The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Appendix A.

The Battle of the Eagle and the Serpent.9

Homer, Iliad, lib. xii, 200:


Hoi rh’ eti mermêrizon ephestaotes para taphrôi.

Ornis gar sphin epêlthe perêsemenai memaôsin,

Aietos upsipetês ep’ aristera laon eergôn,

Phoinêenta drakonta pherôn onuchessi pelôron,

Zôon et’ aspaironta; kai oupô lêtheto charmês.

Kopse gar auton echonta kata stêthos para deirên,

Idnôtheis opisô; ho d’ apo ethen êke chamaze,

Algêsas odunêisi, mesoi d’ eni kabbal’ homilôi;

Autos de klanxas peteto pnoêis anemoio.]

Pope’s translation of the passage, book xii, 231:

“A signal omen stopp’d the passing host,

The martial fury in their wonder lost.

Jove’s bird on sounding pinions beat the skies;

A bleeding serpent, of enormous size,

His talons trussed; alive, and curling round,

He stung the bird, whose throat received the wound.

Mad with the smart, he drops the fatal prey,

In airy circles wings his painful way,

Floats on the winds, and rends the heav’ns with cries.

Amid the host the fallen serpent lies.

They, pale with terror, mark its spires unroll’d,

And Jove’s portent with beating hearts behold.”

Lord Derby’s Iliad, book xii, 236:

“For this I read the future, if indeed

To us, about to cross, this sign from Heaven

Was sent, to leftward of the astonished crowd:

A soaring eagle, bearing in his claws

A dragon huge of size, of blood-red hue,

Alive; yet dropped him ere he reached his home,

Nor to his nestlings bore the intended prey.”

Cicero’s telling of the story:

“Hic Jovis altisoni subito pinnata satelles,

Arboris e trunco serpentis saucia morsu,

Ipsa feris subigit transfigens unguibus anguem

Semianimum, et varia graviter cervice micantem.

Quem se intorquentem lanians, rostroque cruentans,

Jam satiata animum, jam duros ulta dolores,

Abjicit efflantem, et laceratum affligit in unda;

Seque obitu a solis nitidos convertit ad ortus.”

Voltaire’s translation:

“Tel on voit cet oiseau qui porte le tonnerre,

Blessé par un serpent élancé de la terre;

Il s’envole, il entraîne au séjour azuré

L’ennemi tortueux dont il est entouré.

Le sang tombe des airs. Il déchire, il dévore

Le reptile acharné qui le combat encore;

Il le perce, il le tient sous ses ongles vainqueurs;

Par cent coups redoublés il venge ses douleurs.

Le monstre, en expirant, se débat, se replie;

Il exhale en poisons les restes de sa vie;

Et l’aigle, tout sanglant, fier et victorieux,

Le rejette en fureur, et plane au haut des cieux.”

Virgil’s version, Æneid, lib. xi., 751:

“Utque volans alte raptum quum fulva draconem

Fert aquila, implicuitque pedes, atque unguibus hæsit

Saucius at serpens sinuosa volumina versat,

Arrectisque horret squamis, et sibilat ore,

Arduus insurgens. Illa haud minus urget obunco

Luctantem rostro; simul æthera verberat alis.”

Dryden’s translation from Virgil’s Æneid, book xi.:

“So stoops the yellow eagle from on high,

And bears a speckled serpent through the sky;

Fastening his crooked talons on the prey,

The prisoner hisses through the liquid way;

Resists the royal hawk, and though opprest,

She fights in volumes, and erects her crest.

Turn’d to her foe, she stiffens every scale,

And shoots her forky tongue, and whisks her threatening tail.

Against the victor all defence is weak.

Th’ imperial bird still plies her with his beak:

He tears her bowels, and her breast he gores,

Then claps his pinions, and securely soars.”

Pitt’s translation, book xi.:

“As when th’ imperial eagle soars on high,

And bears some speckled serpent through the sky,

While her sharp talons gripe the bleeding prey,

In many a fold her curling volumes play,

Her starting brazen scales with horror rise,

The sanguine flames flash dreadful from her eyes

She writhes, and hisses at her foe, in vain,

Who wins at ease the wide ærial plain,

With her strong hooky beak the captive plies,

And bears the struggling prey triumphant through the skies.”

Shelley’s version of the battle, The Revolt of Islam, canto i.:

“For in the air do I behold indeed

An eagle and a serpent wreathed in fight,

And now relaxing its impetuous flight,

Before the ærial rock on which I stood

The eagle, hovering, wheeled to left and right,

And hung with lingering wings over the flood,

And startled with its yells the wide air’s solitude

“A shaft of light upon its wings descended,

And every golden feather gleamed therein —

Feather and scale inextricably blended

The serpent’s mailed and many-colored skin

Shone through the plumes, its coils were twined within

By many a swollen and knotted fold, and high

And far, the neck receding lithe and thin,

Sustained a crested head, which warily

Shifted and glanced before the eagle’s steadfast eye.

“Around, around, in ceaseless circles wheeling,

With clang of wings and scream, the eagle sailed

Incessantly — sometimes on high concealing

Its lessening orbs, sometimes, as if it failed,

Drooped through the air, and still it shrieked and wailed,

And casting back its eager head, with beak

And talon unremittingly assailed

The wreathed serpent, who did ever seek

Upon his enemy’s heart a mortal wound to wreak

“What life, what power was kindled, and arose

Within the sphere of that appalling fray!

For, from the encounter of those wond’rous foes,

A vapor like the sea’s suspended spray

Hung gathered; in the void air, far away,

Floated the shattered plumes; bright scales did leap,

Where’er the eagle’s talons made their way,

Like sparks into the darkness; as they sweep,

Blood stains the snowy foam of the tumultuous deep.

“Swift chances in that combat — many a check,

And many a change — a dark and wild turmoil;

Sometimes the snake around his enemy’s neck

Locked in stiff rings his adamantine coil,

Until the eagle, faint with pain and toil,

Remitted his strong flight, and near the sea

Languidly fluttered, hopeless so to foil

His adversary, who then reared on high

His red and burning crest, radiant with victory.

“Then on the white edge of the bursting surge,

Where they had sunk together, would the snake

Relax his suffocating grasp, and scourge

The wind with his wild writhings; for, to break

That chain of torment, the vast bird would shake

The strength of his unconquerable wings

As in despair, and with his sinewy neck

Dissolve in sudden shock those linked rings,

Then soar — as swift as smoke from a volcano springs.

“Wile baffled wile, and strength encountered strength,

Thus long, but unprevailing — the event

Of that portentous fight appeared at length.

Until the lamp of day was almost spent

It had endured, when lifeless, stark, and rent,

Hung high that mighty serpent, and at last

Fell to the sea, while o’er the continent,

With clang of wings and scream, the eagle past,

Heavily borne away on the exhausted blast.”

I have repudiated the adverse criticism on Cicero’s poetry which has been attributed to Juvenal; but, having done so, am bound in fairness to state that which is to be found elsewhere in any later author of renown as a classic. In the treatise De Oratoribus, attributed to Tacitus, and generally published with his works by him — a treatise commenced, probably, in the last year of Vespasian’s reign, and completed only in that of Domitian — Cicero as a poet is spoken of with a severity of censure which the writer presumes to have been his recognized desert. “For Cæsar,” he says, “and Brutus made verses, and sent them to the public libraries; not better, indeed, than Cicero, but with less of general misfortune, because only a few people knew that they had done so.” This must be taken for what it is worth. The treatise, let it have been written by whom it might, is full of wit, and is charming in language and feeling. It is a dialogue after the manner of Cicero himself, and is the work of an author well conversant with the subjects in hand. But it is, no doubt, the case that those two unfortunate lines which have been quoted became notorious in Rome when there was a party anxious to put down Cicero.

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