The Civil War (Pharsalia)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.
- Book II:1-66 Rome in turmoil
- Book II:67-138 History recalled - Marius
- Book II:139-233 History recalled - Sulla
- Book II:234-285 Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger
- Book II:286-325 Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger
- Book II:326-349 Marcia
- Book II:350-391 Cato’s morality
- Book II:392-438 Pompey bases himself at Capua
- Book II:439-461 Caesar advances
- Book II:462-525 Defeat of Pompey’s generals
- Book II:526-595 Pompey’s speech to the army
- Book II:596-649 Pompey flees to Brindisi
- Book II:650-703 Caesar lays siege to Brindisi
- Book II:704-736 Pompey escapes by sea
Book II:1-66 Rome in turmoil
Now the gods’ anger was revealed, the world showed
every token of war, and prescient Nature overturned
consensus and the rule of law, with monster-bearing
tumult breeding wickedness. Why, lord of Olympus,
did you see fit to load this ill on suffering mortals,
of learning disaster’s approach through dire portents?
Whether some creator first formed the shapeless region
of pure matter, establishing the eternal chain of causes,
binding himself as well by universal laws, and within
inflexible limits apportioning the universe to endure
the prescribed ages; or whether nothing is pre-ordained,
Fate driving the turns and returns of alternating change,
and Chance being ruler of mankind, let your purposes,
whatever they may be, be sudden; let men’s minds
be blind to future doom; let them fear yet live in hope.
For, when men learned from the heavens’ truth-bearing
portents of the vast calamity set to overtake the world,
all business ceased and gloom descended on Rome.
The magistrates concealed themselves in normal dress,
and no purple accompanied the lictors’ rods. Mourning
was silent though, for a profound voiceless grief seized
all people. Thus at the hour of passing, before the corpse
is laid out, the whole household is stunned and speechless,
and before the mother with loosened hair summons
her attendants to beat their breasts with harsh hands
she yet clasps the limbs, stiffening with life’s departure,
gazes on the inanimate features, on eyes fixed in death.
Apprehension she feels no longer, and as yet no grief,
but robbed of thought she hangs there, stunned by loss.
Now the women doffed their normal garb and filled
the temples with their sad gatherings. Some drenched
the sacred statues with their tears, others threw themselves
on the stone floors, tearing, shedding locks of their hair
at the holy thresholds, assailing ears accustomed to prayer
with their frenzied shrieks. Nor did they simply bow before
the Mighty Thunderer in his temple: dividing their worship
between the deities, no altar was free of their cries of pain.
One, whose cheeks were lacerated, wet with tears, shoulders
blackened and bruised by blows, called out: ‘Now, women,
now is the hour to beat your breasts and tear your hair. Hold
back not a single ounce of grief to meet the crowning sorrow,
for now we are free to weep, when the fate of these generals
is unsure; while should either win we will be forced to smile.’
So grief goads and lacerates itself. The soldiers too, departing,
setting out to meet the enemy forces, poured out justifiable
complaints against the gods’ cruelty: ‘Ours is a wretched fate,
not born in the age of the Punic wars, not born to be those
who fought at the Trebia or Cannae. We do not ask for peace,
you gods! Only, stir foreign nations, rouse savage countries;
let the whole world gather itself for war, let the Medes sweep
down on us from Persian Susa, let the Danube fail to stem
the Massagetae, let the Elbe, the Rhine’s unconquered mouth
loose swarms of blonde-haired Suebians from the furthest north:
render us the enemy of every nation; but avert this civil war!
Let the Dacians press on us from one side, the Getae the other;
let Caesar confront the Spaniards, let Pompey raise his standards
against the Persian archers, let every Roman grasp a sword, or
if it is heaven’s purpose to destroy the Roman people, let the vast
firmament gather its fires and fall as lightning on the earth below.
Cruel Father, while they are yet unstained, strike both ranks, both
generals with the selfsame lightning bolt. Shall they be allowed
to wreak such monstrous havoc, choosing who rules the City?
Civil war is almost a price worth paying that neither should.’
Such were the complaints uttered by doomed patriotism.
The old were tormented too by anxieties of their own,
cursing their fate in bearing the grievous weight of years,
lamenting they had lived on to endure a second civil war.
Book II:67-138 History recalled - Marius
One of them spoke, seeking precedent for his deep fears:
‘Such were the troubles Fate prepared for us when Marius,
triumphant conqueror of the Teutones and Africa’s Jugurtha,
was driven out, and hid himself in Minturnae’s miry swamp.
Greedy quicksand and spongy marshes hid the secret
Fate had placed there; yet later that aged general’s flesh
was scarred by iron fetters reduced by long vile imprisonment.
He was to die though as Fortune’s friend, as consul in a Rome
he had ruined, though at first he had suffered for his crimes.
Death itself often fled the man; when the power to take his life
was granted to some foe who hated him, it failed: the enemy
was paralysed and the sword slipped from the weakened hand.
A great light had shone in the darkness of his prison, dread
deities that wait on wickedness were seen; a Marius yet to be;
and a fearful voice was heard: ‘You must not touch that neck.
Before he dies, by the destiny that governs ages, Marius shall
bring death to many; quench your futile anger.’ If the Cimbrian
lictor sought to avenge his slaughtered race it was right then
to let that old man live, for no divine favour but the vast wrath
of heaven protected the life of that vicious man, appointing him
its ready instrument for Rome’s destruction. Then he was borne
over adverse seas to the hostile shore of Africa, pursued through
deserted villages, penned in the ravaged realm of that Jugurtha
who had graced his triumph, the ashes of Carthage his bed.
Marius and Carthage alike found solace in their mutual destiny;
that both were equally brought low reconciled them to the gods.
There Marius nursed a hatred like Hannibal’s. As soon as fate
smiled on him again, he freed bands of slaves, the prisoners
loosed their fetters and flexed instead their arms for slaughter.
None were allowed to bear his standards but those already
inured to crime, who brought their guilt with them to the ranks.
Oh Fate! What a day that was, the day that Marius as victor
seized Rome, with what vast strides Death stalked the streets!
Nobles and commoners both perished, the sword roamed far
and wide, no breast was spared the steel. Blood pooled in
the temples, endless death drenched the red slippery stones.
Age was no protection: it did not scorn to anticipate the last
declining years or cut short a wretched child at life’s dawn.
For what crime could a tender infant deserve to die? Yet
it was deemed enough that it had a life to lose. Violence,
its own spur, saw laggards in those who sought for guilt.
Many perished to complete the numbers, the bloodstained
victors snatched up heads sliced from an unknown neck,
ashamed of their empty hands. Hope of life lay only with
those who pressed trembling lips to Marius’ accursed hand.
O degenerate nation! Though a thousand swords followed
that new emblem of death, centuries of life were hardly
worth such a price, far less a brief and shameful respite
till Sulla returned! Who has space to grieve for so many?
There is scarce time to tell of Baebius torn limb from limb,
rent by the countless hands of the mob, scattered piecemeal;
or how the head of Antonius, prophet of disaster, was swung
by its white hair, torn and dripping blood, placed by a soldier
on the festive table. Gaius Fimbria, then, mutilated the bodies
of the Crassi, both father and son; while the tribunes’ blood
drenched cruel stakes. And Quintus Scaevola the Pontifex
found no protection with outraged Vesta: they murdered him
in her very shrine before the ever-burning flame of the goddess,
though the thin stream of blood that ran from his scrawny throat
failed to quench the fire. Marius resumed the rods of office
in a seventh consulship before his life ended. He had suffered
every blow worser fortune can inflict, and enjoyed every gift
of the better, experiencing the full extremes of human destiny.
Then how many fell at Sacriportus where Sulla triumphed!
And what mounds of corpses filled the Colline Gate that day
when rule and the capital almost moved elsewhere, Samnites
thinking to deal Rome a heavier blow than the Caudine Forks!’
Book II:139-233 History recalled - Sulla
‘Then came Sulla’s vengeance to crown the endless slaughter.
He shed what little of Roman blood remained, and while he
lopped corrupted limbs, his too savage surgery passed all
bounds, his blade following too far where disease had led.
The guilty were executed, but in an hour where only guilty
men remained. Licence was give then to personal hatred;
resentment, free of the curb of law, rushed to vengeance.
The deeds were done not for a single reason, but each man
wrought evil for himself. Sulla by a single order sanctioned
all. The servant drove the accursed blade through his master’s
body; sons were drenched in their fathers’ blood and fought
for the privilege of beheading them; brother killed brother
for a price. The tombs were full of fugitives, the bodies
of the living juxtaposed with corpses, while men packed
the wild beasts’ lairs. Here one tied a noose about his throat
and broke his neck; there another hurled himself headlong
and was dashed to death on the harsh ground; in such ways
they robbed the bloodstained victor of their own destruction.
Here a man piled wood for his own pyre and then, before
his veins had emptied, leapt into the flames to immolate
himself while he could. The heads of the leading citizens
were carried on pikes through the stunned city and piled
in the midst of the forum; wherever they died the victims
were heaped. Thrace never knew so many slaughtered
in Bistonian Diomedes’ stables, nor did Greece ever mourn so
many mutilated corpses in Oenomaus’ Pisan courtyard.
When the bodies, dissolving in putrefaction, features effaced
by the lapse of time, had lost all identifying marks, wretched
parents gathered the remains they alone knew, and stealthily
removed them. I myself remember how I searched the corpses
murdered in Sulla’s ‘peace’, trying to recognise the shapeless
features of my murdered brother, to rescue him for the fire.
Round all the decapitated dead I went, seeking a neck to fit that
severed head. Why speak of the bloody atonement offered
the ghost of Catulus? It was a Marius, Gratidianus, who paid
the price, perhaps unacceptable to the dead, a dreadful sacrifice
to the insatiable tomb. We saw every aspect of him mutilated
yet no single stroke granted death; such was the evil form
of cruel savagery, not even allowing a dying man to die.
His arms were wrenched from the shoulders, his tongue,
severed, quivered and beat the empty air with mute motion;
one man pared the ears, another the nostrils of the curved nose;
a third man dragged the eyeballs from their sockets, and when
the eyes had witnessed the limbs’ fate, cut them both free.
Who can credit such atrocities, or that a single body could
command such torment? Men’s limbs look so when they
are broken and crushed beneath the weight of fallen ruins.
The drowned who perished mid-ocean, and drifted ashore
are no more disfigured. What made the murderers waste
their advantage, by obliterating Marius’ features, as if they
were of no worth? They should have left them recognisable,
so his death could be proven, and meet with Sulla’s favour.
The Fortuna of Praeneste saw all its citizens put to the sword
as one, the population dead in the time it takes one man to die.
And the only Roman soldiers who remained, the flower
of Italy, were slaughtered to drench Rome’s ‘Sheepfold’
with their blood. Famine, or storms at sea, the sudden fall
of buildings, plagues from the earth and air, war’s turmoil
may have caused the violent deaths of so many healthy
men, at one fell swoop, many times before, but never
such murderous executions. So dense were the ranks of men,
faces pale, with death upon them, the victors could barely
wield their weapons; and the slaughter done, the victims
could not even fall, but swayed together with bowed heads;
the survivors were weighed down by the heaps of corpses,
the dead took a share in dealing death, the living crushed
by the burden of the slain. Sulla, unmoved, sat at ease,
viewing dreadful deeds from on high; unabashed at his
passing sentence on so many thousands of wretched folk.
The bodies of his victims heaped together were hurled
into the Tiber, the first falling into deep water, the rest
on the sunken dead, until boats sailing downstream
stuck fast, the water dammed by a barrier of corpses,
the river sinking into its bed as far as the distant sea.
Yet the torrents of blood forced a way, drenching
the plain, carving a swift-running channel to the Tiber,
swelling the constricted lake till its bed and shoreline
could no longer hold back the flow, that drove all
the corpses aground, and violently thrust its way
to the Tyrrhene Sea, the bloody torrent sundering
the blue depths. Were these deeds such that Sulla
was worthy to be called his country’s saviour, titled
Felix, ‘the fortunate’, earning a tomb in the Campus?
Now we must suffer the same woes again, must pass
through that same field of carnage, such is the end
appointed for every civil war. Yet our fears now
presage worse and deeper damage to humankind
will come of this passage of arms. The great prize
Marius and his exiles fought for was Rome itself,
victory brought Sulla no more than the extinction
of the factions he hated; but these rivals of today
have long held power, and are called by destiny
to another goal. If either were content with what
sated Sulla he would not stir civil conflict.’ Such
the elders’ cry, recalling the past, dreading the future.
Book II:234-285 Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger
But noble Brutus’ heart knew no dread, and amidst
the deep terrors of fearsome change he was no part
of that grieving populace. In the depths of night,
when Arcadian Helice slanted her Wain downwards,
he knocked at the humble door of his kinsman Cato,
and found him pondering, in sleepless anxiety,
the fate of those around him, and Rome’s plight,
fearing for others, careless of himself. Brutus spoke
thus: ‘Virtue, driven from every place, banished
long ago, finds her last remaining prop in you,
no turn of fate exiling her from your heart, so you
must guide my uncertain will, support my weakness
with your enduring strength. Let others follow Pompey
or Caesar’s standard, Brutus will have no leader but
Cato. Are you a champion of peace, following your
path, unchanged, amidst a shaken world, or have you
chosen to join with those leaders in crime, share
in the evils of a maddened nation, and so absolve
the war-makers of guilt? All others are driven to
sinful arms by personal motives, some by hidden
guilt, fearful of justice if peace returns; some by
the need to stave off hunger with the sword and end
their indigence with a world destroyed. None are
spurred on to fight by mere impulse: pure bribery
causes them to join the ranks: are you to be alone
in choosing conflict for its own sake? What good
was your standing firm so many years, untouched
by the vices of a corrupt age, if your sole reward
for the virtues of a lifetime is that the guilt which
war reveals in others is to be yours too at the last?
O, the gods forbid that this deadly conflict should
stir your arms too to conflict. No javelin launched
by you can hurtle blindly amid the cloud of missiles:
rather that virtue may not sacrifice itself in vain,
all the focus of battle will concentrate itself on you;
for who though, staggering beneath some other stroke,
would not wish to die by your blade, prove you guilty?
A life of peace and tranquil solitude are fitter for you
than war, thus the stars above hold their eternal course
unshaken. The lower atmosphere is riven by lightning,
the hollows of earth are rent by gales and forked flame,
yet Olympus rears its head above the clouds. Such is
celestial law that lesser things are troubled and stirred,
while the greater know peace. What more joyous news
for Caesar than to learn such a citizen has joined the fight!
He will not resent your preference for his rival, for
Pompey’s ranks above his own, since if Cato endorses
civil war he more than endorses Caesar himself. If
half the Senate, the consuls, and the rest choose to
wage war for a leader who holds not a single office,
there is enticement enough, but if Cato too follows
Pompey, Caesar will seem the last free man on earth.
Yet if they had chosen to bear arms for the sake of our
country’s laws, in defence of freedom; Brutus,
the enemy of neither Pompey nor Caesar then,
would still be the victor’s foe when war is done.’
So, Brutus. Cato from his heart’s holy shrine replied:
Book II:286-325 Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger
‘Brutus, I grant that civil war is evil, but wherever fate
leads, virtue must follow without fear. That even I
am rendered guilty will stand as a reproach to the gods.
Who could choose to gaze on the fall of the stars above
himself alone free from terror? Who could sit with folded
hands when high heaven shattered and the earth shook
with the massive chaos of the collapsing firmament?
When distant nations, kings who reign beneath other
stars beyond the seas, partake of Italy’s madness
and that of the Roman standards, shall I alone
be idle? Far be it from me, you gods, that the fall
of Rome, whose ruin will move Dahae and Getae
should leave me indifferent! When death robs
a father of his children, sorrow itself demands
that he leads the long procession to their grave:
he will thrust his arms into the funeral flames,
holding the smoking torch to their lofty pyre.
So I too shall never be torn from your lifeless
body, Rome. Freedom, I shall follow to the grave
your very name, your insubstantial shadow.
Let it be so: let Rome atone to the pitiless gods
utterly, let no man’s life evade the claims of war!
O that I might be condemned by all the powers
of heaven and hell to act as scapegoat for all!
As the enemy hordes fell upon Publius Decius
when he sacrificed his life, so may the Rhine’s
barbarians hurl their spears at me; may every
weapon pierce me, may I, intercepting each,
receive, myself, every blow dealt in this war!
Let my blood redeem the nations, let my death
pay the penalty that Rome’s corruption merits.
Why should those die who would willingly bear
the yoke, and fail to resent the harshest tyranny?
Point your swords towards me alone, who fight
in vain for the law and justice others despise.
My death alone would bring peace to Italy’s
peoples, and end their sufferings; aspiring
tyranny need wage no war when I am gone.
Shall I then follow the nation’s standard
with Pompey as my leader, though I know
sadly that if fortune favours him he too covets
dominion over the world? Well then, let me
aid his victory, lest he thinks his triumph
is for himself alone.’ So Cato, with forceful
reasoning urging on the younger man, stirring
his ardent spirit to intense desire for civil war.
Book II:326-349 Marcia
Meanwhile, as the sun dispelled the chill of night,
the door sounded to a loud knocking, and in burst
Marcia, Cato’s former wife, in mourning for her
husband Hortensius, arriving now from his pyre.
As a girl she had wed this nobler husband, Cato,
but being granted the reward and price of marriage
in a third child, she was given to another house,
to fill it with fruitfulness, and ally two families
through her maternal blood. Now, having granted
Hortensius’ ashes their last resting place, she
had hurried there in pitiful state, her hair unkempt
and ragged, her breasts bruised by endless blows,
covered with ash from the pyre. In that state alone
she found Cato’s favour. And spoke to him sadly:
‘I have obeyed you command, Cato, while hot
blood flowed in my veins and I was fertile:
Twice wed, I have borne my husbands’ children.
I return to you, weary, worn from child-bearing,
unwilling now to be given to some other man.
Let me renew the faithful vows of our marriage;
grant me the name of wife; let them write above
my tomb: Cato’s Marcia; let them not think
in after days that you drove me out, handing
me to a second husband. I am not here to share
in happiness, or prosperous times, I am come
to bear my part of anxiety and trouble. Let me
follow the army. Why should I remain behind
in peace and safety, more distant from civil
conflict than Cornelia is, Pompey’s wife?’
Book II:350-391 Cato’s morality
These words moved her husband, and though this day
when fate called men to battle ill-suited marriage
they resolved to tie the knot and perform the rites
simply and without vain display, the gods alone
bearing witness to the ceremony. No wreaths,
no festive garlands hung from the lintel; no white
ribbon ran here and there about the doorposts.
The usual torches; the high couch above ivory
steps with its gold embroidered coverlet; the wife’s
towered crown; her care not to touch the threshold
with her feet as she crossed it – all this was absent.
No saffron veil, to screen the bride’s shy blushes
hid her downcast face; no jewelled belt bound
the flowing gown, no fair collar clasped her neck,
no scarf clung to the shoulders, or clothed bare
arms with its narrow veil. Marcia kept to her solemn
mourning dress, and embraced her husband as she
would her sons. The tunic’s purple band was hid
by wool of funereal hue. The customary happy
jests were absent too, nor was the stern husband
greeted with ritual abuse in the Sabine manner.
No kinsmen, no family members gathered, rather
they were wed in silence, Brutus playing the role
of augur. Cato refused to shave his reverend
features, nor did his severe manner allow joy.
(Since he had seen ill-omened weapons of war
raised, he had let the grey hair cover his stern brow,
and a mourner’s growth of beard darken his face,
as he alone, devoid of love or hate, had freedom
to mourn for mankind) Nor did he seek to renew
their marital relations, his iron nature was proof
even against the marriage bed. Such was Cato’s
character, the austerity of his rigid morality –
to maintain control and observe the limits set,
to follow his nature, devote his life to his country,
believing himself born to serve all men not himself.
It was a feast to him to conquer hunger; a mere roof
to ward off harsh weather a noble palace; the simple
toga, a Roman’s gown in times of peace, fine dress.
Love’s sole aim in his mind to engender children,
he was a husband and a father to serve the State;
worshipping justice, practising harsh virtues,
to communal ends; and there was not one action
of his life in which selfish pleasure claimed a share.
Book II:392-438 Pompey bases himself at Capua
Pompey, meanwhile, had marched swiftly to occupy
Capua’s Campanian walls, founded by Trojan Capys.
Choosing it as his military base, he resolved to launch
his main campaign from there, dispersing and deploying
his forces so as to encounter the foe where the wooded
slopes of the Apennines lift above central Italy, no hills
rising higher and towering more loftily into the heavens.
Those mountains lie midway between the Tyrrhenian
and the Adriatic, bounded on the west where the waves
break on Pisa’s shore, on the east by Ancona that faces
the Dalmatian billows. Deep mountain springs give rise
to mighty rivers, their streams occupying the watersheds
that face the two seas. The swift Metauro and the rapid
Conca flow eastward, the Savio joined by the Isaurus,
the Cesano, the Ofanto that meets the Adriatic waves,
and there the Po, as great a river as the land affords,
levelling forests, sweeps them to the sea, draining
the soil of Italy. As legend has it, that was the first river
whose banks were shaded by a fringe of poplars: when
Phaethon drove the sun’s car flat across its given course
and with fiery reins set the skies aflame until the waters
vanished and earth was scorched deep within, that river
alone had current strong enough to counter the sun’s fire.
It would be no less wide than the Nile, did Nile not flood
the Libyan sands beyond the levels of low-lying Egypt;
and no less mightier than the Danube, if the Danube
did not in its course gather the waters that might have
flowed to other shores, leading them to the Euxine sea.
Westward the waters leaving the Apennine’s slopes
give birth to the Tiber, and the Roya in its deep channel.
From there too the swift Volturno flows, and the Sarno
that breathes nocturnal exhalations, and the Liri driven
by Vestinian waters through the wood-nymph Marica’s
domain, the Sele that grazes Salerno’s rugged country,
and the Magra, whose shallow stream’s un-navigable,
speeding towards the sea at Luni nearby. The Apennines
close to the foothills of the Alps narrow and lift skywards
facing towards Gaul, in a tall ridge, while further south
the slopes yield harvests for the Marsians and Umbrians,
and are tamed by the Samnite plough, their piny cliffs
embracing the native tribes of Italy, not abandoning Italy
till Scylla’s waters bar the way, and reaching as far as
Juno Lacina’s Sicilian temple, for the unbroken ridge
was longer than Italy is now until the mass of water
broke through the isthmus and split the land, that end
of the Apennines crushed and severed by the two seas
being yielded to Pelorus, the Punto del Faro of Sicily.
Book II:439-461 Caesar advances
Caesar, eager for war, rejoiced that his only path
onward meant shedding blood; delighted that Italy
on which he trampled was not lacking in enemies,
the fields he attacked were undefended, and even
his marches not idle, since every battle brought on
the following battle. He preferred to assault a city
than have it open to admit him; to ravage the land,
with fire and sword, than seize it without a fight.
He scorned to move on uncontested roads, or seem
a peaceful traveller. At that time, the Italian citizens,
uncertain, hesitating in their support for one side or
the other, and ready to surrender at the first alarm,
still strengthened their defensive ramparts, crowning
them on every side with steep palisades; arming
tall towers along the walls with stones and slingshot.
Though loyalty contended with the threat of danger,
they still favoured Pompey, as when a southerly rules
the waves, and all the sea is stirred by its vast power,
so that even if Aeolus’ trident opens the solid earth,
and lets an easterly loose on the mounting breakers,
the ocean, though struck by that second force, stays
true to the first, and though the sky surrenders itself
to the rain-filled easterly, the sea asserts the southerly’s
power. Yet threat of danger soon alters men’s minds,
and events were quick to banish fragile allegiances.
Book II:462-525 Defeat of Pompey’s generals
The Etrurians were left naked by Libo’s hasty flight,
and Thermus’ rout robbed Umbria of its free action.
Sulla too, lacking his father’s good luck in civil war,
turned back at the mere sound of Caesar’s name.
When the cavalry advance reached the gates of Osimo,
Varus left by the opposite gate, the enemy now unguarded,
and fled to the forested hills. Lentulus also was driven
from Asculum, and the victor following hard cut off
the army, so only the general and the standards escaped,
bringing no troops with them. Scipio too abandoned
Nuceria’s stronghold, leaving the citizens defenceless,
though that was the station for fine soldiers recalled
from Caesar’s army due to the strength of Parthia;
these were lives Pompey leant his kinsman to make
good the losses in Gaul until he needed them again.
Yet fierce Domitius ensconced behind strong walls
in the city of Corfinio, had under his command those
men recruited to suppress bloodstained Milo. Now,
on seeing a distant cloud of dust rising from the plain,
and the sunlight glittering on ranks of enemy weapons,
he called out: ‘Friends, run to the river and destroy
the bridge. Let the stream spring fiercely from its
mountain source, bring down its weight of waters
and carry away the shattered planks in its foaming
current. Let the war halt here, let the enemy spend
himself in vain on these banks, check their general’s
headlong pace: it would be a victory for us to force
Caesar to make a stand.’ Without further speech
he hurried his men from the walls, but all in vain.
Caesar, seeing them run towards the bridge to bar
his passage, moved first, crying out in pure anger:
‘Not content with hiding your fear behind walls,
you try to barricade yourselves from the plain,
and thwart me with a river! Not if Ganges’ swollen
flood blocked his way, would Caesar be stopped
by any stream, now the Rubicon is crossed. Send
the cavalry forward, and let the infantry advance,
take the bridge before it falls.’ At this command,
the light horse charged at the gallop over the plain,
and strong arms hurled a heavy rain of javelins
towards the bank. Driving off the guard, Caesar
occupied the undefended bridge, and the enemy
were forced back to the safety of their citadel.
Then Caesar built towers from which to launch
huge missiles of stone, while a sloped roof crept
towards the walls dividing the armies. Behold,
an abomination in war, the gates were opened,
the soldiers brought out their general, a prisoner!
Domitius halted before his proud peer, and then,
with still menacing look and unbowed head, that
noble spirit demanded death by the sword. Caesar,
knowing he feared pardon, and sought punishment,
Said: ‘Live on and, against your will, know the light
because of my clemency. Be a token of hope to your
friends, when they too are defeated, an example
of my generosity. Even if you choose to take up
arms again, even if you conquer, I will never use
such favours to bargain for my life.’ With that,
Caesar ordered his bonds to be removed, yet
how easily fate might have spared a Roman’s
blushes, by ensuring Domitius was slain outright!
This was the greatest of insults, that a patriot
be pardoned for joining an army led by Pompey
and the Senate simply to fight for his country!
Domitius, unperturbed, hid his deep anger,
saying to himself: ‘Thus disgraced shall I seek
peace and quiet in Rome? Rather I’ll hasten
to the heart of the fiercest conflict and seek
death at the first onset, fly straight to the mark,
break every tie, and so escape his generosity!’
Book II:526-595 Pompey’s speech to the army
Meanwhile Pompey, unaware of his generals’
defeat, prepared to move, so as to hearten his
forces by a show of strength. Ready to sound
the advance next day, he chose now to gage
the ardour of his men before marching out.
His august voice addressed the silent ranks:
‘Avengers of wrong, followers of the true
standard, O Romans, whose Senate arms you
to defend our country, show your readiness
for battle now! The fields of Italy burn with
wild devastation, Gallic fury flows down from
the wintry Alps, already blood stains, pollutes
Caesar’s swords. Better, you gods, that we
have borne the first losses, that our enemies
begin this evil, yet now Rome, led by myself,
must seek justice and punishment. The battles
you must fight are not mere battles, they express
our nation’s anger and vengeance. This is no
more war than when Catiline prepared to burn
our homes, or Lentulus his partner in crime,
or the eager, bare-armed Cethegus. What
pitiful madness of Caesar’s! Though Fortune
was ready to raise him to the ranks of Camillus
or the mighty Metellus, he joins the likes of
Marius and Cinna. His overthrow is ordained,
as Catulus defeated Lepidus, as Carbo was
beheaded at my orders, and lies now in his
Sicilian grave, as Sertorius the exile fell,
who stirred the fierce Spaniards to rebellion.
yet, on my honour, I am loath to rank Caesar
with them, I grieve that Rome lifts my arm
against his madness. Would that a victorious
Crassus had returned alive from the Parthian
war on Scythia’s border, that he might have
conquered Caesar as he conquered Spartacus,
no less guilty. But if the gods have ordained
that Caesar too should be added to my titles,
well then, this right hand can hurl the spear,
the blood about my heart flows hot once more,
and he shall learn that men patient in peace
are no cowards in time of war. He may call me
worn out and feeble, but be not disquieted by
my age; it matters not that I am older than he,
so long as his soldiers are far older than mine!
I have risen as high as a free people can exalt
a citizen, and over me nothing but tyranny can
reign. Whoever schemes to rise above Pompey
in the city of Rome, exceeds a subject’s wishes.
Both consuls stand by me, and an army where
every man is fit to command. Shall Caesar
overthrow the Senate? No, Fortune does not
act so blindly; she is not so shameless as that.
Have ten years fighting Gallic rebels, an age
granted to the task in vain, provoked him?
Or perhaps his flight from the Rhine’s chill
waters, calling a tidal sea Ocean, and turning
his back in terror on the Britons he attacked?
Or have his idle threats increased now that
reports of his insanity have driven the people
of his native city to arms. Alas, you madman!
All are not fleeing you, but are following me.
When I bore shining standards on the waves,
the pirates, driven from the sea, abandoning
every creek within two moons, begged me
for a narrow patch of dry land to inhabit.
And when Mithridates, that indomitable king,
challenged Rome’s destiny, I drove him in flight
along the isthmus of the Scythian Sea, and more
fortunate than Sulla, brought about his death.
I have left no part of the world untouched, my
triumphs fill all the world, in whatever clime.
The north knows of my victories, by Phasis’ icy
waters; the tropics of sultry Egypt and Syene
where the shadows fall vertically, know me;
the west fears my power, where the Baetis
river, furthest towards sunset, meets the tide.
The Arabs know me their conqueror; the warlike
Heniochi, the Colchians, too, famed for the golden
fleece stolen from them. Cappadocia fears my
standards, and Judea given to an unknown god,
and effeminate Sophene, since I subdued Armenia,
savage Cilicia, and the Taurus range. I have left
my kinsman no war to wage but this civil war.’
Book II:596-649 Pompey flees to Brindisi
Little or no applause followed the general’s speech,
nor did the soldiers clamour for the promised battle.
Pompey was more than conscious of their fears, so
recalled the standards rather than expose the army,
already cowed by the rumour of Caesar’s coming
before he was yet in sight, to a decisive encounter.
A bull driven from the herd after a first defeat seeks
the depths of the forest glades and banished from
the field tests his horns against the trunks of trees
rather than his rivals, not returning to the pastures
until he has regained his strength, satisfied once more
with his innate powers; but once returned to the herd,
those rivals conquered, he leads it, the young bulls
following, wherever he wishes, defying the herdsman.
Now Pompey surrendered Italy to the stronger man,
and fled through Apulia’s open fields until he found
a much safer stronghold in the fortress of Brindisi.
That city was founded by colonists from Dicte, exiles
from Crete, borne on Athenian ships, whose sails
falsely declared Theseus had been conquered.
Italy narrows there and extends a slender tongue
of land between confined shores, into the Adriatic
whose waters are enclosed within curving horns.
yet there would be no harbour in the narrow inlet
if an island did not oppose the fierce northerlies
with its barrier of stone, and defy the breakers.
Nature has set great craggy cliffs on either side
confronting the open sea, and thwarts the gales,
so that ships ride at anchor there on slack cables.
From there the waves are visible far and wide,
for ships bound for the harbours of Corfu, or
those further north, where Illyrian Epidamnos
slopes downwards towards the Ionian Sea.
Here mariners find refuge when the Adriatic
waves exert their power, when the Ceraunian
mountains are lost in cloud, and the Calabrian
Sason is drenched with foaming waves.
Pompey lacked faith in the situation behind,
nor could he carry the fight into Spain since
the vast tract of the Alps lay between, so he
said to Gnaeus, the eldest of his two sons:
‘I beg you to explore the furthest regions,
rouse the Euphrates and the Nile, wherever
the glory of my fame reaches, wherever
Rome’s name is known through my exploits.
Tempt the Cilician colonists, now dispersed
back to the coast, then rouse the kings of Egypt,
and Tigranes of Armenia whom I made king,
Consider too the Pontian army of Pharnaces,
the nomad tribes of both Armenias, the savages
along the Black Sea shore, Carpathia’s hordes,
and those whom the sluggish Sea of Azov,
crossed by Scythian wagons when frozen,
supports on its icy expanse. Without delay then,
carry your father’s standard through the East,
and stir the cities everywhere I conquered
to arms, let all I defeated rally to my camp.
And you Lentulus and Marcellus, consuls
whose names extend the Roman calendar,
let the first northerly waft you to Epirus.
Seek fresh forces in Greece and Macedon,
while winter grants a lull to this warfare.’
So Pompey, and they all obeyed his wishes,
loosing their hollow ships from the shore.
Book II:650-703 Caesar lays siege to Brindisi
Yet Caesar, always impatient of peace, or any long
cessation of warfare, lest fate might force change,
followed close on the heels of his son-in-law.
Others might have been content with seizing cities
at the first assault, surprising strongholds, driving
out their array of garrisons, until finding Rome
itself, capital of the world, and the ultimate prize,
an easy prey. But Caesar, impetuous in everything,
thought nothing done while anything was left to do.
He pressed onwards fiercely, and though master
of all Italy, resenting that the land was still shared
while Pompey claimed a foothold on the seashore,
and yet on the other hand unwilling for his enemy
to range the seas, he blocked the harbour with a mass
of rubble, and levered rocks into the flowing waves.
The endless labour was in vain, since the eager tide
swallowed every boulder sinking them in the seabed.
If Mount Eryx was drowned so, in the Aeolian Sea,
or the toppled summit of Gaurus sunk in the Avernian
Lake, no cliffs would likewise rise above the waters.
When Caesar saw the stony masses would not hold,
he ordered trees felled and bound together, a stretch
of timber linked with chains, like the road, they say,
proud Xerxes made, joining Europe to Asia, Sestos
to Abydos, by his bridge, so his army might march
over the straits of the swift-flowing Hellespont, free
of the dread of easterly or westerly gales, conveying
his ships under full sail to the heart of Mount Athos.
So Caesar narrowed the exit to the sea by felling
all the forest, and soon the mounds of earth and tall
towers reared themselves high above the waves.
Pompey, racked by doubt and anxiety, seeing new
shores constrict his access to the water, pondered
how he might break the siege and gain the ocean.
Time after time, his vessels, driven before the wind,
ropes straining, passed and re-passed the barriers
that blocked the shore, hurled the booms into the tide
and granted the fleet sea-room; and time and again
in the dead of night his machinery wound by strong
arms launched a hail of multi-headed fire-brands.
Fixing at last a day for secret flight, he gave orders
to the crews to hold their tongues lest their shouts
alarm the shore, no signal to mark the change of watch,
no trumpet to alert the sailors, calling them on board.
When the last stars of Virgo were rising, before Libra
brought them the dawning day, silently they slipped
their moorings, Without a cry the anchor flukes were
dragged from the heavy sand; tall masts were hoisted
and the yards rigged, while the captains stood there
mute and anxious; sailors, dangling in the air, loosed
the furled sails, tightening their lines, that the wind
might not whistle through them. The general even
prayed to the goddess, Fortuna, that she allow him
to leave that Italy whose dominion she denied him.
Fortune scarcely complied, since the sea-water
struck by the prows roared chaotically, waves
rose, the whole bay churned by the mingled wakes.
Book II:704-736 Pompey escapes by sea
So the enemy, admitted through the open gates
and within the walls, as the loyalty of the citizens,
altering with their fortune, led them to yield the city,
rushed eagerly along the horns of the curving harbour
towards its entrance, angered that the ships had access
to the sea. Shame on them that Pompey’s flight was not
victory enough! The channel that led the vessels out to sea
was narrow, narrower than Euboea’s gulf, by Chalcis.
Here two ships, running aground, were seized by waiting
soldiers, the fighting moved to shore, and here the sea
was first turned crimson with the blood of civil war.
Its rear-guard lost, the remaining fleet set course. Thus,
when the Argo sailed from Thessaly for the Phasis,
the Cyanean rocks clashed in the deep, but the ship
escaped the shock, though her stern was lost, while
the closing cliffs vainly meeting empty air, were still.
Now the altered colours of the eastern sky gave notice
of the sun about to rise, and the reddened sky, not white
as yet, robbed the nearest stars of their light; the Pleiades
grew faint, Bootes circling Wain, dimming, merged
indistinguishably with the sky, the brighter stars were
quenched, the morning star fled before the light of day.
Pompey by then, had gained the open sea, but the luck
that aided his past hunts for pirates was his no longer,
and Fortune, wearied by his triumphs, proved untrue.
Taking his household with him, to war, driven out
with his wife and sons, powerful still in exile, whole
nations followed behind him. A far place was appointed
for his undeserved destruction. To spare Italy, not
to deprive him of a tomb in his native land, the gods
doomed him to a grave in Egyptian sands; destiny
would hide that wrong in a distant country, so that
Roman soil was unstained by her Pompey’s blood.
End of Book II