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Caesar, though losing of thy best, dost know
The gods do favour thee. Thessalian fields
Gave thee no better fortune, nor the waves
That lave Massilia; nor on Pharos' main
Didst thou so triumph. By this crime alone
Thou from this moment of the better cause
Shalt be the Captain.
Since the troops were stained
With foulest slaughter thus, their leaders shunned
All camps with Caesar's joined, and sought again
Ilerda's lofty walls; but Caesar's horse
Seized on the plain and forced them to the hills
Reluctant. There by steepest trench shut in,
He cuts them from the river, nor permits
Their circling ramparts to enclose a spring.
By this dread path Death trapped his captive prey.
Which when they knew, fierce anger filled their souls,
And took the place of fear. They slew the steeds
Now useless grown, and rushed upon their fate;
Hopeless of life and flight. But Caesar cried:
Hold back your weapons, soldiers, from the foe,
Strike not the breast advancing; let the war
' Cost me no blood; he falls not without price
' Who with his life-blood challenges the fray.
Scorning their own base lives and hating light,
To Caesar's loss they rush upon their death,
Nor heed our blows. But let this frenzy pass,
This madman onset; let the wish for death
Die in their souls.' Thus to its embers shrank
The fire within, when battle was denied,
And fainter grew their rage until the night
Drew down her starry veil and sank the sun.
Thus keener fights the gladiator whose wound
Is recent, while the blood within the veins
Still gives the sinews motion, ere the skin
Shrinks on the bones: but as the victor stands
His fatal thrust achieved, and points the blade
Unfaltering, watching for the end, there creeps
Torpor upon the limbs, the blood congeals
About the gash, more faintly throbs the heart,
And slowly fading, ebbs the life away.
Raving for water now they dig the plain
Seeking for hidden fountains, not with spade
And mattock only searching out the depths,
But with the sword; they hack the stony heights,
In shafts that reach the level of the plain.
No further flees from light the pallid wretch
Who tears the bowels of the earth for gold.
Yet neither riven stones revealed a spring,
Nor streamlet whispered from its hidden source;
No water trickled on the gravel bed,
Nor dripped within the cavern. Worn at length
With labour huge, they crawl to light again,
After such toil to fall to thirst and heat
The readier victims: this was all they won.
All food they loathe; and 'gainst their deadly thirst
Call famine to their aid. Damp clods of earth
They squeeze upon their mouths with straining hands.
Wherever on foulest mud some stagnant slime
Or moisture lies, each dying soldier strives
With dying comrade first to lap the draught,
Loathsome had life been his. Like beasts they drain
The swollen udder, and where milk was not,
They suck the life-blood forth. From herbs and boughs
Dripping with dew, from tender shoots they press,
Nay, from the pith of trees, the juice within.
Happy the host that onward marching finds
Its savage enemy has fouled the wells
With murderous venom; hadst thou, Caesar, cast
The reeking filth of shambles in the stream,
And henbane dire and all the poisonous herbs
That lurk on Cretan slopes, still had they drunk
The fatal waters, rather than endure
Such lingering agony. Their bowels racked
With torments as of flame; the swollen tongue
And jaws now parched and rigid, and the veins;
Each laboured breath with anguish from the lungs
Enfeebled, moistureless, is scarcely drawn,
And scarce again returned; and yet agape,
Their panting mouths suck in the nightly dew;
They watch for showers from heaven, and in despair
Gaze on the clouds, whence lately poured a flood.
Nor were their tortures less that Meroe
Saw not their sufferings, nor Cancer's zone,
Nor where the Garamantian turns the soil;
But Sicoris and Iberus at their feet,
Two mighty floods, but far beyond their reach,
Rolled down in measureless volume to the main.
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