The Civil War (Pharsalia)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved.
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- Book III:1-45 Pompey’s vision of Julia
- Book III:46-83 Caesar marches on Rome
- Book III:84-140 Lucius Metellus defends the treasury
- Book III:141-168 The treasury is seized
- Book III:169-213 Greece and Asia Minor rally to Pompey
- Book III:214-263 The Middle East and India rally to Pompey
- Book III:264-297 The Black Sea and North Africa rally to Pompey
- Book III:298-357 Marseille opposes Caesar
- Book III:358-398 Caesar blockades the city
- Book III:399-452 Caesar destroys the sacred grove
- Book III:453-496 Caesar leaves for Spain, the siege continues
- Book III:497-537 The Romans initiate a naval battle
- Book III:538-582 The fleets engage
- Book III:583-634 The death of Catus
- Book III:635-669 The death of Lycidas
- Book III:670-708 The death of Phoceus
- Book III:709-751 The death of Argus
- Book III:752-762 Decimus wins the encounter
Book III:1-45 Pompey’s vision of Julia
As a southerly, filling the swelling sails, drove the fleet on
ploughing the open sea, the mariners gazed ahead over
the Ionian waves. Pompey alone looked back towards Italy,
as the harbours of his native land, a shore he would never
see again, the cloudy hilltops, the mountain chains dimmed
before his eyes and vanished. His weary flesh yielded then
to drowsy slumber, in which he suddenly saw a vision:
Julia, a phantom full of menace and terror, raising her
sorrowful face above the yawning earth, stood there in
the shape of a Fury amid the flames of her funeral pyre.
‘Now,’ she cried ‘now as civil war began, driven from
Elysian fields, the regions of the blessed, was I dragged
down to Stygian darkness and the realm of guilty spirits.
There I saw with these very eyes the Furies, torches in hand,
roused to work strife between you; Charon, the ferryman
of Acheron’s scorched banks, waits for endless boatloads;
Tartarus extends its borders to punish a host of sinners;
the triple Parcae’s hands are full, scarce equal to the task,
the three sisters weary of snapping threads. Magnus, while I
was your wife, you celebrated triumphs in joy, but then
your fortune altered with your bride: Cornelia, my rival,
doomed by fate to bring her husbands from rule to ruin,
supplanted me before my funeral pyre grew cold. She
can cling to your standard by land and sea, and welcome,
if I have but power to trouble your sleep, robbing you
of time for love-making; if Caesar occupies your days,
let Julia have your nights. Not even Lethe’s shore that
brings forgetfulness could banish you from my memory;
the monarchs of the dead permit me now to haunt you.
When you fight I will appear in the midst of the field;
my shade, my ghost, will not let you forget that you
were spouse to Caesar’s daughter. Sever in vain the tie
of kinship that binds you. This civil war will make you
mine.’ So saying, the phantom fled, fading from her
troubled husband’s arms. Threatened thus with disaster,
by the gods and by the dead, Pompey only hastened
more eagerly to his fate, his mind prepared for ruin.
‘Why am I fearful,’ he cried, ‘of some empty spectral
vision? Either the mind loses all sensation after death,
or if not, then death is no great tragedy.’ Now the sun
sank towards the sea, as much of its fiery disk lost
as the moon loses just before or after the full, and lo
a benign shore offered the fleet an easy approach;
they hauled in, lowered the masts, and rowed ashore.
Book III:46-83 Caesar marches on Rome
As the wind snatched the ships from his grasp, as
the sea hid Pompey’s fleet, Caesar on the Italian
shore, became a leader without rival. Yet he felt
no pleasure in having driven Pompey far away,
only resentment that his enemy had fled to safety
abroad. Success no longer satisfied his eagerness
for speed; even victory was not worth delay. Now
he banished thoughts of battle from his mind, intent
on the problems of peace, on how to win the fickle
favour of the people, knowing that the price of corn
was cause for popularity or its reverse. When men
in power feed the idle mob they buy subservience,
a starving people knows no fear, and hunger itself
gives birth to freedom. Caesar therefore ordered
Curio to Sicily, by way of Messina’s straits where
the sea inundated the land or severed it, turning
what had been mainland to shore. The waves
there work powerfully, the waters ever serving
to prevent the cliffs once more making contact.
Other troops were sent to Sardinia. Both islands
are famous for their corn; no foreign fields
supplied the granaries of Rome earlier or more
abundantly. Libyan soils scarcely outdo them,
though southerlies may fade, and northerlies
drive clouds to those warmer climes, until
rains pours down to ensure a mighty harvest.
Having taken these precautions, the general
led his troops, unarmed, victorious, wearing
the aspect of peace, to the city of his birth.
Ah, if on his return to Rome he had merely
conquered the north, and the Gallic tribes,
what scenes of his exploits and his battles
might have adorned his long procession
through the City! The fetters he had laid
on the sea and on the Rhine, his high chariot
followed by noble Gauls and blonde Britons!
How great a triumph he missed in adding
to his conquests! No happy crowds met him
on his march; but looks of silent dread, no throng
gathered there to greet him, yet he was pleased
to be feared, preferring their dread to their love.
Book III:84-140 Lucius Metellus defends the treasury
He passed the craggy cliffs of Anxur, and where
the mired way cleaves the Pontine Marshes, where
Scythian Diana rules her hill bound grove and temple,
and where Roman consuls climb to Alba’s heights.
At last from a lofty place he sighted distant Rome.
Seeing her again after so long warring in the north,
he gazed in wonder as he addressed his native city:
‘Have men, whom no immediate threats of battle
oppress, abandoned you, a dwelling place of gods?
What other city then, dare hope to be defended?
The gods be thanked that eastern savages, swift
Sarmatians with Pannonian allies, or Getae joined
by Dacians, have not chosen to descend on Italy!
Fate is merciful that Romans, led by so feeble
a general as Pompey, have only Romans to oppose.’
So saying he entered a city paralysed by dread.
For men believed that, as if capturing the city,
he’d destroy the walls, blacken them with fire,
and scatter the statues of the gods. Such was
the measure of their fear, they felt he owned
the power to do as he wished. They could feign
no words of welcome, nor, pretending pleasure,
shout aloud with joy, scarcely free to utter curses.
He lacked authority to summon the Senate,
but a crowd of those city fathers, dragged from
their hiding places, filled Palatine Apollo’s temple.
The consuls were absent from their sacred chairs,
and the praetors, next in office, were not apparent,
so their empty seats were carted from their places.
Caesar was all in all, and the Senate forced to meet
to hear the speeches of a mere private individual.
If he had sought royal powers or divine honours,
execution or exile for the senators, the assembled
patricians would have sanctioned such. Happily,
there was more that he blushed to request than they
blushed to allow. Nevertheless, Freedom in her anger,
sought in the person of a single man, to try if might
would yield to right. Seeing brute force employed
to burst the gates of the treasury, Saturn’s temple,
Metellus stubbornly hastened there, slipped through
the ranks of Caesar’s men and before the lock was
shattered, stood before the gates. Thus we see that
love of money is a true proof against fear of death.
The loss and destruction of the constitution made
no stir, but gold, least of all things, prompted action.
This tribune, trying to bar the conqueror from theft,
cried: ‘Over my dead body shall the temple fall to your
assault; you’ll win no gold by robbery, unless drenched
in our sacred blood. The violence done our office will
surely bring down vengeance from the gods, just so
the tribune’s curse which sought defeat for Crassus
followed him to war. Draw your sword then, fear
no crowd of witnesses. The city is abandoned by its own,
yet our wealth should not go to pay your evil soldiery,
there are nations to defeat, cities for you to grant them.
Nor does indigence drive you to despoil the peace
you thrust aside; for you have war itself to enrich you.’
His speech filled Caesar with profound indignation:
‘Metellus,’ he cried, ‘you may hope for death’s glory,
but this hand of mine will not be stained by your blood.
Your office cannot make you worthy of my wrath.
Are you then the champion who will secure liberty?
The centuries have not wrought such confusion
that should the voice of Metellus defend them,
the laws would not rather be trampled on by Caesar.’
Book III:141-168 The treasury is seized
So Caesar spoke, his anger deepening, as the tribune
still refused to quit the gates; forgetting the citizen’s
part and looking instead towards his ruthless soldiers.
But now a fellow tribune, Cotta, persuaded Metellus
to forsake his over-bold intent, saying: ‘When a nation
is oppressed by tyranny, freedom of speech may rob
us of our freedom, while a semblance is preserved if we
agree to its demands. That, overcome, we have suffered
acts of coercion, such is the sole excuse for our disgrace
our abject fear, that to refuse was in no way possible.
Let Caesar carry off these baneful seeds of accursed
war, as swiftly as he may: nations protected by law
may feel a loss of wealth, the poverty of slaves is
not theirs but their master’s.’ Metellus was drawn aside
while the temple gates were swiftly opened. Loud
the Tarpeian Rock re-echoed to the grating noise
as the doors parted; then Rome’s wealth, untouched
in the vaults for many a year, was brought outside;
treasure from the Punic Wars, and those with Perses
of Macedon, the spoil of conquered Philip, the gold
that Brennus the Gaul forfeited to Rome in flight,
and that which could not bribe Fabricius to sell
the city to Pyrrhus; all that our ancestors saved
with care, all the tribute paid by the rich nations
of Asia, or given victorious Metellus by Minoan
Crete, or brought by Cato from distant Cyprus.
The wealth of the Orient, the treasure of captive
kings borne in Pompey’s triumph was revealed.
Tragic the plunder that despoiled the temple,
and first made Rome poorer than its Caesar.
Book III:169-213 Greece and Asia Minor rally to Pompey
Meanwhile Pompey’s fame had stirred nations everywhere
to war, those destined to share his fate. Greece the nearest
sent soldiers to her neighbour’s battle: Amphissa sent men
from Phocis, rocky Cirrha too, and both Parnassus’ peaks
were deserted. Boeotia’s leaders gathered, those whom
swift Cephisus’ and Cadmean Dirce’s oracular streams
embrace; men came from Pisa and the Alpheus whose
waters flow beneath the waves to the Sicilian shore.
Arcadians quit Maenalus, and the soldiers of Trachis
left Hercules’ Oeta behind. Thesprotians and Dryopes
rushed to fight, and the Selloi abandoned their silent
oracle of oak-trees on the ancient hillside of Chaonia,
The levy drained Athens of all her men, though few
of her ships gathered at Apollonia, and three vessels
alone bore witness to historic Salamis. Next to rally
to the cause was Crete, isle dear to Zeus, ancient
island of a thousand cities, Cnossos skilled in archery,
and Gortyn whose bowmen rivalled those of Parthia.
They were followed by those who dwelt in Trojan
Oricos, the scattered Athamanes who roam mountain
forests, and the Encheliae whose ancient name refers
to Cadmus’ death and his transformation to a snake.
Men came too from the Colchian Absyrtides round
which the Adriatic foams, those came who till the fields
of Haemonian Iolcos, where the untried Argo first left
the shore, challenged the waves, and forged links
between alien nations, pitting men against the storms
and ocean breakers, bringing a new manner of death.
Next Thracian Mount Haemus was abandoned, then
Pholoe with its pure myth of the bi-formed Centaurs.
Strymon was deserted, that each year sends Bistonia’s
cranes to winter by the Nile, and barbarous Cone where
one mouth of the branching Danube sheds its Sarmatian
waters and bathes Peuce’s isle sprinkled by the waves.
Mysia too was deserted; the land of Idalus drenched
by Caicus’ chill waters; Arisbe’s all too shallow soil.
The people of Pitane gathered, and those of Celaenae
who mourn Pallas’ invention of the flute, Celaenae
condemned with Marsyas when Apollo won the contest.
There the Marsya running swiftly in its straight course
meets the winding Maeander, and merging turns about,
and there earth emits the Pactolus in seams of gold,
and Hermus, rich as Pactolus, dissects the cornfields.
The soldiers of ever ill-fated Ilium joined the standards
of the doomed army too, untroubled by the tale of Troy,
or by Caesar’s boast of his descent from Trojan Iulus.
Book III:214-263 The Middle East and India rally to Pompey
The tribes of Syria followed, from the Orontes and Nineveh
of whose riches legend tells; they abandoned wind-swept
Damascus, Gaza, and Idume rich in palm-trees; Tyre
subject to earthquake; Sidon precious for its purple dyes.
Setting unerring course for war, they steered their ships
by the pole-star, that star to them above all the safest guide.
These, the Phoenicians, if the legend is true, first sought
to record language in written characters for the future,
before Egypt learned to bind papyrus reeds, when only
hieroglyphs of birds, wild beasts, and other creatures,
preserved the secrets of its speech. Men left the woods
of Tauros, Tarsus where Perseus landed, and the cave
above Corycus where the earth yawns wide in a hollow.
Mallos and far-off Aigai are loud with sounding shipyards;
the Cilicians, pirates no more, set sail in true ships of war.
News of war reached further east, where Ganges descends,
Ganges that alone on earth opens its mouths directly towards
the rising sun, and drives its current on against the easterlies;
nearby it was that Alexander was forced to halt, believing
the outer ocean beyond, yet confessing himself defeated
by the world’s vastness. Now the land was roused where
Indus too, its current flowing swiftly with additional force,
barely feels the addition of the Hydaspes to its wide waste.
The tribes rallied who drink sweet juice from sugar-canes;
those who dye their hair with saffron dye, and gird their
cotton robes with bright jewels; those who build funeral
pyres, climb on the burning logs, and immolate themselves.
How glorious to seize fate in one’s hands and, satiated
with life, let what remains be gifted back to the gods!
Savage Cappadocians rallied to the cause; those men
who find the soil of Mount Amanus far too hard; also
the Armenians who live where Niphates rolls its boulders.
And the Choatrae abandoned their sky-reaching forests.
The Arabs entered a world unknown to them, amazed
that the shadows of trees no longer fell southwards.
The madness of Rome even troubled the remote Orestae;
and the chieftains of Carmania, where the more southerly
heavens still reveal the Bear not wholly sunken below
the horizon, where Bootes, swift to set there, is visible
only for a brief part of the night; and Ethiopia, which
no part of the northern constellations would cover
if the foreleg of rearing Taurus was not bent
so that the tip of his hoof projected downwards;
and it troubled Parthia where the mighty Euphrates
and the swift Tigris raise their streams from sources
not far apart in Persia, such that if earth allowed
them to meet, who could say which would conquer.
Yet the Euphrates spreading over the land fertilises
the ground as the Nile does Egypt’s, while the Tigris
is suddenly swallowed by a chasm in the earth
which hides its course until giving birth to it again
in another place, allowing the river to reach the sea.
Book III:264-297 The Black Sea and North Africa rally to Pompey
The warlike Parthians favoured neither Caesar’s forces
nor the armies who opposed him, content to see them rivals.
But the nomadic tribes of Scythia, bounded by Bactros’ chill
streams, and the vast forests of Hyrcania, refreshed their
poisoned arrows. The Heniochi came, of Spartan descent,
dangerous on horseback, the Sarmatians too, akin
to the savage Moschi. Men marched from the regions
where the Phasis cleaves the Colchians’ rich fields,
where the Halys flows that doomed Croesus, where
the Tanais falling from the Riphaean heights, bounds
Asia on the one side and Europe on the other, granting
the names of two worlds to its banks, separating them
and with its winding adding now to one continent now
the other; and where the Black Sea gathers the flow
from the Maeotian Lake, so that men deny that Cadiz
is the only outlet to the Ocean, and Hercules’ Pillars
are robbed of their uniqueness. From another region
came the Essedonian tribes, the Arimaspians who
bind their hair with loops of gold, the brave Arians,
the Massegetae who quench their thirst after battle
with the Sarmatians by bleeding the horse they rode,
and the swift Geloni. Neither Cyrus, leading an army
from the east, his Persians numbered by each soldier
casting a dart, nor Agamemnon seeking vengeance
for the wrong done Menelaus, neither cut the waves
with so great a fleet. Never did so many kings obey
a single leader, nor so many nations, strangely garbed,
meet together with such great confusion of languages.
Fate stirred the peoples and sent them as companions
to a great disaster, as a funeral train fit for Pompey’s
exequies. Even horned Ammon was not slow to send
squadrons from Africa to battle, from all parched Libya,
from Morocco in the west to Egyptian Syrtes in the east.
So that Caesar, fortune’s favourite, might win all with
a single throw, Pharsalia brought all the world to battle.
Book III:298-357 Marseille opposes Caesar
Leaving the walls of a fearful Rome, Caesar now marched
swiftly beyond the cloud-capped Alps, where the Phocaean
colonists of Marseilles, free of Greek fickleness, dared
when others trembled in terror at the sound of his name
to be loyal and true to their oaths in a doubtful hour,
following right rather than fortune. Still, at first, they
tried to mollify Caesar’s fierce determination and harsh
will, with peaceful representations, and when his army
drew near spoke thus, proffering Minerva’s olive-branch:
‘All the annals of Italian history bear witness that Marseilles
has shared the Roman people’s destiny in their foreign wars.
Now too our swords are ready to oppose those foreigners,
should you seek fresh triumphs in some unknown land.
But if Italy is divided, if you intend ill-omened campaigns,
and cursed war, we mourn that civil strife, and step aside.
If the sky-dwellers armed themselves in anger, or the Giants,
born of Earth, attacked the heavens, pious men would shrink
still from helping Jupiter with prayers or weapons. No other
should interfere in a sacred quarrel. The human race, not
knowing of events above, would seek to learn from his
lightning bolts alone if the Thunderer still ruled the sky
without a rival. Moreover innumerable nations are rushing
to the fray from every quarter; nor are men so reluctant for
a fight, so averse to the contagion of evil, that civil war
needs involve coercion. We ourselves however wish all
men shared our resolve, to refuse to share Rome’s destiny;
and that no foreign soldier would take arms in your quarrel.
What Roman will not be troubled, or hindered from hurling
his spear, seeing father or brothers ranked among the foe?
Civil war would end swiftly if you enlisted only those whom
it is lawful to enlist. This is the burden of our petition to you:
leave the dread eagles and menacing standards far from our
city, and entrust yourself to our walls. Let us admit Caesar
and exclude the war. Let there be one place free of evil,
neutral ground for Pompey and yourself. Then if Fortune
shows mercy to an unconquered Rome, and you choose
peace, both will retain a place in which to meet unarmed.
When Spain summons you at this point of crisis, why
direct your swift forces towards us? We are of little
weight or moment; a people never victorious in war.
Driven from our ancient place, when Phocaea burnt
and her towers were razed, we fled to this foreign shore,
and owe our security to our fragile walls; our only
claim to fame is our loyalty. If you seek to blockade
the city, or storm the gates, then we are ready; our
houses will survive your burning missiles; should
you divert our springs we will dig for transient water
and lick with our parched tongues the soil we dig;
if bread is scarce we will defile our mouths by eating
things foul to see and hideous to touch. We do not fear,
in defending freedom, to share the miseries that Saguntum
bravely suffered. Let our babes, sucking in vain at breasts
run dry through famine, torn then from their mother’s arms,
be hurled into the flames; let wives seek death at the hands
of their beloved husband; let brother deal wound to brother,
choose, if forced to do so, that dire expression of civil war.’
So the Greeks spoke, and Caesar’s anger, already visible
in his darkened face, betrayed his resentment in speech:
Book III:358-398 Caesar blockades the city
‘These Greeks trust in my need for haste, but in vain;
though I may be hastening to the west there is time
to destroy Marseilles. Rejoice, men! Through a gift
of fate you are offered battle. Just as a storm loses
strength, and dissipates in the void, or a conflagration
dies when nothing obstructs its passage, so the absence
of enemies weakens me, and I deem my weapons idle
if those who might have been conquered evade me.
They say their city is open to me if I disband my army,
entering alone and vulnerable. Their true purpose
more subtle than simply to bar me, is to imprison me.
They say they wish to avoid the taint of war, but they
shall suffer for seeking peace, and learn that in my days
none are safe but those I lead to war.’ So saying, he led
an advance against the fearless city, whose gates he soon
saw closed, and its walls defended by a ring of warriors.
Not far from the walls a hill rose from the plain, with
a small stretch of level ground at its summit. This height
seemed to him ripe for fortification, providing a secure
site to pitch camp. The nearest aspect of the city rose
in a tall fortress as high as this hilltop, and the ground
between was pitted with hollows. Caesar’s strategy
involved vast labour, to link the opposing heights
with an immense earthen rampart. But first, in order
to blockade the city on its landward side, he threw out
a long line of works from his hilltop camp to the sea,
whose ditch deprived the city of its freshwater springs
and pastures, and built earthworks with soil and turf
crowned by a solid battlement. This alone was fame
enough for the Greek colony, fame and eternal glory,
that it was not overcome by mere terror, but halted
the headlong onrush of war that swept all the world,
and delayed Caesar’s total conquest, by its resistance.
How great a thing it was, to hold back destiny, cause
Fortune to lose time, as she hastened to set Caesar
above the whole world. Now all the trees must be
felled, the forests stripped of timber far and wide,
for since brushwood and soft soil made for too weak
a structure, timber was needed to constrain and bind
the earth, to stop it sinking under the turrets’ weight.
Book III:399-452 Caesar destroys the sacred grove
There was a grove, untouched through long centuries,
whose interlacing boughs enclosed cold and shadowy
depths, the sunlight banished far above. It was sacred
to no rural Pan, no Silvanus king of the wood, nor
to the Nymphs, but gods were worshipped there with
savage rites, the altars piled high with foul offerings,
and every tree drenched in human blood. On those
boughs, if ancient tales, respectful of deity, may be
believed, the birds feared to perch; in those coverts
no wild beat would lie; on that grove no wind ever
blew, no lightning bolt from the storm clouds fell;
and the trees, spreading their leaves to an absent
breeze, rustled of themselves. Water flowed there
in copious dark streams, while the images of the gods,
rough-hewn and grim, were merely crude blocks cut
from felled trunks of trees. But their very age itself,
and the ghastly colour of their rotting timber struck
terror; men feel less awe of deities in familiar forms;
their fear increases when the gods they dread appear
as alien shapes. They also say the subterranean caves
often shook and roared, that yew-trees fell and then
rose again, that flame glowed from trees free of fire,
while serpents slithered and twined about their trunks.
The people never gathered there to worship; they had
abandoned the place to the gods, and when the sun
was at the zenith, or night’s blackness seized the sky,
the priest himself dreaded those moments, afraid
of surprising the lord of the wood. This grove
Caesar ordered felled by the stroke of the axe.
Growing near his outworks, spared by earlier wars,
it stood clothed in trees among hills already bare.
But now strong arms faltered, his soldiers awed
by the solemn majesty of the place believed
that if they struck the sacred trees, their axes
would rebound to sever their own limbs. Caesar,
seeing his soldiers paralysed and afraid, seized
an axe and was the first to strike, daring to fell
a towering oak-tree with its blade’ Driving his axe
into the desecrated timber, he cried: ‘Any sacrilege
falls on me: now none of you need fear to strike.’
Then all the men obeyed his orders, their minds
still uneasy, their fears not assuaged, but weighing
Caesar’s anger against the wrath of heaven.
Ash trees fell, gnarled ilexes were tumbled,
while oracular oaks, alders fitted for the waves,
cypresses that bore witness to a king’s grief,
all lost their leaves for the first time. Robbed
of their foliage they let in the light, the toppling
trunks supported, as they fell, by their neighbours.
The Gauls were grieved by the sight, yet the besieged
rejoiced in their belief that such injury to the gods
could not go unpunished, though fortune often serves
the guilty, the gods’ wrath reserved for the wretched.
When enough timber had been felled, waggons
were brought to carry it, while farmers, robbed
of their oxen, mourned for the unploughed fields.
Book III:453-496 Caesar leaves for Spain, the siege continues
But Caesar impatient of this protracted siege of the walls
led an army towards Spain and the ends of Europe,
giving orders for the blockade to continue. The rampart
was extended with a lattice of timber, two turrets tall
as the walls set on it; their foundations were not driven
into the earth but they sat on rollers moved covertly.
When it creaked under its burden, the besieged thought
it the winds trying to break from their hollow cavern,
and wondered their walls remained standing. From
these towers missiles were hurled against the citadel,
but the Greek projectiles hit the Romans harder
since their javelins not merely thrown but also
hurled from the arms of powerful catapults pierced
more than one body before they halted, cleaving
their swathe through armour and bone, gone by,
leaving death behind, having dealt it passing on.
Each boulder driven by the impulse as the tension
was released, shattered everything in its path, like
a section of weathered cliff that a sudden gale
tears from the mountain-side, not simply crushing
life from its victims, but annihilating flesh and bone.
Yet when brave soldiers approached the wall
in close formation, with shields overlapping those
behind, their heads defended by the roof they made,
the missiles which had dealt death flew by them,
while it was difficult for the Greeks to alter range
and redirect their engines designed to hurl their bolts
a certain distance. They were forced to hurl boulders
down using their arms alone, relying on the weight.
As long as it continued the mass of shields repelled
every missile, like a roof rattling harmlessly in a burst
of hail; but when the soldiers’ strength and courage
wavered, forcing gaps in the defence, the shields
gave way one by one under the relentless assault.
Next boards lightly covered with turf were brought
forward, and the besiegers screened by the boards
with covered fronts, worked to sap the foundations
with iron tools and crack the walls. Now the ram
was used, its swinging blows effective, its impact
seeking to damage the wall’s solid structure,
by dislodging stones supporting those above;
but scorched by fire from on high, struck by huge
and jagged stones, by a rain of missiles, and blows
from oak shafts hardened in the flames, the boards
with their loads of turf gave way and the besiegers,
foiled for all their efforts, retired wearily to their tents.
Book III:497-537 The Romans initiate a naval battle
To defend the walls was the most the Greeks had hoped for,
yet now they prepared a night offensive. Grasping burning
torches behind their shields, their warriors advanced boldly,
fire was their weapon not spears or death-dealing arrows,
and the wind, driving the flames carried them swiftly over
the Roman lines. Despite the green wood the fire was quick
to show its power, leaping from every torch in the wake of vast
volumes of black smoke, it ate not only timber but hard stone;
and great rocks were shattered to dust. Ramparts tumbled,
appearing even more voluminous spread over the ground.
Abandoning all hope of a victory by land, the Romans
chose to try their luck by sea. Vessels bare of paint,
unadorned with gleaming figure-heads, rough timbers,
as they were cut in the hills, were strapped together to form
platforms for waterborne attack, while Caesar’s admiral,
Decimus, sailing down the Rhone ahead of the fleet
had reached the sea and anchored off the Stoechades.
The Greeks were as ready to chance their fortunes,
mingling old men with youths in the ranks, manning
their fleet that rode at anchor, stripping the dockyards
of ships retired from service. Now Phoebus scattered
splinters of morning light over the waves, the sky was
unclouded, the northerlies and southerlies peaceful
and at rest, the sea calm as if spread for battle. Every
ship released from its moorings, the rival fleets leapt
towards each other equally, Caesar on one side, Greeks
on the other, the hulls quivering to the beat of oars,
rapid strokes driving the tall ships through the water.
The arms of the Roman fleet were a mix of vessels,
triremes, quadriremes, and even a few with extra
banks of oars, tiered one above the other, these ships,
the heaviest, set as barrier against the open water,
while the galleys with their double banks of oars,
lay further back in a crescent formation. Towering
above them all was Decimus’ flagship with its six
banks of oars, shadowing the deep as it advanced,
those of the uppermost tier reaching for the waves.
Book III:538-582 The fleets engage
When only as much water parted the fleets as each
could cover with one mighty stroke of the oars,
countless shouts rose to the heavens above, until
the splash of blades was drowned out by the cries,
and the trumpets went unheard. Then, straining
against the thwarts behind them, oars against
their chests, the crews drove forward over the sea,
backing astern again as prow clashed with prow,
while a volley of missiles plunged from the sky,
clouding the heavens and the sea as they fell.
The Romans now deployed the wings, in open
order; the space between the vessels allowing
entrance to the enemy ships. As the waves are
driven in one direction, when the tide opposes
an easterly or westerly wind, while the mass
of water moves on in another, so, as the vessels
ploughed their distinct furrows through the sea,
the water thrown back by one ship’s set of oars
was thrown by another in the opposite direction.
Though the Greek ships were handier in attack
or retreat, swiftly tacking to change course, quick
to answer the helm’s guidance, the Roman ships
had this advantage, that they offered a steadier
platform for fighting, a foothold firm as dry land.
Now Decimus hailed the helmsman at the ensign
on the poop: ‘Don’t let the fleet wander the waves,
ignore the enemy manoeuvres. Gather the ships
together, offer our side to the Phocaean prows!’
The helmsman obeyed, exposing the ship broadside
to the foe. Each ship attacking the flagship’s flank
was defeated by the blow, a captive wedded to
the vessel it had rammed. Others were caught by
grappling irons, chains, or entangled in their oars.
The waves were hidden, and the battle stationary.
Spears were no longer flung by vigorous arms,
wounds were no longer inflicted from a distance,
they fought hand to hand, the sword doing most
damage in that sea battle. Each man leaned from
the bulwarks of his own vessel to strike at the foe,
and none fell on deck, Their blood dyed the wave,
and a crimson foam veiled the sea. Ships caught
by the iron chains made no contact for the mass
of corpses. Some men sank alive in the depths,
drowning in brine and blood, others while still
breathing, struggling against slow death, died
from the sudden plunge of their doomed vessel.
Weapons that missed their target killed men
in the water randomly; every missile that fell,
its blow awry, still found a victim in the waves.
Book III:583-634 The death of Catus
One Roman ship, hemmed in by Phocaean vessels,
defended herself to port and starboard, her crew
separating to man the sides with equal courage.
Catus, fighting at the rear, grasping the ornament
on the enemy stern, boldly, was pierced in chest
and back by weapons launched together; they
met in his flesh, the blood stayed for a moment
its outlet uncertain; at last its pressure dislodged
both javelins at once, dealing a double death,
apportioning out his life between the wounds.
Here ill-fated Telo steered his craft; no ship
on stormy sea was more obedient to any hand
than his; no helmsman could better forecast
the weather from observation of sun or moon,
and so set his sails to the coming breeze. Telo
would have rammed the Romans broadside on
had not their spears pierced his chest, so that
the dying helmsman’s hand drove the ship aside.
Though Gyareus tried to clamber over and take
his friend’s place, a grapnel, flung, caught him
by the waist as he hung in the air, and there he
remained held fast by that snare to the gunwale.
Twin brothers fighting there, their mother’s pride
and joy, born of the same womb were destined
for different fates. Death’s cruel hand distinguished
between them, and the wretched parents, no longer
puzzling over which was which, found in the sole
survivor the single source of their unending sorrow,
since he recalled the lost brother to their mournful
thoughts and kept their grief ever-present. The one
had dared to grasp the gunwale of a Roman vessel,
their oars overlapping entangling the two ships. His
hand was severed by a downward blow, but still
gripped the side stiffening as the blood left it. His
courage rose though with disaster, and mutilated
he showed an even more heroic ardour. Fiercely
he continued the fight, but reaching his left hand
out to retrieve his right, that too and the whole arm
were severed. Then deprived of shield and sword,
in full view not hidden by the bulwarks, he defended
his brother with his own bared breast, standing firm
though pierced by many a weapon, and though he
had already chanced death many times, stopping
spears that would have taken many lives in their fall.
Then he gathered his remaining strength, though his
life was ebbing due to many wounds, and bracing
his dying limbs, with the power left him, he sprang
on board the Roman ship, his weight his sole
advantage, since his muscles had lost their force.
The ship was drenched with blood, piled high
with the bodies of her crew. She suffered blow
after blow on her side, that shattered let in the sea,
and filling to her decks she sank into the waves,
sucking the waters round her into a whirlpool.
The sea parted as the ship sank, and then fell back
into the space she had occupied. Many another
form of death too was seen that day on the deep.
Book III:635-669 The death of Lycidas
So Lycidas was caught by the flukes of a grappling iron
flung swiftly on board, and would have sunk in the sea
but for his friends who seized his legs as they swung
in the air. He was ripped apart though, and his blood
spurted out through the severed arteries, not trickling
as from a single wound but gushing forth, till the play
of blood flowing from the several limbs merged with
the waves. No other victim spilt his blood so widely,
the lower limbs lacking vital organs soon drained,
but the air-filled lungs and beating heart long baffled
death that wrestled with the man till it had mastered all.
On another ship the crew, over-eager for the fight,
leaning over the one gunwale where the enemy lay,
overbalanced the craft with their collective weight,
till she toppled on her side with them beneath,
unable to rise free, dying in their watery prison.
On that day too a dreadful death without precedent
was witnessed. A man in the water was pierced
by the beaks of two ships meeting, his chest split
in two by the dire impact, the bones crushed so
the body could not halt the clash of bronze prows.
The belly was flattened, blood and gore spouted
from the mouth, and when the ships backed water
and the prows disengaged, only then the corpse
with shattered breast sank, and the water poured
through its remains. Most of another crew swam
when shipwrecked to seek help from another crew,
but catching the gunwale, they were warned away,
since the ship was unstable and destined to sink
if they were taken aboard, so the other crew, pitiless,
hacked at the gripping hands with sharp swords.
Their hands still clinging to the Greek ship they fell
away, leaving their severed limbs behind, no longer
able to support their mutilated bodies on the surface.
Book III:670-708 The death of Phoceus
By now all the combatants had flung their missiles,
but empty-handed their fury still found weapons.
One hurled an oar towards the enemy, other
strong arms launched a whole stern-piece,
and turning the rowers out tore up the thwarts
as missiles, breaking up the vessel for ammunition.
Snatching at sinking corpses they robbed them
of the shafts that had killed them. Many a man,
lacking a weapon dragged the javelin from his own
wound and clutching his innards with his other hand
gathered remaining strength for a vital stroke,
hurling back the spear before his blood poured out.
No power brought more destruction in that sea-fight
however than the element most hostile to the waves,
since fire spread everywhere carried by resinous
torches, and fuelled by sealed-in sulphur, so that
the ships, with their caulking of pitch and wax swift
to melt and burn, instantly caught fire. Nor did waves
quench the fire, the flames gripping the wreckage now
scattered over the deep. Some sailors let in the water
to try and douse the fires, others fearful of drowning
still clinging to the burning timbers; among a thousand
ways of dying, men fear that most in which death first
draws near. Courage does not falter with shipwreck:
they snatched weapons flung into the waves passing
them to the living, or dealt feeble blows with errant
aim from the water. Some, lacking other weapons,
employed the deep; enemy fiercely clasping enemy,
they gladly locked limbs and sank, drowning as they
drowned the foe. One warrior, Phoceus, could hold
his breath underwater longer than all others, used
to searching the depths for whatever the sands had
taken, or wrenching the flukes free when an anchor
biting too hard refused to answer to the cable’s tug.
He had grappled now with his enemy, dragging him
deep below, and now victorious was surfacing alive
thinking to rise unobstructed, but struck the keel
of a ship and sank again. Some men grasped the oars
of the foe to check their vessels’ flight, anxious not
to waste their lives, many a dying man stopping
an enemy craft from ramming the stern of his ship,
by presenting his own wounded body to its prow.
Book III:709-751 The death of Argus
One Lygdamus, a Balearic sling-thrower, hurled
a missile, and aiming at Tyrrhenus who stood high
at the ship’s bow crushed the hollow of his temples
with the ball of lead, so that the ligaments were torn
and the eyes bleeding driven from their sockets.
Tyrrhenus, stunned by his sudden blindness, thought
it the darkness of death, but feeling that his limbs
still had their strength, he called to his companions:
‘Set me where you have set the missile-throwers,
in the correct place for hurling spears. Tyrrhenus
must use what life remains in some warlike way.
This ruined flesh can still play the soldier’s part:
I shall find death instead of some man still whole.’
With this, he threw a javelin blindly at the foe,
but still found a mark. It struck Argus, a noble
youth, at the junction of the groin and lower
belly, and he drove the steel deeper in falling.
His unfortunate father, at the further end of the ship,
beyond the immediate fight, would in his prime
have matched any Phocaean; age had robbed him
of strength, yet though he could no longer fight
he could still direct others. Seeing his son’s deadly
wound, he stumbled sternwards among the benches
and found Argus still breathing. Bereft of tears, his
hands instead of beating at his breast flying wide
apart, his body became rigid, darkness overcame
him veiling his sight, so that he ceased to see the sad
form of Argus before him, while the son, finding his
father there, raised his bowed head, speechlessly,
no words issuing from his throat, but seeking
with a silent look, his father’s embrace at the last,
and that his father’s hand might close his eyes.
As the old man recovered from his swoon, cruel
sorrow asserted its power. He cried: ‘I shall not
waste what remaining life the ruthless gods grant,
but will use it to slit this aged throat. Argus, forgive
your father for denying you a last embrace,
a parting kiss. The blood still flows warm from
your wound, and you still breathe; you may yet
die after me.’ So saying, not content with thrusting
the sword through his body to the hilt, he sprang
headlong into the sea, so eager to die before his
son that he would not trust to a single mode of death.
Book III:752-762 Decimus wins the encounter
The issue was no longer in the balance, the outcome
of the siege was decided. Most of the Greek fleet
was sunk, others were now crewed by the victors,
only an unconquered few gaining harbour by a hasty
flight. What tears the city shed, how loud the lament
of mothers on the shore! Many a wife embraced
a Roman corpse in error, mistaking its features,
disfigured by the battle, for her husband’s. Soon,
beside the lighted pyres, wretched father struggled
with father for possession of some headless body,
while Decimus with his naval victory brought
Caesar’s forces their first glory on the waves.
End of Book III