The Battle of Marathon, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Book III.

WHEN from the deep the hour’s eternal sway,

Impels the coursers of the flaming day,

The long haired Greeks, with brazen arms prepare,

Their freedom to preserve and wage the war.

First Aristides from the couch arose,

While his great mind with all Minerva glows;

His mighty limbs, his golden arms invest,

The cuirass blazes on his ample breast,

The glittering cuises both his legs infold,

And the huge shield’s on fire with burnished gold

His hands two spears uphold of equal size,

And fame’s bright glories kindle in his eyes;

Upon his helmet, plumes of horse hair nod

And forth he moved, majestic as a God!

Upon his snorting steed the warrior sprung

The courser neighed, the brazen armour rung.

From heaven’s etherial heights the martial maid

With conscious pride, the hero’s might surveyed.

Him as she eyed, she shook the gorgon shield

“Henceforth to me,” she cried, “let all th’ immortals yield,

Let monster Mars, the Latia regions own,

For Attica, Minerva stands alone.”

And now, th’ unconquered Chief of Justice, gains

The Senate’s walls, and there the steed detains,

Whence he dismounts — -Miltiades he seeks,

Beloved of Jove, the leader of the Greeks,

Nor sought in vain, there clad in armour bright

The Chieftain stood, all eager for the fight:

Within his aged hands two lances shine,

The helmet blazed upon his brows divine,

And as he bends beneath th’ unequal weight

Youth smiles again, when with gigantic might

His nervous limbs, immortal arms could wield

Crush foe on foe, and raging, heap the field;

Yet tho’ such days were past, and ruthless age

Transformed the warrior, to the thoughtful sage,

Tho’ the remorseless hand of silent time

Impaired each joint, and stiffened every limb,

Yet thro’ his breast, the fire celestial stole,

Throbbed in his veins, and kindled in his soul,

111 thought, the Lord of Asia, threats no more,

And Hippias bites the dust, midst seas of gore.

Ilim as he viewed, the youthful hero’s breast,

Heaved high with joy, and thus the sage addressed,

“Chief, best beloved of Pallas,” he began,

“In fame allied to Gods, oh wondrous man!

Behold Apollo gilds the Athenian wall,

Our freedom waits, and fame and glory call

To battle! Asia’s King and myriads dare.

Swell the loud trump, and raise the din of war.”

He said impatient; then the warrior sage

Began, regardless of the fears of age:

“Not mine, oh youth, with caution to controul

The fire and glory of thy eager soul;

kSo was I wont in brazen arms to shine

Such strength, and such impatient fire were mine.”

He said, and bade the trumpet’s peals rebound.

High, and more high, the echoing war notes sound:

Sudden one general shout the din replies

A thousand lances blazing as they rise

And Athen’s banners wave, and float along the skie?

So from the marsh, the cranes embodied fly

Clap their glad wings, and cut the liquid sky

With thrilling cries, they mount their joyful way

Vig’rous they spring, and hail the new born day,

So rose the shouting Greeks, inspired by fame

T’ assert their freedom, and maintain their name.

First came Themistocles in arms renowned

Whose steed impatient, tore the trembling ground,

High o’er his helmet snowy plumes arise

And shade that brow, which Persia’s might defies;

A purple mantle graceful waves behind

Nor hides his arms but floats upon the wind.

His mighty form two crimson belts unfold

Rich in embroidery, and stiff with gold.

Calimachus the Polemarch, next came

The theme of general praise and general fame.

Cynagirus who e’en the Gods would dare

Heap ranks on ranks and thunder thro’ the war;

His virtues godlike; man’s his strength surpassed,

In battle foremost, and in flight the last,

His ponderous helm’s a shaggy lions hide

And the huge war axe clattered at his side,

The mighty Chief, a brazen chariot bore

While fame and glory hail him and adore.

Antenor next, his aid to Athens gave

Like Paris youthful, and like Hector brave;

Cleon, Minerva’s priest, experienced sage

Advanced in wisdom, as advanced in age.

Agregoras, Delenus’ favorite child

The parent’s cares, the glorious son beguiled

But now he leaves his sire to seek his doom

His country’s freedom, or a noble tomb;

And young Aratus moved with youthful pride,

And heart elated at the hero’s side.

Next thou Cleones, thou triumphant moved

By Athens honoured, by the Greeks beloved:

And Sthenellus the echoing pavements trod,

From youth devoted to the martial God

Honor unspotted, crowned the hero’s name,

Unbounded virtue, and unbounded fame.

Such heroes shone the foremost of the host

All Athens’ glory, and all Athens’ boast.

Behind a sable cloud of warriors rise

With ponderous arms, and shouting rend the skies;

These bands with joy, Miltiades inspire,

Fame fills his breast, and sets his soul on fire.

Aloft he springs into the gold wrought car

While the shrill blast resounds, to war! to war!

The coursers plunge as conscious of their load

And proudly neighing, feel they bear a God.

The snow white steeds by Pallas self were given,

Which sprung from the immortal breed of heaven,

The car was wrought of brass and burnished gold

And divers figures on its bulk were told,

Of heroes who in plunging to the fight

Shrouded Troy’s glories in eternal night:

Of fierce Pelides who relenting gave

At Priam’s prayer, to Hector’s corpse a grave,

Here Spartan Helen, flies her native shore

To bid proud Troy majestic stand no more;

There Hector clasps his consort to his breast

Consoles her sufferings, tho’ himself oppressed,

And there he rushes to the embattled field

For victory or death, nor e’en in death to yield:

Here Illium prostrate feels the Argive ire

Her heroes perished, and her towers on fire.

And here old Priam breathes his last drawn sigh

And feels ’tis least of all his griefs to die;

There his loved sire, divine Aeneas bears

And leaves his own with all a patriot’s tears

While in one hand he holds his weeping boy,

And looks his last on lost unhappy Troy.

The warrior seized the reins, the impatient steeds

Foam at the mouth and spring where glory leads,

The gates, the heroes pass, th’ Athenian dames

Bend from their towers, and bid them save from flames

Their walls, their infant heirs and fill the skies

With shouts, entreaties, prayers, and plaintive cries

Echo repeats their words, the sounds impart

New vigor to each Greek’s aspiring heart.

Forward with shouts they press, and hastening on

Try the bold lance and dream of Marathon.

Meanwhile the Persians on th’ embattled plain

Prepare for combat, and the Greeks disdain,

Twice twenty sable bulls they daily pay

Unequalled homage to the God of day;

Such worthy gifts, the wealthy warriors bring.

And such the offerings of the Persian King;

While the red wine around his altars flowed

They beg protection from the flaming God.

But the bright Patron of the Trojan war

Accepts their offerings, but rejects their prayer:

The power of love alone, dares rigid fate.

To vent on Greece her vengeance and her hate;

Not love for Persia prompts the vengeful dame,

But hate for Athens, and the Grecian name:

In Phoebus name, the fraudful Queen receives

The hecatombs, and happy omens gives.

And now the heralds with one voice repeat

The will of Datis echoing thro’ the fleet,

To council, to convene the Persian train

That Athens Chiefs should brave their might in vain,

The Chiefs and Hippias self his will obey,

And seek the camp, the heralds lead the way.

There on the couch, their leader Datis sat

In ease luxurious, and in Kingly state,

Around his brow, pride deep, and scornful played,

A purple robe, his slothful limbs arrayed.

Which o’er his form, its silken draperies fold

Majestic sweeps the ground, and glows with gold.

While Artaphernes resting at his side

Surveys th’ advancing train with conscious pride.

The Elder leader, mighty Datis, then,

“Assembled Princes, great and valiant men.

And thou thrice glorious Hippias, loved by heav’n,

To whom as to thy Sire, is Athens giv’n;

Behold the Grecian banners float afar

Shouting they hail us, and provoke the war.

Then mighty Chiefs and Princes, be it yours

To warm and fire the bosoms of our powers.

That when the morn has spread her saffron light.

The Greeks may own and dread Darius’ might;

For know, oh Chiefs, when once proud Athens falls,

When Persian flames shall reach her haughty walls.

From her depression, wealth to you shall spring,

And honor, fame and glory to your King.”

He said; his words the Princes’ breast’s inspire,

Silent they bend, and with respect retire.

And now the Greeks, in able marches gain

By Pallas fired, the Marathonian plain,

Before their eyes th’ unbounded ocean rolls

And all Darius’ fleet — unawed their souls,

They fix their banners, and the tents they raise

And in the sun, their polished javelins blaze,

Their leaders self, within the brazen car

Their motions orders, and prepares for war;

Their labors o’er, the aged hero calls

The Chiefs to council midst the canvas walls.

And then the Sage, “How great the Persian host!

But let them not their strength or numbers boast,

Their slothful minds to love of fame unknown.

Sigh not for war, but for the spoil alone,

Strangers to honor’s pure immortal light.

They not as heroes, but as women fight;

Grovelling as proud, and cowardly as vain

The Greeks they fear, their numbers they disdain;

And now Athenians! fired by glory, rise

And lift your fame unsullied to the skies,

Your victim Persia, liberty your prize.

And now twice twenty sable bullocks bring

To heap the altars of the thundering King,

Bid twelve white heifers of gigantic breed

To Jove’s great daughter, wise Minerva bleed,

And then in sleep employ the solemn night

Nor till Apollo reigns, provoke the fight.”

The hero said; the warlike council o’er

They raise the lofty altars on the shore.

They pile in heaps the pride of all the wood

They fall the first, who first in beauty stood:

The pine that soars to heaven, the sturdy oak,

And cedars crackle at each hero’s stroke.

And now two altars stand of equal size

And lift their forms majestic to the skies.

The heroes then twice twenty bullocks bring

A worthy offering to the thundering King.

The aged leader seized the sacred knife

Blow followed blow, out gushed the quivering life

Thro’ their black hides the ruthless steel is driven

The victims groan — Jove thunders from his heaven.

And then their bulks upon the pile they lay,

The flames rush upward, and the armies pray.

Driven by the wind, the roaring fires ascend

And now they hiss in air, and now descend

With all their sap, the new cut faggots raise

Their flames to heaven, and crackle as they blaze;

And then the Sage, “Oh, thou of powers above

The first and mightiest, hear, eternal Jove!

Give us, that Athens in her strength may rise

And lift our fame and freedom to the skies!”

This said, he ceased — th’ assembled warriors pour

The sacred incense, and the God adore;

Then partial Jove propitious heard their prayer

Thrice shook the heavens, and thundered thro’ the air

With joy, the Greeks, the favoring sign inspires

And their breasts glow, with all the warlike fires:

And now twelve heifers white as snow they lead

To great Minerva’s sacred name to bleed.

They fall — their bulks upon the pile are laid

Sprinkled with oil, and quick in flame arrayed.

And now descending midst the darkening skies

Behold the Goddess of the radiant eyes.

The ground she touched, beneath the mighty load

Earth groaning rocks, and nature hails the God.

Within her hand her father’s lightnings shone,

And shield that blazes near th’ eternal throne;

The Greeks with fear, her dauntless form surveyed

And trembling, bowed before the blue eyed maid.

Then favoring, thus began the power divine,

While in her eyes celestial glorys shine;

“Ye sons of Athens, loved by heaven,” she cries

“Revered by men, be valiant and be wise,

When morn awakes, Darius numbers dare

Clang your loud arms, and rouse the swelling war:

But first to yon proud fleet a herald send

To bid the Persians yield, and fight suspend,

For vainly to their God, they suppliant call,

Jove favors Greece, and Pallas wills their fall.”

She said, and thro’ the depths of air she flies

Mounts the blue heaven, and scales the liquid skies

The Greeks rejoicing thank the powers above

And Jove’s great daughter, and eternal Jove.

And now a herald to the fleet they send

To bid the Persians yield, and war suspend.

Thro’ the divided troops the herald goes

Thro’ Athens host, and thro’ th’ unnumbered foes,

Before the holy man, the Persian bands

Reverend give way, and ask what Greece demands:

He tells not all, but that he, chosen, seeks

Datis their Chief, by order of the Greeks.

The mission but in part, he, sage reveals

And what his prudence prompts him, he conceals.

Then to their Chief they lead him, where he sat

With pomp surrounded, and in gorgeous state,

Around his kingly couch, his arms were spread

Flaming in gold, by forge Cyclopean made;

And then stern Datis, frowning thus began,

“What hopes deceive thee, miserable man?

What treacherous fate allures thee thus to stray

Thro’ all our hosts? what Gods beguile the way?

Think’st thou to ’scape the Persian steel, when Greece

Our herald crushed, and banished hopes of peace?

But speak, what will the Greeks? and do they dare

To prove our might, and tempt th’ unequal war?

Or do they deign to own Darius’ sway

And yield to Persia’s might, th’ embattled day?”

To whom th’ Athenian herald made reply

“The Greeks disdain your terms, and scorn to fly,

Unknown to heroes, and to sons of Greece

The shameful slavery of a Persian peace;

Defiance stern, not servile gifts I bring,

Your bonds detested, and despised your King;

Of equal size, the Greeks two altars raise

To Jove’s high glory, and Minerva’s praise,

The God propitious heard, and from the skies

Descends the Goddess of the azure eyes,

And thus began — Assembled Greeks give ear

Attend my wisdom, nor my glory fear;

When morn awakes, Darius numbers dare

Clang your loud arms, and rouse the swelling war,

But first to yon proud fleet a herald send

To bid the Persians yield, and war suspend

For vainly to their God, they suppliant call

Jove favors Greece, and Pallas wills their fall.”

The Goddess spoke th’ Athenians own her sway

I seek the fleet, and heaven’s command obey.

The Greeks disdain your millions in the war

Nor I, oh Chief, your promised vengeance fear

Strike! but remember that the God on high

Who rules the heavens, and thunders thro’ the sky

Not unrevenged will see his herald slain

Nor shall thy threats his anger tempt in vain.”

And thus the Greek, then Datis thus replies

Flames black and fearful scowling from his eyes,

“Herald away! and Asia’s vengeance fear

Back to your phrenzied train my mandate bear,

That Greece and Grecian Gods may threat in vain,

We scorn their anger, and their wrath disdain:

For he who lights the earth and rules the skies

With happy omens to our vows replies.

When morn uprising, breathes her saffron light

Prepare to dare our millions in the fight.

Thy life I give, Darius’ will to say

And Asia’s hate — hence Chief, no more, away!”

He said, and anger filled the Grecian’s breast

But prudent, he the rising wrath suppressed;

Indignant, thro’ the canvas tents he strode

And silently invoked the thundering God.

Fears for his country in his bosom rose.

As on he wandered midst unnumbered foes;

He strikes his swelling breast and hastens on

O’er the wide plains of barren Marathon.

And now he sees the Grecian banners rise

And well armed warriors blaze before his eyes,

Then thus he spoke — “Ye Grecian bands give ear.

Ye warrior Chiefs, and Attic heroes hear!

Your will to Asia’s other Prince I told

All which you bade me. Chieftains to unfold.

But Pallas’ vengeance I denounced in vain,

Your threats he scorned, and heard with proud disdain,

The God, he boasts, who lights the earth and skies

With happy omens to his vows replies;

Then when the uprising morn extends her light

Prepare, ye Greeks, to dare his powers in fight.”

He said — the Greeks for instant strife declare

Their will, and arm impatient for the war.

Then he their godlike Chief, as Pallas sage,

“Obey my counsels, and repress your rage,

Ye Greeks,” he cried, “the sacred night displays

Her shadowy veil, and earth in gloom arrays;

Her sable shades, e’en Persia’s Chiefs obey

And wait the golden mandate of the day:

Such is the will of Jove, and Gods above,

And such the order of the loved of Jove.”

He said — the Greeks their leaders word obey,

They seek their tents, and wait th’ approaching day,

O’er either host celestial Somnus reigns,

And solemn silence lulls th’ embattled plains.

End of Book III.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32