This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Now had they reached that temple which possess,
Sole in all Libya, th' untutored tribes
Of Garamantians. Here holds his seat
(So saith the story) a prophetic Jove,
Wielding no thunderbolts, nor like to ours;
The Libyan Hammon of the curved horn.
No wealth adorns his fane by Afric tribes
Bestowed, nor glittering hoard of Eastern gems.
Though rich Arabians, Ind and Ethiop
Know him alone as Jove, still he is poor
Holding his shrine by riches undefiled
Through time; and pure as gods of olden days
He spurns the wealth of Rome. That here sone god
Dwells, witnesses the only grove
That buds in Libya-for that which grows
Upon the arid dust which Leptis parts
From Berenice, knows no leaves; alone
Hammon uprears a wood; a fount the cause
Which with its waters binds the crumbling soil.
Yet shall the Sun when poised upon the height
Strike through the foliage: hardly can the tree
Protect its trunk, and to a little space
His rays draw in the circle of the shade.
Here have men found the spot where that high band
Solstitial divides in middle sky1
The zodiac stars: not here oblique their course,
Nor Scorpion rises straighter than the Bull,
Nor to the Scales does Ram give back his hours,
Nor does Astraea bid the Fishes sink
More slowly down: but watery Capricorn
Is equal with the Crab, and with the Twins
The Archer; neither does the Lion rise
Above Aquarius. But the race that dwells
Beyond the fervour of the Libyan fires
Sees to the South that shadow which with us
Falls to the North : slow Cynosura sinks 2
For them below the deep; and, dry with us,
The Wagon plunges; far from either pole,
No star they know that does not seek the nain,
But all the constellations in their course
Whirl to their vision through the middle sky.
Before the doors the Eastern peoples stood
Seeking from horned Jove to know their fates:
Yet to the Roman chief they yielded place,
Whose comrades prayed him to entreat the gods
Famed through the Libyan world, and judge the voice
Renowned from distant ages. First of these
Was Labienus:3 'Chance,' he said, 'to us
'The voice and counsel of this mighty god
'Has offered as we march; from such a guide
'To know the issues of the war, and learn
'To track the Syrtes. For to whom on earth
'If not to blameless Cato, shall the gods
Entrust their secret truths? Thou at the least
'Their faithful follower through life hast been.
'Lo! thou hast liberty to speak with Jove.
Ask impious Caesar's fates, and learn the laws
'That wait our country in the future days:
'Whether the people shall be free to use
'Their rights and customs, or the civil war
'For us is wasted. To thy sacred breast,
'Lover of virtue, take the voice divine;
'Demand what virtue is and guide thy steps
'By heaven's high counsellor.'
But Cato, full
Of godlike thoughts borne in his quiet breast,
This answer uttered, worthy of the shrines:
'What, Labienus, dost thou bid me ask?
'Whether in arms and freedom I should wish
' To perish, rather than endure a king?
' Is longest life worth aught? And doth its term
' Make difference? Can violence to the good
Do injury? Do Fortune's threats avail
Outweighed by virtue? Doth it not suffice
To aim at deeds of bravery? Can fame
Grow by achievement? Nay! No Hammon's voice
Shall teach us this more surely than we know.
Bound are we to the gods; no voice we need;
They live in all our acts, although the shrine
Be silent: at our birth and once for all
What may be known the author of our being
Revealed; nor chose these thirsty sands to chaunt
'To few his truth, whelmed in the dusty waste.
God has his dwelling in all things that be,4
In earth and air and sea and starry vault,
In virtuous deeds; in all that thou canst see,
In all thy thoughts contained. Why further, then,
Seek we our deities? Let those who doubt
And halting, tremble for their coming fates,
Go ask the oracles. No mystic words,
Make sure my heart, but surely coming Death.
" Coward alike and brave, we all must die.
Thus hath Jove spoken : seek to know no more.'
Thus Cato spoke, and faithful to his creed
He parted from the temple of the god
And left the oracle of Hammon dumb.
Bearing his javelin, as one of them
He strode afoot before the panting troops:
No bending neck, no litter bore his form.
He bade them not, but showed them how to toil.
Spare in his sleep, the last to sip the spring,
When at some rivulet to quench their thirst
The eager ranks pressed onward, he alone
Until the humblest follower might drink
Stood motionless. If for the truly good
Is fame, and virtue by the deed itself,
Not by successful issue, should be judged,
Yield, famous ancestors! Fortune, not worth
Gained you your glory. But such name as his
Who ever merited by successful war
Or slaughtered peoples? Rather would I lead
With him his triumphs through the pathless sands
And Libya's bounds, than in Pompeius' car
Three times ascend the Capitol,5 or break
The proud Jugurtha.6 Rome! in him behold
His country's father, worthiest of thy vows;
A name by which men shall not blush to swear,
Whom, shouldst thou break the fetters from thy neck,
Thou mayst in distant days decree divine.
Now was the heat more dense, and through that clime
Than which no further on the Southern side
The gods permit, they trod; and scarcer still
The water, till in middle sands they found
One copious fountain; but its brimming wave
Was thronged with serpents which it hardly held,
And thirsty asps were pressing on the marge.
But when the chieftain saw that speedy fate
Was on the host, if they should leave the well
Untasted, ' Vain,' he cried, your fear of death.
' Drink, nor delay: 'tis from the threatening tooth
" Men draw their deaths, and fatal from the fang
' Issues the juice if mingled with the blood;
' The cup is harmless.' Then he sipped the fount,
Still doubting, and in all the Libyan waste
There only was he first to touch the stream.
1 I.e., where the equinoctial circle cuts the zodiac in its centre. - Haskins.
2 Compare Book III., 294.
3 See Book V., 402.
4 Comp. Wordsworth on the Imagination:
“Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns
And the round ocean and the living air
And the blue sky and in the mind of man.
6 Over whom Marius triumphed.
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.