The Civil War (Pharsalia)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved.
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- Book V:1-70 Lentulus addresses the senators
- Book V:71-101 The Shrine of Apollo at Delphi
- Book V:102-140 Appius Claudius reopens the shrine
- Book V:141-197 The priestess prophesies
- Book V:198- 236 The fate of Appius
- Book V:237-299 Caesar’s troops on the verge of mutiny
- Book V:300-373 He quells the mutiny
- Book V:374-402 Caesar becomes dictator
- Book V:403-460 He sails for Chaonia
- Book V:461-503 Caesar summons Mark Antony
- Book V:504-576 Caesar braves the sea
- Book V:577-637 The tempest
- Book V:638-677 Caesar reaches Illyria again
- Book V:678-721 Caesar’s fleet reaches Nymphaion
- Book V:722-760 Pompey speaks to Cornelia his wife
- Book V:761-815 Cornelia replies
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 and 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