidly protect
As they avenge, her violated laws!
There Curio lies; untombed his noble corpse,
Torn by the vultures of the Libyan wastes.
Yet shall we, since such merit, though unsung,
Lives by its own imperishable fame,
Give thee thy meed of praise. Rome never bore
Another son, who, had he right pursued,
Had so adorned her laws; but soon the times,
Their luxury, corruption, and the curse
Of copious wealth swept o'er his wavering mind
In stream transverse; and, bribed by spoils of Gaul
And golden gifts of Caesar, Curio changed
Turned with his change the scale of human things.
True, mighty Sulla, cruel Marius,
And bloody Cinna, and the long descent
Of Caesar and of Caesar's house became
Lords of our lives. But who had power like him?
All others bought the state: he sold alone.3
1 Bewick ('Quadrupeds,' p. 238) tells the following anecdote of a tame ichneumon which had never seen a serpent, and to which he brought a small one. 'Its first emotion seemed to be astonishment mixed with anger; its hair became erect; in an instant it slipped behind the reptile, and with remarkable swiftness and agility leaped upon its head, seized it and crushed it with its teeth.'
3 For the character and career of Curio, see Merivale's 'History of the Roman Empire,' chapter xvi. He was of profligate character, but a friend and pupil of Cicero; at first a rabid partisan of the oligarchy, he had, about the period of his tribuneship (B.C. 50-49), become a supporter of Caesar. How far Gaulish gold was the cause of this conversion we cannot tell. It is in allusion to this change that he was termed the prime mover of the civil war. His arrival in Caesar's camp is described in Book I., line 306. He became Caesar's chief lieutenant in place of the deserter Labienus; and, as described in Book III., was sent to Sardinia and Sicily, whence he expelled the senatorial forces. His final expedition to Africa, defeat, and death, form the subject of the latter part of this book. Mommsen describes him as a man of talent, and finds a resemblance between him and Caesar. (Vol. iv., p. 393.)
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