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' The secrets, Caesar, of our mighty sires 1
' Kept from the common people until now
' I hold it right to utter. Some may deem
' That silence on these wonders of the earth
' Were greater piety. But to the gods
' I hold it grateful that their handiwork
' And sacred edicts should be known to men.
' A different power by the primal law,
' Each star possesses: 2 these alone control
' The movement of the sky, with adverse force
' Opposing: while the sun divides the year,
' And day from night, and by his potent rays
' Forbids the stars to pass their stated course.
' The moon by her alternate phases sets
' The varying limits of the sea and shore.
' Neath Saturn's sway the zone of ice and snow
' Has passed; while Mars in lightning's fitful flames
' And winds abounds: beneath high Jupiter
' Unvexed by storms abides a temperate air;
' And fruitful Venus' star contains the seeds
' Of all things. Ruler of the boundless deep
' The god 3 Cyllenian : whene'er he holds
' That part of heaven where the Lion dwells
' With neighbouring Cancer joined, and Sirius star
' Flames in its fury; where the circular path
' (Which marks the changes of the varying year)
' Gives to hot Cancer and to Capricorn
' Their several stations, under which doth lie
' The fount of Nile, he, master of the waves,
' Strikes with his beam the waters. Forth the stream
' Brims from his fount, as Ocean when the moon
' Commands an increase; nor shall curb his flow
' Till night wins back her losses from the sun.4
' Vain is the ancient faith that Ethiop snows 5
' Send Nile abundant forth upon the lands.
' Those mountains know nor northern wind nor star.
' Of this are proof the breezes of the South,
' Fraught with warm vapours, and the people's hue
' Burned dark by suns: and 'tis in time of spring,
' When first are thawed the snows, that ice-fed streams
' In swollen torrents tumble; but the Nile
' Nor lifts his wave before the Dog star burns;
' Nor seeks again his banks, until the sun
' In equal balance measures night and day.
' Nor are the laws that govern other streams
' Obeyed by Nile. For in the wintry year
'Were he in flood, when distant far the sun,
' His waters lacked their office; but he leaves
' His channel when the summer is at height,
' Tempering the torrid heat of Egypt's clime.
' Such is the task of Nile; thus in the world
' He finds his purpose, lest exceeding heat
' Consume the lands: and rising thus to meet
' Enkindled Lion, to Syene's prayers
' By Cancer burnt gives ear; nor curbs his wave
' Till the slant sun and Meroe's lengthening shades
' Proclaim the autumn. Who shall give the cause?
' 'Twas Parent Nature's self which gave command
' Thus for the needs of earth should flow the Nile.
' Vain too the fable that the western winds 6
' Control his current, in continuous course
' At stated seasons governing the air;
' Or hurrying from Occident to South
' Clouds without number which in misty folds
' Press on the waters; or by constant blast,
' Forcing his current back whose several mouths
' Burst on the sea;-so, forced by seas and wind,
'Men say, his billows pour upon the land.
' Some speak of hollow caverns, breathing holes
' Deep in the earth, within whose mighty jaws
' Waters in noiseless current underneath
' From northern cold to southern climes are drawn;
'And when hot Meroe pants beneath the sun,
' Then, say they, Ganges through the silent depths
' And Padus pass: and from a single fount
' The Nile arising not in single streams
' Pours all the rivers forth. And rumour says
' That when the sea which girdles in the world7
' O'erflows, thence rushes Nile, by lengthy course,
' Softening his saltness. More, if it be true
' That ocean feeds the sun and heavenly fires,
' Then Phoebus journeying by the burning Crab
' Sucks from its waters more than air can hold
' Upon his passage-this the cool of night
' Pours on the Nile. If, Caesar, 'tis my part
' To judge such difference, 'twould seem that since
' Creation's age has passed, earth's veins by chance
' Some waters hold, and shaken cast them forth:
' But others took when first the globe was formed
' A sure abode; by Him who framed the world
' Fixed with the Universe. And, Roman, thou,
' In thirsting thus to know the source of Nile,
' Dost as the Pharian and Persian kings
' And those of Macedon; nor any age
' Refused the secret, but the place prevailed
' Remote by nature. Greatest of the kings
' By Memphis worshipped, Alexander grudged 8
' To Nile its mystery, and to furthest earth
' Sent chosen Ethiops whom the crimson zone
' Stayed in their further march, while flowed his stream
' Warm at their feet. Sesostris 9 westward far
' Reached, to the ends of earth; and necks of kings
' Bent 'neath his chariot yoke: but of the springs
' Which fill your rivers, Rhone and Po, he drank,
'Not of the fount of Nile. Cambyses king
'In madman quest led forth his host to where
'The long-lived races dwell: then famine struck,
'Ate of his dead 10 and, Nile unknown, returned.
No lying rumour of thy hidden source
'Has e'er made mention; wheresoe'er thou art
'Yet art thou sought, nor yet has nation claimed
'In pride of place thy river as its own.
' Yet shall I tell, so far as has the god,
' Who veils thy fountain, given me to know,
'Thy progress. Daring to upraise thy banks
''Gainst fiery Cancer's heat, thou tak'st thy rise
'Beneath the zenith: straight towards the north
'And mid Bootes flowing; to the couch
'Bending, or to the risings, of the sun
'In sinuous bends alternate; just alike
'To Araby's peoples and to Libyan sands.
'By Seres 11 first beheld, yet know they not
Whence art thou come; and with no native stream
Strik'st thou the Ethiop fields. Nor knows the world
'To whom it owes thee. Nature ne'er revealed
'Thy secret origin, removed afar.
'Nor did she wish thee to be seen of men
' While still a tiny rivulet, but preferred
' Their wonder to their knowledge. Where the sun
' Stays at his limit, dost thou rise in flood
' Untimely; such thy right: to other lands
' Bearing thy winter: and by both the poles
' Thou only wanderest. Here men ask thy rise
' And there thine ending. Meroe rich in soil
'And tilled by swarthy husbandmen divides
'Thy broad expanse, rejoicing in the leaves
'Of groves of ebony, which though spreading far
'Their branching foliage, by no breadth of shade
'Soften the summer sun-whose rays direct
'Pass from the Lion to the fervid earth.12
'Next dost thou journey onwards past the realm
'Of burning Phoebus, and the sterile sands,
'With equal volume; now with all thy strength
'Gathered in one, and now in devious streams
'Parting the bank that crumbles at thy touch.
'Then by our kingdom's gates, where Philae parts
'Arabian peoples from Egyptian fields
' The sluggish bosom of thy flood recalls
' Thy wandering currents, which through desert wastes
' Flow gently on to where the merchant track
' Divides the Red Sea waters from our own.
' Who, gazing, Nile, upon thy tranquil flow,
' Could picture how in wild array of foam
' (Where shelves the earth) thy billows shall be plunged
' Down the steep cataracts, in fuming wrath
' That rocks should bar the passage of thy stream
' Free from its source? For whirled on high the spray
' Aims at the stars, and trembles all the air
With rush of waters; and with sounding roar
The foaming mass down from the summit pours
In hoary waves victorious. Next an isle
In all our ancient lore "untrodden" named
Stems firm thy torrent; and the rocks we call
Springs of the river, for that here are marked
The earliest tokens of the coming flood.
With mountain shores now nature hems thee in
And shuts thy waves from Libya; in the midst
Hence do thy waters run, till Memphis first
Forbids the barrier placed upon thy stream
And gives thee access to the open fields.'
1 Herodotus was less fortunate. For he says, ' Concerning the nature of the river I was not able to gain any information either from the priests or from others.' (ii., 19.)
3 Mercury. (See Book IX., 778.)
4 That is, at the autumnal equinox. The priest states that the planet Mercury causes the rise of the Nile. The passage is difficult to follow; but the idea would seem to be that this god, who controlled the rise and fall of the waves of the sea, also when he was placed directly over the Nile caused the rise of that river.
5 So also Herodotus, Book II., 22. Yet modern discoveries have proved the snows.
6 So, too, Herodotus, Book II., 20, who attributes this theory to Greeks who wish to get a reputation for cleverness.
7 See on Book V., 712. Herodotus mentions this theory also, to dismiss it.
8 The historians state that Alexander made an expedition to the temple of Jupiter Hammon and consulted the oracle. Jupiter assisted his march, and an army of crows pointed out the path (Plutarch). It is, however, stated, in a note in Langhorne's edition, that Maximus Tyrius informs us that the object of the journey was the discovery of the sources of the Nile.
10 See Herodotus, III., 17. These Ethiopian races were supposed to live to the age of 120 years, drinking milk, and eating boiled flesh. On Cambyses's march his starving troops cast lots by tens for the one man who was to be eaten.
12 A passage of difficulty. I understand it to mean that at this spot the summer sun (in Leo) strikes the earth with direct rays.
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