The Pharsalia of Lucan

Book iv

Caesar in Spain. War in the Adriatic Sea. Death of Curio.

War in Spain; battle at Ilerda between Caesar and Pompeius’ generals, Afranius and Petreius, lines 1-52. Moods and famine, 52-130. At length Caesar crosses the Sicoris and intercepts the retreat of the Pompeians, 131-188. The troops hold friendly converse, 188-234, but Petreius stops it and massacres the soldiers of Caesar, 234-290. Caesar cuts his enemy off from the river, 290-378. Afranius submits, and is dismissed with his troops, 379-453. Antonius is besieged by the Pompeians in Illyria, and tries to escape on three rafts, 454-510, one of which is stopped by a chain, 510-529. The soldiers on board, persuaded by their captain, Volteius, slay each other, 530-648. Curio goes to Africa and lands near Zama, 649. Legend of Antaeus and Hercules, 656-748. Curio defeats Varus, 749-817, but is defeated and slain by Juba, 818-900. His character, 901-933.

But in the distant regions of the earth

Fierce Caesar warring, though in fight he dealt

No baneful slaughter, hastened on the doom

To swift fulfillment. There on Magnus’ side

Afranius and Petreius 96 held command,

Who ruled alternate, and the rampart guard

Obeyed the standard of each chief in turn.

There with the Romans in the camp were joined

Asturians 97 swift, and Vettons lightly armed,

And Celts who, exiled from their ancient home,10

Had joined “Iberus” to their former name.

Where the rich soil in gentle slope ascends

And forms a modest hill, Ilerda 98 stands,

Founded in ancient days; beside her glides

Not least of western rivers, Sicoris

Of placid current, by a mighty arch

Of stone o’erspanned, which not the winter floods

Shall overwhelm. Upon a rock hard by

Was Magnus’ camp; but Caesar’s on a hill,

Rivalling the first; and in the midst a stream.20

Here boundless plains are spread beyond the range

Of human vision; Cinga girds them in

With greedy waves; forbidden to contend

With tides of ocean; for that larger flood

Who names the land, Iberus, sweeps along

The lesser stream commingled with his own.

Guiltless of war, the first day saw the hosts

In long array confronted; standard rose

Opposing standard, numberless; yet none

Essayed attack, in shame of impious strife.30

One day they gave their country and her laws.

But Caesar, when from heaven fell the night,

Drew round a hasty trench; his foremost rank

With close array concealing those who wrought.

Then with the morn he bids them seize the hill

Which parted from the camp Ilerda’s walls,

And gave them safety. But in fear and shame

On rushed the foe and seized the vantage ground,

First in the onset. From the height they held

Their hopes of conquest; but to Caesar’s men40

Their hearts by courage stirred, and their good swords

Promised the victory. Burdened up the ridge

The soldier climbed, and from the opposing steep

But for his comrade’s shield had fallen back;

None had the space to hurl the quivering lance

Upon the foeman: spear and pike made sure

The failing foothold, and the falchion’s edge

Hewed out their upward path. But Caesar saw

Ruin impending, and he bade his horse

By circuit to the left, with shielded flank,50

Hold back the foe. Thus gained his troops retreat,

For none pressed on them; and the victor chiefs,

Forced to withdrawal, gained the day in vain.

Henceforth the fitful changes of the year

Governed the fates and fashioned out the war.

For stubborn frost still lay upon the land,

And northern winds, controlling all the sky,

Prisoned the rain in clouds; the hills were nipped

With snow unmelted, and the lower plains

By frosts that fled before the rising sun;60

And all the lands that stretched towards the sky

Which whelms the sinking stars, ‘neath wintry heavens

Were parched and arid. But when Titan neared

The Ram, who, backward gazing on the stars,

Bore perished Helle, 99 and the hours were held

In juster balance, and the day prevailed,

The earliest faded moon which in the vault

Hung with uncertain horn, from eastern winds

Received a fiery radiance; whose blasts

Forced Boreas back: and breaking on the mists70

Within his regions, to the Occident

Drave all that shroud Arabia and the land

Of Ganges; all that or by Caurus 100 borne

Bedim the Orient sky, or rising suns

Permit to gather; pitiless flamed the day

Behind them, while in front the wide expanse

Was driven; nor on mid earth sank the clouds

Though weighed with vapour. North and south alike

Were showerless, for on Calpe’s rock alone

All moisture gathered; here at last, forbidden80

To pass that sea by Zephyr’s bounds contained,

And by the furthest belt 101 of heaven, they pause,

In masses huge convolved; the widest breadth

Of murky air scarce holds them, which divides

Earth from the heavens; till pressed by weight of sky

In densest volume to the earth they pour

Their cataracts; no lightning could endure

Such storm unquenched: though oft athwart the gloom

Gleamed its pale fire. Meanwhile a watery arch

Scarce touched with colour, in imperfect shape90

Embraced the sky and drank the ocean waves,

So rendering to the clouds their flood outpoured.

And now were thawed the Pyrenaean snows

Which Titan had not conquered; all the rocks

Were wet with melting ice; accustomed springs

Found not discharge; and from the very banks

Each stream received a torrent. Caesar’s arms

Are shipwrecked on the field, his tottering camp

Swims on the rising flood; the trench is filled

With whirling waters; and the plain no more100

Yields corn or kine; for those who forage seek,

Err from the hidden furrow. Famine knocks

(First herald of o’erwhelming ills to come),

Fierce at the door; and while no foe blockades

The soldier hungers; fortunes buy not now

The meanest measure; yet, alas! is found

The fasting peasant, who, in gain of gold,

Will sell his little all! And now the hills

Are seen no more; and rivers whelmed in one;

Beasts with their homes sweep downwards; and the tide110

Repels the foaming torrent. Nor did night

Acknowledge Phoebus’ rise, for all the sky

Felt her dominion and obscured its face,

And darkness joined with darkness. Thus doth lie

The lowest earth beneath the snowy zone

And never-ending winters, where the sky

Is starless ever, and no growth of herb

Sprouts from the frozen earth; but standing ice

Tempers 102 the stars which in the middle zone

Kindle their flames. Thus, Father of the world,120

And thou, trident-god who rul’st the sea

Second in place, Neptunus, load the air

With clouds continual; forbid the tide,

Once risen, to return: forced by thy waves

Let rivers backward run in different course,

Thy shores no longer reaching; and the earth,

Shaken, make way for floods. Let Rhine o’erflow

And Rhone their banks; let torrents spread afield

Unmeasured waters: melt Rhipaean snows:

Spread lakes upon the land, and seas profound,130

And snatch the groaning world from civil war.

Thus for a little moment Fortune tried

Her darling son; then smiling to his part

Returned; and gained her pardon for the past

By greater gifts to come. For now the air

Had grown more clear, and Phoebus’ warmer rays

Coped with the flood and scattered all the clouds

In fleecy masses; and the reddening east

Proclaimed the coming day; the land resumed

Its ancient marks; no more in middle air140

The moisture hung, but from about the stars

Sank to the depths; the forest glad upreared

Its foliage; hills again emerged to view

And ‘neath the warmth of day the plains grew firm.

When Sicoris kept his banks, the shallop light

Of hoary willow bark they build, which bent

On hides of oxen, bore the weight of man

And swam the torrent. Thus on sluggish Po

Venetians float; and on th’ encircling sea 103

Are borne Britannia’s nations; and when Nile150

Fills all the land, are Memphis’ thirsty reeds

Shaped into fragile boats that swim his waves.

The further bank thus gained, they haste to curve

The fallen forest, and to form the arch

By which imperious Sicoris shall be spanned.

Yet fearing he might rise in wrath anew,

Not on the nearest marge they placed the beams,

But in mid-field. Thus the presumptuous stream

They tame with chastisement, parting his flood

In devious channels out; and curb his pride.160

Petreius, when he saw that Caesar’s fates

Swept all before them, left Ilerda’s steep,

His trust no longer in the Roman world;

And sought for strength amid those distant tribes,

Who, loving death, rush in upon the foe, 104

And win their conquests at the point of sword.

But in the dawn, when Caesar saw the camp

Stand empty on the hill, “To arms!” he cried:

“Seek not the bridge nor ford: plunge in the stream

And breast the foaming torrent.” Then did hope170

Of coming battle find for them a way

Which they had shunned in flight.

Their arms regained,

Their streaming limbs they cherished till the blood

Coursed in their veins; until the shadows fell

Short on the sward, and day was at the height.

Then dashed the horsemen on, and held the foe

‘Twixt flight and battle. In the plain arose

Two rocky heights: from each a loftier ridge

Of hills ranged onwards, sheltering in their midst180

A hollow vale, whose deep and winding paths

Were safe from warfare; which, when Caesar saw:

That if Petreius held, the war must pass

To lands remote by savage tribes possessed;

“Speed on,” he cried, “and meet their flight in front;

Fierce be your frown and battle in your glance:

No coward’s death be theirs; but as they flee

Plunge in their breasts the sword.” They seize the pass

And place their camp. Short was the span between

Th’ opposing sentinels; with eager eyes190

Undimmed by space, they gazed on brothers, sons,

Or friends and fathers; and within their souls

They grasped the impious horror of the war.

Yet for a little while no voice was heard,

For fear restrained; by waving blade alone

Or gesture, spake they; but their passion grew,

And broke all discipline; and soon they leaped

The hostile rampart; every hand outstretched 105

Embraced the hand of foeman, palm in palm;

One calls by name his neighhour, one his host,200

Another with his schoolmate talks again

Of olden studies: he who in the camp

Found not a comrade, was no son of Rome.

Wet are their arms with tears, and sobs break in

Upon their kisses; each, unstained by blood,

Dreads what he might have done. Why beat thy breast?

Why, madman, weep? The guilt is thine alone

To do or to abstain. Dost fear the man

Who takes his title to be feared from thee?

When Caesar’s trumpets sound the call to arms210

Heed not the summons; when thou seest advance

His standards, halt. The civil Fury thus

Shall fold her wings; and in a private robe

Caesar shall love his kinsman.

Holy Peace

That sway’st the world; thou whose eternal bands

Sustain the order of material things,

Come, gentle Concord! 106 these our times do now

For good or evil destiny control

The coming centuries! Ah, cruel fate!220

Now have the people lost their cloak for crime:

Their hope of pardon. They have known their kin.

Woe for the respite given by the gods

Making more black the hideous guilt to come!

Now all was peaceful, and in either camp

Sweet converse held the soldiers; on the grass

They place the meal; on altars built of turf

Pour out libations from the mingled cup;

On mutual couch with stories of their fights,

They wile the sleepless hours in talk away;230

“Where stood the ranks arrayed, from whose right hand

The quivering lance was sped:” and while they boast

Or challenge, deeds of prowess in the war,

Faith was renewed and trust. Thus made the fates

Their doom complete, and all the crimes to be;

Grew with their love.

For when Petreius knew

The treaties made; himself and all his camp

Sold to the foe; he stirs his guard to work

An impious slaughter: the defenceless foe240

Flings headlong forth: and parts the fond embrace

By stroke of weapon and in streams of blood.

And thus in words of wrath, to stir the war:

“Of Rome forgetful, to your faith forsworn!

And could ye not with victory gained return,

Restorers of her liberty, to Rome?

Lose then! but losing call not Caesar lord.

While still your swords are yours, with blood to shed

In doubtful battle, while the fates are hid,

Will you like cravens to your master bear250

Doomed eagles? Will you ask upon your knees

That Caesar deign to treat his slaves alike,

And spare, forsooth, like yours, your leaders’ lives? 107

Nay! never shall our safety be the price

Of base betrayal! Not for boon of life

We wage a civil war. This name of peace

Drags us to slavery. Ne’er from depths of earth,

Fain to withdraw her wealth, should toiling men

Draw store of iron; ne’er entrench a town;

Ne’er should the war-horse dash into the fray260

Nor fleet with turret bulwarks breast the main,

If freedom for dishonourable peace

Could thus be bought. The foe are pledged to fight

By their own guilt. But you, who still might hope

For pardon if defeated — what can match

Your deep dishonour? Shame upon your peace.

Thou callest, Magnus, ignorant of fate,

From all the world thy powers, and dost entreat

Monarchs of distant realms, while haply here

We in our treaties bargain for thy life!”270

Thus did he stir their minds and rouse anew

The love of impious battle. So when beasts

Grown strange to forests, long confined in dens,

Their fierceness lose, and learn to bear with man;

Once should they taste of blood, their thirsty jaws

Swell at the touch, and all the ancient rage

Comes back upon them till they hardly spare

Their keeper. Thus they rush on every crime:

And blows which dealt at chance, and in the night

Of battle, had brought hatred on the gods,280

Though blindly struck, their recent vows of love

Made monstrous, horrid. Where they lately spread

The mutual couch and banquet, and embraced

Some new-found friend, now falls the fatal blow

Upon the self-same breast; and though at first

Groaning at the fell chance, they drew the sword;

Hate rises as they strike, the murderous arm

Confirms the doubtful will: with monstrous joy

Through the wild camp they smite their kinsmen down;

And carnage raged unchecked; and each man strove,290

Proud of his crime, before his leader’s face

To prove his shamelessness of guilt.

But thou,

Caesar, though losing of thy best, dost know

The gods do favour thee. Thessalian fields

Gave thee no better fortune, nor the waves

That lave Massilia; nor on Pharos’ main

Didst thou so triumph. By this crime alone

Thou from this moment of the better cause

Shalt be the Captain.300

Since the troops were stained

With foulest slaughter thus, their leaders shunned

All camps with Caesar’s joined, and sought again

Ilerda’s lofty walls; but Caesar’s horse

Seized on the plain and forced them to the hills

Reluctant. There by steepest trench shut in,

He cuts them from the river, nor permits

Their circling ramparts to enclose a spring.

By this dread path Death trapped his captive prey.

Which when they knew, fierce anger filled their souls,310

And took the place of fear. They slew the steeds

Now useless grown, and rushed upon their fate;

Hopeless of life and flight. But Caesar cried:

“Hold back your weapons, soldiers, from the foe,

Strike not the breast advancing; let the war

Cost me no blood; he falls not without price

Who with his life-blood challenges the fray.

Scorning their own base lives and hating light,

To Caesar’s loss they rush upon their death,

Nor heed our blows. But let this frenzy pass,320

This madman onset; let the wish for death

Die in their souls.” Thus to its embers shrank

The fire within when battle was denied,

And fainter grew their rage until the night

Drew down her starry veil and sank the sun.

Thus keener fights the gladiator whose wound

Is recent, while the blood within the veins

Still gives the sinews motion, ere the skin

Shrinks on the bones: but as the victor stands

His fatal thrust achieved, and points the blade330

Unfaltering, watching for the end, there creeps

Torpor upon the limbs, the blood congeals

About the gash, more faintly throbs the heart,

And slowly fading, ebbs the life away.

Raving for water now they dig the plains

Seeking for hidden fountains, not with spade

And mattock only searching out the depths,

But with the sword; they hack the stony heights,

In shafts that reach the level of the plain.

No further flees from light the pallid wretch340

Who tears the bowels of the earth for gold.

Yet neither riven stones revealed a spring,

Nor streamlet whispered from its hidden source;

To water trickled on the gravel bed,

Nor dripped within the cavern. Worn at length

With labour huge, they crawl to light again,

After such toil to fall to thirst and heat

The readier victims: this was all they won.

All food they loathe; and ‘gainst their deadly thirst

Call famine to their aid. Damp clods of earth350

They squeeze upon their mouths with straining hands.

Where’er on foulest mud some stagnant slime

Or moisture lies, though doomed to die they lap

With greedy tongues the draught their lips had loathed

Had life been theirs to choose. Beast-like they drain

The swollen udder, and where milk was not,

They sucked the life-blood forth. From herbs and boughs

Dripping with dew, from tender shoots they pressed,

Say, from the pith of trees, the juice within.

Happy the host that onward marching finds360

Its savage enemy has fouled the wells

With murderous venom; had’st thou, Caesar, cast

The reeking filth of shambles in the stream,

And henbane dire and all the poisonous herbs

That lurk on Cretan slopes, still had they drunk

The fatal waters, rather than endure

Such lingering agony. Their bowels racked

With torments as of flame; the swollen tongue

And jaws now parched and rigid, and the veins;

Each laboured breath with anguish from the lungs370

Enfeebled, moistureless, was scarcely drawn,

And scarce again returned; and yet agape,

Their panting mouths sucked in the nightly dew;

They watch for showers from heaven, and in despair

Gaze on the clouds, whence lately poured a flood.

Nor were their tortures less that Meroe

Saw not their sufferings, nor Cancer’s zone,

Nor where the Garamantian turns the soil;

But Sicoris and Iberus at their feet,

Two mighty floods, but far beyond their reach,380

Rolled down in measureless volume to the main.

But now their leaders yield; Afranius,

Vanquished, throws down his arms, and leads his troops,

Now hardly living, to the hostile camp

Before the victor’s feet, and sues for peace.

Proud was his bearing, and despite of ills,

His mien majestic, of his triumphs past

Still mindful in disaster — thus he stood,

Though suppliant for grace, a leader yet;

From fearless heart thus speaking: “Had the fates390

Thrown me before some base ignoble foe,

Not, Caesar, thee; still had this arm fought on

And snatched my death. Now if I suppliant ask,

’Tis that I value still the boon of life

Given by a worthy hand. No party ties

Roused us to arms against thee; when the war,

This civil war, broke out, it found us chiefs;

And with our former cause we kept the faith,

So long as brave men should. The fates’ decree

No longer we withstand. Unto thy will400

We yield the western tribes: the east is thine

And all the world lies open to thy march.

Be generous! blood nor sword nor wearied arm

Thy conquests bought. Thou hast not to forgive

Aught but thy victory won. Nor ask we much.

Give us repose; to lead in peace the life

Thou shalt bestow; suppose these armed lines

Are corpses prostrate on the field of war

Ne’er were it meet that thy victorious ranks

Should mix with ours, the vanquished. Destiny410

Has run for us its course: one boon I beg;

Bid not the conquered conquer in thy train.”

Such were his words, and Caesar’s gracious smile

Granted his prayer, remitting rights that war

Gives to the victor. To th’ unguarded stream

The soldiers speed: prone on the bank they lie

And lap the flood or foul the crowded waves.

In many a burning throat the sudden draught

Poured in too copious, filled the empty veins

And choked the breath within: yet left unquenched420

The burning pest which though their frames were full

Craved water for itself. Then, nerved once more,

Their strength returned. Oh, lavish luxury,

Contented never with the frugal meal!

Oh greed that searchest over land and sea

To furnish forth the banquet! Pride that joy’st

In sumptuous tables! learn what life requires,

How little nature needs! No ruddy juice

Pressed from the vintage in some famous year,

Whose consuls are forgotten, served in cups430

With gold and jewels wrought restores the spark,

The failing spark, of life; but water pure

And simplest fruits of earth. The flood, the field

Suffice for nature. Ah! the weary lot

Of those who war! But these, their amour laid

Low at the victor’s feet, with lightened breast,

Secure themselves, no longer dealing death,

Beset by care no more, seek out their homes.

What priceless gift in peace had they secured!

How grieved it now their souls to have poised the dart440

With arm outstretched; to have felt their raving thirst;

And prayed the gods for victory in vain!

Nay, hard they think the victor’s lot, for whom

A thousand risks and battles still remain;

If fortune never is to leave his side,

How often must he triumph! and how oft

Pour out his blood where’er great Caesar leads!

Happy, thrice happy, he who, when the world

Is nodding to its ruin, knows the spot

Where he himself shall, though in ruin, lie!450

No trumpet call shall break his sleep again:

But in his humble home with faithful spouse

And sons unlettered Fortune leaves him free

From rage of party; for if life he owes

To Caesar, Magnus sometime was his lord.

Thus happy they alone live on apart,

Nor hope nor dread the event of civil war.

Not thus did Fortune upon Caesar smile

In all the parts of earth; 108 but ‘gainst his arms

Dared somewhat, where Salona’s lengthy waste460

Opposes Hadria, and Iadar warm

Meets with his waves the breezes of the west.

There brave Curectae dwell, whose island home

Is girded by the main; on whom relied

Antonius; and beleaguered by the foe,

Upon the furthest margin of the shore,

(Safe from all ills but famine) placed his camp.

But for his steeds the earth no forage gave,

Nor golden Ceres harvest; but his troops

Gnawed the dry herbage of the scanty turf470

Within their rampart lines. But when they knew

That Baslus was on th’ opposing shore

With friendly force, by novel mode of flight

They aim to reach him. Not the accustomed keel

They lay, nor build the ship, but shapeless rafts

Of timbers knit together, strong to bear

All ponderous weight; on empty casks beneath

By tightened chains made firm, in double rows

Supported; nor upon the deck were placed

The oarsmen, to the hostile dart exposed,480

But in a hidden space, by beams concealed.

And thus the eye amazed beheld the mass

Move silent on its path across the sea,

By neither sail nor stalwart arm propelled.

They watch the main until the refluent waves

Ebb from the growing sands; then, on the tide

Receding, launch their vessel; thus she floats

With twin companions: over each uprose

With quivering battlements a lofty tower.

Octavius, guardian of Illyrian seas,490

Restrained his swifter keels, and left the rafts

Free from attack, in hope of larger spoil

From fresh adventures; for the peaceful sea

May tempt them, and their goal in safety reached,

To dare a second voyage. Round the stag

Thus will the cunning hunter draw a line

Of tainted feathers poisoning the air;

Or spread the mesh, and muzzle in his grasp

The straining jaws of the Molossian hound,

And leash the Spartan pack; nor is the brake500

Trusted to any dog but such as tracks

The scent with lowered nostrils, and refrains

From giving tongue the while; content to mark

By shaking leash the covert of the prey.

Ere long they manned the rafts in eager wish

To quit the island, when the latest glow

Still parted day from night. But Magnus’ troops,

Cilician once, taught by their ancient art,

In fraudulent deceit had left the sea

To view unguarded; but with chains unseen510

Fast to Illyrian shores, and hanging loose,

They blocked the outlet in the waves beneath.

The leading rafts passed safely, but the third

Hung in mid passage, and by ropes was hauled

Below o’ershadowing rocks. These hollowed out

In ponderous masses overhung the main,

And nodding seemed to fall: shadowed by trees

Dark lay the waves beneath. Hither the tide

Brings wreck and corpse, and, burying with the flow,

Restores them with the ebb: and when the caves520

Belch forth the ocean, swirling billows fall

In boisterous surges back, as boils the tide

In that famed whirlpool on Sicilian shores.

Here, with Venetian settlers for its load,

Stood motionless the raft. Octavius’ ships

Gathered around, while foemen on the land

Filled all the shore. But well the captain knew,

Volteius, how the secret fraud was planned,

And tried in vain with sword and steel to burst

The bands that held them; without hope he fights,530

Uncertain where to avoid or front the foe.

Caught in this strait they strove as brave men should

Against opposing hosts; nor long the fight,

For fallen darkness brought a truce to arms.

Then to his men disheartened and in fear

Of coming fate Volteius, great of soul,

Thus spake in tones commanding: “Free no more,

Save for this little night, consult ye now

In this last moment, soldiers, how to face

Your final fortunes. No man’s life is short540

Who can take thought for death, nor is your fame

Less than a conqueror’s, if with breast advanced

Ye meet your destined doom. None know how long

The life that waits them. Summon your own fate,

And equal is your praise, whether the hand

Quench the last flicker of departing light,

Or shear the hope of years. But choice to die

Is thrust not on the mind — we cannot flee;

See at our throats, e’en now, our kinsmen’s swords.

Then choose for death; desire what fate decrees.550

At least in war’s blind cloud we shall not fall;

Nor when the flying weapons hide the day,

And slaughtered heaps of foemen load the field,

And death is common, and the brave man sinks

Unknown, inglorious. Us within this ship,

Seen of both friends and foes, the gods have placed;

Both land and sea and island cliffs shall bear,

From either shore, their witness to our death,

In which some great and memorable fame

Thou, Fortune, dost prepare. What glorious deeds560

Of warlike heroism, of noble faith,

Time’s annals show! All these shall we surpass.

True, Caesar, that to fall upon our swords

For thee is little; yet beleaguered thus,

With neither sons nor parents at our sides,

Shorn of the glory that we might have earned,

We give thee here the only pledge we may.

Yet let these hostile thousands fear the souls

That rage for battle and that welcome death,

And know us for invincible, and joy570

That no more rafts were stayed. They’ll offer terms

And tempt us with a base unhonoured life.

Would that, to give that death which shall be ours

The greater glory, they may bid us hope

For pardon and for life! lest when our swords

Are reeking with our hearts’-blood, they may say

This was despair of living. Great must be

The prowess of our end, if in the hosts

That fight his battles, Caesar is to mourn

This little handful lost. For me, should fate580

Grant us retreat, — myself would scorn to shun

The coming onset. Life I cast away,

The frenzy of the death that comes apace

Controls my being. Those alone whose end

Inspires them, know the happiness of death,

Which the high gods, that men may bear to live,

Keep hid from others.” Thus his noble words

Warmed his brave comrades’ hearts; and who with fear

And tearful eyes had looked upon the Wain,

Turning his nightly course, now hoped for day,590

Such precepts deep within them. Nor delayed

The sky to dip the stars below the main;

For Phoebus in the Twins his chariot drave

At noon near Cancer; and the hours of night 109

Were shortened by the Archer.

When day broke,

Lo! on the rocks the Istrians; while the sea

Swarmed with the galleys and their Grecian fleet

All armed for fight: but first the war was stayed

And terms proposed: life to the foe they thought600

Would seem the sweeter, by delay of death

Thus granted. But the band devoted stood,

Proud of their promised end, and life forsworn,

And careless of the battle: no debate

Could shake their high resolve. 110 In numbers few

‘Gainst foemen numberless by land and sea,

They wage the desperate fight; then satiate

Turn from the foe. And first demanding death

Volteius bared his throat. “What youth,” he cries,

“Dares strike me down, and through his captain’s wounds610

Attest his love for death?” Then through his side

Plunge blades uncounted on the moment drawn.

He praises all: but him who struck the first

Grateful, with dying strength, he does to death.

They rush together, and without a foe

Work all the guilt of battle. Thus of yore,

Rose up the glittering Dircaean band

From seed by Cadmus sown, and fought and died,

Dire omen for the brother kings of Thebes.

And so in Phasis’ fields the sons of earth,620

Born of the sleepless dragon, all inflamed

By magic incantations, with their blood

Deluged the monstrous furrow, while the Queen

Feared at the spells she wrought. Devoted thus

To death, they fall, yet in their death itself

Less valour show than in the fatal wounds

They take and give; for e’en the dying hand

Missed not a blow — nor did the stroke alone

Inflict the wound, but rushing on the sword

Their throat or breast received it to the hilt;630

And when by fatal chance or sire with son,

Or brothers met, yet with unfaltering weight

Down flashed the pitiless sword: this proved their love,

To give no second blow. Half living now

They dragged their mangled bodies to the side,

Whence flowed into the sea a crimson stream

Of slaughter. ’Twas their pleasure yet to see

The light they scorned; with haughty looks to scan

The faces of their victors, and to feel

The death approaching. But the raft was now640

Piled up with dead; which, when the foemen saw,

Wondering at such a chief and such a deed,

They gave them burial. Never through the world

Of any brave achievement was the fame

More widely blazed. Yet meaner men, untaught

By such examples, see not that the hand

Which frees from slavery needs no valiant mind

To guide the stroke. But tyranny is feared

As dealing death; and Freedom’s self is galled

By ruthless arms; and knows not that the sword650

Was given for this, that none need live a slave.

Ah Death! would’st thou but let the coward live

And grant the brave alone the prize to die!

Nor less were Libyan fields ablaze with war.

For Curio rash from Lilybaean 111 coast

Sailed with his fleet, and borne by gentle winds

Betwixt half-ruined Carthage, mighty once,

And Clupea’s cliff, upon the well-known shore

His anchors dropped. First from the hoary sea

Remote, where Bagra slowly ploughs the sand,660

He placed his camp: then sought the further hills

And mazy passages of cavernous rocks,

Antaeus’ kingdom called. From ancient days

This name was given; and thus a swain retold

The story handed down from sire to son:

“Not yet exhausted by the giant brood,

Earth still another monster brought to birth,

In Libya’s caverns: huger far was he,

More justly far her pride, than Briareus

With all his hundred hands, or Typhon fierce,670

Or Tityos: ’twas in mercy to the gods

That not in Phlegra’s 112 fields Antaeus grew,

But here in Libya; to her offspring’s strength,

Unmeasured, vast, she added yet this boon,

That when in weariness and labour spent

He touched his parent, fresh from her embrace

Renewed in rigour he should rise again.

In yonder cave he dwelt, ‘neath yonder rock

He made his feast on lions slain in chase:

There slept he; not on skins of beasts, or leaves,680

But fed his strength upon the naked earth.

Perished the Libyan hinds and those who came,

Brought here in ships, until he scorned at length

The earth that gave him strength, and on his feet

Invincible and with unaided might

Made all his victims. Last to Afric shores,

Drawn by the rumour of such carnage, came

Magnanimous Alcides, he who freed

Both land and sea of monsters. Down on earth

He threw his mantle of the lion’s skin690

Slain in Cleone; nor Antaeus less

Cast down the hide he wore. With shining oil,

As one who wrestles at Olympia’s feast,

The hero rubs his limbs: the giant feared

Lest standing only on his parent earth

His strength might fail; and cast o’er all his bulk

Hot sand in handfuls. Thus with arms entwined

And grappling hands each seizes on his foe;

With hardened muscles straining at the neck

Long time in vain; for firm the sinewy throat700

Stood column-like, nor yielded; so that each

Wondered to find his peer. Nor at the first

Divine Alcides put forth all his strength,

By lengthy struggle wearing out his foe,

Till chilly drops stood on Antaeas’ limbs,

And toppled to its fall the stately throat,

And smitten by the hero’s blows, the legs

Began to totter. Breast to breast they strive

To gain the vantage, till the victor’s arms

Gird in the giant’s yielding back and sides,710

And squeeze his middle part: next ‘twixt the thighs

He puts his feet, and forcing them apart,

Lays low the mighty monster limb by limb.

The dry earth drank his sweat, while in his veins

Warm ran the life-blood, and with strength refreshed,

The muscle swelled and all the joints grew firm,

And with his might restored, he breaks his bonds

And rives the arms of Hercules away.

Amazed the hero stood at such a strength.

Not thus he feared, though then unused to war,720

That hydra fierce, which smitten in the marsh

Of Inachus, renewed its severed heads.

Again they join in fight, one with the powers

Which earth bestowed, the other with his own:

Nor did the hatred of his step-dame 113 find

In all his conflicts greater room for hope.

She sees bedewed in sweat the neck and limbs

Which once had borne the mountain of the gods

Nor knew the toil: and when Antaeus felt

His foeman’s arms close round him once again,730

He flung his wearying limbs upon the sand

To rise with strength renewed; all that the earth,

Though labouring sore, could breathe into her son

She gave his frame. But Hercules at last

Saw how his parent gave the giant strength.

‘Stand thou,’ he cried; ‘no more upon the ground

Thou liest at thy will — here must thou stay

Within mine arms constrained; against this breast,

Antaeus, shalt thou fall.’ He lifted up

And held by middle girth the giant form,740

Still struggling for the earth: but she no more

Could give her offspring rigour. Slowly came

The chill of death upon him, and ’twas long

Before the hero, of his victory sure,

Trusted the earth and laid the giant down.

Hence hoar antiquity that loves to prate

And wonders at herself 114, this region called

Antaeus’ kingdom. But a greater name

It gained from Scipio, when he recalled

From Roman citadels the Punic chief.750

Here was his camp; here can’st thou see the trace

Of that most famous rampart 115 whence at length

Issued the Eagles of triumphant Rome.”

But Curio rejoiced, as though for him

The fortunes of the spot must hold in store

The fates of former chiefs: and on the place

Of happy augury placed his tents ill-starred,

Took from the hills their omens; and with force

Unequal, challenged his barbarian foe.

All Africa that bore the Roman yoke760

Then lay ‘neath Varus. He, though placing first

Trust in his Latian troops, from every side

And furthest regions, summons to his aid

The nations who confessed King Juba’s rule.

Not any monarch over wider tracts

Held the dominion. From the western belt 116

Near Gades, Atlas parts their furthest bounds;

But from the southern, Hammon girds them in

Hard by the whirlpools; and their burning plains

Stretch forth unending ‘neath the torrid zone,770

In breadth its equal, till they reach at length

The shore of ocean upon either hand.

From all these regions tribes unnumbered flock

To Juba’s standard: Moors of swarthy hue

As though from Ind; Numidian nomads there

And Nasamon’s needy hordes; and those whose darts

Equal the flying arrows of the Mede:

Dark Garamantians leave their fervid home;

And those whose coursers unrestrained by bit

Or saddle, yet obey the rider’s hand780

Which wields the guiding switch: the hunter, too,

Who wanders forth, his home a fragile hut,

And blinds with flowing robe (if spear should fail)

The angry lion, monarch of the steppe.

Not eagerness alone to save the state

Stirred Juba’s spirit: private hatred too

Roused him to war. For in the former year,

When Curio 117 all things human and the gods

Polluted, he by tribune law essayed

To ravish Libya from the tyrant’s sway,790

And drive the monarch from his father’s throne,

While giving Rome a king. To Juba thus,

Still smarting at the insult, came the war,

A welcome harvest for his crown retained.

These rumours Curio feared: nor had his troops

(Ta’en in Corfinium’s hold) 118 in waves of Rhine

Been tested, nor to Caesar in the wars

Had learned devotion: wavering in their faith,

Their second chief they doubt, their first betrayed.

Yet when the general saw the spirit of fear800

Creep through his camp, and discipline to fail,

And sentinels desert their guard at night,

Thus in his fear he spake: “By daring much

Fear is disguised; let me be first in arms,

And bid my soldiers to the plain descend,

While still my soldiers. Idle days breed doubt.

By fight forestall the plot 119. Soon as the thirst

Of bloodshed fills the mind, and eager hands

Grip firm the sword, and pressed upon the brow

The helm brings valour to the failing heart —810

Who cares to measure leaders’ merits then?

Who weighs the cause? With whom the soldier stands,

For him he fights; as at the fatal show

No ancient grudge the gladiator’s arm

Nerves for the combat, yet as he shall strike

He hates his rival.” Thinking thus he leads

His troops in battle order to the plain.

Then victory on his arms deceptive shone

Hiding the ills to come: for from the field

Driving the hostile host with sword and spear,820

He smote them till their camp opposed his way.

But after Varus’ rout, unseen till then,

All eager for the glory to be his,

By stealth came Juba: silent was his march;

His only fear lest rumour should forestall

His coming victory. In pretended war

He sends Sabura forth with scanty force

To tempt the enemy, while in hollow vale

He holds the armies of his realm unseen.

Thus doth the sly ichneumon 120 with his tail830

Waving, allure the serpent of the Nile

Drawn to the moving shadow: he, with head

Turned sideways, watches till the victim glides

Within his reach, then seizes by the throat

Behind the deadly fangs: forth from its seat

Balked of its purpose, through the brimming jaws

Gushes a tide of poison. Fortune smiled

On Juba’s stratagem; for Curio

(The hidden forces of the foe unknown)

Sent forth his horse by night without the camp840

To scour more distant regions. He himself

At earliest peep of dawn bids carry forth

His standards; heeding not his captains’ prayer

Urged on his ears: “Beware of Punic fraud,

The craft that taints a Carthaginian war.”

Hung over him the doom of coming death

And gave the youth to fate; and civil strife

Dragged down its author.

On the lofty tops

Where broke the hills abruptly to their fall850

He ranks his troops and sees the foe afar:

Who still deceiving, simulated flight,

Till from the height in loose unordered lines

The Roman forces streamed upon the plain,

In thought that Juba fled. Then first was known

The treacherous fraud: for swift Numidian horse

On every side surround them: leader, men —

All see their fate in one dread moment come.

No coward flees, no warrior bravely strides

To meet the battle: nay, the trumpet call860

Stirs not the charger with resounding hoof

To spurn the rock, nor galling bit compels

To champ in eagerness; nor toss his mane

And prick the ear, nor prancing with his feet

To claim his share of combat. Tired, the neck

Droops downwards: smoking sweat bedews the limbs:

Dry from the squalid mouth protrudes the tongue,

Hoarse, raucous panting issues from their chests;

Their flanks distend: and every curb is dry

With bloody foam; the ruthless sword alone870

Could move them onward, powerless even then

To charge; but giving to the hostile dart

A nearer victim. But when the Afric horse

First made their onset, loud beneath their hoofs

Rang the wide plain, and rose the dust in air

As by some Thracian whirlwind stirred; and veiled

The heavens in darkness. When on Curio’s host

The tempest burst, each footman in the rank

Stood there to meet his fate — no doubtful end

Hung in the balance: destiny proclaimed880

Death to them all. No conflict hand to hand

Was granted them, by lances thrown from far

And sidelong sword-thrusts slain: nor wounds alone,

But clouds of weapons falling from the air

By weight of iron o’erwhelmed them. Still drew in

The straightening circle, for the first pressed back

On those behind; did any shun the foe,

Seeking the inner safety of the ring,

He needs must perish by his comrades’ swords.

And as the front rank fell, still narrower grew890

The close crushed phalanx, till to raise their swords

Space was denied. Still close and closer forced

The armed breasts against each other driven

Pressed out the life. Thus not upon a scene

Such as their fortune promised, gazed the foe.

No tide of blood was there to glut their eyes,

No members lopped asunder, though the earth so

Was piled with corpses; for each Roman stood

In death upright against his comrade dead.

Let cruel Carthage rouse her hated ghosts900

By this fell offering; let the Punic shades,

And bloody Hannibal, from this defeat

Receive atonement: yet ’twas shame, ye gods,

That Libya gained not for herself the day;

And that our Romans on that field should die

To save Pompeius and the Senate’s cause.

Now was the dust laid low by streams of blood,

And Curio, knowing that his host was slain.

Chose not to live; and, as a brave man should.

He rushed upon the heap, and fighting fell.910

In vain with turbid speech hast thou profaned

The pulpit of the forum: waved in vain

From that proud 121 citadel the tribune flag:

And armed the people, and the Senate’s rights

Betraying, hast compelled this impious war

Betwixt the rival kinsmen. Low thou liest

Before Pharsalus’ fight, and from thine eyes

Is hid the war. ’Tis thus to suffering Rome,

For arms seditious and for civil strife

Ye mighty make atonement with your blood.920

Happy were Rome and all her sons indeed,

Did but the gods as rigidly protect

As they avenge, her violated laws!

There Curio lies; untombed his noble corpse,

Torn by the vultures of the Libyan wastes.

Yet shall we, since such merit, though unsung,

Lives by its own imperishable fame,

Give thee thy meed of praise. Rome never bore

Another son, who, had he right pursued,

Had so adorned her laws; but soon the times,930

Their luxury, corruption, and the curse

Of too abundant wealth, in transverse stream

Swept o’er his wavering mind: and Curio changed,

Turned with his change the scale of human things.

True, mighty Sulla, cruel Marius,

And bloody Cinna, and the long descent

Of Caesar and of Caesar’s house became

Lords of our lives. But who had power like him?

All others bought the state: he sold alone. 122

96 Both of these generals were able and distinguished officers. Afranius was slain by Caesar’s soldiers after the battle of Thapsus. Petreius, after the same battle, escaped along with Juba; and failing to find a refuge, they challenged each other to fight. Petreius was killed, and Juba, the survivor, put an end to himself.

97 These are the names of Spanish tribes. The Celtiberi dwelt on the Ebro.

98 Lerida, on the river Segre, above its junction with the Ebro. Cinga is the modern Cinca, which falls into the Segre (Sicoris).

99 Phrixus and Helle, the children of Nephele, were to be sacrificed to Zeus: but Nephele rescued them, and they rode away through the air on the Ram with the golden fleece. But Helle fell into the sea, which from her was named the Hellespont. (See Book IX., 1126.) The sun enters Aries about March 20. The Ram is pictured among the constellations with his head averse.

100 See Book I., 463.

101 See Mr. Heitland’s introduction, upon the meaning of the word “cardo”. The word “belt” seems fairly to answer to the two great circles or four meridians which he describes. The word occurs again at line 760; Book V., 80; Book VII., 452.

102 The idea is that the cold of the poles tempers the heat of the equator.

103 Fuso: either spacious, outspread; or, poured into the land (referring to the estuaries) as Mr. Haskins prefers; or, poured round the island. Portable leathern skiffs seem to have been in common use in Caesar’s time in the English Channel. These were the rowing boats of the Gauls. (Mommsen, vol. iv., 219.)

104 Compare Book I., 519.

105 Compare the passage in Tacitus, “Histories”, ii., 45, in which the historian describes how the troops of Otho and Vitellius wept over each other after the battle and deplored the miseries of a civil war. “Victi victoresque in lacrumas effusi, sortem civilium armorum misera laetitia detestantes.”

106 “Saecula nostra” may refer either to Lucan’s own time or to the moment arrived at in the poem; or it may, as Francken suggests, have a more general meaning.

107 “Petenda est”? — “is it fit that you should beg for the lives of your leaders?” Mr. Haskins says, “shall you have to beg for them?” But it means that to do so is the height of disgrace.

108 The scene is the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic. Here was Diocletian’s palace. (Described in the 13th chapter of Gibbon.)

109 That is, night was at its shortest.

110 On the following passage see Dean Merivale’s remarks, “History of the Roman Empire”, chapter xvi.

111 That is, Sicilian.

112 For Phlegra, the scene of the battle between the giants and the gods, see Book VII., 170, and Book IX., 774. Ben Jonson (“Sejanus”, Act v., scene 10) says of Sejanus:—

“Phlegra, the field where all the sons of earth

Mustered against the gods, did ne’er acknowledge

So proud and huge a monster.”

113 Juno.

114 That is, extols ancient deeds.

115 Referring to the battle of Zama.

116 See line 82.

117 Curio was tribune in B.C. 50. His earlier years are stated to have been stained with vice.

118 See Book II., 537.

119 Preferring the reading “praeripe”, with Francken.

120 Bewick (“Quadrupeds,” p. 238) tells the following anecdote of a tame ichneumon which had never seen a serpent, and to which he brought a small one. “Its first emotion seemed to be astonishment mixed with anger; its hair became erect; in an instant it slipped behind the reptile, and with remarkable swiftness and agility leaped upon its head, seized it and crushed it with its teeth.”

121 Reading “arce”, not “arte”. The word “signifer” seems to favour the reading I have preferred; and Dean Merivale and Hosius adopted it.

122 For the character and career of Curio, see Merivale’s “History of the Roman Empire”, chapter xvi. He was of profligate character, but a friend and pupil of Cicero; at first a rabid partisan of the oligarchy, he had, about the period of his tribuneship (B.C. 50–49), become a supporter of Caesar. How far Gaulish gold was the cause of this conversion we cannot tell. It is in allusion to this change that he was termed the prime mover of the civil war. His arrival in Caesar’s camp is described in Book I., line 303. He became Caesar’s chief lieutenant in place of the deserter Labienus; and, as described in Book III., was sent to Sardinia and Sicily, whence he expelled the senatorial forces. His final expedition to Africa, defeat and death, form the subject of the latter part of this book. Mommsen describes him as a man of talent, and finds a resemblance between him and Caesar. (Vol. iv., p. 393.)

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57