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When first the billows to the fleet gave way,
Black from the sky rushed down a southern gale
Upon his realm, and from the watery plain
Drave back th' invading ships, and from the shoals
Compelled the waves, and in the middle sea
Raised up a bank. Forth flew the bellying sails
Beyond the prows, despite the ropes that dared
Resist the tempest's fury; and for those
Who prescient housed their canvas to the storm,
Bare-masted they were driven from their course.
Best was their lot who gained the open waves
Of ocean; others lightened of their masts
Shook off the tempest; but a sweeping tide
Hurried them southwards, victor of the gale.
Some freed of shallows on a bank were forced
Which broke the deep: their ship in part was fast,
Part hanging on the sea; their fates in doubt.
Fierce rage the waves till hems1 them in the land;
Nor Auster's force in frequent buffets spent
Prevails upon the shore. High from the main,
By seas inviolate, one bank of sand
Far from the coast arose; there watched in vain
The storm-tossed mariners, their keel aground,
No shore descrying. Thus in sea were lost
Some portion, but the major part by helm
And rudder guided, and by pilots' hands
Who knew the devious channels, safe at length
Floated the marsh of Triton loved (as saith
The fable) by that god, whose sounding shell2
All seas and shores re-echo; and by her,
Pallas, who springing from her father's head
First lit on Libya, nearest land to heaven,
(As by its heat is proved); here on the brink
She stood, reflected in the placid wave
And called herself Tritonis. Lethe's flood
Flows silent near, in fable from a source
Infernal sprung, oblivion in his stream;
Here, too, that garden of the Hesperids,
Its boughs all golden, where of old his watch
The sleepless dragon held. Shame be on him
Who calls upon the poet for the proof
Of that which in the ancient days befell;
But here were golden groves by yellow growth
Weighed down in richness, here a maiden band
Were guardians; and a serpent, on whose eyes
Sleep never fell, was coiled around the trees,
Whose branches bowed beneath their ruddy load.
But great Alcides stripped the goodly boughs
Of all their riches, left them poor and light,
And bore the shining fruit to Argos' king.
Driven on the Libyan realms, more fruitful here,
Pompeius 3 stayed the fleet, nor further dared
To Garamantian waves. But Cato's soul
Leaped in his breast, impatient of delay,
To pass the Syrtes by a landward march,
And trusting to their swords, 'gainst tribes unknown
To lead his legions. And the storm which closed
The main to navies gave them hope of rain;
Nor biting frosts they feared, in Libyan clime;
Nor suns too scorching in the falling year.
Thus ere they trod the deserts, Cato spake:
' Ye men of Rome, who through mine arms alone
' Can find the death ye covet, and shall fall
' With pride unbroken should the fates command,
' Meet this your weighty task, your high emprise
' With hearts resolved to conquer. For we march
' On sterile wastes, burnt regions of the world;
' Scarce are the wells, and Titan from the height
' Burns pitiless, unclouded; and the slime
' Of poisonous serpents fouls the dusty earth.
' Yet shall men venture for the love of laws
' And country perishing, upon the sands
' Of trackless Libya; men who brave in soul
' Rely not on the end, and in attempt
' Will risk their all. 'Tis not in Cato's thoughts
' On this our enterprise to lead a band
' Blind to the truth, unwitting of the risk.
' Nay, give me comrades for the danger's sake,
' Whom I shall see for honour and for Rome
' Bear up against the worst. But whoso needs
' A pledge of safety, to whom life is sweet,
' Let him by fairer journey seek his lord.
' First be my foot upon the sand; on me
' First strike the burning sun; across my path
' The serpent void his venom; by my fate
' Know ye your perils. Let him only thirst
' Who sees me at the spring: who sees me seek
' The shade, alone sink fainting in the heat;
' Or whoso sees me ride before the ranks
' Plodding their weary march: such be the lot
' Of each, who, toiling, finds in me a chief
' And not a comrade. Snakes, thirst, burning sand
'The brave man welcomes, and the patient breast
' Finds happiness in labour. By its cost
' Courage is sweeter; and this Libyan land
' Such cloud of ills can furnish as might make
'Men flee unshamed.' 'Twas thus that Cato spake,
Kindling the torch of valour and the love
Of toil: then reckless of his fate he strode
The desert path from which was no return:
And Libya ruled his destinies, to shut
His sacred name within a narrow tomb.

1 Reading saepit, Hosius. The passage seems to be corrupt.

2 'Scaly Triton's winding shell' ('Comus,' 873). He was Neptune's son and trumpeter.

3 Cnaeus.

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