The Civil War (Pharsalia)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved.
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- Book VII:1-44 Pompey’s dream
- Book VII:45-86 Cicero’s speech
- Book VII:87-130 Pompey’s reply
- Book VII:131-184 Preparations and omens
- Book VII:185-214 The augur’s cry
- Book VII:215-234 Pompey deploys his army
- Book VII:235-302 Caesar addresses his men
- Book VII:303-336 Caesar launches the attack
- Book VII:337-384 Pompey addresses his men
- Book VII:385-459 The effects of Pharsalia
- Book VII:460-505 Battle is joined
- Book VII:506-544 Caesar destroys Pompey’s cavalry
- Book VII:545-596 Caesar seizes victory
- Book VII:597-646 ‘A whole world died’
- Book VII:647-697 Pompey takes flight
- Book VII:698-727 Pompey reaches Larissa
- Book VII:728-780 The field of corpses
- Book VII:781-824 Caesar denies the enemy dead burial
- Book VII:825-872 Philippi anticipated
Book VII:1-44 Pompey’s dream
A baleful Sun rose from Ocean, slow to answer the summons
of the eternal law, driving his steeds more fiercely than ever
against the revolution of the sky, urging his course backwards
though the heavens whirled him on, and ready to suffer eclipse
and the loss of his light, drawing cloud to him, not to feed his
flames but to prevent his clear rays falling on Thessalian lands.
That darkness, marking the end of his life’s happiness, troubled
Pompey’s care-filled sleep with idle phantoms. He thought he
sat in his own theatre, viewing the ghostly multitudes of Rome;
and his name was lifted to the heavens in shouts of joy, and all
the tiers of seats sounded his praise. Such the crowd’s aspect,
such their loud applause in his younger years, at his second
triumph, after he had subdued those tribes the Ebro borders,
defeating every force the elusive Sertorius threw against him,
and brought peace to the west. Now he sat, cheered by senators
while as yet no more than a Roman knight, but no less adored
in his white robe than in that which adorns the triumphal car.
Perhaps, fearful of the future and the ending of prosperity, his
dreams took refuge in happier days; perhaps sleep, as often
presaged in her windings his dream’s opposite, foretold
a mighty lamentation; or Fortune showed him Rome so,
because he would be denied a last sight of his homeland.
Let the night-watch not break his sleep, nor the trumpet’s
blare beat against his ear. Tomorrow’s sleep will be haunted,
by sad images of the day, always the fatal field, always war.
Would that the Romans might have found such sleep, blessed
by such a night. Happy your Rome, Pompey, if she had but
seen you even in dream! One day at least the gods should have
granted you and your homeland, where knowing your fate
both might have taken a last delight in your mutual love.
You left Italy thinking to die in Rome, and Rome, finding
her prayers for you endlessly answered, could never have
believed such darkness might cling to fate, unable even
to bury her beloved Pompey, thus. Young and old, united
in grief, would have wept, and children without prompting,
and the multitude of women would have loosed their hair,
scarified their breasts as when Brutus himself was buried.
Even now, though men fear the victorious tyrant’s spear,
though Caesar himself declare you dead, they will weep,
while offering incense and laurel wreaths to the Thunderer.
O wretched people, whose groans swallow up their tears,
unable to gather and mourn you in your crowded theatre!
Book VII:45-86 Cicero’s speech
As daylight eclipsed the stars, the camps on both sides raised
a confused murmur, and with the fates dragging the world
to ruin, the soldiers sought the sign for battle. Most of that
wretched throng were destined not to see the day out, yet
they crowded round their leaders’ tents, muttering; in heat
and vast disorder they hastened the hour of imminent death.
A dire frenzy gripped them; each eager to bring on his own
and his country’s fate. Calling Pompey tardy and cowardly,
and too merciful to his father-in-law, they cry he has been
seduced by worldly power, wishing to hold too many sundry
nations to his rule, and mistrustful of peace. Indeed the kings
of the east and their armies detained far from their own lands,
complain that the war drags on. O gods, do you delight, when
you decide to overthrow all things, in adding rank perversity
to our errors? We rush upon disaster, and call for battles that
will ruin us, as in Pompey’s camp they begged for Pharsalia.
There the greatest of Rome’s orators, Cicero, articulated all
the protests of the multitude; Cicero, whose civil authority
caused savage Catiline to dread the power of peace; Cicero,
hating war, so long muzzled by military service, who longed
for the Forum and the rostrum. His eloquence seconded an
unsound cause: ‘Pompey, in return for all her favours to you,
Fortune makes one request, that you make use of her, while
we, the captains of your army, with the kings you created,
and a whole suppliant world beg you to humble Caesar.
Shall your father-in-law be an endless source of war for
humankind? Nations you conquered as you hastened past
have a right to resent your slowness to conquer now. Where
is your fervour, where is your faith in your star? Ungrateful
man, do you doubt the heavens, or fear to entrust the gods
with the Senate’s cause? The soldiers themselves will raise
your standards and attack: you should blush at being forced
to conquer. If the war is waged on our behalf, we who asked
you to lead us, then let us battle on whatever field we wish.
Why keep a host of sword-tips from tasting Caesar’s blood?
They shake their weapons, and can hardly wait for the signal
you delay, make haste or your own trumpets will outrun you.
The Senators would know, Pompey, do they follow you as
combatants or mere companions?’ The general groaned, he
feeling the gods were false, that fate ran counter to his wish.
Book VII:87-130 Pompey’s reply
‘If this is what all desire,’ he answered, ‘if the hour demands
Pompey the soldier, not the statesman, I will defy fate no
longer. Let Fortune involve the nations in common downfall,
and let this light be the last for the best part of mankind. Yet
I bear witness, Rome, that this day of universal destruction,
is forced upon me. The labour of war might have left Rome
unwounded; I could have won a bloodless victory, handed
Caesar, a captive, to the peaceful land he violated. What
evil madness is this, what blindness! Men ready to wage
civil war yet fear to win a bloodless victory! Have we not
wrenched the land from enemy hands, and expelled them
utterly from the seas, forced their starving ranks to steal
the un-ripened corn, made them pray instead to be slain
by the sword and mingle their vanquished dead with ours?
This war is half-won already if my recruits have no fear
of battle, if indeed the spur of emulation and the fieriness
of their ardour makes them seek the signal for action. Yet
many men are driven to the heights of danger by a mere
dread of imminent death. He is truly brave who is prompt
to endure the threat if it is close, but willing also to delay.
It seems we must hand our present good fortune to chance,
and let the sword decide a world’s fate; they would rather
see a leader fight than conquer. Fortune, you granted me
the Roman state to rule: accept it now, greater yet than I
received it, and defend it in the blindness of war. Battle
will bring Pompey neither glory nor reproach. Caesar,
your wicked prayers to the gods prevail over mine: we
shall fight. What evil and suffering this day will bring
the nations! How many kingdoms will be ruined! How
dark Enipeus will flow with Roman blood. Let the first
spear hurled in this fateful war take my life, if my death
were without moment, and our cause undefeated; to me
victory is no more welcome than ruin. When today’s
carnage is over, Pompey’s name will be one for nations
either to hate or pity: for the conquered will suffer every
evil that final destruction brings, the conqueror commit
every wickedness.’ With this, he ordered the men to arms,
and loosed the reins of their furious ardour, in the same
way that a ship’s captain, defeated by the storm’s power,
his arts useless, yields the tiller to the wind, swept along
an ignominious burden. The camp hummed to a confused
and hasty tumult, as fierce hearts throbbed to the uncertain
beat within their breasts. The pallor of imminent death
was on many faces, and their aspect the image of doom.
Book VII:131-184 Preparations and omens
The day had come which would decide the fate of mankind
for centuries to come, and this battle determine clearly what
Rome was to be. Each man ignored his own danger, struck
by greater dread. Who could be selfish in his fear witness
to widespread destruction, the shore drowned by the ocean,
waves above mountain crests, the sun displaced, the sky
lowering over earth? Now men are not free to tremble for
themselves: they fear for Rome and Pompey. Now soldiers
only trust to their swords once the whetted blades strike fire
from the grindstones; now every lance is sharpened on stone,
bows are re-strung with stronger cord, the quivers carefully
filled with choice arrows. Now the cavalryman lengthens
his spurs and checks the reins and bridle. Likewise, if I
might compare the actions of men and gods, likewise
when Phlegra witnessed the Giants’ fury, Mars’s sword
was heated on Etna’s anvil, Neptune’s trident glowed
in the fire for a second time, Apollo re-forged those
arrow-heads that undid Python’s coils, Pallas Minerva
spread the Gorgon’s viperous tresses over her aegis,
and the Cyclopes struck new lightning-bolts for Jove.
Now Fortune too did not hesitate to reveal the future
by diverse signs. When the army made for Thessaly’s
fields, the whole sky opposed their march, hurling
meteors against them, columns of flame, whirlwinds
sucking up water and trees together, blinding their
eyes with lightning, striking crests from their helms,
melting the swords in their scabbards, tearing spears
from their grasp while fusing them, their evil blades
smoking with air-borne sulphur. The standards too
could barely be plucked from the soil, their great
weight bowing the heads of the standard-bearers;
and the standards wept real tears, for until Pharsalia,
they had signified Rome and the State. Then a bull,
readied for sacrifice overturned the altar, and fled
headlong into the fields of Thessaly, so there was
no victim for the ill-omened rite. (Yet you, Caesar,
what evil deities below, what Furies did you invoke
with your rites? What powers of the Stygian realm,
what horrors of Hell, what savagery steeped in night,
and your prayer heard, though soon to wage impious
and cruel war! Now whether deceived by portents
or their own excessive fears many believed they saw
Pindus strike Olympus, the Balkan range subsiding
into its deep valleys, Pharsalia uttering the sounds
of night battles, while lake Boebeis by Ossa turned
red with blood. Men gazed in wonder at each other’s
faces veiled with mist, at the pallid light, the darkness
brooding above their helms, at phantoms of their dead
fathers and kin flickering to and fro before their eyes.
This alone brought solace to the minds of that host,
conscious of their own wicked desire to pierce some
father’s or brother’s throat, delighting in the portents,
a belief that this tumult in their minds, this sudden
ferment, was an omen of success in their wickedness.
Book VII:185-214 The augur’s cry
If it is granted to men’s minds to foreknow misfortune,
what wonder those whose last day loomed quaked with
intense fear! Every Roman, whether there in Phoenician
Cadiz, or in Armenia drinking the Araxes’ water, in all
climes and beneath every constellation of the heavens,
every Roman sorrowed, and knew not why, and chided
himself for his sadness; not realising what loss he was
suffering there and then in Thessaly. If one may credit
the legend, an augur, in the Euganean hills, that day,
sitting by the Aponus spring that smokes as it issues
from the ground, where Antenor’s Timavus river splits
into channels, cried out: ‘The great day dawns, the final
battle is waged; the armies of Caesar and Pompey meet
in impious war.’ Perhaps he heard the thunder and saw
Jove’s omen, the lightning bolt; perhaps he witnessed
all the firmament at war, the sky troubled on its axle;
or else the sad powers above marked the battle, the sun
dim and obscured. Nature at least ensured that the day
of Pharsalia differed from all others that she displays.
And if skilled augurs through human wit had viewed
every strange sign above, Pharsalia might have been
known the whole world over. How great those leaders
whose fates were signalled throughout earth, to whose
destiny the heavens in their entirety gave their attention!
Even for posterity, in generations to come, these things
will excite hope and fear and vain prayer, when the tale
of that battle is read, whether its own fame shall descend
to later centuries, or whether I by my care and effort might
do some service to those great men; all will be spellbound
when they read as if the outcome were yet to be decided
and not known, and will favour your cause Pompey, yet.
Book VII:215-234 Pompey deploys his army
Pompey’s soldiers, illuminated by the sun’s opposing
rays, descending from the hills, flooded them with light.
Not launched randomly at the plain, the doomed ranks
were placed in definite order. Lentulus Spinther, you
held the left, with the first legion, the readiest for war,
and the fourth. The right wing of the host was entrusted
to you, Domitius Ahenobarbus, a brave but ill-starred
captain. While the strong centre of the battle line was
formed of the bravest men, whom you Scipio Metellus
had led from Cilicia, here a combatant, but later to hold
the high command in Africa. And by Enipeus’ waters
and marshy pools rode the riders from the Cappadocian
hills, and the loose-reined cavalry from Pontus. Most
of the dry ground was held by the kings, and tetrarchs,
and mighty potentates, and all wearers of purple who
served the power of Rome. Libya sent Numidians there,
Crete her Cydonians, there the arrows of the Itureans
were fired, the Gauls marched out against their known
foe, and there the Spaniards brandished battle-shields,
that Pompey might rob the victor of his subject nations,
and at once consume the source of all future triumphs
by exhausting in one battle the blood of all mankind!
Book VII:235-302 Caesar addresses his men
That day by chance, Caesar, relinquishing his position,
was about to disperse his troops to plunder the fields,
when he saw the enemy suddenly descend to the plain.
Before him lay his opportunity, the object of a thousand
prayers, to stake all on a single throw. Tired of delay,
and burning with desire for regal power, he had learned,
in the short space of civil war, to loathe this slow-wrought
crime. Yet when he felt the advent of that decisive battle,
which would resolve their rivalry, when he saw the ruins
of fate tottering to their fall, even his rage for instant
slaughter languished for a moment, and his mind ready
to vouch success wavered, how should fear for his own
fate not exist, nor the possibility of Pompey’s hopes?
Fear subsiding, confidence returned, the better to exhort
his troops: ‘Conquerors of the world, you soldiers who
are my fortune, here is the battle you so often wished for.
Prayer is no longer needed, now summon fate with your
swords. Caesar’s greatness lies in your hands. This is
the day I recall that you promised me by the Rubicon,
the hope of which led us to take up arms, for which we
delayed our return to the triumphs denied us. This is
the day witnessed by fate that will decide which of us
was right to take up arms; this battle will pronounce
the defeated guilty. You who attacked your native land
with fire and steel for me, fight fiercely, and absolve
yourselves of sin now with the sword. In the shifting
claims of warfare, no hand is pure. Not for my fortune
I pray but that you might be free to rule all nations.
I desire myself to return to private life, wear plebeian
dress, be a mere civilian: while you rule all I’ll refuse
nothing. Reign, while I gaze on with envy. Nor will
the world you hope for cost much in blood: you meet
lads culled from the Greek training-grounds, sapped
by the practices of the wrestling-ring, scarce strong
enough to bear arms; and barbarians in disordered
dissonant ranks, unable to endure the trumpet-blast
or the sound of their own marching. Few of you will
face other Romans; most of this fighting will thin
the world of nations and crush the enemies of Rome.
Attack these cowardly tribes and infamous kingdoms,
lay a world low with the first stroke of your blades;
make clear that the many who followed Pompey’s
chariot to Rome, cannot deliver him a single triumph.
Do Armenians care who holds the power in Rome?
Would some barbarian give a single drop of blood
to grant Pompey power in Italy? They hate all Romans
and disdain their masters; those they know, the most.
Fortune has rather entrusted me to the hands of my
own men, whom I know from many a battle in Gaul.
What blade do I not recognise? And when the javelin
flies quivering through the sky, I shall not fail to name
the arm that throws it. If I see those signs that never yet
played your leader false, fierce face and menacing gaze,
victory is yours. I think to see rivers of blood, kings all
trampled as one underfoot, the mangled flesh of senators,
whole nations drowned in one vast carnage. But I delay
my destiny, holding you here while you rage for battle.
Forgive my tardiness, unsettled by hope I have never
felt the gods so close or ready to grant so much; only
this narrow field keeps us from what we pray for. I
am the man, who when this fight is done, will have
the power to grant what belongs to nations and kings.
What movement of the heavens, what constellation
shifting in the sky grants this to Thessaly, you gods?
Book VII:303-336 Caesar launches the attack
Today before us is this war’s punishment or reward.
Imagine the chains, imagine the cross reserved for
Caesar, my head set on the Rostrum, limbs unburied.
Think of Sulla’s crime, the butchery in the Saepta’s
pound on the Campus Martius: we wage civil war
on Sulla’s pupil. My fears are for you; I shall seek
my own salvation in suicide; whoever looks back
if the foe is unbeaten, will see me stab my breast.
You gods, whose cares are drawn from heaven to
earth by Rome’s travails, give victory to one who
does not think it needful to draw cruel blades on
beaten men, nor thinks citizens commit a crime
merely by fighting him! When Pompey held you
fast, where your power was constrained, he then
sated his sword with streams of blood! This I beg
of you, my soldiers, let every fugitive pass as your
countryman, strike no man in the back. Yet while
their weapons glitter, no pious thought, no sight
of relatives in their front rank must move you;
strike confusion into every face you once revered.
If any man strikes a kinsman’s breast with the cruel
steel, let him accept the guilt, or if he violates no tie
of kinship with the blow let him do so for the death
of his unknown foe. Level the ramparts now and fill
the trenches with their ruins, so the whole army may
advance in ranks, in tight formation. Forget the camp,
you will find another in that place from which their
doomed army comes.’ Almost before Caesar ended,
each man took up his task, snatching food, and arming
in haste. Taking it as an omen of victory, they trampled
the ramparts, exiting in confusion, belying their orders,
and leaving all to fate. If every man there, entering that
deadly field had been Caesar and seeking to rule Rome,
they could not have flung themselves faster into the fray.
Book VII:337-384 Pompey addresses his men
When Pompey saw the enemy army advance directly,
to further the battle without delay, he stood appalled,
his blood froze, knowing this day chosen by the gods.
It was an omen to so great a soldier to so dread a battle.
But swallowing his fears he rode along the line on his
great war-horse. ‘Behold the day,’ he cried, ‘that your
virtue demanded, the end of the civil war you sought.
Expend all your strength; one last trial of arms is left;
a single hour that draws all nations here. Whoever
longs for his house and homeland, his wife, children,
dear ones left behind, must wield the sword: heaven
sets all on this one battle. Ours, the better cause, gives
hope of the gods’ favour: they will guide our spears
to Caesar’s heart, they wish to sanctify Rome’s laws
with his blood. If they chose to grant my father-in-law
the command of the world, they could hasten this grey
head of mine into the grave: but if they let Pompey lead
they cannot be angry with Rome or the nations. We
have assembled all, to make victory ours. Noble men
willingly face danger, so that our army has the sacred
aspect of former times, such that Curius, and Camillus,
and the Decii, those lives devoted to death, if the fates
had restored them to our times, would stand beside us.
The nations of the eastern dawn, of countless cities, are
gathered, such hosts as never were summoned before.
A whole world at once is for us. Whoever is bounded
by the zodiac to north and south make up our army,
and shall we not encircle the enemy forces, outflank
them with our wings? Victory demands but few to fight,
mere shouting is all the rest of our army requires to do:
Caesar’s force is not enough for us. Imagine Rome’s
mothers leaning with dishevelled hair from the high
walls of the city urging you to battle; imagine those
aged senators prevented from fighting by their years,
bowing their venerable grey heads before you; that
Rome herself fearful of tyranny comes to greet you;
imagine that present generations and those to come
both address their prayers to you: the latter desiring
to be born free, the former to die in freedom. If with
such at stake, there is still room for Pompey, then
with my wife and sons, I would kneel at your feet in
supplication, if that were in accord with the majesty
of my command. Except you conquer, Pompey is
exiled, scorned by Caesar, bringing shame on you,
and I pray to escape that final misery, in my closing
years, and not learn, an old man, to bear the yoke.’
Ending thus, his mournful voice stirred their valour,
Roman courage rose, and they resolved to win or die.
Book VII:385-459 The effects of Pharsalia
So the armies ran forward both roused by the same ardour,
one driven by fear of domination, the other to achieve it.
Those right hands guaranteed, that whatever this ninth
century from Rome’s foundation might reveal, it would
be emptied of swordsmen. This war would deny birth
to a generation, and prevent the birth of unborn nations.
Thus the whole Latin race would seem a fable; Gabii,
Veii, Cora, the hearths of Alba, houses of Laurentum,
barely revealed by dust-drowned ruins, an empty land,
where no men go but senators forced by Numa’s law,
which they resent, to spend the statutory night there.
It was not the tooth of time brought such destruction,
consigned the past monuments to decay; in all those
silent towns we witness the abomination of civil war.
How the numbers of the human race were lessened!
Those born into the world are not enough to populate
those towns and country, a single city contains us all.
The fields of Italy are tilled by men in chains, no one
lives beneath our ancient roofs, rotten and set to fall;
Rome is not peopled by citizens; full of the world’s
dross we have so ruined her, civil war among such
is no longer a threat. Pharsalia was the cause of all
that evil. Those deathly names, Cannae and Allia,
so long accursed in the Roman calendar, must yield
to this. Rome marks the date of lesser disasters, yet
chooses to ignore this day. Cruel destiny! Plague
bearing air, pestilence, famine that maddens, cities
given to the flames, tremors levelling populous
townships, all these might be sated with the men
Fate drew from every quarter to wretched death,
snatching away the gifts of years while revealing
them, displaying generals and nations in the field,
to show Rome in collapse what greatness also fell.
What city ruled a broader empire or hastened from
success to success more swiftly? Every war added
more subjects, every year the sun saw you advance
towards the poles; other than a small part of the East,
night, day, all the heavens revolved for you, Rome,
and all the wandering stars saw was yours. And yet
Pharsalia’s fatal dawn reversed your fate, and undid
the work of centuries. Thanks to that blood-drenched
day, India has no fear of Roman law, no consul makes
the nomad Dahae live behind walls, or with girt robe
founds a colony in Sarmatia, tracing it with the plough;
Pharsalia is why Parthia still awaits stern retribution,
that Liberty, fleeing civil war, has not returned from
beyond the Tigris or the Rhine, and often though we
have sought her with our life-blood, wanders, a boon
to Scythians and Germans, and never turns her eye
to Italy, would she had never been known to our race.
From the day Romulus founded you, Rome, marked
by the flight of a vulture on the left, and peopled you
with the criminals from the sanctuary in the Asylum,
down to the disaster of Pharsalia, you should have
stayed a slave. Fortune, I complain to you of the Bruti;
why did we enjoy lawful rule, years named for consuls?
Happy the Arabs, Medes, the lands of the East, whom
destiny granted endlessly to tyrants. Of all the nations
under tyranny our fate is the worst, to whom slavery
is shame. No deities aid us, we lie when we say Jove
reigns, since it is blind chance drives the world along.
Would a Jupiter grasping the lightning-bolt gaze idly
from high heaven at Pharsalia’s slaughter? Would he
aim his fires at Pholoe and Oeta, the pines of Mimas,
and Rhodope’s blameless forest, yet Cassius, not he,
strike Caesar down? He brought night to Thyestes,
in dooming Argos to a premature darkness, shall he
then leave Thessaly in the light where, an equal crime,
fathers and brothers wield swords against each other?
No god watches over mankind. Yet we have vengeance
for that disaster insofar as gods can satisfy us mortals:
this civil war would make gods equal to those above;
Rome would deck the spirits of the dead with haloes,
with lightning-bolts and stars, and here, in the temples
of the gods, Romans swear their oaths by their shades.
Book VII:460-505 Battle is joined
When both armies had swiftly crossed the open ground
that lay between them and that final act of destiny, and
were only separated by a little space, each man looked
to see where his javelin might fall, or whose arm fate
might raise to threaten him. There they could see fathers’
and brothers’ faces opposite, weapons at their side, yet
chose to hold position. But their blood ran cold, torpor
seized them, numbed at the heart from that blow to all
natural affection, and whole companies grasped their
motionless javelins in a rigid grip. And may the gods
grant you, Cratinus, whose spear-blow began the battle,
staining Thessaly with Roman blood, not mere death,
which lies in store for all, but the pains beyond death.
What mad rashness! When Caesar restrained his spear,
had any other hand the precedence? Then the clarions
gave a strident blast, a horn sounded out the war-note,
the trumpets bold to give the signal, then a roar rose
to the heavens, breaking on the dome of far Olympus,
above the clouds, where no sound of thunder reaches.
The Haemus range’s echoing gorges took up the cry
and passed it onwards for Pelion’s caverns to repeat.
Pindus growled, and the Pangaean rocks resounded,
while Oeta’s cliffs bellowed, till all were terrified by
that sound of wild voices returned by Mother Earth.
Innumerable spears were thrown, with differing aim;
some hoping to wound, some to bury the spearhead
in the ground and keep their hands unstained. But
chance rules all, and random fortune renders guilty
whom it will. The Ituraeans, Medes and lone Arabs,
formidable with the bow, firing at no specific mark,
aimed only at the sky over the battlefield, and death
rained down, but no guilt stained their foreign steel,
all evil was confined to the Roman javelins. The air
was thick with metal, the gloom of the interweaving
weapons masked the plain. But the least part of that
slaughter was due to the flying metal hurled or fired!
The sword alone could satisfy the civil war’s hatreds,
drawing right hands towards the hearts of Romans.
Pompey’s forces packed in close ranks, linked arms,
shield-boss after shield-boss, in an unbroken line;
with barely space where they stood to move hand
or weapon, so crowded they feared their own swords.
Caesar’s force, with wild and headlong speed, charged
the dense ranks, finding a way through shields and men;
where the woven mail presents its heavy links, where
the breast is protected by the armour, even to the vitals,
all that lies beneath, the blows they delivered penetrated.
One army suffers this civil war that a second one inflicts:
swords hang idle there in Pompey’s ranks, while each
guilty blade of Caesar’s grows hot. And Fortune, now,
needing no great space of time to overturn so weighty
a force, sweeps away that vast ruin in its fatal flow.
Book VII:506-544 Caesar destroys Pompey’s cavalry
When Pompey’s two cavalry wings extended their arc
over the plain beyond the flanks of infantry, his light
troops pushed on in loose order into the opposing men,
and launched fierce attacks against Caesar’s front ranks.
Each soldier wielded his usual weapons, all alike after
Roman blood, with flights of arrows, brands and stones,
and weighted bullets melted and fused by their passage.
But Caesar, fearing his vanguard might be broken, sent
the cohorts in reserve, positioned at an angle to his lines
behind the standards, into attack, while the wings waited,
against that part of the battlefield where all was in chaos.
Pompey’s cavalry fled headlong, in shameless cowardice,
showing the folly of entrusting civil conflict to barbarians.
As the first warhorse, pierced in the chest, threw its rider
headlong and trampled on his body, the rest fled the field,
their horses charging, a dense mass, into their own ranks.
Countless deaths ensued, a slaughter not a battle, as here
the steel blades waged war, and there the throats were cut.
Caesar’s army tired of killing all those men facing death.
Would that Pharsalia’s plain might have been content
with the blood of foreigners, theirs the gore that stained
her springs, their corpses the covering for her battlefield!
Or that, desiring to be glutted with Roman blood, she
might spare Galatian lives, and those of the Syrians,
Cappadocians, Gauls, Iberians from afar, Armenians
Cilicians, for when the war was ended these would
form the Roman people. Panic, now spread to all
Pompey’s force, and fate declared itself for Caesar.
Book VII:545-596 Caesar seizes victory
It was now the turn of Pompey’s centre, his main strength.
The fight which had raged at random over the whole field
was here concentrated, and fortune checked Caesar’s attack.
Those who plied arms and waged war there were not men
drawn as auxiliaries from foreign armies; here men faced
fathers and brothers. Here, Caesar, your fury was revealed,
your madnesses, your crimes! Would that my mind might
shun these acts of war, give them to darkness, that no age
might learn from me, in verse, of such horrors, or the full
depths of civil conflict. Far better that our tears and groans
were in vain, and that I were silent as to your part, Rome!
For Caesar, rousing his soldiers’ madness and fury, went
here and there among the lines, adding fire to their burning
ardour, so that nowhere was free of guilt. He noted whose
blade was all blood, whose glittered with only its tip red,
whose sword-hand trembled, whose grip on his spear was
firm, whose was slack, who delighted in warfare, and who
merely obeyed orders, whose countenance changed when
he killed a countryman. He surveyed the bodies fallen on
the battlefield, with his own hand staunching the wounds
that would else have drained the blood of many a soldier.
Like Bellona brandishing the blood-stained scourge, or
like Mars urging on the Bistones, lashing his horses with
savage blows as they run in fear of Pallas and her aegis,
so wherever Caesar goes darkness of crime and slaughter
loom, groaning of great voices, heavy sounds of armour
falling, and the blows of steel against steel. His the hands
that grant fresh blades, new missiles, commanding that
they hack with swords the faces of the foe. He himself
leads the advance and, urging on the stragglers, rouses
the laggards with blows from the butt-end of his spear.
Telling them to spare the rank and file, he points out
to them the senators, knowing the arteries of the state,
the heart of power, how to strike at Rome, and where
Liberty might be wounded, making her last stand here.
Senators, knights and noblemen are put to the sword;
The Lepidi and Metelli are slain, the Corvini, the house
of Torquatus, once leaders of the state, ruling all men
Pompey, except only you. And, oh, why are you there,
Marcus Junius Brutus, sword in hand, hiding your face
from the enemy under a common soldier’s helm? Glory
of Rome, the Senate’s final hope, last scion of a house
famous throughout our history, do not charge so rashly
through the enemy ranks, seeking your doom before
Philippi, your own Pharsalia. To aim at Caesar’s life
is useless here: he has not reached the summit yet, not
risen far enough beyond those lawful heights of human
power that constrain all, to earn of fate so noble a death.
Let him live, to fall to Brutus’ dagger, let him reign!
Book VII:597-646 ‘A whole world died’
There all the glory of our country perished: a great pile
of noble corpses, unmixed with common soldiers lay
there on that field. Yet one death was most noteworthy
in that carnage, that of Domitius, the stubborn warrior,
whom fate led from defeat to defeat, never absent when
Pompey’s fortunes faded. Conquered so often by Caesar,
still he died here without loss of his liberty. Thus he fell
to a host of wounds, glad not to suffer a second pardon.
Caesar found him weltering in a pool of blood, taunting
him: ‘Domitius, my successor in Gaul, now you desert
Pompey’s cause; yet the war will go on without you.’
So he spoke, but the courage still beating in Domitius’
breast sufficed for speech; in dying he opened his lips:
‘The fatal reward for your crimes, is not yet yours,
Caesar! Knowing your fate is undecided, and your
inferiority to your son-in-law, I go free, untroubled,
to the Stygian shades, with Pompey still my leader.
Though I die, I yet can hope that you, submerged
by savage conflict, will pay Pompey and myself
a heavy reckoning.’ Before he could speak again,
life left him, and a deep darkness veiled his eyes.
When a whole world died there, it seems shameful
to spend tears on each of the innumerable dead,
follow individual fates to ask whose vital organs
the death-dealing sword penetrated, who trampled
on his own bloody entrails, who facing his enemy
pulled the buried blade from his own throat, with
his last gasp, in dying. Some fell at a blow; others
stood upright though their arms were lopped; these
were pierced by spears; those pinned to the ground;
some fell on the enemy weapons, spouting blood
from their veins; one stabbed his brother’s breast,
then to spoil the body of his kin, severed the head
and flung it far off; while another slashed at his
father’s face, trying in wild fury to show those
looking-on the man he slew was not his father.
But no other death deserves a sole lament, we
have no space to mourn individual men. This
battle of Pharsalia was different than all other
disasters: Rome suffered many deaths elsewhere,
here Rome perished in the deaths of nations;
there soldiers died, here it was whole peoples;
here the blood of Pontus, Assyria, and Achaea
flowed, and all that gore a torrent from Roman
veins washed from the field, while forbidding it
to linger. The nations in this conflict were dealt
a wound too heavy for their age alone to bear;
here more than simply life and limb it was that
perished: we were laid low for centuries, all
generations doomed to slavery were conquered
by those swords. What fault did we, their sons,
their grandsons, commit that we deserved to be
born under tyranny? Did we fight fearfully or
shield our throats from the sword? The guilt
for others’ cowardice is pinned to our necks.
If fate gave us, born later, a lord and master,
it should have also granted us chance to fight!
Book VII:647-697 Pompey takes flight
By now, wretched Pompey had realised the god’s
no longer favoured him, nor was the fate of Rome
in his hands, compelled against his will by such
disaster to despair of his fortunes. He stood far off
on rising ground, from where he saw the carnage
grip a Thessaly darkened by the clouds of battle.
He saw the missiles aimed towards him, the piles
of corpses, his own end presaged by all that blood.
Yet he did not delight, as the wretched so often do,
in drawing the whole world to destruction with him,
and involving all mankind in his ruin. He still saw
the gods as deserving of his prayer that the majority
of Romans might survive him, a solace to him in
his downfall. ‘Refrain, you gods,’ he cried, ‘from
the destruction of the nations. Let the world remain,
let Rome survive, though Pompey should be ruined.
If you would wound me more, I have a wife and sons;
such hostages I have granted to fate. Is it not enough
that this civil war has destroyed me and mine. Is all
the world’s destruction insufficient? Why lacerate
all things? Why work at universal destruction? Now,
nothing of mine is left me, Fortune.’ So saying, he
then rode through the shattered ranks, all amongst
the troops, rallying them to the standards, halting
their flight to imminent death, saying he was not
worthy of their sacrifice. He had no fear of facing
those enemy swords, offering his chest or throat
to the fatal blow; but dreading lest if he was killed
his men might refuse to flee, and a whole world
be heaped above his corpse; or wishing to conceal
his death from Caesar’s eyes. In vain, poor man;
if his father-in-law needs gaze upon that head,
it shall be everywhere forthcoming. But you,
his wife, and your beloved face, are a further
cause for flight, the fates decreeing that he shall
not die with his better part absent. Thus Pompey
rode swiftly from the field, oblivious to the spears
around him, passing with high courage to his final
doom, without groans or tears, only a noble sorrow
filled with respect, as it was right for you to show
towards Rome’s ills, Pompey. With unchanged face
you gazed on Pharsalia: victory in war never saw
you arrogant, nor defeat downhearted, as superior
in your fall to faithless Fortune as you were when
delighting in your triumphs. Now Pompey goes
along released from care, free of the burden of fate;
now he can reflect on happier times; his unfulfilled
hopes receding, now he can dwell on what he was.
Flee from the fatal conflict, and summon the gods
to witness, Pompey, none who fight on die for you.
As in the later sad losses in Africa, as in the disaster
at Munda, and the slaughter by the Nile, most of
the fighting after Pharsalia and your flight, Pompey,
indicated not the world’s support for Pompey, nor
a passion for war, but was what we see endlessly,
the battle between power and freedom. When you
fled it was for their own cause the senators died.
Book VII:698-727 Pompey reaches Larissa
Was it not joy to you, Pompey, to have desisted
in defeat from war, and not to have witnessed
the final horror? Look back at the ranks drowned
in death, the rivers turbid with the flow of blood,
and pity Caesar. With what feelings will he enter
Rome, owing his power to such a battle as this?
Whatever you had yet to suffer, exiled and alone,
in foreign lands, whatever you had to endure from
a tyrant Pharaoh, believe the word of the gods, and
fortune that long favoured you, victory was worse.
Forbid the noise of lamentation, curb the weeping,
forgo the people’s tears and grief. Let the world bow
to Pompey in misfortune as they did in his success.
No suppliant, gaze calmly on kings, gaze on the cities
you seized, the thrones of Egypt and Libya you gave,
and choose a place to die. Larissa first witnessed your
fallen greatness, and that noble head unbowed by fate.
She poured out all her citizens through her gates, met
Pompey with all her people like a victor; with weeping,
promised him gifts; opened their homes and temples
to him, begging to share in his disaster. In fact, much
of his vast authority remained and, all being inferior
to him except his former self, he might have roused
the nations again to arms, once again tempted fate.
Yet: ‘What use have the defeated for cities or nations,’
he cried, ‘offer your loyalty to the victor!’ You, Caesar,
were still trampling the life out of your country, wading
through corpses piled high, while your son-in-law was
granting you whole nations as a gift. When Pompey rode
from Larissa, the groans and tears of the people followed,
and many a reproach was levelled against the cruel gods.
That day was proof, Pompey, of the affection you enjoyed,
and of its fruits: for the victor never knows if he is loved.
Book VII:728-780 The field of corpses
When Caesar thought the battlefield drenched enough in
Roman blood, he curbed the swords in soldiers’ hands,
granting their lives to those abject souls in the ranks
whose death would serve no purpose. But fearing they
might still rally to their opposing camp, and their fear
be quelled by a night’s rest, he chose to advance on
the enemy ramparts, striking while the iron was hot
and terror gripped the foe. He felt no fear that this
order of his would tire his battle-hardened troops.
The soldiers needed little exhortation to be led
towards the spoils. ‘The victory is complete, lads,’
he cried, ‘all that remains is the repayment for all
our blood they shed, that is for me to point you to;
with no talk of granting you what each may take
for himself. Before you lies their camp and a wealth
of precious metal; all the gold stolen from the West
is there, tents crammed with the treasure of the East.
The riches of many kings and of Pompey lies there
to be claimed by its new lords: soldiers, make haste
to outrun the fugitives; or all the wealth Pharsalia
brings you the vanquished will seize.’ What ditch
or rampart could impede his men, seeking the spoils
of war and wickedness? They rushed off to discover
the wages of their sin, finding indeed many a weighty
mass torn from a plundered world, against the costs
of war; but not enough to satisfy their greedy minds.
Though they had seized what Spain mines or Tagus
yields, or rich Arimaspians gather from the surface
of Scythian sands, they would have thought it poor
reward for their crime. They’d promised all in hopes
of plundering Rome, expecting the Tarpeian citadel
would fall to the victor, these men who now pillaged
a mere camp! Impious soldiers slept on turf piled high
for patricians, blood-stained commoners lay on beds
fit for kings, and the guilty rested their bodies where
fathers and brothers had lain. But nightmares troubled
their sleep, frenzied images of the battlefield disturbed
their tormented minds. The guilt for their savage crimes
awake in every heart, their minds were still absorbed
by war, their restless hands grasping at absent swords.
I can well believe the land groaned, the guilty earth
breathed forth spirits, the air was thick with ghosts,
night in the upper world full of the terrors of hell.
Their victory rightly demands a grim retribution,
sleep bringing them flames and the serpents’ hiss.
The shades of dead countrymen stand beside them;
each man has his own shape of terror to haunt him:
one sees an old man’s face, another that of youth,
one is troubled all night by his brother’s corpse,
while a father’s ghost weighs on another’s breast,
and every phantom invaded Caesar’s dreams.
So Pelopean Orestes gazed on the Furies’ faces,
before he had been cleansed at the Scythian altar.
Neither Pentheus raving nor Agave newly sane
were subject to greater horror or mental turmoil.
Book VII:781-824 Caesar denies the enemy dead burial
That night, all those swords Pharsalia saw, all those
the day of vengeance would see drawn by senators,
were aimed at him; that night, the monsters of hell
scourged him. Yet how much that guilty conscience
of his could not yet punish, since Pompey still lived
when Caesar viewed the ghosts of the Styx, and all
of Hell, invading his sleep! All this he experienced,
yet when the clear light of day revealed Pharsalia’s
slaughter no feature of the land could drag his eyes
from that fatal field, and he gazed his fill on rivers
running with blood, and mighty mounds of corpses.
He beheld the heaps of bodies sliding to corruption,
counted nations of dead who had followed Pompey,
while a place was prepared for his meal, from which
he might study the faces and features of those corpses.
He rejoiced that the soil of Emathia was hidden from
view, the plain his eyes gazed on shrouded by corpses.
In that bloody carnage he discerned the gods’ favour
and his destiny. And loath to lose, in his madness,
the spectacle of that crime, he refused the wretched
dead a pyre and forced Emathia on a guilty heaven.
Cannae was lit by Libyan torches when Hannibal
buried Aemilius Paullus, but that example did not
serve to prompt Caesar to show humanity to his foe,
for his anger was not yet sated by slaughter against
these who he knew were his own countrymen. Yet
they asked no individual pyres, no separate burning,
the bodies might have been plunged in a single fire;
or if he had wished to punish his son-in-law, Caesar
might have heaped up Pindus’ timber and piled high
the oaks from Oeta’s forests, for Pompey, aboard
his ship, to view Pharsalia in flames. Still, such
anger achieved nothing; it mattered not whether
fire or putrefaction dissolved those corpses; nature
receives all in her gentle arms, and the dead grant
themselves their own end. If the flames do not take
them now, they will consume them with the earth
and the ocean waters later, when the communal
pyre that’s yet to come mingles dead men’s bones
with the stars. Wherever fortune summons yours,
Caesar, their spirits also will be there: you may
soar no further than they, nor seize a higher place
in Stygian darkness. The dead are free from fate;
earth takes back all she bears; he who has no urn
has the sky to cover him. You, who punish these
soldiers by denying them burial, why should you
flee this carnage, or desert these stinking fields?
Drink the water, Caesar; breathe the air if you can.
For the men who decompose there have snatched
Pharsalia from you, routed the victor, hold the field.
Book VII:825-872 Philippi anticipated
Not only Bistonian wolves were drawn to the dark
feast Pharsalia offered, but lions too from Pholoe,
scenting the rotting corpses. Bears left their dens
and vile dogs came from the villages, every beast
that scents foul air tainted by the smell of corruption.
Birds that had long been tracking the armies of that
civil war flocked there together. Cranes that migrate
to the Nile in Thracian winter delayed their flight
to the warm south. Never did the sky so shroud itself
with vultures nor a greater host of wings beat the air.
Every tree sent its birds, and their branches dripped
with crimson dew from those blood-stained feathers.
When the birds grew weary and dropped dead meat
from their talons, rotting flesh and drops of blood
fell on the victor’s face and his accursed standards.
That host of dead were not all picked to the bones
nor wholly devoured by those predatory creatures;
for though eating the limbs they ignored the vital
organs, not desirous of prying at the bone-marrow.
A greater part of the host they left to lie untouched;
corpses days of sun and rain dissolved, blending
them with the soil of Emathia. Wretched Thessaly,
what crime of yours offended the gods so deeply
that they forced on you such a mound of the dead,
and so evil a destiny? How many centuries suffice
for a neglectful posterity to take for granted the loss
this war incurred? When will crops grow untainted
in your blood-stained soil? To what Roman dead
must your ploughshares do violence? Fresh armies
will meet; and at Philippi, for a second time, before
this blood is dry, you will offer your land to crime.
Though we should empty the tombs of our ancestors,
those that still stand and those split by ancient roots
whose urns are broken, those ploughs of Thessaly
will turn up a greater heap of relics from the furrow,
and the harrows that till the fields strike still more.
No sailor should tie his rope to the Emathian shore,
no plough turn the soil of that grave of the Roman
people, for the farmer should flee the haunted fields;
the thickets should shelter no flocks, nor the shepherd
dare to graze his sheep on grass that grows above our
bones. And Thessaly should lie as naked and unknown
as lands made uninhabitable by zones of heat or cold,
as if it were the only soil, not merely the first, to endure
the evils of civil war. Oh, you gods above, would that
you granted us the power to curse that guilty country!
Why burden the whole earth so, and then absolve it?
The slaughter at Munda, the mournful sea off Sicily,
Mutina (Modena) and Actium have cleansed Pharsalia.
End of Book VII