previous next
[123] "Heartened by these omens, Caesar advanced the standards of war, and marched first to open this strange tale of daring. At first indeed the ice and the ground fettered with white frost did not fight against them, and lay quiet in the kindly cold. But then the regiments broke the close-bound clouds, the trembling horses shattered the frozen bonds of the waters, and the snows melted. Soon new-born rivers rolled from the mountain heights, but they, too, stood still as if by some command, and the waves stopped short with ruining floods enchained, and the water that ran a moment before now halted, hard enough to cut. But then, treacherous before, it mocked their steps and failed their footing; horses and men and arms together fell heaped in misery and ruin. Lo! too, the clouds were shaken by a strong wind, and let fall their burden, and round the army were gusts of whirlwind and a sky broken by swollen hail. Now the clouds themselves burst and fell on the armed men, and a mass of ice showered upon them like a wave of the sea. Earth was overwhelmed in the deep snow, and the stars of heaven, and the rivers that clung to their banks. But Caesar was not yet overwhelmed; he[p. 269] leaned on his tall spear and crushed the rough ground with fearless tread, like the son of Amphitryon1 hastening down from a high peak of Caucasus, or the fierce countenance of Jupiter, when he descended from the heights of great Olympus and scattered the arms of the doomed Giants.

"While Caesar treads down the swelling peaks in his wrath, Rumour flies swift in terror with beating wings, and seeks out the lofty top of the tall Palatine. Then she strikes all the images of the gods with her message of Roman thunder: how ships are now sweeping the sea, and the horsemen red with German blood pouring hotly over the range of the Alps. Battle, blood, slaughter, fire, and the whole picture of war flits before their eyes. Their hearts shake in confusion, and are fearfully divided between two counsels. One man chooses flight by land, another trusts rather to the water, and the open sea now safer than his own country. Some prefer to attempt a fight and turn Fate's decree to account. As deep as a man's fear is, so far he flies. In the turmoil the people themselves, a woeful sight, are led swiftly out of the deserted city, whither their stricken heart drives them. Rome is glad to flee, her true sons are cowed by war, and at a rumour's breath leave their houses to mourn. One holds his children with a shaking hand, one hides his household gods in his bosom, and weeping, leaves his door and calls down death on the unseen enemy. Some clasp their wives to them in tears, youths carry their aged sires, and, unused to burdens, take with them only what they dread to lose. The fool drags all his goods after him, and marches laden with booty to the battle: and[p. 271] all now is as when on high the rush of a strong south wind tumbles and drives the waters, and neither rigging nor helm avail the crews, and one girds together the heavy planks of pine, another heads for quiet inlets and a waveless shore: a third sets sail and flees, and trusts all to Chance. But why sorrow for these petty ills? Pompey the Great, who made Pontus tremble and explored fierce Hydaspes,2 the rock that broke the pirates,3 who of late, in his third triumph, shook the heart of Jupiter, to whom the troubled waters of Pontus and the conquered Sea of Bosporus4 bowed, flees shamefully with the two consuls5 and lets his imperial title drop, that fickle Chance might see the back of great Pompey himself turned in flight.

1 Hercules: he came down to rescue Prometheus.

2 Untrue, for he went no further than the Euphrates: the river Hydaspes is in India.

3 He cleared the Mediterranean of Cilician pirates in forty days during the year 67 B.C.

4 He passed over these waters in 66 B.C. in the course of his campaign against Mithridates.

5 C. Claudius Marcellus and L. Cornelius Lentulus Crus, consuls, 49 B.C.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (Michael Heseltine, 1913)
load focus Latin (Michael Heseltine, 1913)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: