The Pharsalia of Lucan

Book viii

Death of Pompeius.

Pompeius flies to Lesbos, lines 1-74, and consoles his wife, 75-97. Her reply, 99-124. He declines shelter at Lesbos, 125-168. He sails to Asia Minor and sends Deiotarus to rouse the East, 168-272. He addresses his captains at Phaselis, 277-372. Reply of Lentulus, 374-515. Pompeius proceeds to Egypt, 515-537. The council of Ptolemaeus and speech of Pothinus. 537-622. Apostrophe to Egypt, 625-652. The murder of Pompeius and laments of Cornelia, 653-771. The head of Pompeius is cut off and embalmed, 773-831. Cordus buries the body, 830-963. Apostrophe to Egypt, 964-1025.

Now through Alcides’233 pass and Tempe’s groves

Pompeius, aiming for Haemonian glens

And forests lone, urged on his wearied steed

Scarce heeding now the spur; by devious tracks

Seeking to veil the footsteps of his flight:

The rustle of the foliage, and the noise

Of following comrades filled his anxious soul

With terrors, as he fancied at his side

Some ambushed enemy. Fallen from the height

Of former fortunes, still the chieftain knew10

His life not worthless; mindful of the fates:

And ‘gainst the price he set on Caesar’s head,

He measures Caesar’s value of his own.

Yet, as he rode, the features of the chief

Made known his ruin. Many as they sought

The camp Pharsalian, ere yet was spread

News of the battle, met the chief, amazed,

And wondered at the whirl of human things:

Nor held disaster sure, though Magnus’ self

Told of his ruin. Every witness seen20

Brought peril on his flight: ’twere better far

Safe in a name obscure, through all the world

To wander; but his ancient fame forbad.

Too long had great Pompeius from the height

Of human greatness, envied of mankind,

Looked on all others; nor for him henceforth

Could life be lowly. The honours of his youth

Too early thrust upon him, and the deeds

Which brought him triumph in the Sullan days,

His conquering navy and the Pontic war,30

Made heavier now the burden of defeat,

And crushed his pondering soul. So length of days

Drags down the haughty spirit, and life prolonged

When power has perished. Fortune’s latest hour,

Be the last hour of life! Nor let the wretch

Live on disgraced by memories of fame!

But for the boon of death, who’d dare the sea

Of prosperous chance?

Upon the ocean marge

By red Peneus blushing from the fray,40

Borne in a sloop, to lightest wind and wave

Scarce equal, he, whose countless oars yet smote

Upon Coreyra’s isle and Leucas point,

Lord of Cilicia and Liburnian lands,

Crept trembling to the sea. He bids them steer

For the sequestered shores of Lesbos isle;

For there wert thou, sharer of all his griefs,

Cornelia! Sadder far thy life apart

Than wert thou present in Thessalia’s fields.

Racked is thy heart with presages of ill;50

Pharsalia fills thy dreams; and when the shades

Give place to coming dawn, with hasty step

Thou tread’st some cliff sea-beaten, and with eyes

Gazing afar art first to mark the sail

Of each approaching bark: yet dar’st not ask

Aught of thy husband’s fate.

Behold the boat

Whose bending canvas bears her to the shore:

She brings (unknown as yet) thy chiefest dread,

Rumour of evil, herald of defeat,60

Magnus, thy conquered spouse. Fear then no more,

But give to grief thy moments. From the ship

He leaps to land; she marks the cruel doom

Wrought by the gods upon him: pale and wan

His weary features, by the hoary locks

Shaded; the dust of travel on his garb.

Dark on her soul a night of anguish fell;

Her trembling limbs no longer bore her frame:

Scarce throbbed her heart, and prone on earth she lay

Deceived in hope of death. The boat made fast,70

Pompeius treading the lone waste of sand

Drew near; whom when Cornelia’s maidens saw,

They stayed their weeping, yet with sighs subdued,

Reproached the fates; and tried in vain to raise

Their mistress’ form, till Magnus to his breast

Drew her with cherishing arms; and at the touch

Of soothing hands the life-blood to her veins

Returned once more, and she could bear to look

Upon his features. He forbad despair,

Chiding her grief. “Not at the earliest blow80

By Fortune dealt, inheritress of fame

Bequeathed by noble fathers, should thy strength

Thus fail and yield: renown shall yet be thine,

To last through ages; not of laws decreed

Nor conquests won; a gentler path to thee

As to thy sex, is given; thy husband’s woe.

Let thine affection struggle with the fates,

And in his misery love thy lord the more.

I bring thee greater glory, for that gone

Is all the pomp of power and all the crowd90

Of faithful senators and suppliant kings;

Now first Pompeius for himself alone

Tis thine to love. Curb this unbounded grief,

While yet I breathe, unseemly. O’er my tomb

Weep out thy full, the final pledge of faith.

Thou hast no loss, nor has the war destroyed

Aught save my fortune. If for that thy grief

That was thy love.”

Roused by her husband’s words,

Yet scarcely could she raise her trembling limbs,100

Thus speaking through her sobs: “Would I had sought

Detested Caesar’s couch, ill-omened wife

Of spouse unhappy; at my nuptials twice

A Fury has been bridesmaid, and the ghosts

Of slaughtered Crassi, with avenging shades

Brought by my wedlock to the doomed camp

The Parthian massacre. Twice my star has cursed

The world, and peoples have been hurled to death

In one red moment; and the gods through me

Have left the better cause. O, hero mine,110

mightiest husband, wedded to a wife

Unworthy! ’Twas through her that Fortune gained

The right to strike thee. Wherefore did I wed

To bring thee misery? Mine, mine the guilt,

Mine be the penalty. And that the wave

May bear thee gently onwards, and the kings

May keep their faith to thee, and all the earth

Be ready to thy rule, me from thy side

Cast to the billows. Rather had I died

To bring thee victory; thy disasters thus,120

Thus expiate. And, cruel Julia, thee,

Who by this war hast vengeance on our vows,

From thine abode I call: atonement find

In this thy rival’s death, and spare at least

Thy Magnus.” Then upon his breast she fell,

While all the concourse wept — e’en Magnus’ self,

Who saw Thessalia’s field without a tear.

But now upon the shore a numerous band

From Mitylene thus approached the chief:

“If ’tis our greatest glory to have kept130

The pledge with us by such a husband placed,

Do thou one night within these friendly walls

We pray thee, stay; thus honouring the homes

Long since devoted, Magnus, to thy cause.

This spot in days to come the guest from Rome

For thee shall honour. Nowhere shalt thou find

A surer refuge in defeat. All else

May court the victor’s favour; we long since

Have earned his chastisement. And though our isle

Rides on the deep, girt by the ocean wave,140

No ships has Caesar: and to us shall come,

Be sure, thy captains, to our trusted shore,

The war renewing. Take, for all is thine,

The treasures of our temples and the gold,

Take all our youth by land or on the sea

To do thy bidding: Lesbos only asks

This from the chief who sought her in his pride,

Not in his fall to leave her.” Pleased in soul

At such a love, and joyed that in the world

Some faith still lingered, thus Pompeius said:150

“Earth has for me no dearer land than this.

Did I not trust it with so sweet a pledge

And find it faithful? Here was Rome for me,

Country and household gods. This shore I sought

Home of my wife, this Lesbos, which for her

Had merited remorseless Caesar’s ire:

Nor was afraid to trust you with the means

To gain his mercy. But enough — through me

Your guilt was caused — I part, throughout the world

To prove my fate. Farewell thou happiest land!160

Famous for ever, whether taught by thee

Some other kings and peoples may be pleased

To give me shelter; or should’st thou alone

Be faithful. And now seek I in what lands

Right may be found or wrong. My latest prayer

Receive, O deity, if still with me

Thou bidest, thus. May it be mine again,

Conquered, with hostile Caesar on my tracks

To find a Lesbos where to enter in

And whence to part, unhindered.”170

In the boat

He placed his spouse: while from the shore arose

Such lamentation, and such hands were raised

In ire against the gods, that thou had’st deemed

All left their kin for exile, and their homes.

And though for Magnus grieving in his fall

Yet for Cornelia chiefly did they mourn

Long since their gentle guest. For her had wept

The Lesbian matrons had she left to join

A victor husband: for she won their love,180

By kindly modesty and gracious mien,

Ere yet her lord was conquered, while as yet

Their fortunes stood.

Now slowly to the deep

Sank fiery Titan; but not yet to those

He sought (if such there be), was shown his orb,

Though veiled from those he quitted. Magnus’ mind,

Anxious with waking cares, sought through the kings

His subjects, and the cities leagued with Rome

In faith, and through the pathless tracts that lie190

Beyond the southern bounds: until the toil

Of sorrowing thought upon the past, and dread

Of that which might be, made him cast afar

His wavering doubts, and from the captain seek

Some counsel on the heavens; how by the sky

He marked his track upon the deep; what star

Guided the path to Syria, and what points

Found in the Wain would pilot him aright

To shores of Libya. But thus replied

The well-skilled watcher of the silent skies:200

“Not by the constellations moving ever

Across the heavens do we guide our barks;

For that were perilous; but by that star 234

Which never sinks nor dips below the wave,

Girt by the glittering groups men call the Bears.

When stands the pole-star clear before the mast,

Then to the Bosphorus look we, and the main

Which carves the coast of Scythia. But the more

Bootes dips, and nearer to the sea

Is Cynosura seen, so much the ship210

Towards Syria tends, till bright Canopus 235 shines,

In southern skies content to hold his course;

With him upon the left past Pharos borne

Straight for the Syrtes shalt thou plough the deep.

But whither now dost bid me shape the yards

And set the canvas?”

Magnus, doubting still;

“This only be thy care: from Thracia steer

The vessel onward; shun with all thy skill

Italia’s distant shore: and for the rest220

Trust to the winds for guidance. When I sought,

Pledged with the Lesbians, my spouse beloved,

My course was sure: now, Fortune, where thou wilt

Give me a refuge.” These his answering words.

The pilot, as they hung from level yards

Shifted the sails; and hauling to the stern

One sheet, he slacked the other, to the left

Steering, where Samian rocks and Chian marred

The stillness of the waters; while the sea

Sent up in answer to the changing keel230

A different murmur. Not so deftly turns

Curbing his steeds, his wain the Charioteer,

While glows his dexter wheel, and with the left

He almost touches, yet avoids the goal.

Now Titan veiled the stars and showed the shore;

When, following Magnus, came a scattered band

Saved from the Thracian storm. From Lesbos’ port

His son; 236 next, captains who preserved their faith;

For at his side, though vanquished in the field,

Cast down by fate, in exile, still there stood,240

Lords of the earth and all her Orient realms,

The Kings, his ministers.

To the furthest lands

He bids 237 Deiotarus: “O faithful friend,

Since in Emathia’s battle-field was lost

The world, so far as Roman, it remains

To test the faith of peoples of the East

Who drink of Tigris and Euphrates’ stream,

Secure as yet from Caesar. Be it thine

Far as the rising of the sun to trace250

The fates that favour Magnus: to the courts

Of Median palaces, to Scythian steppes;

And to the son of haughty Arsaces,

To bear my message, ‘Hold ye to the faith,

Pledged by your priests and by the Thunderer’s name

Of Latium sworn? Then fill your quivers full,

Draw to its fullest span th’ Armenian bow;

And, Getan archers, wing the fatal shaft.

And you, ye Parthians, if when I sought

The Caspian gates, and on th’ Alaunian tribes 238260

Fierce, ever-warring, pressed, I suffered you

In Persian tracts to wander, nor compelled

To seek for shelter Babylonian walls;

If beyond Cyrus’ kingdom 239 and the bounds

Of wide Chaldaea, where from Nysa’s top

Pours down Hydaspes, and the Ganges flood

Foams to the ocean, nearer far I stood

Than Persia’s bounds to Phoebus’ rising fires;

If by my sufferance, Parthians, you alone

Decked not my triumphs, but in equal state270

Sole of all Eastern princes, face to face

Met Magnus in his pride, nor only once

Through me were saved; (for after that dread day

Who but Pompeius soothed the kindling fires

Of Latium’s anger?) — by my service paid

Come forth to victory: burst the ancient bounds

By Macedon’s hero set: in Magnus’ cause

March, Parthians, to Rome’s conquest. Rome herself

Prays to be conquered.’”

Hard the task imposed;280

Yet doffed his robe, and swift obeyed, the king

Wrapped in a servant’s mantle. If a Prince

For safety play the boor, then happier, sure,

The peasant’s lot than lordship of the world.

The king thus parted, past Icaria’s rocks

Pompeius’ vessel skirts the foamy crags

Of little Samos: Colophon’s tranquil sea

And Ephesus lay behind him, and the air

Breathed freely on him from the Coan shore.

Cuidos he shunned, and, famous for its sun,290

Rhodos, and steering for the middle deep

Escaped the windings of Telmessus’ bay;

Till rose Pamphylian coasts before the bark,

And first the fallen chieftain dared to find

In small Phaseils shelter; for therein

Scarce was the husbandman, and empty homes

Forbad to fear. Next Taurus’ heights he saw

And Dipsus falling from his lofty sides:

So sailed he onward.

Did Pompeius hope,300

Thus severed by the billows from the foe,

To make his safety sure? His little boat

Flies unmolested past Cilician shores;

But to their exiled lord in chiefest part

The senate of Rome was drawn. Celendrae there

Received their fleet, where fair Selinus’ stream

In spacious bay gives refuge from the main;

And to the gathered chiefs in mournful words

At length Pompeius thus resolved his thoughts:

“O faithful comrades mine in war and flight!310

To me, my country! Though this barren shore

Our place of meeting, and no gathered host

Surrounds us, yet upon our changed estate

I seek your counsel. Rouse ye as of yore

With hearts of courage! Magnus on the field

Not all is perished, nor do fates forbid

But that I rise afresh with living hope

Of future victories, and spurn defeat.

From Libyan ruins did not Marius rise

Again recorded Consul on the page320

Full of his honours? shall a lighter blow

Keep Magnus down, whose thousand chiefs and ships

Still plough the billows; by defeat his strength

Not whelmed but scattered? And the fame alone

Of our great deeds of glory in the past

Shall now protect us, and the world unchanged

Still love its hero.

“Weigh upon the scales

Ye chiefs, which best may help the needs of Rome,

In faith and armies; or the Parthian realm330

Egypt or Libya. For myself, ye chiefs,

I veil no secret thoughts, but thus advise.

Place no reliance on the Pharian king;

His age forbids: nor on the cunning Moor,

Who vain of Punic ancestors, and vain

Of Carthaginian memories and descent 240

Supposed from Hannibal, and swollen with pride

At Varus’ supplication, sees in thought

Rome lie beneath him. Wherefore, comrades, seek

At speed, the Eastern world. Those mighty realms340

Disjoins from us Euphrates, and the gates

Called Caspian; on another sky than ours

There day and night revolve; another sea

Of different hue is severed from our own. 241

Rule is their wish, nought else: and in their plains

Taller the war-horse, stronger twangs the bow;

There fails nor youth nor age to wing the shaft

Fatal in flight. Their archers first subdued

The lance of Macedon and Baetra’s 242 walls,

Home of the Mede; and haughty Babylon350

With all her storied towers: nor shall they dread

The Roman onset; trusting to the shafts

By which the host of fated Crassus fell.

Nor trust they only to the javelin blade

Untipped with poison: from the rancorous edge

The slightest wound deals death.

“Would that my lot

Forced me not thus to trust that savage race

Of Arsaces! 243 Yet now their emulous fate

Contends with Roman destinies: the gods360

Smile favouring on their nation. Thence I’ll pour

On Caesar peoples from another earth

And all the Orient ravished from its home.

But should the East and barbarous treaties fail,

Fate, bear our shipwrecked fortunes past the bounds

Of earth, as known to men. The kings I made

I supplicate not, but in death shall take

To other spheres this solace: chief of all;

His hands, my kinsman’s, never shed my blood

Nor soothed me dying. Yet as my mind in turn370

The varying fortunes of my life recalls,

How was I glorious in that Eastern world!

How great my name by far Maeotis marsh

And where swift Tanais flows! No other land

Has so resounded with my conquests won,

So sent me home triumphant. Rome, do thou

Approve my enterprise! What happier chance

Could favouring gods afford thee? Parthian hosts

Shall fight the civil wars of Rome, and share

Her ills, and fall enfeebled. When the arms380

Of Caesar meet with Parthian in the fray,

Then must kind Fortune vindicate my lot

Or Crassus be avenged.”

But murmurs rose,

And Magnus speaking knew his words condemned.

Then Lentulas 244 answered, with indignant soul,

Foremost to rouse their valour, thus in words

Worthy a Consul: “Have Thessalian woes

Broken thy spirit so? One day’s defeat

Condemned the world to ruin? Is the cause390

Lost in one battle and beyond recall?

Find we no cure for wounds? Does Fortune drive

Thee, Magnus, to the Parthians’ feet alone?

And dost thou, fugitive, spurn the lands and skies

Known heretofore, and seek for other poles

And constellations, and Chaldaean gods,

And rites barbarian, servant of the realm Of

Parthia? But why then took we arms

For love of liberty? If thou canst slave

Thou hast deceived the world! Shall Parthia see400

Thee at whose name, ruler of mighty Rome,

She trembled, at whose feet she captive saw

Hyrcanian kings and Indian princes kneel,

Now humbly suppliant, victim of the fates;

And at thy prayer her puny strength extol

In mad contention with the Western world?

Nor think, Pompeius, thou shalt plead thy cause

In that proud tongue unknown to Parthian ears

Of which thy fame is worthy; sobs and tears

He shall demand of thee. And has our shame410

Brought us to this, that some barbarian foe

Shall venge Hesperia’s wrongs ere Rome her own?

Thou wert our leader for the civil war:

Mid Scythia’s peoples dost thou bruit abroad

Wounds and disasters which are ours alone?

Rome until now, though subject to the yoke

Of civic despots, yet within her walls

Has brooked no foreign lord. And art thou pleased

From all the world to summon to her gates

These savage peoples, while the standards lost420

By far Euphrates when the Crassi fell

Shall lead thy columns? Shall the only king

Who failed Emathia, while the fates yet hid

Their favouring voices, brave the victor’s power,

And join with thine his fortune? Nay, not so

This nation trusts itself. Each race that claims

A northern birth, unconquered in the fray

Claims but the warrior’s death; but as the sky

Slopes towards the eastern tracts and gentler climes

So are the nations. There in flowing robes430

And garments delicate are men arrayed.

True that the Parthian in Sarmatia’s plains,

Where Tigris spreads across the level meads,

Contends invincible; for flight is his

Unbounded; but should uplands bar his path

He scales them not; nor through the night of war

Shall his weak bow uncertain in its aim

Repel the foeman; nor his strength of arm

The torrent stem; nor all a summer’s day

In dust and blood bear up against the foe.440

They fill no hostile trench, nor in their hands

Shall battering engine or machine of war

Dash down the rampart; and whate’er avails

To stop their arrows, battles like a wall. 245

Wide sweep their horsemen, fleeting in attack

And light in onset, and their troops shall yield

A camp, not take it: poisoned are their shafts;

Nor do they dare a combat hand to hand;

But as the winds may suffer, from afar

They draw their bows at venture. Brave men love450

The sword which, wielded by a stalwart arm,

Drives home the blow and makes the battle sure.

Not such their weapons; and the first assault

Shall force the flying Mede with coward hand

And empty quiver from the field. His faith

In poisoned blades is placed; but trustest thou

Those who without such aid refuse the war?

For such alliance wilt thou risk a death,

With all the world between thee and thy home?

Shall some barbarian earth or lowly grave460

Enclose thee perishing? E’en that were shame

While Crassus seeks a sepulchre in vain.

Thy lot is happy; death, unfeared by men,

Is thy worst doom, Pompeius; but no death

Awaits Cornelia — such a fate for her

This king shall not reserve; for know not we

The hateful secrets of barbarian love,

Which, blind as that of beasts, the marriage bed

Pollutes with wives unnumbered? Nor the laws

By nature made respect they, nor of kin.470

In ancient days the fable of the crime

By tyrant Oedipus unwitting wrought,

Brought hate upon his city; but how oft

Sits on the throne of Arsaces a prince

Of birth incestuous? This gracious dame

Born of Metellus, noblest blood of Rome,

Shall share the couch of the barbarian king

With thousand others: yet in savage joy,

Proud of her former husbands, he may grant

Some larger share of favour; and the fates480

May seem to smile on Parthia; for the spouse

Of Crassus, captive, shall to him be brought

As spoil of former conquest. If the wound

Dealt in that fell defeat in eastern lands

Still stirs thy heart, then double is the shame

First to have waged the war upon ourselves,

Then ask the foe for succour. For what blame

Can rest on thee or Caesar, worse than this

That in the clash of conflict ye forgot

For Crassus’ slaughtered troops the vengeance due?490

First should united Rome upon the Mede

Have poured her captains, and the troops who guard

The northern frontier from the Dacian hordes;

And all her legions should have left the Rhine

Free to the Teuton, till the Parthian dead

Were piled in heaps upon the sands that hide

Our heroes slain; and haughty Babylon

Lay at her victor’s feet. To this foul peace

We pray an end; and if Thessalia’s day

Has closed our warfare, let the conqueror march500

Straight on our Parthian foe. Then should this heart,

Then only, leap at Caesar’s triumph won.

Go thou and pass Araxes’ chilly stream

On this thine errand; and the fleeting ghost

Pierced by the Scythian shaft shall greet thee thus:

‘Art thou not he to whom our wandering shades

Looked for their vengeance in the guise of war?

And dost thou sue for peace?’ There shalt thou meet

Memorials of the dead. Red is yon wall

Where passed their headless trunks: Euphrates here510

Engulfed them slain, or Tigris’ winding stream

Cast on the shore to perish. Gaze on this,

And thou canst supplicate at Caesar’s feet

In mid Thessalia seated. Nay, thy glance

Turn on the Roman world, and if thou fear’st

King Juba faithless and the southern realms,

Then seek we Pharos. Egypt on the west

Girt by the trackless Syrtes forces back

By sevenfold stream the ocean; rich in glebe

And gold and merchandise; and proud of Nile520

Asks for no rain from heaven. Now holds this boy

Her sceptre, owed to thee; his guardian thou:

And who shall fear this shadow of a name?

Hope not from monarchs old, whose shame is fled,

Or laws or troth or honour of the gods:

New kings bring mildest sway.” 246

His words prevailed

Upon his hearers. With what freedom speaks,

When states are trembling, patriot despair!

Pompeius’ voice was quelled.530

They hoist their sails

For Cyprus shaped, whose altars more than all

The goddess loves who from the Paphian wave

Sprang, mindful of her birth, if such be truth,

And gods have origin. Past the craggy isle

Pompeius sailing, left at length astern

Its southern cape, and struck across the main

With winds transverse and tides; nor reached the mount

Grateful to sailors for its nightly gleam:

But to the bounds of Egypt hardly won540

With battling canvas, where divided Nile

Pours through the shallows his Pelusian stream. 247

Now was the season when the heavenly scale

Most nearly balances the varying hours,

Once only equal; for the wintry day

Repays to night her losses of the spring;

And Magnus learning that th’ Egyptian king

Lay by Mount Casius, ere the sun was set

Or flagged his canvas, thither steered his ship.

Already had a horseman from the shore550

In rapid gallop to the trembling court

Brought news their guest was come. Short was the time

For counsel given; but in haste were met

All who advised the base Pellaean king,

Monsters, inhuman; there Achoreus sat

Less harsh in failing years, in Memphis born

Of empty rites, and guardian of the rise 248

Of fertilising Nile. While he was priest

Not only once had Apis 249 lived the space

Marked by the crescent on his sacred brow.560

First was his voice, for Magnus raised and troth

And for the pledges of the king deceased:

But, skilled in counsel meet for shameless minds

And tyrant hearts, Pothinus, dared to claim

Judgment of death on Magnus. “Laws and right

Make many guilty, Ptolemmus king.

And faith thus lauded 250 brings its punishment

When it supports the fallen. To the fates

Yield thee, and to the gods; the wretched shun

But seek the happy. As the stars from earth570

Differ, and fire from ocean, so from right

Expedience. 251 The tyrant’s shorn of strength

Who ponders justice; and regard for right

Bring’s ruin on a throne. For lawless power

The best defence is crime, and cruel deeds

Find safety but in doing. He that aims

At piety must flee the regal hall;

Virtue’s the bane of rule; he lives in dread

Who shrinks from cruelty. Nor let this chief

Unpunished scorn thy youth, who thinks that thou580

Not even the conquered from our shore can’st bar.

Nor to a stranger, if thou would’st not reign,

Resign thy sceptre, for the ties of blood

Speak for thy banished sister. Let her rule

O’er Nile and Pharos: we shall at the least

Preserve our Egypt from the Latian arms.

What Magnus owned not ere the war was done,

No more shall Caesar. Driven from all the world,

Trusting no more to Fortune, now he seeks

Some foreign nation which may share his fate.590

Shades of the slaughtered in the civil war

Compel him: nor from Caesar’s arms alone

But from the Senate also does he fly,

Whose blood outpoured has gorged Thessalian fowl;

Monarchs he fears whose all he hath destroyed,

And nations piled in one ensanguined heap,

By him deserted. Victim of the blow

Thessalia dealt, refused in every land,

He asks for help from ours not yet betrayed.

But none than Egypt with this chief from Rome600

Has juster quarrel; who has sought with arms

To stain our Pharos, distant from the strife

And peaceful ever, and to make our realm

Suspected by his victor. Why alone

Should this our country please thee in thy fall?

Why bringst thou here the burden of thy fates,

Pharsalia’s curse? In Caesar’s eyes long since

We have offence which by the sword alone

Can find its condonation, in that we

By thy persuasion from the Senate gained610

This our dominion. By our prayers we helped

If not by arms thy cause. This sword, which fate

Bids us make ready, not for thee I hold

Prepared, but for the vanquished; and on thee

(Would it had been on Caesar) falls the stroke;

For we are borne. as all things, to his side.

And dost thou doubt, since thou art in my power,

Thou art my victim? By what trust in us

Cam’st thou, unhappy? Scarce our people tills

The fields, though softened by the refluent Nile:620

Know well our strength, and know we can no more.

Rome ‘neath the ruin of Pompeius lies:

Shalt thou, king, uphold him? Shalt thou dare

To stir Pharsalia’s ashes and to call

War to thy kingdom? Ere the fight was fought

We joined not either army — shall we now

Make Magnus friend whom all the world deserts?

And fling a challenge to the conquering chief

And all his proud successes? Fair is help

Lent in disaster, yet reserved for those630

Whom fortune favours. Faith her friends selects

Not from the wretched.”

They decree the crime:

Proud is the boyish tyrant that so soon

His slaves permit him to so great a deed

To give his favouring voice; and for the work

They choose Achillas.

Where the treacherous shore

Runs out in sand below the Casian mount

And where the shallow waters of the sea640

Attest the Syrtes near, in little boat

Achillas and his partners in the crime

With swords embark. Ye gods! and shall the Nile

And barbarous Memphis and th’ effeminate crew

That throngs Pelusian Canopus raise

Its thoughts to such an enterprise? Do thus

Our fates press on the world? Is Rome thus fallen

That in our civil frays the Phaxian sword

Finds place, or Egypt? O, may civil war

Be thus far faithful that the hand which strikes650

Be of our kindred; and the foreign fiend

Held worlds apart! Pompeius, great in soul,

Noble in spirit, had deserved a death

From Caesar’s self. And, king, hast thou no fear

At such a ruin of so great a name?

And dost thou dare when heaven’s high thunder rolls,

Thou, puny boy, to mingle with its tones

Thine impure utterance? Had he not won

A world by arms, and thrice in triumph scaled

The sacred Capitol, and vanquished kings,660

And championed the Roman Senate’s cause;

He, kinsman of the victor? ’Twas enough

To cause forbearance in a Pharian king,

That he was Roman. Wherefore with thy sword

Dost stab our breasts? Thou know’st not, impious boy,

How stand thy fortunes; now no more by right

Hast thou the sceptre of the land of Nile;

For prostrate, vanquished in the civil wars

Is he who gave it.

Furling now his sails,670

Magnus with oars approached th’ accursed land,

When in their little boat the murderous crew

Drew nigh, and feigning from th’ Egyptian court

A ready welcome, blamed the double tides

Broken by shallows, and their scanty beach

Unfit for fleets; and bade him to their craft

Leaving his loftier ship. Had not the fates’

Eternal and unalterable laws

Called for their victim and decreed his end

Now near at hand, his comrades’ warning voice680

Yet might have stayed his course: for if the court

To Magnus, who bestowed the Pharian crown,

In truth were open, should not king and fleet

In pomp have come to greet him? But he yields:

The fates compel. Welcome to him was death

Rather than fear. But, rushing to the side,

His spouse would follow, for she dared not stay,

Fearing the guile. Then he, “Abide, my wife,

And son, I pray you; from the shore afar

Await my fortunes; mine shall be the life690

To test their honour.” But Cornelia still

Withstood his bidding, and with arms outspread

Frenzied she cried: “And whither without me,

Cruel, departest? Thou forbad’st me share

Thy risks Thessalian; dost again command

That I should part from thee? No happy star

Breaks on our sorrow. If from every land

Thou dost debar me, why didst turn aside

In flight to Lesbos? On the waves alone

Am I thy fit companion?” Thus in vain,700

Leaning upon the bulwark, dazed with dread;

Nor could she turn her straining gaze aside,

Nor see her parting husband. All the fleet

Stood silent, anxious, waiting for the end:

Not that they feared the murder which befell,

But lest their leader might with humble prayer

Kneel to the king he made.

As Magnus passed,

A Roman soldier from the Pharian boat,

Septimius, salutes him. Gods of heaven!710

There stood he, minion to a barbarous king,

Nor bearing still the javelin of Rome;

But vile in all his arms; giant in form

Fierce, brutal, thirsting as a beast may thirst

For carnage. Didst thou, Fortune, for the sake

Of nations, spare to dread Pharsalus field

This savage monster’s blows? Or dost thou place

Throughout the world, for thy mysterious ends,

Some ministering swords for civil war?

Thus, to the shame of victors and of gods,720

This story shall be told in days to come:

A Roman swordsman, once within thy ranks,

Slave to the orders of a puny prince,

Severed Pompeius’ neck. And what shall be

Septimius’ fame hereafter? By what name

This deed be called, if Brutus wrought a crime?

Now came the end, the latest hour of all:

Rapt to the boat was Magnus, of himself

No longer master, and the miscreant crew

Unsheathed their swords; which when the chieftain saw730

He swathed his visage, for he scorned unveiled

To yield his life to fortune; closed his eyes

And held his breath within him, lest some word,

Or sob escaped, might mar the deathless fame

His deeds had won. And when within his side

Achillas plunged his blade, nor sound nor cry

He gave, but calm consented to the blow

And proved himself in dying; in his breast

These thoughts revolving: “In the years to come

Men shall make mention of our Roman toils,740

Gaze on this boat, ponder the Pharian faith;

And think upon thy fame and all the years

While fortune smiled: but for the ills of life

How thou could’st bear them, this men shall not know

Save by thy death. Then weigh thou not the shame

That waits on thine undoing. Whose strikes,

The blow is Caesar’s. Men may tear this frame

And cast it mangled to the winds of heaven;

Yet have I prospered, nor can all the gods

Call back my triumphs. Life may bring defeat,750

But death no misery. If my spouse and son

Behold me murdered, silently the more

I suffer: admiration at my death

Shall prove their love.” Thus did Pompeius die,

Guarding his thoughts.

But now Cornelia filled

The air with lamentations at the sight;

“O, husband, whom my wicked self hath slain!

That lonely isle apart thy bane hath been

And stayed thy coming. Caesar to the Nile760

Has won before us; for what other hand

May do such work? But whosoe’er thou art

Sent from the gods with power, for Caesar’s ire,

Or thine own sake, to slay, thou dost not know

Where lies the heart of Magnus. Haste and do!

Such were his prayer — no other punishment

Befits the conquered. Yet let him ere his end

See mine, Cornelia’s. On me the blame

Of all these wars, who sole of Roman wives

Followed my spouse afield nor feared the fates;770

And in disaster, when the kings refused,

Received and cherished him. Did I deserve

Thus to be left of thee, and didst thou seek

To spare me? And when rushing on thine end

Was I to live? Without the monarch’s help

Death shall be mine, either by headlong leap

Beneath the waters; or some sailor’s hand

Shall bind around this neck the fatal cord;

Or else some comrade, worthy of his chief,

Drive to my heart his blade for Magnus’ sake,780

And claim the service done to Ceasar’s arms.

What! does your cruelty withhold my fate?

Ah! still he lives, nor is it mine as yet

To win this freedom; they forbid me death,

Kept for the victor’s triumph.” Thus she spake,

While friendly hands upheld her fainting form;

And sped the trembling vessel from the shore.

Men say that Magnus, when the deadly blows

Fell thick upon him, lost nor form divine,

Nor venerated mien; and as they gazed790

Upon his lacerated head they marked

Still on his features anger with the gods.

Nor death could change his visage — for in act

Of striking, fierce Septimius’ murderous hand

(Thus making worse his crime) severed the folds

That swathed the face, and seized the noble head

And drooping neck ere yet was fled the life:

Then placed upon the bench; and with his blade

Slow at its hideous task, and blows unskilled

Hacked through the flesh and brake the knotted bone:800

For yet man had not learned by swoop of sword

Deftly to lop the neck. Achillas claimed

The gory head dissevered. What! shalt thou

A Roman soldier, while thy blade yet reeks

From Magnus’ slaughter, play the second part

To this base varlet of the Pharian king?

Nor bear thyself the bleeding trophy home?

Then, that the impious boy (ah! shameful fate)

Might know the features of the hero slain,

Seized by the locks, the dread of kings, which waved810

Upon his stately front, on Pharian pike

The head was lifted; while almost the life

Gave to the tongue its accents, and the eyes

Were yet scarce glazed: that head at whose command

Was peace or war, that tongue whose eloquent tones

Would move assemblies, and that noble brow

On which were showered the rewards of Rome.

Nor to the tyrant did the sight suffice

To prove the murder done. The perishing flesh,

The tissues, and the brain he bids remove820

By art nefarious: the shrivelled skin

Draws tight upon the bone; and poisonous juice

Gives to the face its lineaments in death.

Last of thy race, thou base degenerate boy,

About to perish 252 soon, and yield the throne

To thine incestuous sister; while the Prince

From Macedon here in consecrated vault

Now rests, and ashes of the kings are closed

In mighty pyramids, and lofty tombs

Of thine unworthy fathers mark the graves;830

Shall Magnus’ body hither and thither borne

Be battered, headless, by the ocean wave?

Too much it troubled thee to guard the corse

Unmutilated, for his kinsman’s eye

To witness! Such the faith which Fortune kept

With prosperous Pompeius to the end.

’Twas not for him in evil days some ray

Of light to hope for. Shattered from the height

Of power in one short moment to his death!

Years of unbroken victories balanced down840

By one day’s carnage! In his happy time

Heaven did not harass him, nor did she spare

In misery. Long Fortune held the hand

That dashed him down. Now beaten by the sands,

Torn upon rocks, the sport of ocean’s waves

Poured through its wounds, his headless carcase lies,

Save by the lacerated trunk unknown.

Yet ere the victor touched the Pharian sands

Some scanty rites to Magnus Fortune gave,

Lest he should want all burial. Pale with fear850

Came Cordus, hasting from his hiding place;

Quaestor, he joined Pompeius on thy shore,

Idalian Cyprus, bringing in his train

A cloud of evils. Through the darkening shades

Love for the dead compelled his trembling steps,

Hard by the marin of the deep to search

And drag to land his master. Through the clouds

The moon shone sadly, and her rays were dim;

But by its hue upon the hoary main

He knew the body. In a fast embrace860

He holds it, wrestling with the greedy sea,

And deftly watching for a refluent wave

Gains help to bring his burden to the land.

Then clinging to the loved remains, the wounds

Washed with his tears, thus to the gods he speaks,

And misty stars obscure: “Here, Fortune, lies

Pompeius, thine: no costly incense rare

Or pomp of funeral he dares to ask;

Nor that the smoke rise heavenward from his pyre

With eastern odours rich; nor that the necks870

Of pious Romans bear him to the tomb,

Their parent; while the forums shall resound

With dirges; nor that triumphs won of yore

Be borne before him; nor for sorrowing hosts

To cast their weapons forth. Some little shell

He begs as for the meanest, laid in which

His mutilated corse may reach the flame.

Grudge not his misery the pile of wood

Lit by this menial hand. Is’t not enough

That his Cornelia with dishevelled hair880

Weeps not beside him at his obsequies,

Nor with a last embrace shall place the torch

Beneath her husband dead, but on the deep

Hard by still wanders?”

Burning from afar

He sees the pyre of some ignoble youth

Deserted of his own, with none to guard:

And quickly drawing from beneath the limbs

Some glowing logs, “Whoe’er thou art,” he said

“Neglected shade, uncared for, dear to none,890

Yet happier than Pompeius in thy death,

Pardon I ask that this my stranger hand

Should violate thy tomb. Yet if to shades

Be sense or memory, gladly shalt thou yield

This from thy pyre to Magnus. ’Twere thy shame,

Blessed with due burial, if his remains

Were homeless.” Speaking thus, the wood aflame

Back to the headless trunk at speed he bore,

Which hanging on the margin of the deep,

Almost the sea had won. In sandy trench900

The gathered fragments of a broken boat,

Trembling, he placed around the noble limbs.

No pile above the corpse nor under lay,

Nor was the fire beneath. Then as he crouched

Beside the blaze, “O, greatest chief,” he cried,

Majestic champion of Hesperia’s name,

If to be tossed unburied on the deep

Rather than these poor rites thy shade prefer,

From these mine offices thy mighty soul

Withdraw, Pompeius. Injuries dealt by fate910

Command this duty, lest some bird or beast

Or ocean monster, or fierce Caesar’s wrath

Should venture aught upon thee. Take the fire;

All that thou canst; by Roman hand at least

Enkindled. And should Fortune grant return

To loved Hesperia’s land, not here shall rest

Thy sacred ashes; but within an urn

Cornelia, from this humble hand received,

Shall place them. Here upon a meagre stone

We draw the characters to mark thy tomb.920

These letters reading may some kindly friend

Bring back thine head, dissevered, and may grant

Full funeral honours to thine earthly frame.”

Then did he cherish the enfeebled fire

Till Magnus’ body mingled with its flames.

But now the harbinger of coming dawn

Had paled the constellations: he in fear

Seeks for his hiding place. Whom dost thou dread,

Madman, what punishment for such a crime,

For which thy fame by rumour trumpet-tongued930

Has been sent down to ages? Praise is thine

For this thy work, at impious Caesar’s hands;

Sure of a pardon, go; confess thy task,

And beg the head dissevered. But his work

Was still unfinished, and with pious hand

(Fearing some foe) he seizes on the bones

Now half consumed, and sinews; and the wave

Pours in upon them, and in shallow trench

Commits them to the earth; and lest some breeze

Might bear away the ashes, or by chance940

Some sailor’s anchor might disturb the tomb,

A stone he places, and with stick half burned

Traces the sacred name: HERE MAGNUS LIES.

And art thou, Fortune, pleased that such a spot

Should be his tomb which even Caesar’s self

Had chosen, rather than permit his corse

To rest unburied? Why, with thoughtless hand

Confine his shade within the narrow bounds

Of this poor sepulchre? Where the furthest sand

Hangs on the margin of the baffled deep950

Cabined he lies; yet where the Roman name

Is known, and Empire, such in truth shall be

The boundless measure of his resting-place.

Blot out this stone, this proof against the gods!

Oeta finds room for Hercules alone,

And Nysa’s mountain for the Bromian god; 253

Not all the lands of Egypt should suffice

For Magnus dead: and shall one Pharian stone

Mark his remains? Yet should no turf disclose

His title, peoples of the earth would fear960

To spurn his ashes, and the sands of Nile

No foot would tread. But if the stone deserves

So great a name, then add his mighty deeds:

Write Lepidus conquered and the Alpine war,

And fierce Sertorius by his aiding arm

O’erthrown; the chariots which as knight he drove; 254

Cilician pirates driven from the main,

And Commerce safe to nations; Eastern kings

Defeated and the barbarous Northern tribes;

Write that from arms he ever sought the robe;970

Write that content upon the Capitol

Thrice only triumphed he, nor asked his due.

What mausoleum were for such a chief

A fitting monument? This paltry stone

Records no syllable of the lengthy tale

Of honours: and the name which men have read

Upon the sacred temples of the gods,

And lofty arches built of hostile spoils,

On desolate sands here marks his lowly grave

With characters uncouth, such as the glance980

Of passing traveller or Roman guest

Might pass unnoticed.

Thou Egyptian land

By destiny foredoomed to bear a part

In civil warfare, not unreasoning sang

High Cumae’s prophetess, when she forbad 255

The stream Pelusian to the Roman arms,

And all the banks which in the summer-tide

Are covered by his flood. What grievous fate

Shall I call down upon thee? May the Nile990

Turn back his water to his source, thy fields

Want for the winter rain, and all the land

Crumble to desert wastes! We in our fanes

Have known thine Isis and thy hideous gods,

Half hounds, half human, and the drum that bids

To sorrow, and Osiris, whom thy dirge 256

Proclaims for man. Thou, Egypt, in thy sand

Our dead containest. Nor, though her temples now

Serve a proud master, yet has Rome required

Pompeius’ ashes: in a foreign land1000

Still lies her chief. But though men feared at first

The victor’s vengeance, now at length receive

Thy Magnus’ bones, if still the restless wave

Hath not prevailed upon that hated shore.

Shall men have fear of tombs and dread to move

The dust of those who should be with the gods?

O, may my country place the crime on me,

If crime it be, to violate such a tomb

Of such a hero, and to bear his dust

Home to Ausonia. Happy, happy he1010

Who bears such holy office in his trust! 257

Haply when famine rages in the land

Or burning southern winds, or fires abound

And earthquake shocks, and Rome shall pray an end

From angry heaven — by the gods’ command,

In council given, shalt thou be transferred

To thine own city, and the priest shall bear

Thy sacred ashes to their last abode.

Who now may seek beneath the raging Crab

Or hot Syene’s waste, or Thebes athirst1020

Under the rainy Pleiades, to gaze

On Nile’s broad stream; or whose may exchange

On the Red Sea or in Arabian ports

Some Eastern merchandise, shall turn in awe

To view the venerable stone that marks

Thy grave, Pompeius; and shall worship more

Thy dust commingled with the arid sand,

Thy shade though exiled, than the fane upreared 258

On Casius’ mount to Jove! In temples shrined

And gold, thy memory were viler deemed:1030

Fortune lies with thee in thy lowly tomb

And makes thee rival of Olympus’ king.

More awful is that stone by Libyan seas

Lashed, than are Conquerors’ altars. There in earth

A deity rests to whom all men shall bow

More than to gods Tarpeian: and his name

Shall shine the brighter in the days to come

For that no marble tomb about him stands

Nor lofty monument. That little dust

Time shall soon scatter and the tomb shall fall1040

And all the proofs shall perish of his death.

And happier days shall come when men shall gaze

Upon the stone, nor yet believe the tale:

And Egypt’s fable, that she holds the grave

Of great Pompeius, be believed no more

Than Crete’s which boasts the sepulchre of Jove. 259

233 Comp. Book VI., line 407.

234 Comp. Book III., line 256.

235 Canopus is a star in Argo, invisible in Italy. (Haskins.)

236 Sextus.

237 Tetrarch of Galatia. He was always friendly to Rome, and in the civil war sided with Pompeius. He was at Pharsalia.

238 A Scythian people.

239 Pompeius seems to have induced the Roman public to believe that he had led his armies to such extreme distances, but he never in fact did so. — Mommsen, vol. iv. p. 147.

240 Juba was of supposed collateral descent from Hannibal. (Haskins, quoting “The Scholiast.”)

241 Confusing the Red Sea with the Persian Gulf.

242 Balkh of modern times. Bactria was one of the kingdoms established by the successors of Alexander the Great. It was, however, subdued by the Parthians about the middle of the third century B.C.

243 Dion could not believe it possible that Pompeius ever contemplated taking refuge in Parthia, but Plutarch states it as a fact; and says that it was Theophanes of Lesbos who dissuaded him from doing so. (“Pompeius”, 76). Mommsen (vol. iv., pp. 421–423) discusses the subject, and says that from Parthia only could Pompeius have attempted to seek support, and that such an attempt, putting the objections to it aside, would probably have failed. Lucan’s sympathies were probably with Lentulus.

244 Probably Lucius Lentulus Crus, who had been Consul, for B.C. 49, along with Caius Marcellus. (See Book V., 9.) He was murdered in Egypt by Ptolemy’s ministers.

245 That is, be as easily defended.

246 Thus rendered by Sir Thomas May, of the Long Parliament:

“Men used to sceptres are ashamed of nought:

The mildest governement a kingdome finds

Under new kings.”

247 That is, he reached the most eastern mouth of the Nile instead of the western.

248 At Memphis was the well in which the rise and fall of the water acted as a Nilometer (Mr. Haskins’s note).

249 Comp. Herodotus, Book iii. 27. Apis was a god who appeared at intervals in the shape of a calf with a white mark on his brow. His appearance was the occasion of general rejoicing. Cambyses slew the Apis which came in his time, and for this cause became mad, as the Egyptians said.

250 That is, by Achoreus, who had just spoken.

251 Compare Ben Jonson’s “Sejanus”, Act ii., Scene 2:—

The prince who shames a tyrant’s name to bear

Shall never dare do anything, but fear;

All the command of sceptres quite doth perish

If it begin religious thoughts to cherish;

Whole empires fall, swayed by these nice respects,

It is the licence of dark deeds protects

E’en states most hated, when no laws resist

The sword, but that it acteth what it list.”

252 He was drowned in attempting to escape in the battle on the Nile in the following autumn.

253 Dionysus. But this god, though brought up by the nymphs of Mount Nysa, was not supposed to have been buried there.

254 See Book VII., line 20.

255 This warning of the Sibyl is also alluded to by Cicero in a letter to P. Lentulus, Proconsul of Cilicia. (Mr. Haskins’ note. See also Mommsen, vol. iv., p. 305.) It seems to have been discovered in the Sibylline books at the time when it was desired to prevent Pompeius from interfering in the affairs of Egypt, in B.C. 57.

256 That is, by their weeping for Iris departure they treated him as a mortal and not as a god. Osiris was the soul of Apis (see on line 537), and when that animal grew old and unfit for the residence of Osiris the latter was thought to quit it. Then began the weeping. which continued until a new Apis appeared, selected, of course, by Osiris for his dwelling-place. Then they called out “We have found him, let us rejoice.” For a discussion on the Egyptian conception of Osiris, and Iris place in the theogony of that nation, see Hegel’s “Lectures on the Philosophy of History”: Chapter on Egypt.

257 It may be noted that the Emperor Hadrian raised a monument on the spot to the memory of Pompeius some sixty years after this was written (Durny’s ‘History of Rome,’ iii., 319). Plutarch states that Cornelia had the remains taken to Rome and interred in a mausoleum. Lucan, it may be supposed, knew nothing of this.

258 There was a temple to Jupiter on “Mount Casius old”.

259 The legend that Jove was buried in Crete is also mentioned by Cicero: “De Natura Deorum”, iii., 21.

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