The Civil War (Pharsalia)

Book II

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved.

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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 your 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