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Nor found they room for hope; for nature gave
Unerring portents of worse ills to come.
The angry gods filled earth and air and sea
With frequent prodigies; in darkest nights
Strange constellations sparkled through the gloom:
The pole was all afire, and torches flew
Across the depths of heaven; with horrid hair
A blazing comet stretched from east to west
And threatened change to kingdoms. From the blue
Pale lightning flashed, and in the murky air
The fire took divers shapes; a lance afar
Would seem to quiver or a misty torch;
A noiseless thunderbolt from cloudless sky
Rushed down, and drawing fire in northern parts
Plunged on the summit of the Alban mount.
The stars that run their courses in the void
Of night, came forth at noontide, and the moon
Whose orb complete gave back her brother's rays,
Hid by the shade of earth, grew pale and wan.
The sun himself, when poised in mid career,
Shrouded his burning car in blackest gloom
And plunged the world in darkness, so that men
Despaired of day-like as he veiled his light
From that fell banquet1 which Mycenae saw.
The jaws of Etna were agape with flame
That rose not heavenwards, but headlong fell
In smoking stream upon th' Italian flank.
Then black Charybdis, from her boundless depth,
Threw up a gory sea. In piteous tones
Howled the wild dogs; the Vestal fire was snatched
From off the altar; and the flame that crowned
The Latin festival was split in twain,
As on the Theban pyre,2 in ancient days;
Earth tottered on its base: the mighty Alps
From off their summits shook th' eternal snow.3
In huge upheaval Ocean raised his waves
O'er Calpe's rock and Atlas' hoary head.
The native gods shed tears, and holy sweat
Dropped from the idols; gifts in temples fell:
Foul birds defiled the day; beasts left the woods
And made their lair among the streets of Rome.
All this we hear; nay more: dumb oxen spake;
Monsters were brought to birth and mothers shrieked
At their own offspring; words of dire import
From Cumae's prophetess were noised abroad.
Bellona's priests with bleeding arms, and slaves
Of Cybele's worship, with ensanguined hair,
Howled chants of havoc and of woe to men.
Arms clashed; and sounding in the pathless woods
Were heard strange voices; spirits walked the earth:
And dead men's ashes muttered from the urn.
Those who live near the walls desert their homes,
For lo! with hissing serpents in her hair,
Waving in downward whirl a blazing pine,
A fiend patrols the town, like that which erst
At Thebes urged on Agave,4 or which hurled
Lycurgus' bolts, or that which as he came
From Hades seen, at haughty Juno's word,
Brought terror to the soul of Hercules.
Trumpets like those that summon armies forth
Were heard re-echoing in the silent night:
And from the earth arising Sulla's 5 ghost
Sang gloomy oracles, and by Anio's wave
All fled the homesteads, frighted by the shade
Of Marius waking from his broken tomb.
In such dismay they summon, as of yore,
The Tuscan sages to the nation's aid.
Aruns, the eldest, leaving his abode
In desolate Luca,6 came, well versed in all
The lore of omens; knowing what may mean
The flight of hovering bird, the pulse that beats
In offered victims, and the levin bolt.
All monsters first, by most unnatural birth
Brought into being, in accursed flames
He bids consume. Then round the walls of Rome7
Each trembling citizen in turn proceeds.
The priests, chief guardians of the public faith,
With holy sprinkling purge the open space
That borders on the wall; in sacred garb
Follows the lesser crowd: the Vestals come
By priestess led with laurel crown bedecked,
To whom alone is given the right to see
Minerva's effigy that came from Troy.8
Next come the keepers of the sacred books
And fate's predictions; who from Almo's brook
Bring back Cybebe laved; the augur too
Taught to observe sinister flight of birds;
And those who serve the banquets to the gods;
And Titian brethren; and the priest of Mars,
Proud of the buckler that adorns his neck;
By him the Flamen, on his noble head
The cap of office. While they tread the path
That winds around the walls, the aged seer
Collects the thunderbolts that fell from heaven,
And lays them deep in earth, with muttered words
Naming the spot accursed. Next a steer,
Picked for his swelling neck and beauteous form,
He leads to the altar, and with slanting knife
Spreads on his brow the meal, and pours the wine.
The victim's struggles prove the gods averse;
But when the servers press upon his horns
He bends the knee and yields him to the blow.
No crimson torrent issues at the stroke,
But from the wound a dark empoisoned stream
Ebbs slowly downward. Aruns at the sight
Aghast, upon the entrails of the beast
Essayed to read the anger of the gods.
Their very colour terrified the seer;
Spotted they were and pale, with sable streaks
Of lukewarm gore bespread; the liver damp
With foul disease, and on the hostile part
The angry veins defiant; of the lungs
The fibre hid, and through the vital parts
The membrane small; the heart has ceased to throb;
Blood oozes through the ducts; the caul is split:
And, fatal omen of impending ill,
One lobe o'ergrows the other; of the twain
The one lies flat and sick, the other beats
And keeps the pulse in rapid strokes astir.
Disaster's near approach thus learned, he cries-
' Whatever may be the purpose of the gods,
' Tis not for me to tell; this offered beast
' Not Jove possesses, but the gods below.
' We dare not speak our fears, yet fear doth make
' The future worse than fact. May all the gods
' Prosper the tokens, and the sacrifice
' Be void of truth, and Tages (famous seer) 9
' Have vainly taught these mysteries.' Such his words
1 Compare Ben Jonson's ' Catiline,' I. 1:
The day goes back,
Or else my senses.
As at Atreus' feast.
2 When the Theban brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, were being burned on the same pyre, the flame shot up in two separate tongues, indicating that even in death they could not be reconciled. (Mr. Haskins' note, citing Statius, 'Theb.')
4 Book VI., 420.
7 Such a ceremonial took place in A.D. 56 under Nero, after the temples of Jupiter and Minerva had been struck by lightning, and was probably witnessed by Lucan himself. (See Merivale's 'History of the Roman Empire,' chapter lii.)
8 See Book IX., 1177.
9 Tages. A dwarf, with the figure of a child, but with grey hairs, ploughed up by a peasant near Tarquinii. He betrayed the secrets of Etruscan lore and straightway died. (Mommsen, vol. i. p. 190; Dennis, 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria,' vol. i. p. 373.)
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