The Pharsalia of Lucan

Book vi

The Fight Near Dyrrhachium. Scaeva’s Exploits. The Witch of Thessalia

Description of Dyrrhachium, which Caesar attempts to capture, 1-33. He builds a wall round Pompeius’ camp, 34-79. Pestilence in his camp and famine in Caesar’s, 80-142. Pompeius attacks Caesar’s works, but is repulsed by Scaeva, a centurion, 142-304. He breaks through at another point, 305-365. Caesar marches into Thessaly, and is followed by Pompeius, 366-389. Description of Thessaly, 390-488. Account of the Haemonian witches, 489-603, and of Erichtho, whom Sextus Pompeius determines to consult, 604-697. Enquiries of Sextus, and her answer, 698-741. She raises from the dead a corpse who answers her questions and dies again, 742-989.

Now that the chiefs with minds intent on fight

Had drawn their armies near upon the hills

And all the gods beheld their chosen pair,

Caesar, the Grecian towns despising, scorned

To reap the glory of successful war

Save at his kinsman’s cost. In all his prayers

He seeks that moment, fatal to the world,

When shall be cast the die, to win or lose,

And all his fortune hang upon the throw.

Thrice he drew out his troops, his eagles thrice,10

Demanding battle; thus to increase the woe

Of Latium, prompt as ever: but his foes,

Proof against every art, refused to leave

The rampart of their camp. Then marching swift

By hidden path between the wooded fields

He seeks, and hopes to seize, Dyrrhachium’s 158 fort;

But Magnus, speeding by the ocean marge,

First camped on Petra’s slopes, a rocky hill

Thus by the natives named. From thence he keeps

Watch o’er the fortress of Corinthian birth20

Which by its towers alone without a guard

Was safe against a siege. No hand of man

In ancient days built up her lofty wall,

No hammer rang upon her massive stones:

Not all the works of war, nor Time himself

Shall undermine her. Nature’s hand has raised

Her adamantine rocks and hedged her in

With bulwarks girded by the foamy main:

And but for one short bridge of narrow earth

Dyrrhachium were an island. Steep and fierce,30

Dreaded of sailors, are the cliffs that bear

Her walls; and tempests, howling from the west,

Toss up the raging main upon the roofs;

And homes and temples tremble at the shock.

Thirsting for battle and with hopes inflamed

Here Caesar hastes, with distant rampart lines

Seeking unseen to coop his foe within,

Though spread in spacious camp upon the hills.

With eagle eye he measures out the land

Meet to be compassed, nor content with turf40

Fit for a hasty mound, he bids his troops

Tear from the quarries many a giant rock:

And spoils the dwellings of the Greeks, and drags

Their walls asunder for his own. Thus rose

A mighty barrier which no ram could burst

Nor any ponderous machine of war.

Mountains are cleft, and level through the hills

The work of Caesar strides: wide yawns the moat,

Forts show their towers rising on the heights,

And in vast circle forests are enclosed50

And groves and spacious lands, and beasts of prey,

As in a line of toils. Pompeius lacked

Nor field nor forage in th’ encircled span

Nor room to move his camp; nay, rivers rose

Within, and ran their course and reached the sea;

And Caesar wearied ere he saw the whole,

And daylight failed him. Let the ancient tale

Attribute to the labours of the gods

The walls of Ilium: let the fragile bricks

Which compass in great Babylon, amaze60

The fleeting Parthian. Here a larger space

Than those great cities which Orontes swift

And Tigris’ stream enclose, or that which boasts

In Eastern climes, the lordly palaces

Fit for Assyria’s kings, is closed by walls

Amid the haste and tumult of a war

Forced to completion. Yet this labour huge

Was spent in vain. So many hands had joined

Or Sestos with Abydos, or had tamed

With mighty mole the Hellespontine wave,70

Or Corinth from the realm of Pelops’ king

Had rent asunder, or had spared each ship

Her voyage round the long Malean cape,

Or had done anything most hard, to change

The world’s created surface. Here the war

Was prisoned: blood predestinate to flow

In all the parts of earth; the host foredoomed

To fall in Libya or in Thessaly

Was here: in such small amphitheatre

The tide of civil passion rose and fell.80

At first Pompeius knew not: so the hind

Who peaceful tills the mid-Sicilian fields

Hears not Pelorous 159 sounding to the storm;

So billows thunder on Rutupian shores 160,

Unheard by distant Caledonia’s tribes.

But when he saw the mighty barrier stretch

O’er hill and valley, and enclose the land,

He bade his columns leave their rocky hold

And seize on posts of vantage in the plain;

Thus forcing Caesar to extend his troops90

On wider lines; and holding for his own

Such space encompassed as divides from Rome

Aricia, 161 sacred to that goddess chaste

Of old Mycenae; or as Tiber holds

From Rome’s high ramparts to the Tuscan sea,

Unless he deviate. No bugle call

Commands an onset, and the darts that fly

Fly though forbidden; but the arm that flings

For proof the lance, at random, here and there

Deals impious slaughter. Weighty care compelled100

Each leader to withhold his troops from fight;

For there the weary earth of produce failed

Pressed by Pompeius’ steeds, whose horny hoofs

Rang in their gallop on the grassy fields

And killed the succulence. They strengthless lay

Upon the mown expanse, nor pile of straw,

Brought from full barns in place of living grass,

Relieved their craving; shook their panting flanks,

And as they wheeled Death struck his victim down.

Then foul contagion filled the murky air110

Whose poisonous weight pressed on them in a cloud

Pestiferous; as in Nesis’ isle 162 the breath

Of Styx rolls upwards from the mist-clad rocks;

Or that fell vapour which the caves exhale

From Typhon 163 raging in the depths below.

Then died the soldiers, for the streams they drank

Held yet more poison than the air: the skin

Was dark and rigid, and the fiery plague

Made hard their vitals, and with pitiless tooth

Gnawed at their wasted features, while their eyes120

Started from out their sockets, and the head

Drooped for sheer weariness. So the disease

Grew swifter in its strides till scarce was room,

‘Twixt life and death, for sickness, and the pest

Slew as it struck its victim, and the dead

Thrust from the tents (such all their burial) lay

Blent with the living. Yet their camp was pitched

Hard by the breezy sea by which might come

All nations’ harvests, and the northern wind

Not seldom rolled the murky air away.130

Their foe, not vexed with pestilential air

Nor stagnant waters, ample range enjoyed

Upon the spacious uplands: yet as though

In leaguer, famine seized them for its prey.

Scarce were the crops half grown when Caesar saw

How prone they seized upon the food of beasts,

And stripped of leaves the bushes and the groves,

And dragged from roots unknown the doubtful herb.

Thus ate they, starving, all that teeth may bite

Or fire might soften, or might pass their throats140

Dry, parched, abraded; food unknown before

Nor placed on tables: while the leaguered foe

Was blessed with plenty.

When Pompeius first

Was pleased to break his bonds and be at large,

No sudden dash he makes on sleeping foe

Unarmed in shade of night; his mighty soul

Scorns such a path to victory. ’Twas his aim,

To lay the turrets low; to mark his track,

By ruin spread afar; and with the sword150

To hew a path between his slaughtered foes.

Minucius’ 164 turret was the chosen spot

Where groves of trees and thickets gave approach

Safe, unbetrayed by dust.

Up from the fields

Flashed all at once his eagles into sight

And all his trumpets blared. But ere the sword

Could win the battle, on the hostile ranks

Dread panic fell; prone as in death they lay

Where else upright they should withstand the foe;160

Nor more availed their valour, and in vain

The cloud of weapons flew, with none to slay.

Then blazing torches rolling pitchy flame

Are hurled, and shaken nod the lofty towers

And threaten ruin, and the bastions groan

Struck by the frequent engine, and the troops

Of Magnus by triumphant eagles led

Stride o’er the rampart, in their front the world.

Yet now that passage which not Caesar’s self

Nor thousand valiant squadrons had availed170

To rescue from their grasp, one man in arms

Steadfast till death refused them; Scaeva named

This hero soldier: long he served in fight

Waged ‘gainst the savage on the banks of Rhone;

And now centurion made, through deeds of blood,

He bore the staff before the marshalled line.

Prone to all wickedness, he little recked

How valourous deeds in civil war may be

Greatest of crimes; and when he saw how turned

His comrades from the war and sought in flight180

A refuge, 165 “Whence,” he cried, “this impious fear

Unknown to Caesar’s armies? Do ye turn

Your backs on death, and are ye not ashamed

Not to be found where slaughtered heroes lie?

Is loyalty too weak? Yet love of fight

Might bid you stand. We are the chosen few

Through whom the foe would break. Unbought by blood

This day shall not be theirs. ‘Neath Caesar’s eye,

True, death would be more happy; but this boon

Fortune denies: at least my fall shall be190

Praised by Pompeius. Break ye with your breasts

Their weapons; blunt the edges of their swords

With throats unyielding. In the distant lines

The dust is seen already, and the sound

Of tumult and of ruin finds the ear

Of Caesar: strike; the victory is ours:

For he shall come who while his soldiers die

Shall make the fortress his.” His voice called forth

The courage that the trumpets failed to rouse

When first they rang: his comrades mustering come200

To watch his deeds; and, wondering at the man,

To test if valour thus by foes oppressed,

In narrow space, could hope for aught but death.

But Scaeva standing on the tottering bank

Heaves from the brimming turret on the foe

The corpses of the fallen; the ruined mass

Furnishing weapons to his hands; with beams,

And ponderous stones, nay, with his body threats

His enemies; with poles and stakes he thrusts

The breasts advancing; when they grasp the wall210

He lops the arm: rocks crush the foeman’s skull

And rive the scalp asunder: fiery bolts

Dashed at another set his hair aflame,

Till rolls the greedy blaze about his eyes

With hideous crackle. As the pile of slain

Rose to the summit of the wall he sprang,

Swift as across the nets a hunted pard,

Above the swords upraised, till in mid throng

Of foes he stood, hemmed in by densest ranks

And ramparted by war; in front and rear,220

Where’er he struck, the victor. Now his sword

Blunted with gore congealed no more could wound,

But brake the stricken limb; while every hand

Flung every quivering dart at him alone;

Nor missed their aim, for rang against his shield

Dart after dart unerring, and his helm

In broken fragments pressed upon his brow;

His vital parts were safeguarded by spears

That bristled in his body. Fortune saw

Thus waged a novel combat, for there warred230

Against one man an army. Why with darts,

Madmen, assail him and with slender shafts,

‘Gainst which his life is proof? Or ponderous stones

This warrior chief shall overwhelm, or bolts

Flung by the twisted thongs of mighty slings.

Let steelshod ram or catapult remove

This champion of the gate. No fragile wall

Stands here for Caesar, blocking with its bulk

Pompeius’ way to freedom. Now he trusts

His shield no more, lest his sinister hand,240

Idle, give life by shame; and on his breast

Bearing a forest of spears, though spent with toil

And worn with onset, falls upon his foe

And braves alone the wounds of all the war.

Thus may an elephant in Afric wastes,

Oppressed by frequent darts, break those that fall

Rebounding from his horny hide, and shake

Those that find lodgment, while his life within

Lies safe, protected, nor doth spear avail

To reach the fount of blood. Unnumbered wounds250

By arrow dealt, or lance, thus fail to slay

This single warrior. But lo! from far

A Cretan archer’s shaft, more sure of aim

Than vows could hope for, strikes on Scaeva’s brow

To light within his eye: the hero tugs

Intrepid, bursts the nerves, and tears the shaft

Forth with the eyeball, and with dauntless heel

Treads them to dust. Not otherwise a bear

Pannonian, fiercer for the wound received,

Maddened by dart from Libyan thong propelled,260

Turns circling on her wound, and still pursues

The weapon fleeing as she whirls around.

Thus, in his rage destroyed, his shapeless face

Stood foul with crimson flow. The victors’ shout

Glad to the sky arose; no greater joy

A little blood could give them had they seen

That Caesar’s self was wounded. Down he pressed

Deep in his soul the anguish, and, with mien,

No longer bent on fight, submissive cried,

“Spare me, ye citizens; remove the war270

Far hence: no weapons now can haste my death;

Draw from my breast the darts, but add no more.

Yet raise me up to place me in the camp

Of Magnus, living: this your gift to him;

No brave man’s death my title to renown,

But Caesar’s flag deserted.” So he spake.

Unhappy Aulus thought his words were true,

Nor saw within his hand the pointed sword;

And leaping forth in haste to make his own

The prisoner and his arms, in middle throat280

Received the lightning blade. By this one death

Rose Scaeva’s valour again; and thus he cried,

Such be the punishment of all who thought

Great Scaeva vanquished; if Pompeius seeks

Peace from this reeking sword, low let him lay

At Caesar’s feet his standards. Me do ye think

Such as yourselves, and slow to meet the fates?

Your love for Magnus and the Senate’s cause

Is less than mine for death.” These were his words;

And dust in columns proved that Caesar came.290

Thus was Pompeius’ glory spared the stain

Of flight compelled by Scaeva. He, when ceased

The battle, fell, no more by rage of fight,

Or sight of blood out-pouring from his wounds,

Roused to the combat. Fainting there he lay

Upon the shoulders of his comrades borne,

Who him adoring (as though deity

Dwelt in his bosom) for his matchless deeds,

Plucked forth the gory shafts and took his arms

To deck the gods and shield the breast of Mars.300

Thrice happy thou with such a name achieved,

Had but the fierce Iberian from thy sword,

Or heavy shielded Teuton, or had fled

The light Cantabrian: with no spoils shalt thou

Adorn the Thunderer’s temple, nor upraise

The shout of triumph in the ways of Rome.

For all thy prowess, all thy deeds of pride

Do but prepare her lord.

Nor on this hand

Repulsed, Pompeius idly ceased from war,310

Content within his bars; but as the sea

Tireless, which tempests force upon the crag

That breaks it, or which gnaws a mountain side

Some day to fall in ruin on itself;

He sought the turrets nearest to the main,

On double onset bent; nor closely kept

His troops in hand, but on the spacious plain

Spread forth his camp. They joyful leave the tents

And wander at their will. Thus Padus flows

In brimming flood, and foaming at his bounds,320

Making whole districts quake; and should the bank

Fail ‘neath his swollen waters, all his stream

Breaks forth in swirling eddies over fields

Not his before; some lands are lost, the rest

Gain from his bounty.

Hardly from his tower

Had Caesar seen the fire or known the fight:

And coming found the rampart overthrown,

The dust no longer stirred, the rains cold

As from a battle done. The peace that reigned330

There and on Magnus’ side, as though men slept,

Their victory won, aroused his angry soul.

Quick he prepares, so that he end their joy

Careless of slaughter or defeat, to rush

With threatening columns on Torquatus’ post.

But swift as sailor, by his trembling mast

Warned of Circeian tempest, furls his sails,

So swift Torquatus saw, and prompt to wage

The war more closely, he withdrew his men

Within a narrower wall.340

Now past the trench

Were Caesar’s companies, when from the hills

Pompeius hurled his host upon their ranks

Shut in, and hampered. Not so much o’erwhelmed

As Caesar’s soldiers is the hind who dwells

On Etna’s slopes, when blows the southern wind,

And all the mountain pours its cauldrons forth

Upon the vale; and huge Enceladus 166

Writhing beneath his load spouts o’er the plains

A blazing torrent.350

Blinded by the dust,

Encircled, vanquished, ere the fight, they fled

In cloud of terror on their rearward foe,

So rushing on their fates. Thus had the war

Shed its last drop of blood and peace ensued,

But Magnus suffered not, and held his troops.

Back from the battle.

Thou, oh Rome, had’st been

Free, happy, mistress of thy laws and rights

Were Sulla here. Now shalt thou ever grieve360

That in his crowning crime, to have met in fight

A pious kinsman, Caesar’s vantage lay.

Oh tragic destiny! Nor Munda’s fight

Hispania had wept, nor Libya mourned

Encrimsoned Utica, nor Nilus’ stream,

With blood unspeakable polluted, borne

A nobler corse than her Egyptian kings:

Nor Juba 167 lain unburied on the sands,

Nor Scipio with his blood outpoured appeased

The ghosts of Carthage; nor the blameless life370

Of Cato ended: and Pharsalia’s name

Had then been blotted from the book of fate.

But Caesar left the region where his arms

Had found the deities averse, and marched

His shattered columns to Thessalian lands.

Then to Pompeius came (whose mind was bent

To follow Caesar wheresoe’er he fled)

His captains, striving to persuade their chief

To seek Ausonia, his native land,

Now freed from foes. “Ne’er will I pass,” he said,380

“My country’s limit, nor revisit Rome

Like Caesar, at the head of banded hosts.

Hesperia when the war began was mine;

Mine, had I chosen in our country’s shrines, 168

In midmost forum of her capital,

To join the battle. So that banished far

Be war from Rome, I’ll cross the torrid zone

Or those for ever frozen Scythian shores.

What! shall my victory rob thee of the peace

I gave thee by my flight? Rather than thou390

Should’st feel the evils of this impious war,

Let Caesar deem thee his.” Thus said, his course

He turned towards the rising of the sun,

And following devious paths, through forests wide,

Made for Emathia, the land by fate

Foredoomed to see the issue.

Thessalia on that side where Titan first

Raises the wintry day, by Ossa’s rocks

Is prisoned in: but in th’ advancing year

When higher in the vault his chariot rides400

’Tis Pelion that meets the morning rays.

And when beside the Lion’s flames he drives

The middle course, Othrys with woody top

Screens his chief ardour. On the hither side

Pindus receives the breezes of the west

And as the evening falls brings darkness in.

There too Olympus, at whose foot who dwells

Nor fears the north nor sees the shining bear.

Between these mountains hemmed, in ancient time

The fields were marsh, for Tempe’s pass not yet410

Was cleft, to give an exit to the streams

That filled the plain: but when Alcides’ hand

Smote Ossa from Olympus at a blow, 169

And Nereus wondered at the sudden flood

Of waters to the main, then on the shore

(Would it had slept for ever ‘neath the deep)

Seaborn Achilles’ home Pharsalus rose;

And Phylace 170 whence sailed that ship of old

Whose keel first touched upon the beach of Troy;

And Dorion mournful for the Muses’ ire420

On Thamyris 171 vanquished: Trachis; Melibe

Strong in the shafts 172 of Hercules, the price

Of that most awful torch; Larissa’s hold

Potent of yore; and Argos, 173 famous erst,

O’er which men pass the ploughshare: and the spot

Fabled as Echionian Thebes, 174 where once

Agave bore in exile to the pyre

(Grieving ’twas all she had) the head and neck

Of Pentheus massacred. The lake set free

Flowed forth in many rivers: to the west430

Aeas, 175 a gentle stream; nor stronger flows

The sire of Isis ravished from his arms;

And Achelous, rival for the hand

Of Oeneus’ daughter, rolls his earthy flood 176

To silt the shore beside the neighbouring isles.

Evenus 177 purpled by the Centaur’s blood

Wanders through Calydon: in the Malian Gulf

Thy rapids fall, Spercheius: pure the wave

With which Amphrysos 178 irrigates the meads

Where once Apollo served: Anaurus 179 flows440

Breathing no vapour forth; no humid air

Ripples his face: and whatever stream,

Nameless itself, to Ocean gives its waves

Through thee, Peneus: 180 whirled in eddies foams

Apidanus; Enipeus lingers on

Swift only when fresh streams his volume swell:

And thus Asopus takes his ordered course,

Phoenix and Melas; but Eurotas keeps

His stream aloof from that with which he flows,

Peneus, gliding on his top as though450

Upon the channel. Fable says that, sprung

From darkest pools of Styx, with common floods

He scorns to mingle, mindful of his source,

So that the gods above may fear him still.

Soon as were sped the rivers, Boebian ploughs

Dark with its riches broke the virgin soil;

Then came Lelegians to press the share,

And Dolopes and sons of Oeolus

By whom the glebe was furrowed. Steed-renowned

Magnetians dwelt there, and the Minyan race460

Who smote the sounding billows with the oar.

There in the cavern from the pregnant cloud

Ixion’s sons found birth, the Centaur brood

Half beast, half human: Monychus who broke

The stubborn rocks of Pholoe, Rhoetus fierce

Hurling from Oeta’s top gigantic elms

Which northern storms could hardly overturn;

Pholus, Alcides’ host: Nessus who bore

The Queen across Evenus’ 181 waves, to feel

The deadly arrow for his shameful deed;470

And aged Chiron 182 who with wintry star

Against the huger Scorpion draws his bow.

Here sparkled on the land the warrior seed; 183

Here leaped the charger from Thessalian rocks 184

Struck by the trident of the Ocean King,

Omen of dreadful war; here first he learned,

Champing the bit and foaming at the curb,

Yet to obey his lord. From yonder shore

The keel of pine first floated, 185 and bore men

To dare the perilous chance of seas unknown:480

And here Ionus ruler of the land

First from the furnace molten masses drew

Of iron and brass; here first the hammer fell

To weld them, shapeless; here in glowing stream

Ran silver forth and gold, soon to receive

The minting stamp. ’Twas thus that money came

Whereby men count their riches, cause accursed

Of warfare. Hence came down that Python huge

On Cirrha: hence the laurel wreath which crowns

The Pythian victor: here Aloeus’ sons490

Gigantic rose against the gods, what time

Pelion had almost touched the stars supreme,

And Ossa’s loftier peak amid the sky

Opposing, barred the constellations’ way.

When in this fated land the chiefs had placed

Their several camps, foreboding of the end

Now fast approaching, all men’s thoughts were turned

Upon the final issue of the war.

And as the hour drew near, the coward minds

Trembling beneath the shadow of the fate500

Now hanging o’er them, deemed disaster near:

While some took heart; yet doubted what might fall,

In hope and fear alternate. ‘Mid the throng

Sextus, unworthy son of worthy sire

Who soon upon the waves that Scylla guards, 186

Sicilian pirate, exile from his home,

Stained by his deeds of shame the fights he won,

Could bear delay no more; his feeble soul,

Sick of uncertain fate, by fear compelled,

Forecast the future: yet consulted not510

The shrine of Delos nor the Pythian caves;

Nor was he satisfied to learn the sound

Of Jove’s brass cauldron, ‘mid Dodona’s oaks,

By her primaeval fruits the nurse of men:

Nor sought he sages who by flight of birds,

Or watching with Assyrian care the stars

And fires of heaven, or by victims slain,

May know the fates to come; nor any source

Lawful though secret. For to him was known

That which excites the hate of gods above;520

Magicians’ lore, the savage creed of Dis

And all the shades; and sad with gloomy rites

Mysterious altars. For his frenzied soul

Heaven knew too little. And the spot itself

Kindled his madness, for hard by there dwelt

The brood of Haemon 187 whom no storied witch

Of fiction e’er transcended; all their art

In things most strange and most incredible;

There were Thessalian rocks with deadly herbs

Thick planted, sensible to magic chants,530

Funereal, secret: and the land was full

Of violence to the gods: the Queenly guest 188

From Colchis gathered here the fatal roots

That were not in her store: hence vain to heaven

Rise impious incantations, all unheard;

For deaf the ears divine: save for one voice

Which penetrates the furthest depths of airs

Compelling e’en th’ unwilling deities

To hearken to its accents. Not the care

Of the revolving sky or starry pole540

Can call them from it ever. Once the sound

Of those dread tones unspeakable has reached

The constellations, then nor Babylon

Nor secret Memphis, though they open wide

The shrines of ancient magic and entreat

The gods, could draw them from the fires that smoke

Upon the altars of far Thessaly.

To hearts of flint those incantations bring

Love, strange, unnatural; the old man’s breast

Burns with illicit fire. Nor lies the power550

In harmful cup nor in the juicy pledge

Of love maternal from the forehead drawn; 189

Charmed forth by spells alone the mind decays,

By poisonous drugs unharmed. With woven threads

Crossed in mysterious fashion do they bind

Those whom no passion born of beauteous form

Or loving couch unites. All things on earth

Change at their bidding; night usurps the day;

The heavens disobey their wonted laws;

At that dread hymn the Universe stands still;560

And Jove while urging the revolving wheels

Wonders they move not. Torrents are outpoured

Beneath a burning sun; and thunder roars

Uncaused by Jupiter. From their flowing locks

Vapours immense shall issue at their call;

When falls the tempest seas shall rise and foam 190

Moved by their spell; though powerless the breeze

To raise the billows. Ships against the wind

With bellying sails move onward. From the rock

Hangs motionless the torrent: rivers run570

Uphill; the summer heat no longer swells

Nile in his course; Maeander’s stream is straight;

Slow Rhone is quickened by the rush of Saone;

Hills dip their heads and topple to the plain;

Olympus sees his clouds drift overhead;

And sunless Scythia’s sempiternal snows

Melt in mid-winter; the inflowing tides

Driven onward by the moon, at that dread chant

Ebb from their course; earth’s axes, else unmoved,

Have trembled, and the force centripetal580

Has tottered, and the earth’s compacted frame

Struck by their voice has gaped, 191 till through the void

Men saw the moving sky. All beasts most fierce

And savage fear them, yet with deadly aid

Furnish the witches’ arts. Tigers athirst

For blood, and noble lions on them fawn

With bland caresses: serpents at their word

Uncoil their circles, and extended glide

Along the surface of the frosty field;

The viper’s severed body joins anew;590

And dies the snake by human venom slain.

Whence comes this labour on the gods, compelled

To hearken to the magic chant and spells,

Nor daring to despise them? Doth some bond

Control the deities? Is their pleasure so,

Or must they listen? and have silent threats

Prevailed, or piety unseen received

So great a guerdon? Against all the gods

Is this their influence, or on one alone

Who to his will constrains the universe,600

Himself constrained? Stars most in yonder clime

Shoot headlong from the zenith; and the moon

Gliding serene upon her nightly course

Is shorn of lustre by their poisonous chant,

Dimmed by dark earthly fires, as though our orb

Shadowed her brother’s radiance and barred

The light bestowed by heaven; nor freshly shines

Until descending nearer to the earth

She sheds her baneful drops upon the mead.

These sinful rites and these her sister’s songs610

Abhorred Erichtho, fiercest of the race,

Spurned for their piety, and yet viler art

Practised in novel form. To her no home

Beneath a sheltering roof her direful head

Thus to lay down were crime: deserted tombs

Her dwelling-place, from which, darling of hell,

She dragged the dead. Nor life nor gods forbad

But that she knew the secret homes of Styx

And learned to hear the whispered voice of ghosts

At dread mysterious meetings. 192 Never sun620

Shed his pure light upon that haggard cheek

Pale with the pallor of the shades, nor looked

Upon those locks unkempt that crowned her brow.

In starless nights of tempest crept the hag

Out from her tomb to seize the levin bolt;

Treading the harvest with accursed foot

She burned the fruitful growth, and with her breath

Poisoned the air else pure. No prayer she breathed

Nor supplication to the gods for help

Nor knew the pulse of entrails as do men630

Who worship. Funeral pyres she loves to light

And snatch the incense from the flaming tomb.

The gods at her first utterance grant her prayer

For things unlawful, lest they hear again

Its fearful accents: men whose limbs were quick

With vital power she thrust within the grave

Despite the fates who owed them years to come:

The funeral reversed brought from the tomb

Those who were dead no longer; and the pyre

Yields to her shameless clutch still smoking dust640

And bones enkindled, and the torch which held

Some grieving sire but now, with fragments mixed

In sable smoke and ceremental cloths

Singed with the redolent fire that burned the dead.

But those who lie within a stony cell

Untouched by fire, whose dried and mummied frames

No longer know corruption, limb by limb

Venting her rage she tears, the bloodless eyes

Drags from their cavities, and mauls the nail

Upon the withered hand: she gnaws the noose650

By which some wretch has died, and from the tree

Drags down a pendent corpse, its members torn

Asunder to the winds: forth from the palms

Wrenches the iron, and from the unbending bond

Hangs by her teeth, and with her hands collects

The slimy gore which drips upon the limbs.

Where lay a corpse upon the naked earth

On ravening birds and beasts of prey the hag

Kept watch, nor marred by knife or hand her spoil,

Till on his victim seized some nightly wolf; 193660

Then dragged the morsel from his thirsty fangs;

Nor fears she murder, if her rites demand

Blood from the living, or some banquet fell

Requires the panting entrail. Pregnant wombs

Yield to her knife the infant to be placed

On flaming altars: and whene’er she needs

Some fierce undaunted ghost, he fails not her

Who has all deaths in use. Her hand has chased

From smiling cheeks the rosy bloom of life;

And with sinister hand from dying youth670

Has shorn the fatal lock: and holding oft

In foul embraces some departed friend

Severed the head, and through the ghastly lips,

Held by her own apart, some impious tale

Dark with mysterious horror hath conveyed

Down to the Stygian shades.

When rumour brought

Her name to Sextus, in the depth of night,

While Titan’s chariot beneath our earth

Wheeled on his middle course, he took his way680

Through fields deserted; while a faithful band,

His wonted ministers in deeds of guilt,

Seeking the hag ‘mid broken sepulchres,

Beheld her seated on the crags afar

Where Haemus falls towards Pharsalia’s plain. 194

There was she proving for her gods and priests

Words still unknown, and framing numbered chants

Of dire and novel purpose: for she feared

Lest Mars might stray into another world,

And spare Thessalian soil the blood ere long690

To flow in torrents; and she thus forbade

Philippi’s field, polluted with her song,

Thick with her poisonous distilments sown,

To let the war pass by. Such deaths, she hopes,

Soon shall be hers! the blood of all the world

Shed for her use! to her it shall be given

To sever from their trunks the heads of kings,

Plunder the ashes of the noble dead,

Italia’s bravest, and in triumph add

The mightiest warriors to her host of shades.700

And now what spoils from Magnus’ tombless corse

Her hand may snatch, on which of Caesar’s limbs

She soon may pounce, she makes her foul forecast

And eager gloats.

To whom the coward son

Of Magnus thus: “Thou greatest ornament

Of Haemon’s daughters, in whose power it lies

Or to reveal the fates, or from its course

To turn the future, be it mine to know

By thy sure utterance to what final end710

Fortune now guides the issue. Not the least

Of all the Roman host on yonder plain

Am I, but Magnus’ most illustrious son,

Lord of the world or heir to death and doom.

The unknown affrights me: I can firmly face

The certain terror. Bid my destiny

Yield to thy power the dark and hidden end,

And let me fall foreknowing. From the gods

Extort the truth, or, if thou spare the gods,

Force it from hell itself. Fling back the gates720

That bar th’ Elysian fields; let Death confess

Whom from our ranks he seeks. No humble task

I bring, but worthy of Erichtho’s skill

Of such a struggle fought for such a prize

To search and tell the issue.”

Then the witch

Pleased that her impious fame was noised abroad

Thus made her answer: “If some lesser fates

Thy wish had been to change, against their wish

It had been easy to compel the gods730

To its accomplishment. My art has power

When of one man the constellations press

The speedy death, to compass a delay;

And mine it is, though every star decrees

A ripe old age, by mystic herbs to shear

The life midway. But should some purpose set

From the beginning of the universe,

And all the labouring fortunes of mankind,

Be brought in question, then Thessalian art

Bows to the power supreme. But if thou be740

Content to know the issue preordained,

That shall be swiftly thine; for earth and air

And sea and space and Rhodopaean crags

Shall speak the future. Yet it easiest seems

Where death in these Thessalian fields abounds

To raise a single corpse. From dead men’s lips

Scarce cold, in fuller accents falls the voice;

Not from some mummied flame in accents shrill

Uncertain to the ear.”

Thus spake the hag750

And through redoubled night, a squalid veil

Swathing her pallid features, stole among

Unburied carcases. Fast fled the wolves,

The carrion birds with maw unsatisfied

Relaxed their talons, as with creeping step

She sought her prophet. Firm must be the flesh

As yet, though cold in death, and firm the lungs

Untouched by wound. Now in the balance hung

The fates of slain unnumbered; had she striven

Armies to raise and order back to life760

Whole ranks of warriors, the laws had failed

Of Erebus; and, summoned up from Styx,

Its ghostly tenants had obeyed her call,

And rising fought once more. At length the witch

Picks out her victim with pierced throat agape

Fit for her purpose. Gripped by pitiless hook

O’er rocks she drags him to the mountain cave

Accursed by her fell rites, that shall restore

The dead man’s life.

Close to the hidden brink770

The land that girds the precipice of hell

Sinks towards the depths: with ever falling leaves

A wood o’ershadows, and a spreading yew

Casts shade impenetrable. Foul decay

Fills all the space, and in the deep recess

Darkness unbroken, save by chanted spells,

Reigns ever. Not where gape the misty jaws

Of caverned Taenarus, the gloomy bound

Of either world, through which the nether kings

Permit the passage of the dead to earth,780

So poisonous, mephitic, hangs the air.

Nay, though the witch had power to call the shades

Forth from the depths, ’twas doubtful if the cave

Were not a part of hell. Discordant hues

Flamed on her garb as by a fury worn;

Bare was her visage, and upon her brow

Dread vipers hissed, beneath her streaming locks

In sable coils entwined. But when she saw

The youth’s companions trembling, and himself

With eyes cast down, with visage as of death,790

Thus spake the witch: “Forbid your craven souls

These fears to cherish: soon returning life

This frame shall quicken, and in tones which reach

Even the timorous ear shall speak the man.

If I have power the Stygian lakes to show,

The bank that sounds with fire, the fury band,

And giants lettered, and the hound that shakes

Bristling with heads of snakes his triple head,

What fear is this that cringes at the sight

Of timid shivering shades?”800

Then to her prayer.

First through his gaping bosom blood she pours

Still fervent, washing from his wounds the gore.

Then copious poisons from the moon distils

Mixed with all monstrous things which Nature’s pangs

Bring to untimely birth; the froth from dogs

Stricken with madness, foaming at the stream;

A lynx’s entrails: and the knot that grows

Upon the fell hyaena; flesh of stags

Fed upon serpents; and the sucking fish810

Which holds the vessel back 195 though eastern winds

Make bend the canvas; dragon’s eyes; and stones

That sound beneath the brooding eagle’s wings.

Nor Araby’s viper, nor the ocean snake

Who in the Red Sea waters guards the shell,

Are wanting; nor the slough on Libyan sands

By horned reptile cast; nor ashes fail

Snatched from an altar where the Phoenix died.

And viler poisons many, which herself

Has made, she adds, whereto no name is given:820

Pestiferous leaves pregnant with magic chants

And blades of grass which in their primal growth

Her cursed mouth had slimed. Last came her voice

More potent than all herbs to charm the gods

Who rule in Lethe. Dissonant murmurs first

And sounds discordant from the tongues of men

She utters, scarce articulate: the bay

Of wolves, and barking as of dogs, were mixed

With that fell chant; the screech of nightly owl

Raising her hoarse complaint; the howl of beast830

And sibilant hiss of snake — all these were there;

And more — the waft of waters on the rock,

The sound of forests and the thunder peal.

Such was her voice; but soon in clearer tones

Reaching to Tartarus, she raised her song:

“Ye awful goddesses, avenging power

Of Hell upon the damned, and Chaos huge

Who striv’st to mix innumerable worlds,

And Pluto, king of earth, whose weary soul

Grieves at his godhead; Styx; and plains of bliss840

We may not enter: and thou, Proserpine,

Hating thy mother and the skies above,

My patron goddess, last and lowest form 196

Of Hecate through whom the shades and I

Hold silent converse; warder of the gate

Who castest human offal to the dog:

Ye sisters who shall spin the threads again; 197

And thou, O boatman of the burning wave,

Now wearied of the shades from hell to me

Returning, hear me if with voice I cry850

Abhorred, polluted; if the flesh of man

Hath ne’er been absent from my proffered song,

Flesh washed with brains still quivering; if the child

Whose severed head I placed upon the dish

But for this hand had lived — a listening ear

Lend to my supplication! From the caves

Hid in the innermost recess of hell

I claim no soul long banished from the light.

For one but now departed, lingering still

Upon the brink of Orcus, is my prayer.860

Grant (for ye may) that listening to the spell

Once more he seek his dust; and let the shade

Of this our soldier perished (if the war

Well at your hands has merited), proclaim

The destiny of Magnus to his son.”

Such prayers she uttered; then, her foaming lips

And head uplifting, present saw the ghost.

Hard by he stood, beside the hated corpse

His ancient prison, and loathed to enter in.

There was the yawning chest where fell the blow870

That was his death; and yet the gift supreme

Of death, his right, (Ah, wretch!) was reft away.

Angered at Death the witch, and at the pause

Conceded by the fates, with living snake

Scourges the moveless corse; and on the dead

She barks through fissures gaping to her song,

Breaking the silence of their gloomy home:

“Tisiphone, Megaera, heed ye not?

Flies not this wretched soul before your whips

The void of Erebus? By your very names,880

She-dogs of hell, I’ll call you to the day,

Not to return; through sepulchres and death

Your gaoler: from funereal urns and tombs

I’ll chase you forth. And thou, too, Hecate,

Who to the gods in comely shape and mien,

Not that of Erebus, appearst, henceforth

Wasted and pallid as thou art in hell

At my command shalt come. I’ll noise abroad

The banquet that beneath the solid earth

Holds thee, thou maid of Enna; by what bond890

Thou lov’st night’s King, by what mysterious stain

Infected, so that Ceres fears from hell

To call her daughter. And for thee, base king,

Titan shall pierce thy caverns with his rays

And sudden day shall smite thee. Do ye hear?

Or shall I summon to mine aid that god

At whose dread name earth trembles; who can look

Unflinching on the Gorgon’s head, and drive

The Furies with his scourge, who holds the depths

Ye cannot fathom, and above whose haunts900

Ye dwell supernal; who by waves of Styx

Forswears himself unpunished?”

Then the blood

Grew warm and liquid, and with softening touch

Cherished the stiffened wounds and filled the veins,

Till throbbed once more the slow returning pulse

And every fibre trembled, as with death

Life was commingled. Then, not limb by limb,

With toil and strain, but rising at a bound

Leaped from the earth erect the living man.910

Fierce glared his eyes uncovered, and the life

Was dim, and still upon his face remained

The pallid hues of hardly parted death.

Amazement seized upon him, to the earth

Brought back again: but from his lips tight drawn

No murmur issued; he had power alone

When questioned to reply. “Speak,” quoth the hag,

“As I shall bid thee; great shall be thy gain

If but thou answerest truly, freed for aye

From all Haemonian art. Such burial place920

Shall now be thine, and on thy funeral pyre

Such fatal woods shall burn, such chant shall sound,

That to thy ghost no more or magic song

Or spell shall reach, and thy Lethaean sleep

Shall never more be broken in a death

From me received anew: for such reward

Think not this second life enforced in vain.

Obscure may be the answers of the gods

By priestess spoken at the holy shrine;

But whose braves the oracles of death930

In search of truth, should gain a sure response.

Then speak, I pray thee. Let the hidden fates

Tell through thy voice the mysteries to come.”

Thus spake she, and her words by mystic force

Gave him his answer; but with gloomy mien,

And tears swift flowing, thus he made reply:

“Called from the margin of the silent stream

I saw no fateful sisters spin the threads.

Yet know I this, that ‘mid the Roman shades

Reigns fiercest discord; and this impious war940

Destroys the peace that ruled the fields of death.

Elysian meads and deeps of Tartarus

In paths diverse the Roman chieftains leave

And thus disclose the fates. The blissful ghosts

Bear visages of sorrow. Sire and son

The Decii, who gave themselves to death

In expiation of their country’s doom,

And great Camillus, wept; and Sulla’s shade

Complained of fortune. Scipio bewailed

The scion of his race about to fall950

In sands of Libya: Cato, greatest foe

To Carthage, grieves for that indignant soul

Which shall disdain to serve. Brutus alone

In all the happy ranks I smiling saw,

First consul when the kings were thrust from Rome.

The chains were fallen from boastful Catiline.

Him too I saw rejoicing, and the pair

Of Marii, and Cethegus’ naked arm. 198

The Drusi, heroes of the people, joyed,

In laws immoderate; and the famous pair 199960

Of greatly daring brothers: guilty bands

By bars eternal shut within the doors

That close the prison of hell, applaud the fates,

Claiming the plains Elysian: and the King

Throws wide his pallid halls, makes hard the points

Of craggy rocks, and forges iron chains,

The victor’s punishment. But take with thee

This comfort, youth, that there a calm abode,

And peaceful, waits thy father and his house.

Nor let the glory of a little span970

Disturb thy boding heart: the hour shall come

When all the chiefs shall meet. Shrink not from death,

But glowing in the greatness of your souls,

E’en from your humble sepulchres descend,

And tread beneath your feet, in pride of place,

The wandering phantoms of the gods of Rome. 200

Which of the chiefs by Tiber’s yellow stream,

And which by Nile shall rest (the leaders’ fate)

This fight decides, no more. Nor seek to know

From me thy fortunes: for the fates in time980

Shall give thee all thy due; and thy great sire, 201

A surer prophet, in Sicilian fields

Shall speak thy future — doubting even he

What regions of the world thou should’st avoid

And what should’st seek. O miserable race!

Europe and Asia and Libya’s plains, 202

Which saw your conquests, now shall hold alike

Your burial-place — nor has the earth for you

A happier land than this.”

His task performed,990

He stands in mournful guise, with silent look

Asking for death again; yet could not die

Till mystic herb and magic chant prevailed.

For nature’s law, once used, had power no more

To slay the corpse and set the spirit free.

With plenteous wood she builds the funeral pyre

To which the dead man comes: then as the flames

Seized on his form outstretched, the youth and witch

Together sought the camp; and as the dawn

Now streaked the heavens, by the hag’s command1000

The day was stayed till Sextus reached his tent,

And mist and darkness veiled his safe return.

158 Dyrrhachium (or Epidamnus) was a Corcyraean colony, but its founder was of Corinth, the metropolis of Corcyra. It stood some sixty miles north of the Ceraunian promontory (Book V., 747). About the year 1100 it was stormed and taken by Robert the Guiscard, after furious battles with the troops of the Emperor Alexius. Its modern name is Durazzo. It may be observed that, according to Caesar’s account, he succeeded in getting between Pompey and Dyrrhachium, B.C. 3, 41, 42.

159 C. del Faro, the N.E. point of Sicily.

160 The shores of Kent.

161 Aricia was situated on the Via Appia, about sixteen miles from Rome. There was a temple of Diana close to it, among some woods on a small lake. Aricia was Horace’s first halting place on his journey to Brundisium (“Satires”, i. 5). As to Diana, see Book I., line 501.

162 An island in the Bay of Puteoli.

163 Typhon, the hundred-headed giant, was buried under Mount Etna.

164 This was Scaeva’s name.

165 The vinewood staff was the badge of the centurion’s office.

166 This giant, like Typhon, was buried under Mount Etna.

167 Juba and Petreius killed each other after the battle of Thepsus to avoid falling into Caesar’s hands. See Book IV., line 5.

168 So Cicero: “Shall I, who have been called saviour of the city and father of my country, bring into it an army of Getae Armenians and Colchians?” (“Ep. ad Atticum,” ix., 10.)

169 See Book VIII., line 3.

170 Protesilaus, from this place, first landed at Troy.

171 Thamyris challenged the Muses to a musical contest, and being vanquished, was by them deprived of sight.

172 The arrows given to Philoctetes by Hercules as a reward for kindling his funeral pyre.

173 This is the Pelasgic, not the historical, Argos.

174 Book I., line 632; Book VII., line 904. Agave was a daughter of Cadmus, and mother of Pentheus, king of the Boeotian Thebes. He was opposed to the mysterious worship of Dionysus, which his mother celebrated, and which he had watched from a tree. She tore him to pieces, being urged into a frenzy and mistaking him for a wild beast. She then retired to another Thebes, in Phthiotis, in triumph, with his head and shoulders. By another legend she did not leave the Boeotian Thebes. (See Grote, vol. i., p. 220. Edit. 1862.)

175 Aeas was a river flowing from the boundary of Thessaly through Epirus to the Ionian Sea. The sire of Isis, or Io, was Inachus; but the river of that name is usually placed in the Argive territory.

176 A river rising in Mount Pindus and flowing into the Ionian Sea nearly opposite to Ithaca. At its mouth the sea has been largely silted up.

177 The god of this river fought with Hercules for the hand of Deianira. After Hercules had been married to Deianira, and when they were on a journey, they came to the River Evenus. Here Nessus, a Centaur, acted as ferryman, and Hercules bade him carry Deianira across. In doing so he insulted her, and Hercules shot him with an arrow.

178 Admetus was King of Pherae in Thessaly, and sued for Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, who promised her to him if he should come in a chariot drawn by lions and boars. With the assistance of Apollo, Admetus performed this. Apollo, for the slaughter of the Cyclops, was condemned to serve a mortal, and accordingly he tended the flocks of Admetus for nine years. The River Amphrysos is marked as flowing into the Pagasaean Gulf at a short distance below Pherae.

179 Anaurus was a small river passing into the Pagasaean Gulf past Iolcos. In this river Jason is said to have lost one of his slippers.

180 The River Peneus flowed into the sea through the pass of Tempe, cloven by Hercules between Olympus and Ossa (see line 406); and carried with it Asopus, Phoenix, Melas, Enipeus, Apidanus, and Titaresus (or Eurotas). The Styx is generally placed in Arcadia, but Lucan says that Eurotas rises from the Stygian pools, and that, mindful of this mysterious source, he refuses to mingle his streams with that of Peneus, in order that the gods may still fear to break an oath sworn upon his waters.

181 See on line 429.

182 Chiron, the aged Centaur, instructor of Peleus, Achilles, and others. He was killed by one of the poisoned arrows of Hercules, but placed by Zeus among the stars as the Archer, from which position he appears to be aiming at the Scorpion. His constellation appears in winter.

183 The teeth of the dragon slain by Cadmus; though this took place in Boeotia.

184 Poseidon and Athena disputed as to which of them should name the capital of Attica. The gods gave the reward to that one of them who should produce the thing most useful to man; whereupon Athena produced an olive tree, and Poseidon a horse. Homer also places the scene of this event in Thessaly. (“Iliad”, xxiii., 247.)

185 The Argo. Conf. Book III., 223.

186 See Book VII., 1022.

187 Son of Pelasgus. From him was derived the ancient name of Thessaly, Haemonia.

188 Medea.

189 It was supposed that there was on the forehead of the new-born foal an excrescence, which was bitten off and eaten by the mother. If she did not do this she had no affection for the foal. (Virgil, “Aeneid”, iv., 515.)

190 “When the boisterous sea,

Without a breath of wind, hath knocked the sky.”

— Ben Jonson, “Masque of Queens”.

191 The sky was supposed to move round, but to be restrained in its course by the planets. (See Book X., line 244.)

192 “Coatus audire silentum.” To be present at the meetings of the dead and hear their voices. So, in the sixth Aeneid, the dead Greek warriors in feeble tones endeavour to express their fright at the appearance of the Trojan hero (lines 492, 493).

193 “As if that piece were sweeter which the wolf had bitten.” Note to “The Masque of Queens”, in which the first hag says:

“I have been all day, looking after

A raven feeding on a quarter,

And soon as she turned her beak to the south

I snatched this morsel out of her mouth.”

— Ben Jonson, “Masque of Queens”.

But more probably the meaning is that the wolf’s bite gave the flesh magical efficacy.

194 Confusing Pharsalia with Philippi. (See line 684.)

195 One of the miraculous stories to be found in Pliny’s “Natural History”. See Lecky’s “Augustus to Charlemagne”, vol. i., p. 370.

196 The mysterious goddess Hecate was identified with Luna in heaven, Diana on earth, and Proserpine in the lower regions. The text is doubtful.

197 That is, for the second life of her victim.

198 See Book II., 609.

199 The Gracchi, the younger of whom aimed at being a perpetual tribune, and was in some sort a forerunner of the Emperors.

200 That is, the Caesars, who will be in Tartarus.

201 Referring probably to an episode intended to be introduced in a later book, in which the shade of Pompeius was to foretell his fate to Sextus.

202 Cnaeus was killed in Spain after the battle of Munda; Sextus at Miletus; Pompeius himself, of course, in Egypt.

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