The Pharsalia of Lucan

Book vii

The Battle

The eve of the battle of Pharsalia and the dream of Pompeius, lines 1-52. The soldiers demand a battle, and are supported by Cicero in a speech, 53-101. Pompeius yields; his speech, 101-145. Prodigies, 146-247. Pompeius’ order of battle, 248-272. Caesar rejoices and addresses his troops, 272-399. Pompeius’ speech, 400-457. Reflections on the result of the battle, 456-545. Defeat of Pompeius, 546-644. Caesar in the fight, 645-678. Address to Brutus, 678-689. Death of Domitius, 690-716. Lament over the battle, 716-752. Pompeius flies, 753-850. Caesar occupies Pompeius’ camp and leaves the dead unburied, 851-967, which are devoured by birds and beasts, 968-992. Apostrophe to Thessaly, 993-1023.

Ne’er to the summons of the Eternal laws

More slowly Titan rose, 203 nor drave his steeds,

Forced by the sky revolving, 204 up the heaven,

With gloomier presage; wishing to endure

The pangs of ravished light, and dark eclipse;

And drew the mists up, not to feed his flames, 205

But lest his light upon Thessalian earth

Might fall undimmed.

Pompeius on that morn,

To him the latest day of happy life,10

In troubled sleep an empty dream conceived.

For in the watches of the night he heard

Innumerable Romans shout his name

Within his theatre; the benches vied

To raise his fame and place him with the gods;

As once in youth, when victory was won

O’er conquered tribes where swift Iberus flows, 206

And where Sertorius’ armies fought and fled,

The west subdued, with no less majesty

Than if the purple toga graced the car,20

He sat triumphant in his pure white gown

A Roman knight, and heard the Senate’s cheer.

Perhaps, as ills drew near, his anxious soul,

Shunning the future wooed the happy past;

Or, as is wont, prophetic slumber showed

That which was not to be, by doubtful forms

Misleading; or as envious Fate forbade

Return to Italy, this glimpse of Rome

Kind Fortune gave. Break not his latest sleep,

Ye sentinels; let not the trumpet call30

Strike on his ear: for on the morrow’s night

Shapes of the battle lost, of death and war

Shall crowd his rest with terrors. Whence shalt thou

The poor man’s happiness of sleep regain?

Happy if even in dreams thy Rome could see

Once more her captain! Would the gods had given

To thee and to thy country one day yet

To reap the latest fruit of such a love:

Though sure of fate to come! Thou marchest on

As though by heaven ordained in Rome to die;40

She, conscious ever of her prayers for thee

Heard by the gods, deemed not the fates decreed

Such evil destiny, that she should lose

The last sad solace of her Magnus’ tomb.

Then young and old had blent their tears for thee,

And child unbidden; women torn their hair

And struck their bosoms as for Brutus dead.

But now no public woe shall greet thy death

As erst thy praise was heard: but men shall grieve

In silent sorrow, though the victor’s voice50

Amid the clash of arms proclaims thy fall;

Though incense smoke before the Thunderer’s shrine,

And shouts of welcome bid great Caesar hail.

The stars had fled before the growing morn,

When eager voices (as the fates drew on

The world to ruin) round Pompeius’ tent

Demand the battle signal. What! by those

So soon to perish, shall the sign be asked,

Their own, their country’s doom? Ah! fatal rage

That hastens on the hour; no other sun60

Upon this living host shall rise again.

“Pompeius fears!” they cry. “He’s slow to act;

Too ‘kind to Caesar; and he fondly rules

A world of subject peoples; but with peace

Such rule were ended.” Eastern kings no less,

And peoples, eager for their distant homes,

Already murmured at the lengthy war.

Thus hath it pleased the gods, when woe impends

On guilty men, to make them seem its cause.

We court disaster, crave the fatal sword.70

Of Magnus’ camp Pharsalia was the prayer;

For Tullius, of all the sons of Rome

Chief orator, beneath whose civil rule

Fierce Catiline at the peace-compelling axe

Trembled and fled, arose, to Magnus’ ear

Bearing the voice of all. To him was war

Grown hateful, and he longed once more to hear

The Senate’s plaudits; and with eloquent lips

He lent persuasion to the weaker cause.

“Fortune, Pompeius, for her gifts to thee80

Asks this one boon, that thou should’st use her now.

Here at thy feet thy leading captains lie;

And here thy monarchs, and a suppliant world

Entreats thee prostrate for thy kinsman’s fall.

So long shall Caesar plunge the world in war?

Swift was thy tread when these proud nations fell;

How deep their shame, and justly, should delay

Now mar thy conquests! Where thy trust in Fate,

Thy fervour where? Ingrate! Dost dread the gods,

Or think they favour not the Senate’s cause?90

Thy troops unbidden shall the standards seize

And conquer; thou in shame be forced to win.

If at the Senate’s orders and for us

The war is waged, then give to us the right

To choose the battle-field. Why dost thou keep

From Caesar’s throat the swords of all the world?

The weapon quivers in the eager hand:

Scarce one awaits the signal. Strike at once,

Or without thee the trumpets sound the fray.

Art thou the Senate’s comrade or her lord?100

We wait your answer.”

But Pompeius groaned;

His mind was adverse, but he felt the fates

Opposed his wish, and knew the hand divine.

“Since all desire it, and the fates prevail,

So let it be; your leader now no more,

I share the labours of the battle-field.

Let Fortune roll the nations of the earth

In one red ruin; myriads of mankind

See their last sun today. Yet, Rome, I swear,110

This day of blood was forced upon thy son.

Without a wound, the prizes of the war

Might have been thine, and he who broke the peace

In peace forgotten. Whence this lust for crime?

Shall bloodless victories in civil war

Be shunned, not sought? We’ve ravished from our foe

All boundless seas, and land; his starving troops

Have snatched earth’s crop half-grown, in vain attempt

Their hunger to appease; they prayed for death,

Sought for the sword-thrust, and within our ranks120

Were fain to mix their life-blood with your own.

Much of the war is done: the conscript youth

Whose heart beats high, who burns to join the fray

(Though men fight hard in terror of defeat),

The shock of onset need no longer fear.

Bravest is he who promptly meets the ill

When fate commands it and the moment comes,

Yet brooks delay, in prudence; and shall we,

Our happy state enjoying, risk it all?

Trust to the sword the fortunes of the world?130

Not victory, but battle, ye demand.

Do thou, O Fortune, of the Roman state

Who mad’st Pompeius guardian, from his hands

Take back the charge grown weightier, and thyself

Commit its safety to the chance of war.

Nor blame nor glory shall be mine today.

Thy prayers unjustly, Caesar, have prevailed:

We fight! What wickedness, what woes on men,

Destruction on what realms this dawn shall bring!

Crimson with Roman blood yon stream shall run.140

Would that (without the ruin of our cause)

The first fell bolt hurled on this cursed day

Might strike me lifeless! Else, this battle brings

A name of pity or a name of hate.

The loser bears the burden of defeat;

The victor wins, but conquest is a crime.”

Thus to the soldiers, burning for the fray,

He yields, forbidding, and throws down the reins.

So may a sailor give the winds control

Upon his barque, which, driven by the seas,150

Bears him an idle burden. Now the camp

Hums with impatience, and the brave man’s heart

With beats tumultuous throbs against his breast;

And all the host had standing in their looks 207

The paleness of the death that was to come.

On that day’s fight ’twas manifest that Rome

And all the future destinies of man

Hung trembling; and by weightier dread possessed,

They knew not danger. Who would fear for self

Should ocean rise and whelm the mountain tops,160

And sun and sky descend upon the earth

In universal chaos? Every mind

Is bent upon Pompeius, and on Rome.

They trust no sword until its deadly point

Glows on the sharpening stone; no lance will serve

Till straightened for the fray; each bow is strung

Anew, and arrows chosen for their work

Fill all the quivers; horsemen try the curb

And fit the bridle rein and whet the spur.

If toils divine with human may compare,170

’Twas thus, when Phlegra bore the giant crew, 208

In Etna’s furnace glowed the sword of Mars,

Neptunus’ trident felt the flame once more;

And great Apollo after Python slain

Sharpened his darts afresh: on Pallas’ shield

Was spread anew the dread Medusa’s hair;

And broad Sicilia trembled at the blows

Of Vulcan forging thunderbolts for Jove.

Yet Fortune failed not, as they sought the field,

In various presage of the ills to come;180

All heaven opposed their march: portentous fire

In columns filled the plain, and torches blazed:

And thirsty whirlwinds mixed with meteor bolts

Smote on them as they strode, whose sulphurous flames

Perplexed the vision. Crests were struck from helms;

The melted sword-blade flowed upon the hilt:

The spear ran liquid, and the hurtful steel

Smoked with a sulphur that had come from heaven.

Nay, more, the standards, hid by swarms of bees

Innumerable, weighed the bearer down,190

Scarce lifted from the earth; bedewed with tears;

No more of Rome the standards, 209 or her state.

And from the altar fled the frantic bull

To fields afar; nor was a victim found

To grace the sacrifice of coming doom.

But thou, Caesar, to what gods of ill

Didst thou appeal? What furies didst thou call,

What powers of madness and what Stygian Kings

Whelmed in th’ abyss of hell? Didst favour gain

By sacrifice in this thine impious war?200

Strange sights were seen; or caused by hands divine

Or due to fearful fancy. Haemus’ top

Plunged headlong in the valley, Pindus met

With high Olympus, while at Ossa’s feet

Red ran Baebeis, 210 and Pharsalia’s field

Gave warlike voices forth in depth of night.

Now darkness came upon their wondering gaze,

Now daylight pale and wan, their helmets wreathed

In pallid mist; the spirits of their sires

Hovered in air, and shades of kindred dead210

Passed flitting through the gloom. Yet to the host

Conscious of guilty prayers which sought to shed

The blood of sires and brothers, earth and air

Distraught, and horrors seething in their hearts

Gave happy omen of the end to come.

Was’t strange that peoples whom their latest day

Of happy life awaited (if their minds

Foreknew the doom) should tremble with affright?

Romans who dwelt by far Araxes’ stream,

And Tyrian Gades, 211 in whatever clime,220

‘Neath every sky, struck by mysterious dread

Were plunged in sorrow — yet rebuked the tear,

For yet they knew not of the fatal day.

Thus on Euganean hills 212 where sulphurous fumes

Disclose the rise of Aponus 213 from earth,

And where Timavus broadens in the meads,

An augur spake: “This day the fight is fought,

The arms of Caesar and Pompeius meet

To end the impious conflict.” Or he saw

The bolts of Jupiter, predicting ill;230

Or else the sky discordant o’er the space

Of heaven, from pole to pole; or else perchance

The sun was sad and misty in the height

And told the battle by his wasted beams.

By Nature’s fiat that Thessalian day

Passed not as others; if the gifted sense

Of reading portents had been given to all,

All men had known Pharsalia. Gods of heaven!

How do ye mark the great ones of the earth!

The world gives tokens of their weal or woe;240

The sky records their fates: in distant climes

To future races shall their tale be told,

Or by the fame alone of mighty deeds

Had in remembrance, or by this my care

Borne through the centuries: and men shall read

In hope and fear the story of the war

And breathless pray, as though it were to come,

For that long since accomplished; and for thee

Thus far, Pompeius, shall that prayer be given.

Reflected from their arms, th’ opposing sun250

Filled all the slope with radiance as they marched

In ordered ranks to that ill-fated fight,

And stood arranged for battle. On the left

Thou, Lentulus, had’st charge; two legions there,

The fourth, and bravest of them all, the first:

While on the right, Domitius, ever stanch,

Though fates be adverse, stood: in middle line

The hardy soldiers from Cilician lands,

In Scipio’s care; their chief in Libyan days,

To-day their comrade. By Enipeus’ pools260

And by the rivulets, the mountain troops

Of Cappadocia, and loose of rein

Thy squadrons, Pontus: on the firmer ground

Galatia’s tetrarchs and the greater kings;

And all the purple-robed, the slaves of Rome.

Numidian hordes were there from Afric shores,

There Creta’s host and Ituraeans found

Full space to wing their arrows; there the tribes

From brave Iberia clashed their shields, and there

Gaul stood arrayed against her ancient foe.270

Let all the nations be the victor’s prize,

None grace in future a triumphal car;

This fight demands the slaughter of a world.

Caesar that day to send his troops for spoil

Had left his tent, when on the further hill

Behold! his foe descending to the plain.

The moment asked for by a thousand prayers

Is come, which puts his fortune on the risk

Of imminent war, to win or lose it all.

For burning with desire of kingly power280

His eager soul ill brooked the small delay

This civil war compelled: each instant lost

Robbed from his due! But when at length he knew

The last great conflict come, the fight supreme,

Whose prize the leadership of all the world:

And felt the ruin nodding to its fall:

Swiftest to strike, yet for a little space

His rage for battle failed; the spirit bold

To pledge itself the issue, wavered now:

For Magnus’ fortunes gave no room for hope,290

Though Caesar’s none for fear. Deep in his soul

Such doubt was hidden, as with mien and speech

That augured victory, thus the chief began:

“Ye conquerors of a world, my hope in all,

Prayed for so oft, the dawn of fight is come.

No more entreat the gods: with sword in hand

Seize on our fates; and Caesar in your deeds

This day is great or little. This the day

For which I hold since Rubicon was passed

Your promise given: for this we flew to arms: 214300

For this deferred the triumphs we had won,

And which the foe refused: this gives you back

Your homes and kindred, and the peaceful farm,

Your prize for years of service in the field.

And by the fates’ command this day shall prove

Whose quarrel juster: for defeat is guilt

To him on whom it falls. If in my cause

With fire and sword ye did your country wrong,

Strike for acquittal! Should another judge

This war, not Caesar, none were blameless found.310

Not for my sake this battle, but for you,

To give you, soldiers, liberty and law

‘Gainst all the world. Wishful myself for life

Apart from public cares, and for the gown

That robes the private citizen, I refuse

To yield from office till the law allows

Your right in all things. On my shoulders rest

All blame; all power be yours. Nor deep the blood

Between yourselves and conquest. Grecian schools

Of exercise and wrestling 215 send us here320

Their chosen darlings to await your swords;

And scarcely armed for war, a dissonant crowd

Barbaric, that will start to hear our trump,

Nay, their own clamour. Not in civil strife

Your blows shall fall — the battle of today

Sweeps from the earth the enemies of Rome.

Dash through these cowards and their vaunted kings:

One stroke of sword and all the world is yours.

Make plain to all men that the crowds who decked

Pompeius’ hundred pageants scarce were fit330

For one poor triumph. Shall Armenia care

Who leads her masters, or barbarians shed

One drop of blood to make Pompeius chief

O’er our Italia? Rome, ’tis Rome they hate

And all her children; yet they hate the most

Those whom they know. My fate is in the hands

Of you, mine own true soldiers, proved in all

The wars we fought in Gallia. When the sword

Of each of you shall strike, I know the hand:

The javelin’s flight to me betrays the arm340

That launched it hurtling: and today once more

I see the faces stern, the threatening eyes,

Unfailing proofs of victory to come.

E’en now the battle rushes on my sight;

Kings trodden down and scattered senators

Fill all th’ ensanguined plain, and peoples float

Unnumbered on the crimson tide of death.

Enough of words — I but delay the fates;

And you who burn to dash into the fray,

Forgive the pause. I tremble with the hopes 216350

Thus finding utterance. I ne’er have seen

The mighty gods so near; this little field

Alone dividing us; their hands are full

Of my predestined honours: for ’tis I

Who when this war is done shall have the power

O’er all that peoples, all that kings enjoy

To shower it where I will. But has the pole

Been moved, or in its nightly course some star

Turned backwards, that such mighty deeds should pass

Here on Thessalian earth? To-day we reap360

Of all our wars the harvest or the doom.

Think of the cross that threats us, and the chain,

Limbs hacked asunder, Caesar’s head displayed

Upon the rostra; and that narrow field

Piled up with slaughter: for this hostile chief

Is savage Sulla’s pupil. ’Tis for you,

If conquered, that I grieve: my lot apart

Is cast long since. This sword, should one of you

Turn from the battle ere the foe be fled,

Shall rob the life of Caesar. O ye gods,370

Drawn down from heaven by the throes of Rome,

May he be conqueror who shall not draw

Against the vanquished an inhuman sword,

Nor count it as a crime if men of Rome

Preferred another’s standard to his own.

Pompeius’ sword drank deep Italian blood

When cabined in yon space the brave man’s arm

No more found room to strike. But you, I pray,

Touch not the foe who turns him from the fight,

A fellow citizen, a foe no more.380

But while the gleaming weapons threaten still,

Let no fond memories unnerve the arm, 217

No pious thought of father or of kin;

But full in face of brother or of sire,

Drive home the blade. Unless the slain be known

Your foes account his slaughter as a crime;

Spare not our camp, but lay the rampart low

And fill the fosse with ruin; not a man

But holds his post within the ranks today.

And yonder tents, deserted by the foe,390

Shall give us shelter when the rout is done.”

Scarce had he paused; they snatch the hasty meal,

And seize their armour and with swift acclaim

Welcome the chief’s predictions of the day,

Tread low their camp when rushing to the fight;

And take their post: nor word nor order given,

In fate they put their trust. Nor, had’st thou placed

All Caesars there, all striving for the throne

Of Rome their city, had their serried ranks

With speedier tread dashed down upon the foe.400

But when Pompeius saw the hostile troops

Move forth in order and demand the fight,

And knew the gods’ approval of the day,

He stood astonied, while a deadly chill

Struck to his heart — omen itself of woe,

That such a chief should at the call to arms,

Thus dread the issue: but with fear repressed,

Borne on his noble steed along the line

Of all his forces, thus he spake: “The day

Your bravery demands, that final end410

Of civil war ye asked for, is at hand.

Put forth your strength, your all; the sword today

Does its last work. One crowded hour is charged

With nations’ destinies. Whoe’er of you

Longs for his land and home, his wife and child,

Seek them with sword. Here in mid battle-field,

The gods place all at stake. Our better right

Bids us expect their favour; they shall dip

Your brands in Caesar’s blood, and thus shall give

Another sanction to the laws of Rome,420

Our cause of battle. If for him were meant

An empire o’er the world, had they not put

An end to Magnus’ life? That I am chief

Of all these mingled peoples and of Rome

Disproves an angry heaven. See here combined

All means of victory. Noble men have sought

Unasked the risks of war. Our soldiers boast

Ancestral statues. If to us were given

A Curius, if Camillus were returned,

Or patriot Decius to devote his life,430

Here would they take their stand. From furthest east

All nations gathered, cities as the sand

Unnumbered, give their aid: a world complete

Serves ‘neath our standards. North and south and all

Who have their being ‘neath the starry vault,

Here meet in arms conjoined: And shall we not

Crush with our closing wings this paltry foe?

Few shall find room to strike; the rest with voice

Must be content to aid: for Caesar’s ranks

Suffice not for us. Think from Rome’s high walls440

The matrons watch you with their hair unbound;

Think that the Senate hoar, too old for arms,

With snowy locks outspread; and Rome herself,

The world’s high mistress, fearing now, alas!

A despot — all exhort you to the fight.

Think that the people that is and that shall be

Joins in the prayer — in freedom to be born,

In freedom die, their wish. If ‘mid these vows

Be still found place for mine, with wife and child,

So far as Imperator may, I bend450

Before you suppliant — unless this fight

Be won, behold me exile, your disgrace,

My kinsman’s scorn. From this, ’tis yours to save.

Then save! Nor in the latest stage of life,

Let Magnus be a slave.”

Then burned their souls

At these his words, indignant at the thought,

And Rome rose up within them, and to die

Was welcome.

Thus alike with hearts aflame460

Moved either host to battle, one in fear

And one in hope of empire. These hands shall do

Such work as not the rolling centuries

Not all mankind though free from sword and war

Shall e’er make good. Nations that were to live

This fight shall crush, and peoples preordained

To make the history of the coming world

Shall come not to the birth. The Latin names

Shall sound as fables in the ears of men,

And ruins loaded with the dust of years470

Shall hardly mark her cities. Alba’s hill,

Home of our gods, no human foot shall tread,

Save of some Senator at the ancient feast

By Numa’s orders founded — he compelled

Serves his high office. 218 Void and desolate

Are Veii, Cora and Laurentum’s hold;

Yet not the tooth of envious time destroyed

These storied monuments — ’twas civil war

That rased their citadels. Where now hath fled

The teeming life that once Italia knew?480

Not all the earth can furnish her with men:

Untenanted her dwellings and her fields:

Slaves till her soil: one city holds us all:

Crumbling to ruin, the ancestral roof

Finds none on whom to fall; and Rome herself,

Void of her citizens, draws within her gates

The dregs of all the world. That none might wage

A civil war again, thus deeply drank

Pharsalia’s fight the life-blood of her sons.

Dark in the calendar of Rome for aye,490

The days when Allia and Cannae fell:

And shall Pharsalus’ morn, darkest of all,

Stand on the page unmarked? Alas, the fates!

Not plague nor pestilence nor famine’s rage,

Not cities given to the flames, nor towns

Trembling at shock of earthquake shall weigh down

Such heroes lost, when Fortune’s ruthless hand

Lops at one blow the gift of centuries,

Leaders and men embattled. How great art thou,

Rome, in thy fall! Stretched to the widest bounds500

War upon war laid nations at thy feet

Till flaming Titan nigh to either pole

Beheld thine empire; and the furthest east

Was almost thine, till day and night and sky

For thee revolved, and all the stars could see

Throughout their course was Roman. But the fates

In one dread day of slaughter and despair

Turned back the centuries and spoke thy doom.

And now the Indian fears the axe no more

Once emblem of thy power, now no more510

The girded Consul curbs the Getan horde,

Or in Sarmatian furrows guides the share: 219

Still Parthia boasts her triumphs unavenged:

Foul is the public life; and Freedom, fled

To furthest Earth beyond the Tigris’ stream,

And Rhine’s broad river, wandering at her will

‘Mid Teuton hordes and Scythian, though by sword

Sought, yet returns not. Would that from the day

When Romulus, aided by the vulture’s flight,

Ill-omened, raised within that hateful grove520

Rome’s earliest walls, down to the crimsoned field

In dire Thessalia fought, she ne’er had known

Italia’s peoples! Did the Bruti strike

In vain for liberty? Why laws and rights

Sanctioned by all the annals designate

With consular titles? Happier far the Medes

And blest Arabia, and the Eastern lands

Held by a kindlier fate in despot rule!

That nation serves the worst which serves with shame.

No guardian gods watch over us from heaven:530

Jove 220 is no king; let ages whirl along

In blind confusion: from his throne supreme

Shall he behold such carnage and restrain

His thunderbolts? On Mimas shall he hurl

His fires, on Rhodope and Oeta’s woods

Unmeriting such chastisement, and leave

This life to Cassius’ hand? On Argos fell

At grim Thyestes’ feast 221 untimely night

By him thus hastened; shall Thessalia’s land

Receive full daylight, wielding kindred swords540

In fathers’ hands and brothers’? Careless of men

Are all the gods. Yet for this day of doom

Such vengeance have we reaped as deities

May give to mortals; for these wars shall raise

Our parted Caesars to the gods; and Rome

Shall deck their effigies with thunderbolts,

And stars and rays, and in the very fanes

Swear by the shades of men.

With swift advance

They seize the space that yet delays the fates550

Till short the span dividing. Then they gaze

For one short moment where may fall the spear,

What hand may deal their death, what monstrous task

Soon shall be theirs; and all in arms they see,

In reach of stroke, their brothers and their sires

With front opposing; yet to yield their ground

It pleased them not. But all the host was dumb

With horror; cold upon each loving heart,

Awe-struck, the life-blood pressed; and all men held

With arms outstretched their javelins for a time,560

Poised yet unthrown. Now may th’ avenging gods

Allot thee, Crastinus, 222 not such a death

As all men else do suffer! In the tomb

May’st thou have feeling and remembrance still!

For thine the hand that first flung forth the dart,

Which stained with Roman blood Thessalia’s earth.

Madman! To speed thy lance when Caesar’s self

Still held his hand! Then from the clarions broke

The strident summons, and the trumpets blared

Responsive signal. Upward to the vault570

The sound reechoes where nor clouds may reach

Nor thunder penetrate; and Haemus’ slopes 223

Reverberate to Pelion the din;

Pindus reechoes; Oeta’s lofty rocks

Groan, and Pangaean cliffs, till at their rage

Borne back from all the earth they shook for fear.

Unnumbered darts they hurl, with prayers diverse;

Some hope to wound: others, in secret, yearn

For hands still innocent. Chance rules supreme,

And wayward Fortune upon whom she wills580

Makes fall the guilt. Yet for the hatred bred

By civil war suffices spear nor lance,

Urged on their flight afar: the hand must grip

The sword and drive it to the foeman’s heart.

But while Pompeius’ ranks, shield wedged to shield,

Were ranged in dense array, and scarce had space

To draw the blade, came rushing at the charge

Full on the central column Caesar’s host,

Mad for the battle. Man nor arms could stay

The crash of onset, and the furious sword590

Clove through the stubborn panoply to the flesh,

There only stayed. One army struck — their foes

Struck not in answer; Magnus’ swords were cold,

But Caesar’s reeked with slaughter and with guilt.

Nor Fortune lingered, but decreed the doom

Which swept the ruins of a world away.

Soon as withdrawn from all the spacious plain,

Pompeius’ horse was ranged upon the flanks;

Passed through the outer files, the lighter armed

Of all the nations joined the central strife,600

With divers weapons armed, but all for blood

Of Rome athirst: then blazing torches flew,

Arrows and stones. and ponderous balls of lead

Molten by speed of passage through the air.

There Ituraean archers and the Mede

Winged forth their countless shafts till all the sky

Grew dark with missiles hurled; and from the night

Brooding above, Death struck his victims down,

Guiltless such blow, while all the crime was heaped

Upon the Roman spear. In line oblique610

Behind the standards Caesar in reserve

Had placed some companies of foot, in fear

The foremost ranks might waver. These at his word,

No trumpet sounding, break upon the ranks

Of Magnus’ horsemen where they rode at large

Flanking the battle. They, unshamed of fear

And careless of the fray, when first a steed

Pierced through by javelin spurned with sounding hoof

The temples of his rider, turned the rein,

And through their comrades spurring from the field620

In panic, proved that not with warring Rome

Barbarians may grapple. Then arose

Immeasurable carnage: here the sword,

There stood the victim, and the victor’s arm

Wearied of slaughter. Oh, that to thy plains,

Pharsalia, might suffice the crimson stream

From hosts barbarian, nor other blood

Pollute thy fountains’ sources! these alone

Shall clothe thy pastures with the bones of men!

Or if thy fields must run with Roman blood630

Then spare the nations who in times to come

Must be her peoples!

Now the terror spread

Through all the army, and the favouring fates

Decreed for Caesar’s triumph: and the war

Ceased in the wider plain, though still ablaze

Where stood the chosen of Pompeius’ force,

Upholding yet the fight. Not here allies

Begged from some distant king to wield the sword:

Here were the Roman sons, the sires of Rome,640

Here the last frenzy and the last despair:

Here, Caesar, was thy crime: and here shall stay

My Muse repelled: no poesy of mine

Shall tell the horrors of the final strife,

Nor for the coming ages paint the deeds

Which civil war permits. Be all obscured

In deepest darkness! Spare the useless tear

And vain lament, and let the deeds that fell

In that last fight of Rome remain unsung.

But Caesar adding fury to the breasts650

Already flaming with the rage of war,

That each might bear his portion of the guilt

Which stained the host, unflinching through the ranks

Passed at his will. He looked upon the brands,

These reddened only at the point, and those

Streaming with blood and gory, to the hilt:

He marks the hand which trembling grasped the sword,

Or held it idle, and the cheek that grew

Pale at the blow, and that which at his words

Glowed with the joy of battle: midst the dead660

He treads the plain and on each gaping wound

Presses his hand to keep the life within.

Thus Caesar passed: and where his footsteps fell

As when Bellona shakes her crimson lash,

Or Mavors scourges on the Thracian mares 224

When shunning the dread face on Pallas’ shield,

He drives his chariot, there arose a night

Dark with huge slaughter and with crime, and groans

As of a voice immense, and sound of alms

As fell the wearer, and of sword on sword670

Crashed into fragments. With a ready hand

Caesar supplies the weapon and bids strike

Full at the visage; and with lance reversed

Urges the flagging ranks and stirs the fight.

Where flows the nation’s blood, where beats the heart,

Knowing, he bids them spare the common herd,

But seek the senators — thus Rome he strikes,

Thus the last hold of Freedom. In the fray,

Then fell the nobles with their mighty names

Of ancient prowess; there Metellus’ sons,680

Corvini, Lepidi, Torquati too,

Not once nor twice the conquerors of kings,

First of all men, Pompeius’ name except,

Lay dead upon the field.

But, Brutus, where,

Where was thy sword? 225 “Veiled by a common helm

Unknown thou wanderest. Thy country’s pride,

Hope of the Senate, thou (for none besides);

Thou latest scion of that race of pride,

Whose fearless deeds the centuries record,690

Tempt not the battle, nor provoke the doom!

Awaits thee on Philippi’s fated field

Thy Thessaly. Not here shalt thou prevail

‘Gainst Caesar’s life. Not yet hath he surpassed

The height of power and deserved a death

Noble at Brutus’ hands — then let him live,

Thy fated victim!

There upon the field

Lay all the honour of Rome; no common stream

Mixed with the purple tide. And yet of all700

Who noble fell, one only now I sing,

Thee, brave Domitius. 226 Whene’er the day

Was adverse to the fortunes of thy chief

Thine was the arm which vainly stayed the fight.

Vanquished so oft by Caesar, now ’twas thine

Yet free to perish. By a thousand wounds

Came welcome death, nor had thy conqueror power

Again to pardon. Caesar stood and saw

The dark blood welling forth and death at hand,

And thus in words of scorn: “And dost thou lie,710

Domitius, there? And did Pompeius name

Thee his successor, thee? Why leavest thou then

His standards helpless?” But the parting life

Still faintly throbbed within Domitius’ breast,

Thus finding utterance: “Yet thou hast not won

Thy hateful prize, for doubtful are the fates;

Nor thou the master, Caesar; free as yet,

With great Pompeius for my leader still,

Warring no more, I seek the silent shades,

Yet with this hope in death, that thou subdued720

To Magnus and to me in grievous guise

May’st pay atonement.” So he spake: no more;

Then closed his eyes in death.

’Twere shame to shed,

When thus a world was perishing, the tear

Meet for each fate, or sing the wound that reft

Each life away. Through forehead and through throat

The pitiless weapon clove its deadly path,

Or forced the entrails forth: one fell to earth

Prone at the stroke; one stood though shorn of limb;730

Glanced from this breast unharmed the quivering spear;

That it transfixed to earth. Here from the veins

Spouted the life-blood, till the foeman’s arms

Were crimsoned. One his brother slew, nor dared

To spoil the corse, till severed from the neck

He flung the head afar. Another dashed

Full in his father’s teeth the fatal sword,

By murderous frenzy striving to disprove

His kinship with the slain. Yet for each death

We find no separate dirge, nor weep for men740

When peoples fell. Thus, Rome, thy doom was wrought

At dread Pharsalus. Not, as in other fields,

By soldiers slain, or captains; here were swept

Whole nations to the death; Assyria here,

Achaia, Pontus; and the blood of Rome

Gushing in torrents forth, forbade the rest

To stagnate on the plain. Nor life was reft,

Nor safety only then; but reeled the world

And all her manifold peoples at the blow

In that day’s battle dealt; nor only then750

Felt, but in all the times that were to come.

Those swords gave servitude to every age

That shall be slavish; by our sires was shaped

For us our destiny, the despot yoke.

Yet have we trembled not, nor feared to bare

Our throats to slaughter, nor to face the foe:

We bear the penalty for others’ shame.

Such be our doom; yet, Fortune, sharing not

In that last battle, ’twas our right to strike

One blow for freedom ere we served our lord.760

Now saw Pompeius, grieving, that the gods

Had left his side, and knew the fates of Rome

Passed from his governance; yet all the blood

That filled the field scarce brought him to confess

His fortunes fled. A little hill he sought

Whence to descry the battle raging still

Upon the plain, which when he nearer stood

The warring ranks concealed. Thence did the chief

Gaze on unnumbered swords that flashed in air

And sought his ruin; and the tide of blood770

In which his host had perished. Yet not as those

Who, prostrate fallen, would drag nations down

To share their evil fate, Pompeius did.

Still were the gods thought worthy of his prayers

To give him solace, in that after him

Might live his Romans. “Spare, ye gods,” he said,

“Nor lay whole peoples low; my fall attained,

The world and Rome may stand. And if ye need

More bloodshed, here on me, my wife, and sons

Wreak out your vengeance — pledges to the fates780

Such have we given. Too little for the war

Is our destruction? Doth the carnage fail,

The world escaping? Magnus’ fortunes lost,

Why doom all else beside him?” Thus he cried,

And passed amid his standards, and recalled

His vanquished host that rushed on fate declared.

Not for his sake such carnage should be wrought.

So thought Pompeius; nor the foeman’s sword

He feared, nor death; but lest upon his fall

To quit their chief his soldiers might refuse,790

And o’er his prostrate corpse a world in arms

Might find its ruin: or perchance he wished

From Caesar’s eager eyes to veil his death.

In vain, unhappy! for the fates decree

He shall behold, shorn from the bleeding trunk,

Again thy visage. And thou, too, his spouse,

Beloved Cornelia, didst cause his flight;

Thy longed-for features; yet he shall not die

When thou art present. 227

Then upon his steed,800

Though fearing not the weapons at his back,

Pompeius fled, his mighty soul prepared

To meet his destinies. No groan nor tear,

But solemn grief as for the fates of Rome,

Was in his visage, and with mien unchanged

He saw Pharsalia’s woes, above the frowns

Or smiles of Fortune; in triumphant days

And in his fall, her master. The burden laid

Of thine impending fate, thou partest free

To muse upon the happy days of yore.810

Hope now has fled; but in the fleeting past

How wast thou great! Seek thou the wars no more,

And call the gods to witness that for thee

Henceforth dies no man. In the fights to come

On Afric’s mournful shore, by Pharos’ stream

And fateful Munda; in the final scene

Of dire Pharsalia’s battle, not thy name

Doth stir the war and urge the foeman’s arm,

But those great rivals biding with us yet,

Caesar and Liberty; and not for thee820

But for itself the dying Senate fought,

When thou had’st fled the combat.

Find’st thou not

Some solace thus in parting from the fight

Nor seeing all the horrors of its close?

Look back upon the dead that load the plain,

The rivers turbid with a crimson stream;

Then pity thou thy victor. How shall he

Enter the city, who on such a field

Finds happiness? Trust thou in Fortune yet,830

Her favourite ever; and whate’er, alone

In lands unknown, an exile, be thy lot,

Whate’er thy sufferings ‘neath the Pharian king,

’Twere worse to conquer. Then forbid the tear,

Cease, sounds of woe, and lamentation cease,

And let the world adore thee in defeat,

As in thy triumphs. With unfaltering gaze,

Look on the suppliant kings, thy subjects still;

Search out the realms and cities which they hold,

Thy gift, Pompeius; and a fitting place840

Choose for thy death.

First witness of thy fall,

And of thy noble bearing in defeat,

Larissa. Weeping, yet with gifts of price

Fit for a victor, from her teeming gates

Poured forth her citizens, their homes and fanes

Flung open; wishing it had been their lot

With thee to share disaster. Of thy name

Still much survives, unto thy former self

Alone inferior, still could’st thou to arms850

All nations call and challenge fate again.

But thus he spake: “To cities nor to men

Avails the conquered aught; then pledge your faith

To him who has the victory.” Caesar trod

Pharsalia’s slaughter, while his daughter’s spouse

Thus gave him kingdoms; but Pompeius fled

‘Mid sobs and groans and blaming of the gods

For this their fierce commandment; and he fled

Full of the fruits and knowledge of the love

The peoples bore him, which he knew not his860

In times of happiness.

When Italian blood

Flowed deep enough upon the fatal field,

Caesar bade halt, and gave their lives to those

Whose death had been no gain. But that their camp

Might not recall the foe, nor calm of night

Banish their fears, he bids his cohorts dash,

While Fortune glowed and terror filled the plain,

Straight on the ramparts of the conquered foe.

Light was the task to urge them to the spoil;870

“Soldiers,” he said, “the victory is ours,

Full and triumphant: there doth lie the prize

Which you have won, not Caesar; at your feet

Behold the booty of the hostile camp.

Snatched from Hesperian nations ruddy gold,

And all the riches of the Orient world,

Are piled within the tents. The wealth of kings

And of Pompeius here awaits its lords.

Haste, soldiers, and outstrip the flying foe;

E’en now the vanquished of Pharsalia’s field880

Anticipate your spoils.” No more he said,

But drave them, blind with frenzy for the gold,

To spurn the bodies of their fallen sires,

And trample chiefs in dashing on their prey.

What rampart had restrained them as they rushed

To seize the prize for wickedness and war

And learn the price of guilt? And though they found

In ponderous masses heaped for need of war

The trophies of a world, yet were their minds

Unsatisfied, that asked for all. Whate’er890

Iberian mines or Tagus bring to day,

Or Arimaspians from golden sands

May gather, had they seized; still had they thought

Their guilt too cheaply sold. When pledged to them

Was the Tarpeian rock, for victory won,

And all the spoils of Rome, by Caesar’s word,

Shall camps suffice them?

Then plebeian limbs

On senators’ turf took rest, on kingly couch

The meanest soldier; and the murderer lay900

Where yesternight his brother or his sire.

In raving dreams within their waking brains

Yet raged the battle, and the guilty hand

Still wrought its deeds of blood, and restless sought

The absent sword-hilt. Thou had’st said that groans

Issued from all the plain, that parted souls

Had breathed a life into the guilty soil,

That earthly darkness teemed with gibbering ghosts

And Stygian terrors. Victory foully won

Thus claimed its punishment. The slumbering sense910

Already heard the hiss of vengeful flames

As from the depths of Acheron. One saw

Deep in the trances of the night his sire

And one his brother slain. But all the dead

In long array were visioned to the eyes

Of Caesar dreaming. Not in other guise

Orestes saw the Furies ere he fled

To purge his sin within the Scythian bounds;

Nor in more fierce convulsions raged the soul

Of Pentheus raving; nor Agave’s 228 mind920

When she had known her son. Before his gaze

Flashed all the javelins which Pharsalia saw,

Or that avenging day when drew their blades

The Roman senators; and on his couch,

Infernal monsters from the depths of hell

Scourged him in slumber. Thus his guilty mind

Brought retribution. Ere his rival died

The terrors that enfold the Stygian stream

And black Avernus, and the ghostly slain

Broke on his sleep.930

Yet when the golden sun

Unveiled the butchery of Pharsalia’s field 229

He shrank not from its horror, nor withdrew

His feasting gaze. There rolled the streams in flood

With crimson carnage; there a seething heap

Rose shrouding all the plain, now in decay

Slow settling down; there numbered he the host

Of Magnus slain; and for the morn’s repast

That spot he chose whence he might watch the dead,

And feast his eyes upon Emathia’s field940

Concealed by corpses; of the bloody sight

Insatiate, he forbad the funeral pyre,

And cast Emathia in the face of heaven.

Nor by the Punic victor was he taught,

Who at the close of Cannae’s fatal fight

Laid in the earth the Roman consul dead,

To find fit burial for his fallen foes;

For these were all his countrymen, nor yet

His ire by blood appeased. Yet ask we not

For separate pyres or sepulchres apart950

Wherein to lay the ashes of the fallen:

Burn in one holocaust the nations slain;

Or should it please thy soul to torture more

Thy kinsman, pile on high from Oeta’s slopes

And Pindus’ top the woods: thus shall he see

While fugitive on the deep the blaze that marks

Thessalia. Yet by this idle rage

Nought dost thou profit; for these corporal frames

Bearing innate from birth the certain germs

Of dissolution, whether by decay960

Or fire consumed, shall fall into the lap

Of all-embracing nature. Thus if now

Thou should’st deny the pyre, still in that flame

When all shall crumble, 230 earth and rolling seas

And stars commingled with the bones of men,

These too shall perish. Where thy soul shall go

These shall companion thee; no higher flight

In airy realms is thine, nor smoother couch

Beneath the Stygian darkness; for the dead

No fortune favours, and our Mother Earth970

All that is born from her receives again,

And he whose bones no tomb or urn protects

Yet sleeps beneath the canopy of heaven.

And thou, proud conqueror, who would’st deny

The rites of burial to thousands slain,

Why flee thy field of triumph? Why desert

This reeking plain? Drink, Caesar, of the streams,

Drink if thou can’st, and should it be thy wish

Breathe the Thessalian air; but from thy grasp

The earth is ravished, and th’ unburied host,980

Routing their victor, hold Pharsalia’s field.

Then to the ghastly harvest of the war

Came all the beasts of earth whose facile sense

Of odour tracks the bodies of the slain.

Sped from his northern home the Thracian wolf;

Bears left their dens and lions from afar

Scenting the carnage; dogs obscene and foul

Their homes deserted: all the air was full

Of gathering fowl, who in their flight had long

Pursued the armies. Cranes 231 who yearly change990

The frosts of Thracia for the banks of Nile,

This year delayed their voyage. As ne’er before

The air grew dark with vultures’ hovering wings,

Innumerable, for every grove and wood

Sent forth its denizens; on every tree

Dripped from their crimsoned beaks a gory dew.

Oft on the conquerors and their impious arms

Or purple rain of blood, or mouldering flesh

Fell from the lofty heaven; or limbs of men

From weary talons dropped. Yet even so1000

The peoples passed not all into the maw

Of ravening beast or fowl; the inmost flesh

Scarce did they touch, nor limbs — thus lay the dead

Scorned by the spoiler; and the Roman host

By sun and length of days, and rain from heaven,

At length was mingled with Emathia’s plain.

Ill-starred Thessalia! By what hateful crime

Didst thou offend that thus on thee alone

Was laid such carnage? By what length of years

Shalt thou be cleansed from the curse of war?1010

When shall the harvest of thy fields arise

Free from their purple stain? And when the share

Cease to upturn the slaughtered hosts of Rome?

First shall the battle onset sound again,

Again shall flow upon thy fated earth

A crimson torrent. Thus may be o’erthrown

Our sires’ memorials; those erected last,

Or those which pierced by ancient roots have spread

Through broken stones their sacred urns abroad.

Thus shall the ploughman of Haemonia gaze1020

On more abundant ashes, and the rake

Pass o’er more frequent bones. Wert, Thracia, thou.

Our only battlefield, no sailor’s hand

Upon thy shore should make his cable fast;

No spade should turn, the husbandman should flee

Thy fields, the resting-place of Roman dead;

No lowing kine should graze, nor shepherd dare

To leave his fleecy charge to browse at will

On fields made fertile by our mouldering dust;

All bare and unexplored thy soil should lie,1030

As past man’s footsteps, parched by cruel suns,

Or palled by snows unmelting! But, ye gods,

Give us to hate the lands which bear the guilt;

Let not all earth be cursed, though not all

Be blameless found.

’Twas thus that Munda’s fight

And blood of Mutina, and Leucas’ cape,

And sad Pachynus, 232 made Philippi pure.

203 “It is, methinks, a morning full of fate!

It riseth slowly, as her sullen car

Had all the weight of sleep and death hung at it!”

. . .

And her sick head is bound about with clouds

As if she threatened night ere noon of day.”

— Ben Jonson, “Catiline”, i., 1.

204 See Book VI., 577.

205 As to the sun finding fuel in the clouds, see Book I., line 471.

206 Pompeius triumphed first in 81 B.C. for his victories in Sicily and Africa, at the age of twenty-four. Sulla at first objected, but finally yielded and said, “Let him triumph then in God’s name.” The triumph for the defeat of Sertorius was not till 71 B.C., in which year Pompeius was elected Consul along with Crassus. (Compare Book IX., 709.)

207 These two lines are taken from Ben Jonson’s “Catiline”, act v., scene 6.

208 The volcanic district of Campania, scene of the fabled battle of the giants. (See Book IV., 666.)

209 Henceforth to be the standards of the Emperor.

210 A lake at the foot of Mount Ossa. Pindus, Ossa, Olympus, and, above all, Haemus (the Balkans) were at a long distance from Pharsalia. Comp. Book VI., 677.

211 Gades (Cadiz) is stated to have been founded by the Phoenicians about 1000 B.C.

212 This alludes to the story told by Plutarch (“Caesar”, 47) that, at Patavium, Caius Cornelius, a man reputed for skill in divination, and a friend of Livy the historian, was sitting to watch the birds that day. “And first of all (as Livius says) he discovered the time of the battle, and he said to those present that the affair was now deciding and the men were going into action. Looking again, and observing the signs, he sprang up with enthusiasm and called out, ‘You conquer, Caesar.’” (Long’s translation.)

213 The Fontes Aponi were warm springs near Padua. An altar, inscribed to Apollo Aponus, was found at Ribchester, and is now at St. John’s College, Cambridge. (Wright, “Celt, Roman, and Saxon”, p. 320.)

214 See Book I., 411, and following lines.

215 For the contempt here expressed for the Greek gymnastic schools, see also Tacitus, “Annals”, 14, 21. It is well known that Nero instituted games called Neronia which were borrowed from the Greeks; and that many of the Roman citizens despised them as foreign and profligate. Merivale, chapter liii., cites this passage.

216 Thus paraphrased by Dean Stanley:

“I tremble not with terror, but with hope,

As the great day reveals its coming scope;

Never in earlier days, our hearts to cheer,

Have such bright gifts of Heaven been brought so near,

Nor ever has been kept the aspiring soul

By space so narrow from so grand a goal.”

Inaugural address at St. Andrews. 1873, on the “Study of Greatness”.

217 That such were Caesar’s orders is also attested by Appian.

218 See Book V., 463.

219 That is, marked out the new colony with a plough-share. This was regarded as a religious ceremony, and therefore performed by the Consul with his toga worn in ancient fashion.

220 “Hath Jove no thunder?” — Ben Jonson, “Catiline”, iii., 2.

221 Compare Book I., line 600.

222 This act of Crastinus is recorded by Plutarch (“Pompeius”, 71), and by Caesar, “Civil War”, Book III., 91. Caesar called him by name and said: “Well, Crastinus, shall we win today?” “We shall win with glory, Caesar,” he replied in a loud voice, “and today you will praise me, living or dead.” — Durny, “History of Rome”, vol. iii., 312. He was placed in a special tomb after the battle.

223 See on line 203.

224 That is, lashes on his team terrified by the Gorgon shield in the ranks of the enemy.

225 Plutarch states that Brutus after the battle escaped and made his way to Larissa, whence he wrote to Caesar. Caesar, pleased that he was alive, asked him to come to him; and it was on Brutus’ opinion that Caesar determined to hurry to Egypt as the most probable refuge of Pompeius. Caesar entrusted Brutus with the command of Cisalpine Gaul when he was in Africa.

226 “He perished, after a career of furious partisanship, disgraced with cruelty and treachery, on the field of Pharsalia” (Merivale, “Hist. Romans under the Empire”, chapter lii.). Unless this man had been an ancestor of Nero it is impossible to suppose that Lucan would have thus singled him out. But he appears to have been the only leader who fell. (Compare Book II, lines 534–590, for his conduct at Corfinium.)

227 This appears to be the only possible meaning of the text. But in truth, although Cornelia was not by her husband’s side at his murder, she was present at the scene.

228 See Book VI., 420.

229 The whole of this passage is foreign to Caesar’s character, and unfounded in fact. Pompeians perished on the field, and were taken prisoners. When Caesar passed over the field he is recorded to have said in pity, “They would have it so; after all my exploits I should have been condemned to death had I not thrown myself upon the protection of my soldiers.” — Plutarch, “Caesar”; Durny, “History of Rome”, vol. iii., p. 311.

230 Alluding to the general conflagration in which (by the Stoic doctrines) all the universe would one day perish.

231 Wrongly supposed by Lucan to feed on carrion.

232 Alluding to the naval war waged by Sextus Pompeius after Caesar’s death. He took possession of Sicily, and had command of the seas, but was ultimately defeated by the fleet of Octavius under Agrippa in B.C. 36. Pachynus was the S.E. promontory of the island, but is used in the sense of Sicily, for this battle took place on the north coast.

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