The Civil War (Pharsalia)

Book V

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 V:1-70 Lentulus addresses the senators

So the two leaders in turn suffered the vicissitudes of war,

and their mixed fortunes saw them still equal in strength

as the encounter of Pharsalia drew closer. Winter had now

sprinkled Mount Haemus with snow, and the Pleiades,

daughters of Atlas, were already setting in wintry skies.

The New Year was approaching, that day on the calendar

when the rites of Janus, ruler of the months, commence.

Before the last days of their office ended, the two consuls,

Marcellus and Lentulus, summoned those senators, now

dispersed on military duties, to Epirus, where a lowly room

received the great men of Rome, and under an alien roof

the Senate convened to conduct the business of the State,

for who could call the place, with all those rods and axes

there by law, a mere military camp? The venerable body

showed the world that they were not the party of Pompey,

but that they were in many respects in Pompey’s favour.

As soon as the gloomy gathering fell silent, Lentulus

rose from his high seat and spoke in a noble manner:

‘Senators, if you have firm hearts worthy of your Latin

stock and ancient lineage, take no note of this place

where we meet, or the distance separating us from

occupied Rome, but rather recognising the composition

of this body, and its power to adopt any measure, decree,

as is clear to all the nations, that we are indeed the Senate.

For wherever fate leads us, whether beneath the northern

Bear and the icy Wain, or the equator oppressed by heat

where night and day are ever equal, we are the State,

and Empire attends us. When the Tarpeian sanctuary

was burnt by the Gauls, Camillus had his seat at Veii,

and Veii was Rome. This house never forfeits its rights

simply by a change of location. Caesar may have power

over the empty buildings, the deserted rooms, the silent

law courts, and the law in dismal recess; but there are

no Senators in his Senate House except those expelled

before Rome was deserted: every member of this great

body is present except those who are now exiles, there.

We were driven asunder at first, by the onset of war,

after long peace free from civil conflict, but now all

the scattered members return to the body. See how

the gods repair the loss of Italy with forces drawn

from the whole world! Enemies of ours lie drowned

In Illyrian depths, while Curio, that man of power in

Caesar’s senate, is dead in the barren sands of Libya.

Raise your standards, generals, speed fate’s course,

show the gods your confidence, and take courage

from the success the rightness of your cause granted

when you fled Caesar. The period of office conferred

on us, your consuls, expires with the year’s ending,

but your authority, senators, is free of limits, so take

counsel for us all and vote for Pompey as our leader!’

The sound of that name was applauded by the throng,

and they laid on Pompey’s shoulders the burden of

their own and their country’s fate. Then they granted

rewards of merit to kings and peoples: gifts of honour

were conferred on the tough soldiers of chilly Taygetus,

and on Rhodes, the queen of the seas, Apollo’s island;

Athens of ancient fame was commended, and Phocaea

given its freedom, as Marseilles was, its daughter city;

King Sadalas was praised and loyal Cotys, Deiotarus

and Rhascypolis the lord of frozen wastes, while Libya

by order of the Senators was bound to obey King Juba.

O cruel fate, next Ptolemy, worthy indeed to rule over

a faithless people, Ptolemy, Fortune’s shame, the gods

reproach, was permitted the burden of Egypt’s crown,

and a boy received the sword to use ruthlessly against

his people: would that his people alone had suffered!

He was granted the throne, Cleopatra lost her realm,

and Caesar the guilt for the murder of his son-in-law.

Then the Senate dispersed and took up arms again.

Yet while nations and their leaders prepared for war,

ignorant of the future and blind to their fate, Appius

Claudius alone, feared to trust an unknown outcome,

and called on the gods to reveal things yet to come,

unbarring the Delphic shrine of Apollo, long closed.

Book V:71-101 The Shrine of Apollo at Delphi

Between the bounds of east and west, the twin peaks

of Parnassus tower to the heavens. The mountain

is sacred to Apollo and Dionysus, in whose honour

the Theban Bacchantes, honouring the two deities

as one, hold their triennial festival there, at Delphi.

When the Flood drowned the Earth, this mountain

alone rose above the waves, and was all that parted

sea from sky. Parnassus’ peaks were differentiated

even so by the waters, one rocky summit on display

the other one submerged. There Apollo, his skills

as yet un-honed, killed the Python with his arrows,

avenging his mother who had been driven out when

pregnant. Themis once ruled that shrine and oracle.

Thus Apollo, hearing the deep chasm in the earth

breathe out divine truth, exhale prophetic words,

enshrined himself in the sacred cavern, brooded

over the sanctuary, and there became prophetic.

What deity is indeed hidden there? What power

from the sky deigns to exist confined in those

dark caves? What god of heaven suffers earth’s

weight, knows every secret of eternity’s course,

aware of the world’s futurity, ready to reveal

its presence to the nations, and endure contact

with humankind? A great and mighty power,

whether the utterance it produces determines

fate, or whether it merely voices destiny.

Perhaps a large portion of the divine itself,

embedded in the world to rule it, supporting

the globe balanced in empty space, emerges

in the Delphic cave and is enshrined there,

linked with the Thunderer in heaven. When

inspiration strikes a virgin priestess, it sounds

forcibly within the human spirit, and frees

her voice, as Sicilian Etna’s summit erupts

from the pressure within; or as Typhoeus

heats the Campanian rock with his stirring,

where he lies forever beneath Ischia’s mass.

Book V:102-140 Appius Claudius reopens the shrine

That shrine, welcoming all and denied to none,

is alone free from the taint of human passions.

There no evil prayers are uttered in secretive

whispers, for the oracle, sure and immutable,

forbids mortals all further requests. It favours

the righteous, as in the case of Tyre, when

whole cities were abandoned by the people,

showing them a place to dwell; or, as Salamis

commemorates, taught others how to dispel

the clouds of war; or revealed a remedy for

earth’s barrenness, or cleared the air of plague.

No divine gift is more dearly missed now

than that Delphian oracle which fell silent

when kings grew so afraid of the future

they forbade the heavenly utterance. Yet

the Delphic priestesses did not mourn their

loss, and delighted in the shrine’s neglect;

for if the god enters her breast, an untimely

death is a priestess’s reward, her penalty,

for having so received him, since the human

body is destroyed by the dart and pulse of

that frenzy; frail life is eroded by the blow.

The great cave had long been silent, its tripods

had long been untended, when Appius sought

his goal, to probe the future destiny of Rome.

Phemonoe, the priestess, was idly wandering

beside the Castalian spring, in the quiet grove,

when Appius ordered the high priest to unbar

the holy shrine and usher the terrified priestess

into the god’s presence. He laid hands on her,

and forced her towards the doors of the temple.

Fearing to cross that dread threshold, Apollo’s

priestess sought in vain, by deceiving Appius,

to discourage his eagerness to learn the future.

‘What perverse hope of knowledge draws you

here, Roman? Parnassus’ mute chasm remains

silent, hiding its god. The breath of inspiration

fails of outlet here, finding a path in some other

place; or when the barbarians set fire to Delphi

the ashes filled the deep caverns and now block

Apollo’s passage; or Delphi is dumb at heaven’s

command, and it is thought sufficient that those

Sibylline leaves entrusted to your nation reveal

the hidden future; or perhaps Apollo, determined

to exclude the guilty from his shrine finds none

in this age worthy of opening his closed lips.’

Book V:141-197 The priestess prophesies

The virgin’s guile was obvious, even her fear

proved the presence of the power she denied.

As she hesitated and malingered, the priest

thrust her forcefully into the shrine, the sacred

ribbon circling and confining the tresses above

her brow, the hair that streamed down her back

bound by white ribbon and the laurel of Phocis.

Still she halted beyond the entrance, dreading

the oracle’s recess, the inner cave, pretending

to inspiration, mimicking the prophetic words

from her unmoved breast, no inarticulate cries

of dim utterance revealing a mind inspired by

divine frenzy. She did more harm to the oracle

and Apollo’s repute than to Appius, to whom

she chanted false prophecy, for her utterance

devoid of tremulous cries, lacking the power

to fill the cave’s vast space; the laurel wreath

not lifting from a head of bristling hair; those

stones of the temple unshaken, trees unmoved,

arose from fear of entrusting herself to Apollo,

and Appius finding the tripods mute, cried out

in fury: ‘Impious woman, I and the power you

mimic will punish you as you deserve, if you

refuse to enter these depths, and still insist on

uttering only your own words as to the vast

conflicts of a fearful world.’ Cowering, at last,

the virgin fled to the tripods and, drawing near

the vast abysses, hung there, her breast filling

with the powers of the rocky cave, the divine

inspiration urged on her, a force not exhausted

by the centuries. Finally, Apollo had mastered

the Delphian priestess’s body as fully as ever,

entering within, dispelling her own thoughts,

commanding her human self to yield its frame

to him. Possessed she flung herself wildly about

the cavern, tossing her head, whirling Apollo’s

ribbons and garlands dislodged by her bristling

hair through the shrine’s empty void, scattering

the tripods obstructing her errant course, as she

burned with a fierce flame, enduring your anger

Phoebus. Nor did you use whip and spur alone,

darting flame at her vital organs; she suffered

the curb as well, not permitted to reveal all that

she knew. All time was gathered up as one mass,

all the centuries pressed on her wretched breast,

the chain of events so revealed, that all futures

struggled to the light, fates contending seeking

a voice; nor was the first day of the world, nor

its last, nor the Ocean’s ends, nor the number

of the grains of desert sand lacking. Just as

the Cumaean Sibyl, jealous lest her inspiration

be at the service of too many nations, chose,

in her Euboean cave, to utter Rome’s destiny,

picking with haughty hand among the vast heap

of fates, so now Phemonoe, possessed by Apollo,

seeking the name of Appius hidden among those

of greater men, that Appius who came to question

the god hidden in Castalia’s earth, laboured long.

Then, finding it, the wild frenzy escaped foaming

lips, groaning she uttered high inarticulate cries

with panting breath; then a dismal wailing filled

the deep cave, and when she was finally mastered

once more, the priestess gave voice: ‘Roman, you

will take no part in this great convulsion, you will

escape the endless dangers of war, you will remain

in peace in a hollow cleft on the Euboean shore.’

Then Apollo closed her throat, cutting short her tale.

Book V:198- 236 The fate of Appius

You tripods, keepers of fate, you arcane mysteries

of the universe, and you Apollo, the power of truth,

from whom the heavens conceal no future day, why

did you fear to reveal the imminent ruin of empire,

the fall of captains, the destruction of kings, the ruin

of so many nations in that carnage that was Italy?

Had the gods not yet resolved on so great an evil,

was the fate of a vast multitude in doubt because

the stars hesitated to condemn Pompey to death?

Or was the purpose of your silence that destiny

might complete the work of a liberating blade,

wild ambition yet be punished, and tyranny meet

the vengeance of a Brutus once more? But now

the doors burst open as the priestess dashed her

breast against them, and driven from the temple

she escaped; although the frenzy lasted, the god

whom she could not evade controlled her still,

her tale not yet told. Her eyeballs rolled wildly,

her gaze roaming the sky, her restless features

showing now fear and now menacing grimaces.

A hectic flush mingled with the leaden pallor

of her cheeks, a pallor unlike fear but inspiring

dread, her pounding heart unstill, voiceless sighs

troubling her breast, like a swollen sea moaning

hoarsely, when the north wind ceases to blow.

As she recovered the light of everyday, after

that divine radiance in which fate had been

revealed, a darkness fell, since Apollo poured

the Stygian waters of Lethe into her inner self,

snatching the secrets of the heavens from her.

Then truth fled her breast, while the visions

of the future were hidden in Apollo’s tripods,

and there she fell, recovering only at length.

While Appius, deceived by the oracle’s words,

urged on by hope, and unaware of approaching

death, was eager, while command of the earth

was still uncertain, to stake a claim in Euboean

Chalcis. Ah, fool! What deity can grant a man

shall evade the effects of war, or escape such

world-wide suffering, apart from Death alone?

Laid in a noted sepulchre there you will occupy

a sequestered spot on Euboea’s shore, where

an arm of the sea winds narrowly twixt Carystos’

quarries, by Rhamnus that worships Nemesis,

she who hates the proud, there where the tide’s

flowing waters seethe in the narrows, where

the straits of Euripus, a flux of waters, bear

Chalcis’ ships to Aulis, unkind to alien fleets.

Book V:237-299 Caesar’s troops on the verge of mutiny

Meanwhile Caesar, returning in triumph from

conquered Spain, preparing to carry the eagles

to a new sphere of action, found the current of

his success almost turned aside by the gods.

Unbeaten in the field, the general feared to lose

the fruits of his ill deeds within his own camp,

when the troops loyal to him in so many wars

now sated with killing came close to mutiny;

whether the brief pause in the trumpets’ sad

notes, the cooling of blades in their sheaths

tempered the dark spirit of war, or greed for

greater pay tempted men to deny their leader

and his cause, and offer their swords, already

tainted with crime, once more for hire, no

peril taught Caesar more clearly how fragile

and unstable was the height from which he

gazed down on all the world, how unsound

the soil he stood on, that quaked beneath him.

Denied the service of so many, almost left

to his own devices, he who drove so many

nations to war learned that the drawn sword

belongs to no general but the soldier alone.

Here was an end to muttered complaint, to

anger concealed deep in the heart, for that

which often counters a wavering allegiance,

that each man fears his fellows to whom he

is a threat, and each thinks he alone resents

the injustice of tyranny, such motives lost

their hold. The weight of numbers dispelled

their fears, making them bold; so the sins of

the many often go unpunished. Complaints

poured forth: ‘Caesar, let us quit this madness

of civil war. Through land and sea you seek

more enemies to pierce us, ready to spill our

lives unvalued at the hand of any foe. Some

of us slain in Gaul, others in the hard fighting

in Spain; others lie behind in Italy; throughout

the world your victories mean soldiers perish.

What use to have shed our blood in the north,

victorious beside the Rhone and Rhine? Your

reward to us for such campaigns is civil war.

What spoils exist from driving out the Senate,

from taking Rome, our native city, what men

or gods might we rob? Though our hands, our

blades, are tainted as we pursue every form of

crime, our poverty must absolve us. What end

to warfare do you seek? What can satisfy you

if Rome does not suffice? See our grey hairs,

behold our feeble bodies, our weakened grip.

Passing all our years in fighting, we have lost

the joys of life. Let us disband, now we are old,

and die. Is that so terrible a demand: let us not

lay our limbs in death on the bitter ramparts,

or breathe our last breath through helmet bars;

but look for a hand to close our eyes in death,

sink into the arms of a weeping wife, and know

the pyre stands ready for the one corpse alone.

Let sickness end old age, not death by the sword

be the only fate for Caesar’s soldiers. Why lure

us on with promises, as if we were yet ignorant

of the horrors we shall commit? Are we the only

ones in this civil war who fail to see what crime

would earn the greatest reward? All our warfare

has been in vain if Caesar has yet to learn our

hands compass every deed. Neither our oaths,

nor the bonds of law forbid our boldness: though

Caesar was my general on the Rhine, he is my

comrade here; crime makes equal those it stains.

Our courage too is unvalued if the judge of worth

shows no gratitude; all our efforts are called luck.

Let Caesar learn we forge his fate; though he may

hope for the gods’ indulgence, it is his soldiers’

wrath that will bring peace.’ So saying, they ran

about the camp, demanding the general, anger in

their faces. So be it, you gods, when duty, loyalty

are no more, and evil deeds are our only hope,

why then let mutiny bring an end to civil war!

Book V:300-373 He quells the mutiny

Many a general would have feared such tumult,

but Caesar was accustomed to stake his fortune

on desperate measures, glad to put it to the proof

in extremis, without waiting for the anger to abate

he approached them eager to counter a rising fury.

Unrestrained by him they were ready to sack cities,

Jupiter’s Tarpeian temple itself, and inflict outrage

on the mothers and daughters of senators; he only

demanded they sought his leave for every savagery,

that they yearn for the spoils of war alone, fearing

his wild soldiery should they return to their senses.

(Shame on you, Caesar! You alone delight in a war

your own men condemn! They sicken of bloodshed

before you do, resenting the tyranny of the sword,

while you run beyond all good and evil. Wearied

of it, learn to suffer a life without conflict, allow

yourself to set an end to wickedness. Ruthless man,

why this compulsion, this pressure on men who

no longer wish to fight? Civil war is slipping from

your grasp.) Now he took his stand on a tall mound

of turf, his face calm, his fearlessness inspiring fear

in others, his anger dictating the words he uttered:

‘You soldiers, who railed against me in my absence,

with angry looks and gestures, here is my bare chest

ready to meet your swords. Plant them there, and run,

if you want an end to war. Your irresolution revealed,

you lack the courage for sedition, men bent on flight,

weary of your unbeaten general’s victorious deeds.

Go, leave me to my own destiny in the fight. Swords

will find arms to wield them, and relinquishing yours

Fortune will grant me a brave man for every weapon.

If Pompey, fleeing, is followed by the people of Italy,

and a mighty fleet, will victory not grant me an army

to carry off the spoils of war, the reward for all your

labours, then follow my laurelled chariot unscathed,

while you, old men, drained of blood, a despicable

mob now, the dregs of Rome, gaze on our triumph?

Do you imagine Caesar’s cause will feel a loss by

your desertion? If all the rivers threatened to refuse

the sea their waters, its level would not fall by that

loss, any more than the sea is raised by that inflow.

Do you imagine you have given impetus to me?

The gods will never stoop so low as to care about

the lives or deaths of such as you; events depend

on the actions of great men: humankind lives for

the few. Under Caesar’s flag you were the terrors

of Spain and the North; yet you would have fled

had Pompey led you. Labienus was a great soldier

under Caesar, now a vile deserter he scurries over

land and sea with that general he preferred to me.

I shall think no more of your capacity for loyalty

if failing to fight for me you equally fail to fight

against me: any man who quits my standard yet

fails to join Pompey could never be mine. This

faction is surely favoured by the gods, who will

that I must renew my army before embarking on

great deeds. Ah, how great the burden Fortune

lifts from my overburdened shoulders! I may now

disband these legions who want all, yet for whom

a whole world will not suffice. Now I shall fight

for myself alone. Leave this camp and surrender

my standards to true men, you cowardly civilians!

Those few at whose urging this madness blazed

are captive not to their general but their crime.

Bow traitorous heads, and stretch your necks out

to the axe! And you, raw recruits, who shall be

the army’s backbone now, watch them die, learn

how to kill, and be killed.’ The dull throng shrank

at his fierce voice of menace, and a single general,

whom they could have stripped of command, that

vast army feared, as if, though they refuse, he could

still direct their swords, making the very steel obey.

Caesar himself feared hands and weapons would be

denied him, to execute this wickedness, yet they

accepted more than their cruel general conceived,

delivering him the executioners and their victims.

There is no greater bond between criminal minds

than seeing death imposed and suffered. The fatal

pact concluded, order was restored, and the army

returned to duty, their grievance appeased by death.

Book V:374-402 Caesar becomes dictator

The army was ordered to Brindisi in a nine day march,

and ships were summoned there, all that found harbour

in remote Hydrus (Otranto), or ancient Tarentum, or by

Leuca’s quiet shores, or in the Salapinian Pool near

Sipontum below its hills where Gargano’s oak-woods

curve along the Italian shore, where it faces northerlies

from Dalmatia, and the Calabrian southerlies, itself

jutting from Apulia into the waters of the Adriatic.

Caesar himself, safer without his army, hurried off

to a fearful Rome, a city learning to obey him even

when he wore civilian dress. Yielding, naturally,

to the people’s prayer, Caesar adorned the calendar,

adding a dictator to the list of consuls, for that age

invented all the false titles that we have granted our

masters for so long, and Caesar so that he might

legitimise his use of force in every way sought

to add the Roman axes to his swords, the fasces

to his eagles. Adopting the empty titles of office,

he set a fitting mark on those sad times, for what

consul’s name more suited the year of Pharsalia?

The Campus saw a travesty of the annual ritual:

the people were excluded but their votes entered,

the names of the tribes declaimed, then the urn

shaken to no purpose. Conning the sky for omens

was banned; despite the thunder the augur played

deaf; and even though an owl flew from the left,

the signs were deemed favourable. Thereafter

the consuls’ office, once so revered, lost power,

and began its decay, until consuls appointed

month by month mark the years in the record.

Further the deity who presided in Trojan Alba,

though unworthy of the customary rites once

Latium was conquered, now bore new witness

to the night-time fire that ends the Latin festival.

Book V:403-460 He sails for Chaonia

Hastening from Rome more swiftly than lightning

or a mother-tigress, Caesar quickly crossed the fields

now lost to weeds that the Apulians, rendered idle,

had ceased to till with their rakes. On reaching

Brindisi, founded from Crete, he found the harbour

closed by winter storms, the weather at that season

filling the fleet with dread. He was frustrated by

being detained ashore, the chance to bring the war

to an end thwarted in idleness and sloth, while those

who were no favourites of fortune would later find

the seaways open and safe. So he sought to instil

confidence in men who knew nothing of the waves:

‘When winter gales control sky and sea, they blow

more steadily than those which vary with the fickle

rain-filled spring weather. We will not need to hug

the shoreline, but shall simply plough the waves on

a direct course, driven forward by the northerly.

Let it blow with all its power, bend our topmasts

and send us all the way to the coast of Illyria;

lest Pompey’s ships, issuing from Corcyra,

might overtake our slack sails with their oars.

Loose the cables that hold back our conquering

prows, wasting these cloudy skies, and angry seas.’

The sun had sunk beneath the waves, the first stars

risen in the sky, and the moon was casting shadows

of her own, when the whole fleet raised anchor.

Hauling the ropes, unfurling the sails, the sailors

bent the yards and sloped the canvas, setting

a course to larboard, stretching their topsails

to catch the wind that would otherwise be lost.

But scarcely had the light breeze begun to fill

the sails a little than they drooped and slackened

against the mast, and out of sight of land that

same breeze that had launched them fell away

behind the vessels. The sea was motionless,

the water dead calm, stiller than a stagnant pool.

So the Bosporus is still, closing the Black Sea,

when the frozen Danube, gripped by frost, fails

to stir the deep, the waters covered with ice.

Then every ship is gripped as in a vice, horses

clatter over the solid surface denied the ships,

and the wheel-tracks of Bessian nomads score

the Sea of Azov as the surge sounds beneath.

The raging tide is still, and the dormant waters

thicken in the gloomy depths, as though the sea

is deserted by the natural force that governs it,

forgets to obey its ebb and flow, unmoved by

any fluctuation, unstirred by any ripple, nor

glittering with any image of the sun. Becalmed,

Caesar’s fleet was open to innumerable dangers.

On one hand the enemy vessels that might stir

with oars the sluggish waters, on the other hand

the dire approach of famine, as they lay still

beleaguered by the calm. Strange prayers were

invented for strange times, prayers for violent

breakers and angry winds, that the waves might

rouse from their torpid stillness, be sea indeed.

But clouds and threatening waves were lacking;

the stillness of sea and sky held not a threat

of shipwreck. But night fleeing, day brought

the rising sun free from cloud, its heat stirring

the depths little by little, until the fleet neared

the Ceraunian mountains. The ships gathered

speed, the waves soon breaking in their wake,

speeding along with favourable wind and tide

till they dropped anchor on the coast of Palaeste.

Book V:461-503 Caesar summons Mark Antony

Where the rival generals first halted and pitched camp

near together was between the swift Genusus (Shkumbin)

and the gentler Hapsus (Semeni), the latter made navigable

by reason of a lake which drains imperceptibly with a quiet

flow, while the former is filled with the snows melted by

sun and rain. Neither river flows far, the sea is nearby, so

they pass little land in their course. There was the place

Fortune matched two such men of high renown: although

the wretched world was disappointed in its hope that those

two rivals might, with so slight a distance between them,

condemn the present evil, since each might see the other’s

face and hear his voice; but rather Caesar, whom Pompey

had loved for many years as his wife’s father, never but

once saw him more closely, after their bond was broken

after the grandchildren born of that ill-starred marriage

were dead, and that was later on the sands of the Nile.

Though Caesar was eager for battle, he was obliged

by his partisans left behind in Italy to delay the conflict.

Mark Antony who boldly commanded all those forces

was even then, early in the Civil War, planning his Actium.

Caesar begged him again and again to brook no delay:

‘O cause of so much hardship to us all, why do you thwart

the gods and fate? All else is done with my usual despatch,

Fortune now asks you put the finishing touch to a war

that has raced towards success. We are not divided by

Syrtes’ uncertain tides whose shoals mar Libya’s shores.

Am I risking your army in deeps I have not sounded,

or leading you to unknown danger? Coward! Caesar

bids you advance and not retreat. I go before, through

the midst of our enemies, and my prow is grounded on

shores held by others: is it my camp then you fear?

I bewail the loss of hours granted by fate, wasting

my prayers on wind and wave. Do not hold back

men eager to cross the treacherous seas; if I know

them they will wish to join Caesar’s army, risking

shipwreck. I must even use words of resentment:

this division of the world is unequal: Caesar with

the whole senate holds Epirus, while you have all

Italy to yourself.’ Three or four times he summoned

Antony with such pleas, but finding he yet delayed

Caesar, believing he failed the gods not they him,

dared of his own accord to brave the sea that others

had feared to do when ordered. He knew daring

would succeed by the gods’ favour, and hoped

to surmount in a little boat waves fleets must fear.

Book V:504-576 Caesar braves the sea

Drowsy night had eased the weary labour of war,

a brief respite for the wretches over whose bodies

their low rank granted sleep power; now the camp

was silent, and the third hour had roused the second

watch. Moving anxiously through the deep silence,

Caesar prepared to act as even the least scarcely dare,

to forsake all and take Fortune as his sole companion.

He passed beyond the tents, stepped over the bodies

of the sleeping sentries, silently vexed that he could

do so; followed the winding shore and found a boat

moored by a rope to the hollow cliffs at the sea’s edge.

The owner and skipper had a hut nearby for shelter

and security; no timber framing it, the hut was woven

of bare rushes and reeds from the marshes, its open

side protected by an upturned skiff. Here Caesar struck

repeatedly on the door, till the hut shook. Amyclas

rose from his soft bed of seaweed, asking: ‘What

shipwrecked sailor seeks my roof; whom has chance

forced to seek aid from my hut?’ So saying, he drew

a rope-torch from a tall pile of cooling ashes, fanning

the slender spark till it flamed. Untroubled by war,

he knew that poor men’s huts are no spoil in times

of civil strife. How safe and untroubled the poor man’s

life and his humble dwelling! O how blind men are

yet to the gifts of heaven! What temple, what fort

would not shake in turmoil should Caesar knock?

When this door was opened the general spoke:

‘Swell your hopes, man, and expect a reward

beyond your prayers. If you obey my orders, carry

me to Italy, you shall not owe all to your toils,

nor lead an impoverished old age. Do not hesitate

to place your fate in the gods’ hands, who wish

to fill your humble home with sudden wealth.’

So Caesar spoke, though he wore plebeian dress,

being incapable of common speech. Then the man

of poverty, Amyclas, answered. ‘Many things

warn me not to trust to the sea, tonight; the sun

drew no reddened clouds with it into the waves,

and showed no ring of rays: with fractured light,

one half of his orb summoned the south wind,

the other half the north. Also his disc was faint

and dim at sunset, and the feeble light allowed

the eye to gaze there. The moon too, on rising

failed to shine with slender horn, nor was carved

in a clear curve at the centre extending tapering

points in a upright arc. She reddened with signs

of storm, then dim with a sallow face, paled

as her face passed behind a cloud. And I mistrust

the swaying trees, the beat of the waves onshore;

how the errant dolphin thrusts against the swell,

the cormorant seeks dry land, the heron ventures

to fly trusting to water-cleaving wings, the crow

anticipating rain paces the shore with lurching gait,

his head sprinkled by the brine. Yet if great events

demand it, I cannot hesitate to lend a hand, either

I go where you command, or not I but the wind

and waves shall deny you.’ So saying he loosed

the boat, and spread canvas to the winds, at whose

motion not only the meteors seemed shaken that

leave diffuse trails behind them as they fall, but

the fixed stars too in the depths of the heavens.

A tremor of darkness blackened the sea’s ridges;

the angry flood boiled with a long swell, wave

upon wave, and the billowing waters, stirred

before the coming storm, marked the growing gale.

Then the master of the wavering craft cried: ‘See

what the cruel sea is brewing. I am unsure whether

it threatens a westerly or a southerly, the shifting

flow strikes us from both directions. A southerly

grips sky and cloud; but note the sea’s moaning,

a north-westerly tempest will overcome the waves.

In such a gale, neither shipwrecked crew nor vessel

shall ever reach the shore of Italy. Our one chance

is to renounce all hopes of the passage denied us

and retrace our course. Let me seek the shore nearby

in our battered craft, lest the land proves unreachable.’

Book V:577-637 The tempest

Confident that all perils would give way before him,

Caesar cried: ‘Scorn the sea’s threats, spread our sail

to the raging wind. Seek Italy at my command though

you refuse that of heaven. Only your ignorance of whom

you carry justifies your fear. Here is one whom the gods

never desert, whom fate treats unjustly if she comes only

in answer to his prayers. Thread the heart of the tempest,

secure in my protection. This turmoil concerns the sea

and sky, not our vessel: that she bears Caesar will defend

her from the waves. The fierce fury of the winds will have

brief duration: this vessel shall thrust aside the waves.

Steady your helm, flee the nearby coastline with your sail:

believe you have won harbour in Italy only when other

shores can no longer offer safety to our vessel. You know

naught of what this great tempest signifies: by this tumult

of sea and sky it seeks to reveal what Fortune grants me.’

Before he could speak more, the raging gale struck the boat

carrying away the fluttering canvas and the torn rigging,

from the frail mast; the hull groaning as the seams gave way.

Now imminent danger loomed on every side. A westerly

first reared its head over the Atlantic, and roused the tide till

the sea enraged lifted its waves to drench the cliffs except that

cold northerly gusts blowing across it beat the flood backward

till it was doubtful which way the gouts of water would fall.

The fury of the Scythian northerly prevailed, lashing the waves

and lowering the sea above the sands below. Unable to drive

the breakers onshore, they met the ebb raised by the westerly,

and even when the gusts diminished the angry waves fought.

I doubt not a fierce easterly threatened, and a southerly, black

with storm, was freed from its prison, Aeolus’ cave, that all

the winds blowing from their accustomed quarters, guarding

each region with violent hurricanes, held the ocean in place.

Diverse seas were snatched by the storm and carried away

by the winds: the Tyrrhene fed the Aegean while the errant

Adriatic roared with the Ionian. Mountains the waves had

often beaten against in vain were buried that day! Earth

conquered yielded towering peaks to the depths! Such

waves were never born on any shore: they rolled from

another region, from the outer seas, the waters circling

the world drove on those teeming breakers. So the ruler

of Olympus, in ages past, his lightning flagging, called

on his brother’s trident, earth was added to the second

kingdom and Ocean, swallowing the human race, denied

all limit, content with no boundary but the sky. So now,

the vast mass of water would have risen to the very stars

had not the ruler of the gods weighted the sea with cloud.

The darkness was not that of night: the sky was hidden,

veiled with infernal pallor, and burdened with vapours,

and from the cloud rain poured into the sea. Even the light

ebbed in fear, no bright lightning flashed, but the stormy

sky glowed dimly. Then the dome of the heavens quaked,

the lofty sky thundered, and the axle of the poles, jarred,

was troubled. Nature feared Chaos come again: it seemed

the harmonious elements had burst their bonds, and Night

returned to confuse the shades below with the gods above;

their one hope that they might not perish in the world’s ruin.

Book V:638-677 Caesar reaches Illyria again

As high as the Leucadian cliffs are seen towering over a calm

sea, such was the height the fearful mariners saw as they topped

the great waves and when those swollen monsters opened

their jaws again the mast barely showed above the billows.

The sails touched cloud, the keel rested on the sea-floor

that the water no longer covered, not sinking but piling up

in heaps to form the waves. The forces precluded exercise

of skill, and the steersmen never knew whether to confront

the rollers or yield to them. Only the conflict of the waters

aided the wretched voyagers, wave preventing wave from

drowning the vessel; when one struck her side, another sea

countered it, righting her, kept erect by all the winds at once.

It is not the shoals of low-lying Sason threaten the mariners,

nor Thessaly’s winding rocky coast, nor the unkind harbours

of the Ambracian shore, but rather the peaks of the Ceraunian

mountains. Caesar at last thought the danger worthy of his fate.

‘How the gods labour to work my ruin, threatening my little

craft with such a mighty storm! If the glory of my end, denied

the battlefield, has now been granted to the deep, I will accept

whatever death the powers that be appoint. Though that day,

hastened on by destiny, cuts short a great career, what I have

done is sufficient. I have conquered the northern nations,

and by fear alone quelled the Roman forces opposed to me;

Rome has seen Pompey take second place to me; by order

of the people I hold the consulship that force of arms denied;

no title Rome awards is missing from my record; and none

but you, Fortune, who alone are privy to my ambitions, will

grieve that, though I go down to the Stygian shades a consul

and dictator loaded with honours, I shall die a mere citizen.

No funeral is owed me, you gods! Leave my broken corpse

amongst the waves, let pyre and grave be absent, so long as

my memory is feared forever, creating dread in every land.’

As he spoke, marvellous to tell, a tenth wave lifted him in

the wind-beaten vessel, and the breaker not hurling him back

again from its tall foaming crest carried him onwards till

it beached him on shore, on a narrow strip of sand clear of

the jagged rocks. He touched Illyria again, in a moment

regaining countless realms and cities and his own destiny.

Book V:678-721 Caesar’s fleet reaches Nymphaion

But on Caesar’s return next day to his camp and comrades

they were not deceived as by his previous secret departure.

Gathering round their general they wept, bombarding him

with not unwelcome moans and laments: ‘To what lengths,

hard-hearted Caesar, rash courage has led you! To what

fate did you abandon our worthless lives, when you gave

yourself to the destructive power of the storm? It is cruel

of you to court death, when the safety and very existence

of so many nations depends on you, when so large a part

of the world has chosen you as leader. Did none of your

friends deserve the honour of not living to survive you?

While the sea drove you onward, our bodies were lost

to idle sleep. Ah, what shame on us! You set course for

Italy, thinking it cruel to ask others to cross the savage

waves. It is usually despair that drives men headlong

into dangerous undertakings and mortal peril; yet you,

the master now of the world, grant the sea such licence!

Why weary the powers that be? Fortune has brought

you safe to shore. Is that to be the extent of her help

and favour where the war is concerned? Is this the use

you choose to make of divine aid, to be not the ruler

of the world, the master of mankind, but the happy

survivor of shipwreck?’ While they spoke, night fled,

day bathed them in bright sunlight and, the winds

permitting, the sea subdued calmed its swollen billows.

When the captains in Italy too, saw the sea’s power

exhausted and a northerly clearing the sky, calming

the force of the flood, they loosed their ships. Steered

by skilful hands these kept close together on the same

course, driven by the wind, so the fleet advanced over

the wide waters, ship beside ship, like soldiers marching

on land. But night, cruelly robbing them of a clear wind,

reduced their onward passage, breaking their formation.

So the migrating cranes, driven by winter from the icy

Strymon to the warmer Nile, first form various shapes

at random; then as wind on high strikes their outspread

wings they assemble in dense flights merging smoothly;

until those birds finally scatter, their letter-like formations

dispersing. When day returned and a brisk dawn breeze

caught the sails, the ships, attempting in vain to reach

Lissus (Lezha), sailed beyond it to reach Nymphaion,

where a southerly, succeeding the northerly, allowed

them to anchor in its waters, unprotected to the north.

Book V:722-760 Pompey speaks to Cornelia his wife

Pompey, seeing Caesar’s forces gathering in full strength

from all directions, knew that his army must soon face

the ultimate test of fierce battle, and so decided to place

his wife, Cornelia, his precious charge, in a safe haven,

and conceal her in secluded Lesbos far from the tumult

of savage war. How powerfully a right affection rules

wedded hearts! Love made even you, Pompey, anxious

and fearful of battle! What he most wished to preserve

from the blows of Fortune, who would decide the fate

of Rome and the world, that thing was his wife alone.

Though his purpose was set, the words still failed him:

he preferred to yield to all the blandishments of delay,

postpone what must come, steal a reprieve from destiny.

Night was ending, the torpor of sleep banished, when

Cornelia clasped her care-laden husband in her arms,

seeking his dear lips as he turned away, and wondering

at his damp cheeks, stricken by a malaise she could not

fathom, trembling to find her husband, Pompey, in tears.

Sighing, he said: ‘My wife, dearer to me than life when

it was sweet not wearisome as now, the sad day is come

that we have fended off for so long yet not long enough.

Caesar is upon us, in force. We must accept battle, yet

Lesbos will hide you, safe from war. Do not tempt me

with prayers, I have already denied them to myself.

You will not be separated from me long, the outcome

will soon be known, the greatest ruin comes swiftly.

It is enough if you simply hear news of the risks I

take, your love for me is less than I believe if you

can bear to gaze on civil war. As for me, now war

is at hand, I would be ashamed to enjoy peaceful

sleep at my wife’s side, and stir in her embrace

while the war-trumpets rouse a suffering world.

I fear to commit myself to civil war unless I am

saddened by a sacrifice of my own. You meanwhile

must be hidden, safer than any nation or king; if

you are far away the full weight of your husband’s

destiny need not bear upon you. Should the gods

destroy my army, let the best part of Pompey survive,

prove welcoming to me if fate and the victor’s cruelty

oppress me.’ Cornelia could barely sustain so great

a sorrow, her senses fled from her stricken breast.

Book V:761-815 Cornelia replies

At last her voice could utter a sorrowful remonstrance:

‘It is not for me, Magnus, to complain of the gods, or

of our lot in marriage: it is not death or the final brand

of the dread funeral pyre that separates us, but by a fate

all too frequent and familiar I lose my husband because

he dismisses me. The enemy drawing near, it seems we

must dissolve our marriage bond and so appease your

former wife’s father! Is this how you regard my loyalty,

Magnus? Do you think my safety separate from yours?

Have we not both been long involved in the one course?

Cruel man, do you bid me offer myself to the lightning

and the world’s ruin, alone? Do you think that a fair

end for me, dying of separation while you yet dream

of success? Suppose I refuse to suffer after, and wish

to follow you swiftly to the shades, yet must live on

until the sad news of your death reaches me far away?

Besides, it is cruel to tempt fate and school me to bear

that great sorrow: pardon the thought, but I fear I might

find life endurable. And yet, if prayers have worth, if

the gods hear mine, may your wife be the last to hear

the outcome. I will haunt the cliffs of Lesbos after

your victory, and dread the ship that brings such news,

for news of victory will not quell my fears, since in

the deserted place you cast me, I might fall captive

to Caesar even though he flees. Lesbos’ shore will be

lit by an exile’s name: who will not know of the refuge

Mytilene offers, if it harbours Pompey’s wife? This

then is my last prayer: if defeat makes flight your

safest course, and you entrust yourself to the waves,

steer your ill-starred barque to any isle but Lesbos,

since where I am the enemy will look for you.’ So

saying, she sprang wildly from their bed, refusing

to delay her torment a moment longer. She could not

bear to clasp her sorrowing husband’s head or breast

in her dear arms, and the last fruits of their long love

were lost. They grieved in haste, and neither had heart

to say a last ‘farewell’; no day of their lives was more

sorrowful, for the grief to come was suffered by hearts

already strengthened and inured to their misfortunes.

The unhappy woman swooned and fell, but caught

in her attendants’ arms was carried to the sandy shore.

There she clutched the ground, till lifted on board.

She had been less stricken when, hard pressed by

cruel Caesar’s armies, they had left the coast of Italy

their homeland. Then Magnus’ loyal companion, now

she alone departed, leaving Pompey the general behind.

The next night brought no sleep, her empty bed’s

widowed coldness and silence were strange to her

in her solitude; and she felt defenceless far from her

husband. How often, weighed with drowsiness, she

clasped the empty couch with deluded arms! How often,

forgetful of exile, she sought her husband in the dark!

For though her marrow burned with hidden fires, she

found no ease in spreading her limbs across the bed,

keeping a part reserved for him. She feared she had

lost her Pompey forever; but heaven intended worse.

The sad hour loomed that would return Magnus to her.

End of Book V