The Pharsalia of Lucan

Book iii

Massilia

Julia appears to Pompeius in a vision, lines 1-45. Caesar sends Curio to Sicily and Sardinia, and proceeds to Rome, 46-128. The tribune Metellus endeavours to prevent him from seizing the treasure in the Temple of Saturn, 128-193. Catalogue of Pompeius’ forces, 194-342. Caesar marches on Massilia; speech of the citizens, and his reply, 342-424. He blockades the town, 429-460; and cuts down the Grove of the Druids, 460-514. Caesar leaves for Spain, 510. The fight in the trenches, 511-574. Naval battle; various episodes; victory of Decimus Brutus, 569-838.

With canvas yielding to the western wind

The navy sailed the deep, and every eye

Gazed on Ionian billows. But the chief

Turned not his vision from his native shore

Now left for ever, while the morning mists

Drew down upon the mountains, and the cliffs

Faded in distance till his aching sight

No longer knew them. Then his wearied frame

Sank in the arms of sleep. But Julia’s shape,

In mournful guise, dread horror on her brow,10

Rose through the gaping earth, and from her tomb

Erect 64, in form as of a Fury spake:

“Driven from Elysian fields and from the plains

The blest inhabit, when the war began,

I dwell in Stygian darkness where abide

The souls of all the guilty. There I saw

Th’ Eumenides with torches in their hands

Prepared against thy battles; and the fleets 65

Which by the ferryman of the flaming stream

Were made to bear thy dead: while Hell itself20

Relaxed its punishments; the sisters three

With busy fingers all their needful task

Could scarce accomplish, and the threads of fate

Dropped from their weary hands. With me thy wife,

Thou, Magnus, leddest happy triumphs home:

New wedlock brings new luck. Thy concubine,

Whose star brings all her mighty husbands ill,

Cornelia, weds in thee a breathing tomb. 66

Through wars and oceans let her cling to thee

So long as I may break thy nightly rest:30

No moment left thee for her love, but all

By night to me, by day to Caesar given.

Me not the oblivious banks of Lethe’s stream

Have made forgetful; and the kings of death

Have suffered me to join thee; in mid fight

I will be with thee, and my haunting ghost

Remind thee Caesar’s daughter was thy spouse.

Thy sword kills not our pledges; civil war

Shall make thee wholly mine.” She spake and fled.

But he, though heaven and hell thus bode defeat,40

More bent on war, with mind assured of ill,

“Why dread vain phantoms of a dreaming brain?

Or nought of sense and feeling to the soul

Is left by death; or death itself is nought.”

Now fiery Titan in declining path

Dipped to the waves, his bright circumference

So much diminished as a growing moon

Not yet full circled, or when past the full;

When to the fleet a hospitable coast

Gave access, and the ropes in order laid,50

The sailors struck the masts and rowed ashore.

When Caesar saw the fleet escape his grasp

And hidden from his view by lengthening seas,

Left without rival on Hesperian soil,

He found no joy in triumph; rather grieved

That thus in safety Magnus’ flight was sped.

Not any gifts of Fortune now sufficed

His fiery spirit; and no victory won,

Unless the war was finished with the stroke.

Then arms he laid aside, in guise of peace60

Seeking the people’s favour; skilled to know

How to arouse their ire, and how to gain

The popular love by corn in plenty given.

For famine only makes a city free;

By gifts of food the tyrant buys a crowd

To cringe before him: but a people starved

Is fearless ever.

Curio he bids

Cross over to Sicilian cities, where

Or ocean by a sudden rise o’erwhelmed70

The land, or split the isthmus right in twain,

Leaving a path for seas. Unceasing tides

There labour hugely lest again should meet

The mountains rent asunder. Nor were left

Sardinian shores unvisited: each isle

Is blest with noble harvests which have filled

More than all else the granaries of Rome,

And poured their plenty on Hesperia’s shores.

Not even Libya, with its fertile soil,

Their yield surpasses, when the southern wind80

Gives way to northern and permits the clouds

To drop their moisture on the teeming earth.

This ordered, Caesar leads his legions on,

Not armed for war, but as in time of peace

Returning to his home. Ah! had he come

With only Gallia conquered and the North 67,

What long array of triumph had he brought!

What pictured scenes of battle! how had Rhine

And Ocean borne his chains! How noble Gaul,

And Britain’s fair-haired chiefs his lofty car90

Had followed! Such a triumph had he lost

By further conquest. Now in silent fear

They watched his marching troops, nor joyful towns

Poured out their crowds to welcome his return.

Yet did the conqueror’s proud soul rejoice,

Far more than at their love, at such a fear.

Now Anxur’s hold was passed, the oozy road

That separates the marsh, the grove sublime 68

Where reigns the Scythian goddess, and the path

By which men bear the fasces to the feast100

On Alba’s summit. From the height afar —

Gazing in awe upon the walls of Rome

His native city, since the Northern war

Unseen, unvisited — thus Caesar spake:

“Who would not fight for such a god-like town?

And have they left thee, Rome, without a blow?

Thank the high gods no eastern hosts are here

To wreak their fury; nor Sarmatian horde

With northern tribes conjoined; by Fortune’s gift

This war is civil: else this coward chief110

Had been thy ruin.”

Trembling at his feet

He found the city: deadly fire and flame,

As from a conqueror, gods and fanes dispersed;

Such was the measure of their fear, as though

His power and wish were one. No festal shout

Greeted his march, no feigned acclaim of joy.

Scarce had they time for hate. In Phoebus’ hall

Their hiding places left, a crowd appeared

Of Senators, uncalled, for none could call.120

No Consul there the sacred shrine adorned

Nor Praetor next in rank, and every seat

Placed for the officers of state was void:

Caesar was all; and to his private voice 69

All else were listeners. The fathers sat

Ready to grant a temple or a throne,

If such his wish; and for themselves to vote

Or death or exile. Well it was for Rome

That Caesar blushed to order what they feared.

Yet in one breast the spirit of freedom rose130

Indignant for the laws; for when the gates

Of Saturn’s temple hot Metellus saw,

Were yielding to the shock, he clove the ranks

Of Caesar’s troops, and stood before the doors

As yet unopened. ’Tis the love of gold

Alone that fears not death; no hand is raised

For perished laws or violated rights:

But for this dross, the vilest cause of all,

Men fight and die. Thus did the Tribune bar

The victor’s road to rapine, and with voice140

Clear ringing spake: “Save o’er Metellus dead

This temple opens not; my sacred blood

Shall flow, thou robber, ere the gold be thine.

And surely shall the Tribune’s power defied

Find an avenging god; this Crassus knew 70,

Who, followed by our curses, sought the war

And met disaster on the Parthian plains.

Draw then thy sword, nor fear the crowd that gapes

To view thy crimes: the citizens are gone.

Not from our treasury reward for guilt150

Thy hosts shall ravish: other towns are left,

And other nations; wage the war on them —

Drain not Rome’s peace for spoil.” The victor then,

Incensed to ire: “Vain is thy hope to fall

In noble death, as guardian of the right;

With all thine honours, thou of Caesar’s rage

Art little worthy: never shall thy blood

Defile his hand. Time lowest things with high

Confounds not yet so much that, if thy voice

Could save the laws, it were not better far160

They fell by Caesar.” Such his lofty words.

But as the Tribune yielded not, his rage

Rose yet the more, and at his soldiers’ swords

One look he cast, forgetting for the time

What robe he wore; but soon Metellus heard

These words from Cotta: “When men bow to power

Freedom of speech is only Freedom’s bane 71,

Whose shade at least survives, if with free will

Thou dost whate’er is bidden thee. For us

Some pardon may be found: a host of ills170

Compelled submission, and the shame is less

That to have done which could not be refused.

Yield, then, this wealth, the seeds of direful war.

A nation’s anger is by losses stirred,

When laws protect it; but the hungry slave

Brings danger to his master, not himself.”

At this Metellus yielded from the path;

And as the gates rolled backward, echoed loud

The rock Tarpeian, and the temple’s depths

Gave up the treasure which for centuries180

No hand had touched: all that the Punic foe

And Perses and Philippus conquered gave,

And all the gold which Pyrrhus panic-struck

Left when he fled: that gold 72, the price of Rome,

Which yet Fabricius sold not, and the hoard

Laid up by saving sires; the tribute sent

By Asia’s richest nations; and the wealth

Which conquering Metellus brought from Crete,

And Cato 73 bore from distant Cyprus home;

And last, the riches torn from captive kings190

And borne before Pompeius when he came

In frequent triumph. Thus was robbed the shrine,

And Caesar first brought poverty to Rome.

Meanwhile all nations of the earth were moved

To share in Magnus’ fortunes and the war,

And in his fated ruin. Graecia sent,

Nearest of all, her succours to the host.

From Cirrha and Parnassus’ double peak

And from Amphissa, Phocis sent her youth:

Boeotian leaders muster in the meads200

By Dirce laved, and where Cephisus rolls

Gifted with fateful power his stream along:

And where Alpheus, who beyond the sea 74

In fount Sicilian seeks the day again.

Pisa deserted stands, and Oeta, loved

By Hercules of old; Dodona’s oaks

Are left to silence by the sacred train,

And all Epirus rushes to the war.

And proud Athena, mistress of the seas,

Sends three poor ships (alas! her all) to prove210

Her ancient victory o’er the Persian King.

Next seek the battle Creta’s hundred tribes

Beloved of Jove and rivalling the east

In skill to wing the arrow from the bow.

The walls of Dardan Oricum, the woods

Where Athamanians wander, and the banks

Of swift Absyrtus foaming to the main

Are left forsaken. Enchelaean tribes

Whose king was Cadmus, and whose name records

His transformation 75, join the host; and those220

Who till Penean fields and turn the share

Above Iolcos in Thessalian lands.”

There first men steeled their hearts to dare the waves 76

And ‘gainst the rage of ocean and the storm

To match their strength, when the rude Argo sailed

Upon that distant quest, and spurned the shore,

Joining remotest nations in her flight,

And gave the fates another form of death.

Left too was Pholoe; pretended home

Where dwelt the fabled race of double form 77;230

Arcadian Maenalus; the Thracian mount

Named Haemus; Strymon whence, as autumn falls,

Winged squadrons seek the banks of warmer Nile;

And all the isles the mouths of Ister bathe

Mixed with the tidal wave; the land through which

The cooling eddies of Caicus flow

Idalian; and Arisbe bare of glebe.

The hinds of Pitane, and those who till

Celaenae’s fields which mourned of yore the gift

Of Pallas 78, and the vengeance of the god,240

All draw the sword; and those from Marsyas’ flood

First swift, then doubling backwards with the stream

Of sinuous Meander: and from where

Pactolus leaves his golden source and leaps

From Earth permitting; and with rival wealth

Rich Hermus parts the meads. Nor stayed the bands

Of Troy, but (doomed as in old time) they joined

Pompeius’ fated camp: nor held them back

The fabled past, nor Caesar’s claimed descent

From their Iulus. Syrian peoples came250

From palmy Idumea and the walls

Of Ninus great of yore; from windy plains

Of far Damascus and from Gaza’s hold,

From Sidon’s courts enriched with purple dye,

And Tyre oft trembling with the shaken earth.

All these led on by Cynosura’s light 79

Furrow their certain path to reach the war.

Phoenicians first (if story be believed)

Dared to record in characters; for yet

Papyrus was not fashioned, and the priests260

Of Memphis, carving symbols upon walls

Of mystic sense (in shape of beast or fowl)

Preserved the secrets of their magic art.

Next Persean Tarsus and high Taurus’ groves

Are left deserted, and Corycium’s cave;

And all Cilicia’s ports, pirate no more,

Resound with preparation. Nor the East

Refused the call, where furthest Ganges dares,

Alone of rivers, to discharge his stream

Against the sun opposing; on this shore 80270

The Macedonian conqueror stayed his foot

And found the world his victor; here too rolls

Indus his torrent with Hydaspes joined

Yet hardly feels it; here from luscious reed

Men draw sweet liquor; here they dye their locks

With tints of saffron, and with coloured gems

Bind down their flowing garments; here are they,

Who satiate of life and proud to die,

Ascend the blazing pyre, and conquering fate,

Scorn to live longer; but triumphant give280

The remnant of their days in flame to heaven. 81

Nor fails to join the host a hardy band

Of Cappadocians, tilling now the soil,

Once pirates of the main: nor those who dwell

Where steep Niphates hurls the avalanche,

And where on Median Coatra’s sides

The giant forest rises to the sky.

And you, Arabians, from your distant home

Came to a world unknown, and wondering saw

The shadows fall no longer to the left. 82290

Then fired with ardour for the Roman war

Oretas came, and far Carmania’s chiefs,

Whose clime lies southward, yet men thence descry

Low down the Pole star, and Bootes runs

Hasting to set, part seen, his nightly course;

And Ethiopians from that southern land

Which lies without the circuit of the stars,

Did not the Bull with curving hoof advanced

O’erstep the limit. From that mountain zone

They come, where rising from a common fount300

Euphrates flows and Tigris, and did earth

Permit, were joined with either name; but now

While like th’ Egyptian flood Euphrates spreads

His fertilising water, Tigris first

Drawn down by earth in covered depths is plunged

And holds a secret course; then born again

Flows on unhindered to the Persian sea.

But warlike Parthia wavered ‘twixt the chiefs,

Content to have made them two 83; while Scythia’s hordes

Dipped fresh their darts in poison, whom the stream310

Of Bactros bounds and vast Hyrcanian woods.

Hence springs that rugged nation swift and fierce,

Descended from the Twins’ great charioteer. 84

Nor failed Sarmatia, nor the tribes that dwell

By richest Phasis, and on Halys’ banks,

Which sealed the doom of Croesus’ king; nor where

From far Rhipaean ranges Tanais flows,

On either hand a quarter of the world,

Asia and Europe, and in winding course

Carves out a continent; nor where the strait320

In boiling surge pours to the Pontic deep

Maeotis’ waters, rivalling the pride

Of those Herculean pillar-gates that guard

The entrance to an ocean. Thence with hair

In golden fillets, Arimaspians came,

And fierce Massagetae, who quaff the blood

Of the brave steed on which they fight and flee.

Not when great Cyrus on Memnonian realms

His warriors poured; nor when, their weapons piled, 85

The Persian told the number of his host;330

Nor when th’ avenger 86 of a brother’s shame

Loaded the billows with his mighty fleet,

Beneath one chief so many kings made war;

Nor e’er met nations varied thus in garb

And thus in language. To Pompeius’ death

Thus Fortune called them: and a world in arms

Witnessed his ruin. From where Afric’s god,

Two-horned Ammon, rears his temple, came

All Libya ceaseless, from the wastes that touch

The bounds of Egypt to the shore that meets340

The Western Ocean. Thus, to award the prize

Of Empire at one blow, Pharsalia brought

‘Neath Caesar’s conquering hand the banded world.

Now Caesar left the walls of trembling Rome

And swift across the cloudy Alpine tops

He winged his march; but while all others fled

Far from his path, in terror of his name,

Phocaea’s 87 manhood with unGrecian faith

Held to their pledged obedience, and dared

To follow right not fate; but first of all350

With olive boughs of truce before them borne

The chieftain they approach, with peaceful words

In hope to alter his unbending will

And tame his fury. “Search the ancient books

Which chronicle the deeds of Latian fame;

Thou’lt ever find, when foreign foes pressed hard,

Massilia’s prowess on the side of Rome.

And now, if triumphs in an unknown world

Thou seekest, Caesar, here our arms and swords

Accept in aid: but if, in impious strife360

Of civil discord, with a Roman foe

Thou seek’st to join in battle, weeping then

We hold aloof: no stranger hand may touch

Celestial wounds. Should all Olympus’ hosts

Have rushed to war, or should the giant brood

Assault the stars, yet men would not presume

Or by their prayers or arms to help the gods:

And, ignorant of the fortunes of the sky,

Taught by the thunderbolts alone, would know

That Jupiter supreme still held the throne.370

Add that unnumbered nations join the fray:

Nor shrinks the world so much from taint of crime

That civil wars reluctant swords require.

But grant that strangers shun thy destinies

And only Romans fight — shall not the son

Shrink ere he strike his father? on both sides

Brothers forbid the weapon to be hurled?

The world’s end comes when other hands are armed 88

Than those which custom and the gods allow.

For us, this is our prayer: Leave, Caesar, here380

Thy dreadful eagles, keep thy hostile signs

Back from our gates, but enter thou in peace

Massilia’s ramparts; let our city rest

Withdrawn from crime, to Magnus and to thee

Safe: and should favouring fate preserve our walls

Inviolate, when both shall wish for peace

Here meet unarmed. Why hither turn’st thou now

Thy rapid march? Nor weight nor power have we

To sway the mighty conflicts of the world.

We boast no victories since our fatherland390

We left in exile: when Phocaea’s fort

Perished in flames, we sought another here;

And here on foreign shores, in narrow bounds

Confined and safe, our boast is sturdy faith;

Nought else. But if our city to blockade

Is now thy mind — to force the gates, and hurl

Javelin and blazing torch upon our homes —

Do what thou wilt: cut off the source that fills

Our foaming river, force us, prone in thirst,

To dig the earth and lap the scanty pool;400

Seize on our corn and leave us food abhorred:

Nor shall this people shun, for freedom’s sake,

The ills Saguntum bore in Punic siege; 89

Torn, vainly clinging, from the shrunken breast

The starving babe shall perish in the flames.

Wives at their husbands’ hands shall pray their fate,

And brothers’ weapons deal a mutual death.

Such be our civil war; not, Caesar, thine.”

But Caesar’s visage stern betrayed his ire

Which thus broke forth in words: “Vain is the hope410

Ye rest upon my march: speed though I may

Towards my western goal, time still remains

To blot Massilia out. Rejoice, my troops!

Unsought the war ye longed for meets you now:

The fates concede it. As the tempests lose

Their strength by sturdy forests unopposed,

And as the fire that finds no fuel dies,

Even so to find no foe is Caesar’s ill.

When those who may be conquered will not fight

That is defeat. Degenerate, disarmed420

Their gates admit me! Not content, forsooth,

With shutting Caesar out they shut him in!

They shun the taint of war! Such prayer for peace

Brings with it chastisement. In Caesar’s age

Learn that not peace, but war within his ranks

Alone can make you safe.”

Fearless he turns

His march upon the city, and beholds

Fast barred the gate-ways, while in arms the youths

Stand on the battlements. Hard by the walls430

A hillock rose, upon the further side

Expanding in a plain of gentle slope,

Fit (as he deemed it) for a camp with ditch

And mound encircling. To a lofty height

The nearest portion of the city rose,

While intervening valleys lay between.

These summits with a mighty trench to bind

The chief resolves, gigantic though the toil.

But first, from furthest boundaries of his camp,

Enclosing streams and meadows, to the sea440

To draw a rampart, upon either hand

Heaved up with earthy sod; with lofty towers

Crowned; and to shut Massilia from the land.

Then did the Grecian city win renown

Eternal, deathless, for that uncompelled

Nor fearing for herself, but free to act

She made the conqueror pause: and he who seized

All in resistless course found here delay:

And Fortune, hastening to lay the world

Low at her favourite’s feet, was forced to stay450

For these few moments her impatient hand.

Now fell the forests far and wide, despoiled

Of all their giant trunks: for as the mound

On earth and brushwood stood, a timber frame

Held firm the soil, lest pressed beneath its towers

The mass might topple down. There stood a grove

Which from the earliest time no hand of man

Had dared to violate; hidden from the sun 90

Its chill recesses; matted boughs entwined

Prisoned the air within. No sylvan nymphs460

Here found a home, nor Pan, but savage rites

And barbarous worship, altars horrible

On massive stones upreared; sacred with blood

Of men was every tree. If faith be given

To ancient myth, no fowl has ever dared

To rest upon those branches, and no beast

Has made his lair beneath: no tempest falls,

Nor lightnings flash upon it from the cloud.

Stagnant the air, unmoving, yet the leaves

Filled with mysterious trembling; dripped the streams470

From coal-black fountains; effigies of gods

Rude, scarcely fashioned from some fallen trunk

Held the mid space: and, pallid with decay,

Their rotting shapes struck terror. Thus do men

Dread most the god unknown. ’Twas said that caves

Rumbled with earthquakes, that the prostrate yew

Rose up again; that fiery tongues of flame

Gleamed in the forest depths, yet were the trees

Unkindled; and that snakes in frequent folds

Were coiled around the trunks. Men flee the spot480

Nor dare to worship near: and e’en the priest

Or when bright Phoebus holds the height, or when

Dark night controls the heavens, in anxious dread

Draws near the grove and fears to find its lord.

Spared in the former war, still dense it rose

Where all the hills were bare, and Caesar now

Its fall commanded. But the brawny arms

Which swayed the axes trembled, and the men,

Awed by the sacred grove’s dark majesty,

Held back the blow they thought would be returned.490

This Caesar saw, and swift within his grasp

Uprose a ponderous axe, which downward fell

Cleaving a mighty oak that towered to heaven,

While thus he spake: “Henceforth let no man dread

To fell this forest: all the crime is mine.

This be your creed.” He spake, and all obeyed,

For Caesar’s ire weighed down the wrath of Heaven.

Yet ceased they not to fear. Then first the oak,

Dodona’s ancient boast; the knotty holm;

The cypress, witness of patrician grief,500

The buoyant alder, laid their foliage low

Admitting day; though scarcely through the stems

Their fall found passage. At the sight the Gauls

Grieved; but the garrison within the walls

Rejoiced: for thus shall men insult the gods

And find no punishment? Yet fortune oft

Protects the guilty; on the poor alone

The gods can vent their ire. Enough hewn down,

They seize the country wagons; and the hind,

His oxen gone which else had drawn the plough,510

Mourns for his harvest.

But the eager chief

Impatient of the combat by the walls

Carries the warfare to the furthest west.

Meanwhile a giant mound, on star-shaped wheels

Concealed, they fashion, crowned with double towers

High as the battlements, by cause unseen

Slow creeping onwards; while amazed the foe,

Beheld, and thought some subterranean gust

Had burst the caverns of the earth and forced520

The nodding pile aloft, and wondered sore

Their walls should stand unshaken. From its height

Hissed clown the weapons; but the Grecian bolts

With greater force were on the Romans hurled;

Nor by the arm unaided, for the lance

Urged by the catapult resistless rushed

Through arms and shield and flesh, and left a death

Behind, nor stayed its course: and massive stones

Cast by the beams of mighty engines fell;

As from the mountain top some time-worn rock530

At length by winds dislodged, in all its track

Spreads ruin vast: nor crushed the life alone

Forth from the body, but dispersed the limbs

In fragments undistinguished and in blood.

But as protected by the armour shield

The might of Rome drew nigh beneath the wall

(The front rank with their bucklers interlaced

And held above their helms), the missiles fell

Behind their backs, nor could the toiling Greeks

Deflect their engines, throwing still the bolts540

Far into space; but from the rampart top

Flung ponderous masses down. Long as the shields

Held firm together, like to hail that falls

Harmless upon a roof, so long the stones

Crushed down innocuous; but as the blows

Rained fierce and ceaseless and the Romans tired,

Some here and there sank fainting. Next the roof

Advanced with earth besprinkled: underneath

The ram conceals his head, which, poised and swung,

They dash with mighty force upon the wall,550

Covered themselves with mantlets. Though the head

Light on the lower stones, yet as the shock

Falls and refalls, from battlement to base

The rampart soon shall topple. But by balks

And rocky fragments overwhelmed, and flames,

The roof at length gave way; and worn with toil

All spent in vain, the wearied troops withdrew

And sought the shelter of their tents again.

Thus far to hold their battlements was all

The Greeks had hoped; now, venturing attack,560

With glittering torches for their arms, by night

Fearless they sallied forth: nor lance they bear

Nor deadly bow, nor shaft; for fire alone

Is now their weapon. Through the Roman works

Driven by the wind the conflagration spread:

Nor did the newness of the wood make pause

The fury of the flames, which, fed afresh

By living torches, ‘neath a smoky pall

Leaped on in fiery tongues. Not wood alone

But stones gigantic crumbling into dust570

Dissolved beneath the heat; the mighty mound

Lay prone, yet in its ruin larger seemed.

Next, conquered on the land, upon the main

They try their fortunes. On their simple craft

No painted figure-head adorned the bows

Nor claimed protection from the gods; but rude,

Just as they fell upon their mountain homes,

The trees were knit together, and the deck

Gave steady foot-hold for an ocean fight.

Meantime had Caesar’s squadron kept the isles580

Named Stoechades 91, and Brutus 92 turret ship

Mastered the Rhone. Nor less the Grecian host —

Boys not yet grown to war, and aged men,

Armed for the conflict, with their all at stake.

Nor only did they marshal for the fight

Ships meet for service; but their ancient keels

Brought from the dockyards. When the morning rays

Broke from the waters, and the sky was clear,

And all the winds were still upon the deep,

Smoothed for the battle, swift on either part590

The fleets essay the open; and the ships

Tremble beneath the oars that urge them on,

By sinewy arms impelled. Upon the wings

That bound the Roman fleet, the larger craft

With triple and quadruple banks of oars

Gird in the lesser: so they front the sea;

While in their rear, shaped as a crescent moon,

Liburnian galleys follow. Over all

Towers Brutus’ deck praetorian. Oars on oars

Propel the bulky vessel through the main,600

Six ranks; the topmost strike the waves afar.

When such a space remained between the fleets

As could be covered by a single stroke,

Innumerable voices rose in air

Drowning with resonant din the beat of oars

And note of trumpet summoning: and all

Sat on the benches and with mighty stroke

Swept o’er the sea and gained the space between.

Then crashed the prows together, and the keels

Rebounded backwards, and unnumbered darts610

Or darkened all the sky or, in their fall,

The vacant ocean. As the wings grew wide,

Less densely packed the fleet, some Grecian ships

Pressed in between; as when with west and east

The tide contends, this way the waves are driven

And that the sea; so as they plough the deep

In various lines converging, what the prow

Throws up advancing, from the foemen’s oars

Falls back repelled. But soon the Grecian fleet

Was handier found in battle, and in flight620

Pretended, and in shorter curves could round;

More deftly governed by the guiding helm:

While on the Roman side their steadier keels

Gave vantage, as to men who fight on land.

Then Brutus to the pilot of his ship:

“Dost suffer them to range the wider deep,

Contending with the foe in naval skill?

Draw close the war and drive us on the prows

Of these Phocaeans.” Him the pilot heard;

And turned his vessel slantwise to the foe.630

Then was the sea all covered with the war:

Then Grecian ships attacking Brutus found

Their ruin in the stroke, and vanquished lay

Beside his bulwarks; while with grappling hooks

Others laid fast the foe, themselves by oars

Held back the while. And now no outstretched arm

Hurls forth the javelin, but hand to hand

With swords they wage the fight: each from his ship

Leans forward to the stroke, and falls when slain

Upon a foeman’s deck. Deep flows the stream640

Of purple slaughter to the foamy main:

By piles of floating corpses are the sides,

Though grappled, kept asunder. Some, half dead,

Plunge in the ocean, gulping down the brine

Encrimsoned with their blood; some lingering still

Draw their last struggling breath amid the wreck

Of broken navies: weapons which have missed

Find yet their victims, and the falling steel

Fails not in middle deep to deal the wound.

One vessel circled by Phocaean keels650

Divides her strength, and on the right and left

On either side with equal war contends;

On whose high poop while Tagus fighting gripped

The stern Phocaean, pierced his back and breast

Two fatal weapons; in the midst the steel

Meets, and the blood, uncertain whence to flow,

Stands still, arrested, till with double course

Forth by a sudden gush it drives each dart,

And sends the life abroad through either wound.

Here fated Telon also steered his ship:660

No pilot’s hand upon an angry sea

More deftly ruled a vessel. Well he knew,

Or by the sun or crescent moon, how best

To set his canvas fitted for the breeze

To-morrow’s light would bring. His rushing stem

Shattered a Roman vessel: but a dart

Hurled at the moment quivers in his breast.

He falls, and in the fall his dying hand

Diverts the prow. Then Gyareus, in act

To climb the friendly deck, by javelin pierced,670

Still as he hung, by the retaining steel

Fast to the side was nailed.

Twin brethren stand

A fruitful mother’s pride; with different fates,

But ne’er distinguished till death’s savage hand

Struck once, and ended error: he that lived,

Cause of fresh anguish to their sorrowing souls,

Called ever to the weeping parents back

The image of the lost: who, as the oars

Grecian and Roman mixed their teeth oblique,680

Grasped with his dexter hand the Roman ship;

When fell a blow that shore his arm away.

So died, upon the side it held, the hand,

Nor loosed its grasp in death. Yet with the wound

His noble courage rose, and maimed he dared

Renew the fray, and stretched across the sea

To grasp the lost — in vain! another blow

Lopped arm and hand alike. Nor shield nor sword

Henceforth are his. Yet even now he seeks

No sheltering hold, but with his chest advanced690

Before his brother armed, he claims the fight,

And holding in his breast the darts which else

Had slain his comrades, pierced with countless spears,

He fails in death well earned; yet ere his end

Collects his parting life, and all his strength

Strains to the utmost and with failing limbs

Leaps on the foeman’s deck; by weight alone

Injurious; for streaming down with gore

And piled on high with corpses, while her sides

Sounded to ceaseless blows, the fated ship700

Let in the greedy brine until her ways

Were level with the waters — then she plunged

In whirling eddies downwards — and the main

First parted, then closed in upon its prey.

Full many wondrous deaths, with fates diverse,

Upon the sea in that day’s fight befell.

Caught by a grappling-hook that missed the side,

Had Lysidas been whelmed in middle deep;

But by his feet his comrades dragged him back,

And rent in twain he hung; nor slowly flowed710

As from a wound the blood; but all his veins 93

Were torn asunder and the stream of life

Gushed o’er his limbs till lost amid the deep.

From no man dying has the vital breath

Rushed by so wide a path; the lower trunk

Succumbed to death, but with the lungs and heart

Long strove the fates, and hardly won the whole.

While, bent upon the fight, an eager crew

Were gathered to the margin of their deck

(Leaving the upper side as bare of foes),720

Their ship was overset. Beneath the keel

Which floated upwards, prisoned in the sea,

And powerless by spread of arms to float

The main, they perished. One who haply swam

Amid the battle, chanced upon a death

Strange and unheard of; for two meeting prows

Transfixed his body. At the double stroke

Wide yawned his chest; blood issued from his mouth

With flesh commingled; and the brazen beaks

Resounding clashed together, by the bones730

Unhindered: now they part and through the gap

Swift pours the sea and drags the corse below.

Next, of a shipwrecked crew, the larger part

Struggling with death upon the waters, reached

A comrade bark; but when with elbows raised do

They seized upon the bulwarks and the ship

Rolled, nor could bear their weight, the ruthless crew

Hacked off their straining arms; then maimed they sank

Below the seething waves, to rise no more.

Now every dart was hurled and every spear,740

The soldier weaponless; yet their rage found arms:

One hurls an oar; another’s brawny arm

Tugs at the twisted stern; or from the seats

The oarsmen driving, swings a bench in air.

The ships are broken for the fight. They seize

The fallen dead and snatch the sword that slew.

Nay, many from their wounds, frenzied for arms,

Pluck forth the deadly steel, and pressing still

Upon their yawning sides, hurl forth the spear

Back to the hostile ranks from which it came;750

Then ebbs their life blood forth.

But deadlier yet

Was that fell force most hostile to the sea;

For, thrown in torches and in sulphurous bolts

Fire all-consuming ran among the ships,

Whose oily timbers soaked in pitch and wax

Inflammable, gave welcome to the flames.

Nor could the waves prevail against the blaze

Which claimed as for its own the fragments borne

Upon the waters. Lo! on burning plank760

One hardly ‘scapes destruction; one to save

His flaming ship, gives entrance to the main.

Of all the forms of death each fears the one

That brings immediate dying: yet quails not

Their heart in shipwreck: from the waves they pluck

The fallen darts and furnishing the ship

Essay the feeble stroke; and should that hope

Still fail their hand, they call the sea to aid

And seizing in their grasp some floating foe

Drag him to mutual death.770

But on that day

Phoceus above all others proved his skill.

Well trained was he to dive beneath the main

And search the waters with unfailing eye;

And should an anchor ‘gainst the straining rope

Too firmly bite the sands, to wrench it free.

Oft in his fatal grasp he seized a foe

Nor loosed his grip until the life was gone.

Such was his frequent deed; but this his fate:

For rising, victor (as he thought), to air,780

Full on a keel he struck and found his death.

Some, drowning, seized a hostile oar and checked

The flying vessel; not to die in vain,

Their single care; some on their vessel’s side

Hanging, in death, with wounded frame essayed

To check the charging prow.

Tyrrhenus high

Upon the bulwarks of his ship was struck

By leaden bolt from Balearic sling

Of Lygdamus; straight through his temples passed790

The fated missile; and in streams of blood

Forced from their seats his trembling eyeballs fell.

Plunged in a darkness as of night, he thought

That life had left him; yet ere long he knew

The living rigour of his limbs; and cried,

“Place me, O friends, as some machine of war

Straight facing towards the foe; then shall my darts

Strike as of old; and thou, Tyrrhenus, spend

Thy latest breath, still left, upon the fight:

So shalt thou play, not wholly dead, the part800

That fits a soldier, and the spear that strikes

Thy frame, shall miss the living.” Thus he spake,

And hurled his javelin, blind, but not in vain;

For Argus, generous youth of noble blood,

Below the middle waist received the spear

And failing drave it home. His aged sire

From furthest portion of the conquered ship

Beheld; than whom in prime of manhood none,

More brave in battle: now no more he fought,

Yet did the memory of his prowess stir810

Phocaean youths to emulate his fame.

Oft stumbling o’er the benches the old man hastes

To reach his boy, and finds him breathing still.

No tear bedewed his cheek, nor on his breast

One blow he struck, but o’er his eyes there fell

A dark impenetrable veil of mist

That blotted out the day; nor could he more

Discern his luckless Argus. He, who saw

His parent, raising up his drooping head

With parted lips and silent features asks820

A father’s latest kiss, a father’s hand

To close his dying eyes. But soon his sire,

Recovering from his swoon, when ruthless grief

Possessed his spirit, “This short space,” he cried,

“I lose not, which the cruel gods have given,

But die before thee. Grant thy sorrowing sire

Forgiveness that he fled thy last embrace.

Not yet has passed thy life blood from the wound

Nor yet is death upon thee — still thou may’st 94

Outlive thy parent.” Thus he spake, and seized830

The reeking sword and drave it to the hilt,

Then plunged into the deep, with headlong bound,

To anticipate his son: for this he feared

A single form of death should not suffice.

Now gave the fates their judgment, and in doubt

No longer was the war: the Grecian fleet

In most part sunk; — some ships by Romans oared

Conveyed the victors home: in headlong flight

Some sought the yards for shelter. On the strand

What tears of parents for their offspring slain,840

How wept the mothers! ‘Mid the pile confused

Ofttimes the wife sought madly for her spouse

And chose for her last kiss some Roman slain;

While wretched fathers by the blazing pyres

Fought for the dead. But Brutus thus at sea

First gained a triumph for great Caesar’s arms. 95

64 Reading adscenso, as Francken (Leyden, 1896).

65 So:

“The rugged Charon fainted,

And asked a navy, rather than a boat,

To ferry over the sad world that came.”

(Ben Jonson, “Catiline”, Act i., scene 1.)

66 I take “tepido busto” as the dative case; and, as referring to Pompeius, doomed, like Cornelia’s former husband, to defeat and death.

67 It may be remarked that, in B.C. 46, Caesar, after the battle of Thapsus, celebrated four triumphs: for his victories over the Gauls, Ptolemaeus, Pharnaces, and Juba.

68 Near Aricia. (See Book VI., 92.)

69 He held no office at the time.

70 The tribune Ateius met Crassus as he was setting out from Rome and denounced him with mysterious and ancient curses. (Plutarch, “Crassus”, 16.)

71 That is, the liberty remaining to the people is destroyed by speaking freely to the tyrant.

72 That is, the gold offered by Pyrrhus, and refused by Fabricius, which, after the final defeat of Pyrrhus, came into the possession of the victors.

73 See Plutarch, “Cato”, 34, 39.

74 It was generally believed that the river Alpheus of the Peloponnesus passed under the sea and reappeared in the fountain of Arethusa at Syracuse. A goblet was said to have been thrown into the river in Greece, and to have reappeared in the Sicilian fountain. See the note in Grote’s “History of Greece”, Edition 1863, vol. ii., p. 8.)

75 As a serpent. XXXXX is the Greek word for serpent.

76 Conf. Book VI., 473.

77 The Centaurs.

78 Probably the flute thrown away by Pallas, which Marsyas picked up and then challenged Apollo to a musical contest. For his presumption the god had him flayed alive.

79 That is, the Little Bear, by which the Phoenicians steered, while the Greeks steered by the Great Bear. (See Sir G. Lewis’s “Astronomy of the Ancients”, p. 447.) In Book VI., line 193, the pilot declares that he steers by the pole star itself, which is much nearer to the Little than to the Great Bear, and is (I believe) reckoned as one of the stars forming the group known by that name. He may have been a Phoenician.

80 He did not in fact reach the Ganges, as is well known.

81 Perhaps in allusion to the embassy from India to Augustus in B.C. 19, when Zarmanochanus, an Indian sage, declaring that he had lived in happiness and would not risk the chance of a reverse, burnt himself publicly. (Merivale, chapter xxxiv.)

82 That is to say, looking towards the west; meaning that they came from the other side of the equator. (See Book IX., 630.)

83 See Book I., 117.

84 A race called Heniochi, said to be descended from the charioteer of Castor and Pollux.

85 “Effusis telis”. I have so taken this difficult expression. Herodotus (7, 60) says the men were numbered in ten thousands by being packed close together and having a circle drawn round them. After the first ten thousand had been so measured a fence was put where the circle had been, and the subsequent ten thousands were driven into the enclosure. It is not unlikely that they piled their weapons before being so measured, and Lucan’s account would then be made to agree with that of Herodotus. Francken, on the other hand, quotes a Scholiast, who says that each hundredth man shot off an arrow.

86 Agamemnon.

87 Massilia (Marseilles) was founded from Phocaea in Asia Minor about 600 B.C. Lucan (line 393) appears to think that the founders were fugitives from their city when it was stormed by the Persians sixty years later. See Thucydides I. 13; Grote, “History of Greece”, chapter xxii.

88 A difficult passage, of which this seems to be the meaning least free from objection.

89 Murviedro of the present day. Its gallant defence against Hannibal has been compared to that of Saragossa against the French.

90 See note to Book I., 506.

91 Three islands off the coast near Toulon, now called the Isles d’Hyeres.

92 This was Decimus Brutus, an able and trusted lieutenant of Caesar, who made him one of his heirs in the second degree. He, however, joined the conspiracy, and it was he who on the day of the murder induced Caesar to go to the Senate House. Less than two years later, after the siege of Perasia, he was deserted by his army, taken and put to death.

93 According to some these were the lines which Lucan recited while bleeding to death; according to others, those at Book ix., line 952.

94 It was regarded as the greatest of misfortunes if a child died before his parent.

95 It was Brutus who gained the naval victory over the Veneti some seven years before; the first naval fight, that we know of, fought in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36