This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
And crime let loose we sing: how Rome's high race
Plunged in her vitals her victorious sword;
Armies akin embattled, with the force
Of all the shaken earth bent on the fray;
And burst asunder, to the common guilt,
A kingdom's compact; eagle with eagle met,
Standard to standard, spear opposed to spear.
Whence, citizens, this rage, this boundless lust
To sate barbarians with the blood of Rome?
Did not the shade of Crassus, wandering still,2
Cry for his vengeance? Could ye not have spoiled,
To deck your trophies, haughty Babylon?
Why wage campaigns that send no laurels home?
What lands, what oceans might have been the prize
Of all the blood thus shed in civil strife!
Where Titan rises, where night hides the stars,
'Neath southern noons with fiery rays aflame,
Or where keen frost that never yields to spring
In icy fetters binds the Scythian main:
Long since barbarian Araxes' stream,
And all the distant East, and those who know
(If any such there be) the birth of Nile,
Had felt our yoke. Then, then, with all the world
Beneath thee, Rome, if for nefarious war
Such be thy passion, turn upon thyself:
Not yet was wanting for thy sword a foe.
That crumbled houses and half-ruined homes
Now mark our cities; that the ancient streets
Scarce hear the footfall of the passer-by;
That mighty fragments lie beside the walls;
That hearths are desolate; that far and wide
Fields thick with bramble and untilled for years
Demand the labours of the hind in vain:
All this nor Pyrrhus caused, nor Punic chief,
Nor sword thrust deep. 'Twas civil strife alone
That dealt the wound and left the death behind.3
Yet if the fates could find no other way
2 Crassus had been defeated and slain by the Parthians in B.C. 53, fouryears before this period.
3 Mr. Froude in his essay entitled 'Divus Caesar' hints that these famous lines may have been written in mockery. Probably the five years known as the Golden Era of Nero had passed when they were written: yet the text itself does not aid such a suggestion; and the view generally taken, namely that Lucan was in earnest, appears preferable. There were many who dreamed at the time that the disasters of the Civil War were being compensated by the wealth and prosperity of the empire under Nero; and the assurance of universal peace, then almost realised, which is expressed in lines 69-71, seems inconsistent with the idea that this passage was written in irony. Lecky ('European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne,' vol. i. p. 240) describes these latter verses as written 'with all the fervour of a Christian poet.' See also Merivale's ' Roman Empire,'chapter liv.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.