Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

(39 - 65 / Italy)

Pharsalia - Book VIII: Death Of Pompeius


Now through Alcides' pass and Tempe's groves
Pompeius, aiming for Haemonian glens
And forests lone, urged on his wearied steed
Scarce heeding now the spur; by devious tracks
Seeking to veil the footsteps of his flight:
The rustle of the foliage, and the noise
Of following comrades filled his anxious soul
With terrors, as he fancied at his side
Some ambushed enemy. Fallen from the height
Of former fortunes, still the chieftain knew
His life not worthless; mindful of the fates:
And 'gainst the price he set on Caesar's head,
He measures Caesar's value of his own.

Yet, as he rode, the features of the chief
Made known his ruin. Many as they sought
The camp Pharsalian, ere yet was spread
News of the battle, met the chief, amazed,
And wondered at the whirl of human things:
Nor held disaster sure, though Magnus' self
Told of his ruin. Every witness seen
Brought peril on his flight: 'twere better far
Safe in a name obscure, through all the world
To wander; but his ancient fame forbad.

Too long had great Pompeius from the height
Of human greatness, envied of mankind,
Looked on all others; nor for him henceforth
Could life be lowly. The honours of his youth
Too early thrust upon him, and the deeds
Which brought him triumph in the Sullan days,
His conquering navy and the Pontic war,
Made heavier now the burden of defeat,
And crushed his pondering soul. So length of days
Drags down the haughty spirit, and life prolonged
When power has perished. Fortune's latest hour,
Be the last hour of life! Nor let the wretch
Live on disgraced by memories of fame!
But for the boon of death, who'd dare the sea
Of prosperous chance?

Upon the ocean marge
By red Peneus blushing from the fray,
Borne in a sloop, to lightest wind and wave
Scarce equal, he, whose countless oars yet smote
Upon Coreyra's isle and Leucas point,
Lord of Cilicia and Liburnian lands,
Crept trembling to the sea. He bids them steer
For the sequestered shores of Lesbos isle;
For there wert thou, sharer of all his griefs,
Cornelia! Sadder far thy life apart
Than wert thou present in Thessalia's fields.
Racked is thy heart with presages of ill;
Pharsalia fills thy dreams; and when the shades
Give place to coming dawn, with hasty step
Thou tread'st some cliff sea-beaten, and with eyes
Gazing afar art first to mark the sail
Of each approaching bark: yet dar'st not ask
Aught of thy husband's fate.

Behold the boat
Whose bending canvas bears her to the shore:
She brings (unknown as yet) thy chiefest dread,
Rumour of evil, herald of defeat,
Magnus, thy conquered spouse. Fear then no more,
But give to grief thy moments. From the ship
He leaps to land; she marks the cruel doom
Wrought by the gods upon him: pale and wan
His weary features, by the hoary locks
Shaded; the dust of travel on his garb.
Dark on her soul a night of anguish fell;
Her trembling limbs no longer bore her frame:
Scarce throbbed her heart, and prone on earth she lay
Deceived in hope of death. The boat made fast,
Pompeius treading the lone waste of sand
Drew near; whom when Cornelia's maidens saw,
They stayed their weeping, yet with sighs subdued,
Reproached the fates; and tried in vain to raise
Their mistress' form, till Magnus to his breast
Drew her with cherishing arms; and at the touch
Of soothing hands the life-blood to her veins
Returned once more, and she could bear to look
Upon his features. He forbad despair,
Chiding her grief. 'Not at the earliest blow
By Fortune dealt, inheritress of fame
Bequeathed by noble fathers, should thy strength
Thus fail and yield: renown shall yet be thine,
To last through ages; not of laws decreed
Nor conquests won; a gentler path to thee
As to thy sex, is given; thy husband's woe.
Let thine affection struggle with the fates,
And in his misery love thy lord the more.
I bring thee greater glory, for that gone
Is all the pomp of power and all the crowd
Of faithful senators and suppliant kings;
Now first Pompeius for himself alone
Tis thine to love. Curb this unbounded grief,
While yet I breathe, unseemly. O'er my tomb
Weep out thy full, the final pledge of faith.
Thou hast no loss, nor has the war destroyed
Aught save my fortune. If for that thy grief
That was thy love.'

Roused by her husband's words,
Yet scarcely could she raise her trembling limbs,
Thus speaking through her sobs: 'Would I had sought
Detested Caesar's couch, ill-omened wife
Of spouse unhappy; at my nuptials twice
A Fury has been bridesmaid, and the ghosts
Of slaughtered Crassi, with avenging shades
Brought by my wedlock to the doomed camp
The Parthian massacre. Twice my star has cursed
The world, and peoples have been hurled to death
In one red moment; and the gods through me
Have left the better cause. O, hero mine,
mightiest husband, wedded to a wife
Unworthy! 'Twas through her that Fortune gained
The right to strike thee. Wherefore did I wed
To bring thee misery? Mine, mine the guilt,
Mine be the penalty. And that the wave
May bear thee gently onwards, and the kings
May keep their faith to thee, and all the earth
Be ready to thy rule, me from thy side
Cast to the billows. Rather had I died
To bring thee victory; thy disasters thus,
Thus expiate. And, cruel Julia, thee,
Who by this war hast vengeance on our vows,
From thine abode I call: atonement find
In this thy rival's death, and spare at least
Thy Magnus.' Then upon his breast she fell,
While all the concourse wept -- e'en Magnus' self,
Who saw Thessalia's field without a tear.

But now upon the shore a numerous band
From Mitylene thus approached the chief:
'If 'tis our greatest glory to have kept
The pledge with us by such a husband placed,
Do thou one night within these friendly walls
We pray thee, stay; thus honouring the homes
Long since devoted, Magnus, to thy cause.
This spot in days to come the guest from Rome
For thee shall honour. Nowhere shalt thou find
A surer refuge in defeat. All else
May court the victor's favour; we long since
Have earned his chastisement. And though our isle
Rides on the deep, girt by the ocean wave,
No ships has Caesar: and to us shall come,
Be sure, thy captains, to our trusted shore,
The war renewing. Take, for all is thine,
The treasures of our temples and the gold,
Take all our youth by land or on the sea
To do thy bidding: Lesbos only asks
This from the chief who sought her in his pride,
Not in his fall to leave her.' Pleased in soul
At such a love, and joyed that in the world
Some faith still lingered, thus Pompeius said:
'Earth has for me no dearer land than this.
Did I not trust it with so sweet a pledge
And find it faithful? Here was Rome for me,
Country and household gods. This shore I sought
Home of my wife, this Lesbos, which for her
Had merited remorseless Caesar's ire:
Nor was afraid to trust you with the means
To gain his mercy. But enough -- through me
Your guilt was caused -- I part, throughout the world
To prove my fate. Farewell thou happiest land!
Famous for ever, whether taught by thee
Some other kings and peoples may be pleased
To give me shelter; or should'st thou alone
Be faithful. And now seek I in what lands
Right may be found or wrong. My latest prayer
Receive, O deity, if still with me
Thou bidest, thus. May it be mine again,
Conquered, with hostile Caesar on my tracks
To find a Lesbos where to enter in
And whence to part, unhindered.'

In the boat
He placed his spouse: while from the shore arose
Such lamentation, and such hands were raised
In ire against the gods, that thou had'st deemed
All left their kin for exile, and their homes.
And though for Magnus grieving in his fall
Yet for Cornelia chiefly did they mourn
Long since their gentle guest. For her had wept
The Lesbian matrons had she left to join
A victor husband: for she won their love,
By kindly modesty and gracious mien,
Ere yet her lord was conquered, while as yet
Their fortunes stood.

Now slowly to the deep
Sank fiery Titan; but not yet to those
He sought (if such there be), was shown his orb,
Though veiled from those he quitted. Magnus' mind,
Anxious with waking cares, sought through the kings
His subjects, and the cities leagued with Rome
In faith, and through the pathless tracts that lie
Beyond the southern bounds: until the toil
Of sorrowing thought upon the past, and dread
Of that which might be, made him cast afar
His wavering doubts, and from the captain seek
Some counsel on the heavens; how by the sky
He marked his track upon the deep; what star
Guided the path to Syria, and what points
Found in the Wain would pilot him aright
To shores of Libya. But thus replied
The well-skilled watcher of the silent skies:
'Not by the constellations moving ever
Across the heavens do we guide our barks;
For that were perilous; but by that star
Which never sinks nor dips below the wave,
Girt by the glittering groups men call the Bears.
When stands the pole-star clear before the mast,
Then to the Bosphorus look we, and the main
Which carves the coast of Scythia. But the more
Bootes dips, and nearer to the sea
Is Cynosura seen, so much the ship
Towards Syria tends, till bright Canopus shines,
In southern skies content to hold his course;
With him upon the left past Pharos borne
Straight for the Syrtes shalt thou plough the deep.
But whither now dost bid me shape the yards
And set the canvas?'

Magnus, doubting still;
'This only be thy care: from Thracia steer
The vessel onward; shun with all thy skill
Italia's distant shore: and for the rest
Trust to the winds for guidance. When I sought,
Pledged with the Lesbians, my spouse beloved,
My course was sure: now, Fortune, where thou wilt
Give me a refuge.' These his answering words.

The pilot, as they hung from level yards
Shifted the sails; and hauling to the stern
One sheet, he slacked the other, to the left
Steering, where Samian rocks and Chian marred
The stillness of the waters; while the sea
Sent up in answer to the changing keel
A different murmur. Not so deftly turns
Curbing his steeds, his wain the Charioteer,
While glows his dexter wheel, and with the left
He almost touches, yet avoids the goal.

Now Titan veiled the stars and showed the shore;
When, following Magnus, came a scattered band
Saved from the Thracian storm. From Lesbos' port
His son; next, captains who preserved their faith;
For at his side, though vanquished in the field,
Cast down by fate, in exile, still there stood,
Lords of the earth and all her Orient realms,
The Kings, his ministers.

To the furthest lands
He bids Deiotarus: 'O faithful friend,
Since in Emathia's battle-field was lost
The world, so far as Roman, it remains
To test the faith of peoples of the East
Who drink of Tigris and Euphrates' stream,
Secure as yet from Caesar. Be it thine
Far as the rising of the sun to trace
The fates that favour Magnus: to the courts
Of Median palaces, to Scythian steppes;
And to the son of haughty Arsaces,
To bear my message, `Hold ye to the faith,
Pledged by your priests and by the Thunderer's name
Of Latium sworn? Then fill your quivers full,
Draw to its fullest span th' Armenian bow;
And, Getan archers, wing the fatal shaft.
And you, ye Parthians, if when I sought
The Caspian gates, and on th' Alaunian tribes
Fierce, ever-warring, pressed, I suffered you
In Persian tracts to wander, nor compelled
To seek for shelter Babylonian walls;
If beyond Cyrus' kingdom and the bounds
Of wide Chaldaea, where from Nysa's top
Pours down Hydaspes, and the Ganges flood
Foams to the ocean, nearer far I stood
Than Persia's bounds to Phoebus' rising fires;
If by my sufferance, Parthians, you alone
Decked not my triumphs, but in equal state
Sole of all Eastern princes, face to face
Met Magnus in his pride, nor only once
Through me were saved; (for after that dread day
Who but Pompeius soothed the kindling fires
Of Latium's anger?) -- by my service paid
Come forth to victory: burst the ancient bounds
By Macedon's hero set: in Magnus' cause
March, Parthians, to Rome's conquest. Rome herself
Prays to be conquered.''

Hard the task imposed;
Yet doffed his robe, and swift obeyed, the king
Wrapped in a servant's mantle. If a Prince
For safety play the boor, then happier, sure,
The peasant's lot than lordship of the world.

The king thus parted, past Icaria's rocks
Pompeius' vessel skirts the foamy crags
Of little Samos: Colophon's tranquil sea
And Ephesus lay behind him, and the air
Breathed freely on him from the Coan shore.
Cuidos he shunned, and, famous for its sun,
Rhodos, and steering for the middle deep
Escaped the windings of Telmessus' bay;
Till rose Pamphylian coasts before the bark,
And first the fallen chieftain dared to find
In small Phaseils shelter; for therein
Scarce was the husbandman, and empty homes
Forbad to fear. Next Taurus' heights he saw
And Dipsus falling from his lofty sides:
So sailed he onward.

Did Pompeius hope,
Thus severed by the billows from the foe,
To make his safety sure? His little boat
Flies unmolested past Cilician shores;
But to their exiled lord in chiefest part
The senate of Rome was drawn. Celendrae there
Received their fleet, where fair Selinus' stream
In spacious bay gives refuge from the main;
And to the gathered chiefs in mournful words
At length Pompeius thus resolved his thoughts:
'O faithful comrades mine in war and flight!
To me, my country! Though this barren shore
Our place of meeting, and no gathered host
Surrounds us, yet upon our changed estate
I seek your counsel. Rouse ye as of yore
With hearts of courage! Magnus on the field
Not all is perished, nor do fates forbid
But that I rise afresh with living hope
Of future victories, and spurn defeat.
From Libyan ruins did not Marius rise
Again recorded Consul on the page
Full of his honours? shall a lighter blow
Keep Magnus down, whose thousand chiefs and ships
Still plough the billows; by defeat his strength
Not whelmed but scattered? And the fame alone
Of our great deeds of glory in the past
Shall now protect us, and the world unchanged
Still love its hero.

'Weigh upon the scales
Ye chiefs, which best may help the needs of Rome,
In faith and armies; or the Parthian realm
Egypt or Libya. For myself, ye chiefs,
I veil no secret thoughts, but thus advise.
Place no reliance on the Pharian king;
His age forbids: nor on the cunning Moor,
Who vain of Punic ancestors, and vain
Of Carthaginian memories and descent
Supposed from Hannibal, and swollen with pride
At Varus' supplication, sees in thought
Rome lie beneath him. Wherefore, comrades, seek
At speed, the Eastern world. Those mighty realms
Disjoins from us Euphrates, and the gates
Called Caspian; on another sky than ours
There day and night revolve; another sea
Of different hue is severed from our own.
Rule is their wish, nought else: and in their plains
Taller the war-horse, stronger twangs the bow;
There fails nor youth nor age to wing the shaft
Fatal in flight. Their archers first subdued
The lance of Macedon and Baetra's walls,
Home of the Mede; and haughty Babylon
With all her storied towers: nor shall they dread
The Roman onset; trusting to the shafts
By which the host of fated Crassus fell.
Nor trust they only to the javelin blade
Untipped with poison: from the rancorous edge
The slightest wound deals death.

'Would that my lot
Forced me not thus to trust that savage race
Of Arsaces! Yet now their emulous fate
Contends with Roman destinies: the gods
Smile favouring on their nation. Thence I'll pour
On Caesar peoples from another earth
And all the Orient ravished from its home.
But should the East and barbarous treaties fail,
Fate, bear our shipwrecked fortunes past the bounds
Of earth, as known to men. The kings I made
I supplicate not, but in death shall take
To other spheres this solace: chief of all;
His hands, my kinsman's, never shed my blood
Nor soothed me dying. Yet as my mind in turn
The varying fortunes of my life recalls,
How was I glorious in that Eastern world!
How great my name by far Maeotis marsh
And where swift Tanais flows! No other land
Has so resounded with my conquests won,
So sent me home triumphant. Rome, do thou
Approve my enterprise! What happier chance
Could favouring gods afford thee? Parthian hosts
Shall fight the civil wars of Rome, and share
Her ills, and fall enfeebled. When the arms
Of Caesar meet with Parthian in the fray,
Then must kind Fortune vindicate my lot
Or Crassus be avenged.'

But murmurs rose,
And Magnus speaking knew his words condemned.
Then Lentulas answered, with indignant soul,
Foremost to rouse their valour, thus in words
Worthy a Consul: 'Have Thessalian woes
Broken thy spirit so? One day's defeat
Condemned the world to ruin? Is the cause
Lost in one battle and beyond recall?
Find we no cure for wounds? Does Fortune drive
Thee, Magnus, to the Parthians' feet alone?
And dost thou, fugitive, spurn the lands and skies
Known heretofore, and seek for other poles
And constellations, and Chaldaean gods,
And rites barbarian, servant of the realm Of
Parthia? But why then took we arms
For love of liberty? If thou canst slave
Thou hast deceived the world! Shall Parthia see
Thee at whose name, ruler of mighty Rome,
She trembled, at whose feet she captive saw
Hyrcanian kings and Indian princes kneel,
Now humbly suppliant, victim of the fates;
And at thy prayer her puny strength extol
In mad contention with the Western world?
Nor think, Pompeius, thou shalt plead thy cause
In that proud tongue unknown to Parthian ears
Of which thy fame is worthy; sobs and tears
He shall demand of thee. And has our shame
Brought us to this, that some barbarian foe
Shall venge Hesperia's wrongs ere Rome her own?
Thou wert our leader for the civil war:
Mid Scythia's peoples dost thou bruit abroad
Wounds and disasters which are ours alone?
Rome until now, though subject to the yoke
Of civic despots, yet within her walls
Has brooked no foreign lord. And art thou pleased
From all the world to summon to her gates
These savage peoples, while the standards lost
By far Euphrates when the Crassi fell
Shall lead thy columns? Shall the only king
Who failed Emathia, while the fates yet hid
Their favouring voices, brave the victor's power,
And join with thine his fortune? Nay, not so
This nation trusts itself. Each race that claims
A northern birth, unconquered in the fray
Claims but the warrior's death; but as the sky
Slopes towards the eastern tracts and gentler climes
So are the nations. There in flowing robes
And garments delicate are men arrayed.
True that the Parthian in Sarmatia's plains,
Where Tigris spreads across the level meads,
Contends invincible; for flight is his
Unbounded; but should uplands bar his path
He scales them not; nor through the night of war
Shall his weak bow uncertain in its aim
Repel the foeman; nor his strength of arm
The torrent stem; nor all a summer's day
In dust and blood bear up against the foe.
They fill no hostile trench, nor in their hands
Shall battering engine or machine of war
Dash down the rampart; and whate'er avails
To stop their arrows, battles like a wall.
Wide sweep their horsemen, fleeting in attack
And light in onset, and their troops shall yield
A camp, not take it: poisoned are their shafts;
Nor do they dare a combat hand to hand;
But as the winds may suffer, from afar
They draw their bows at venture. Brave men love
The sword which, wielded by a stalwart arm,
Drives home the blow and makes the battle sure.
Not such their weapons; and the first assault
Shall force the flying Mede with coward hand
And empty quiver from the field. His faith
In poisoned blades is placed; but trustest thou
Those who without such aid refuse the war?
For such alliance wilt thou risk a death,
With all the world between thee and thy home?
Shall some barbarian earth or lowly grave
Enclose thee perishing? E'en that were shame
While Crassus seeks a sepulchre in vain.
Thy lot is happy; death, unfeared by men,
Is thy worst doom, Pompeius; but no death
Awaits Cornelia -- such a fate for her
This king shall not reserve; for know not we
The hateful secrets of barbarian love,
Which, blind as that of beasts, the marriage bed
Pollutes with wives unnumbered? Nor the laws
By nature made respect they, nor of kin.
In ancient days the fable of the crime
By tyrant Oedipus unwitting wrought,
Brought hate upon his city; but how oft
Sits on the throne of Arsaces a prince
Of birth incestuous? This gracious dame
Born of Metellus, noblest blood of Rome,
Shall share the couch of the barbarian king
With thousand others: yet in savage joy,
Proud of her former husbands, he may grant
Some larger share of favour; and the fates
May seem to smile on Parthia; for the spouse
Of Crassus, captive, shall to him be brought
As spoil of former conquest. If the wound
Dealt in that fell defeat in eastern lands
Still stirs thy heart, then double is the shame
First to have waged the war upon ourselves,
Then ask the foe for succour. For what blame
Can rest on thee or Caesar, worse than this
That in the clash of conflict ye forgot
For Crassus' slaughtered troops the vengeance due?
First should united Rome upon the Mede
Have poured her captains, and the troops who guard
The northern frontier from the Dacian hordes;
And all her legions should have left the Rhine
Free to the Teuton, till the Parthian dead
Were piled in heaps upon the sands that hide
Our heroes slain; and haughty Babylon
Lay at her victor's feet. To this foul peace
We pray an end; and if Thessalia's day
Has closed our warfare, let the conqueror march
Straight on our Parthian foe. Then should this heart,
Then only, leap at Caesar's triumph won.
Go thou and pass Araxes' chilly stream
On this thine errand; and the fleeting ghost
Pierced by the Scythian shaft shall greet thee thus:
`Art thou not he to whom our wandering shades
Looked for their vengeance in the guise of war?
And dost thou sue for peace?' There shalt thou meet
Memorials of the dead. Red is yon wall
Where passed their headless trunks: Euphrates here
Engulfed them slain, or Tigris' winding stream
Cast on the shore to perish. Gaze on this,
And thou canst supplicate at Caesar's feet
In mid Thessalia seated. Nay, thy glance
Turn on the Roman world, and if thou fear'st
King Juba faithless and the southern realms,
Then seek we Pharos. Egypt on the west
Girt by the trackless Syrtes forces back
By sevenfold stream the ocean; rich in glebe
And gold and merchandise; and proud of Nile
Asks for no rain from heaven. Now holds this boy
Her sceptre, owed to thee; his guardian thou:
And who shall fear this shadow of a name?
Hope not from monarchs old, whose shame is fled,
Or laws or troth or honour of the gods:
New kings bring mildest sway.'

His words prevailed
Upon his hearers. With what freedom speaks,
When states are trembling, patriot despair!
Pompeius' voice was quelled.

They hoist their sails
For Cyprus shaped, whose altars more than all
The goddess loves who from the Paphian wave
Sprang, mindful of her birth, if such be truth,
And gods have origin. Past the craggy isle
Pompeius sailing, left at length astern
Its southern cape, and struck across the main
With winds transverse and tides; nor reached the mount
Grateful to sailors for its nightly gleam:
But to the bounds of Egypt hardly won
With battling canvas, where divided Nile
Pours through the shallows his Pelusian stream.
Now was the season when the heavenly scale
Most nearly balances the varying hours,
Once only equal; for the wintry day
Repays to night her losses of the spring;
And Magnus learning that th' Egyptian king
Lay by Mount Casius, ere the sun was set
Or flagged his canvas, thither steered his ship.

Already had a horseman from the shore
In rapid gallop to the trembling court
Brought news their guest was come. Short was the time
For counsel given; but in haste were met
All who advised the base Pellaean king,
Monsters, inhuman; there Achoreus sat
Less harsh in failing years, in Memphis born
Of empty rites, and guardian of the rise
Of fertilising Nile. While he was priest
Not only once had Apis lived the space
Marked by the crescent on his sacred brow.
First was his voice, for Magnus raised and troth
And for the pledges of the king deceased:
But, skilled in counsel meet for shameless minds
And tyrant hearts, Pothinus, dared to claim
Judgment of death on Magnus. 'Laws and right
Make many guilty, Ptolemmus king.
And faith thus lauded brings its punishment
When it supports the fallen. To the fates
Yield thee, and to the gods; the wretched shun
But seek the happy. As the stars from earth
Differ, and fire from ocean, so from right
Expedience. The tyrant's shorn of strength
Who ponders justice; and regard for right
Bring's ruin on a throne. For lawless power
The best defence is crime, and cruel deeds
Find safety but in doing. He that aims
At piety must flee the regal hall;
Virtue's the bane of rule; he lives in dread
Who shrinks from cruelty. Nor let this chief
Unpunished scorn thy youth, who thinks that thou
Not even the conquered from our shore can'st bar.
Nor to a stranger, if thou would'st not reign,
Resign thy sceptre, for the ties of blood
Speak for thy banished sister. Let her rule
O'er Nile and Pharos: we shall at the least
Preserve our Egypt from the Latian arms.
What Magnus owned not ere the war was done,
No more shall Caesar. Driven from all the world,
Trusting no more to Fortune, now he seeks
Some foreign nation which may share his fate.
Shades of the slaughtered in the civil war
Compel him: nor from Caesar's arms alone
But from the Senate also does he fly,
Whose blood outpoured has gorged Thessalian fowl;
Monarchs he fears whose all he hath destroyed,
And nations piled in one ensanguined heap,
By him deserted. Victim of the blow
Thessalia dealt, refused in every land,
He asks for help from ours not yet betrayed.
But none than Egypt with this chief from Rome
Has juster quarrel; who has sought with arms
To stain our Pharos, distant from the strife
And peaceful ever, and to make our realm
Suspected by his victor. Why alone
Should this our country please thee in thy fall?
Why bringst thou here the burden of thy fates,
Pharsalia's curse? In Caesar's eyes long since
We have offence which by the sword alone
Can find its condonation, in that we
By thy persuasion from the Senate gained
This our dominion. By our prayers we helped
If not by arms thy cause. This sword, which fate
Bids us make ready, not for thee I hold
Prepared, but for the vanquished; and on thee
(Would it had been on Caesar) falls the stroke;
For we are borne. as all things, to his side.
And dost thou doubt, since thou art in my power,
Thou art my victim? By what trust in us
Cam'st thou, unhappy? Scarce our people tills
The fields, though softened by the refluent Nile:
Know well our strength, and know we can no more.
Rome 'neath the ruin of Pompeius lies:
Shalt thou, king, uphold him? Shalt thou dare
To stir Pharsalia's ashes and to call
War to thy kingdom? Ere the fight was fought
We joined not either army -- shall we now
Make Magnus friend whom all the world deserts?
And fling a challenge to the conquering chief
And all his proud successes? Fair is help
Lent in disaster, yet reserved for those
Whom fortune favours. Faith her friends selects
Not from the wretched.'

They decree the crime:
Proud is the boyish tyrant that so soon
His slaves permit him to so great a deed
To give his favouring voice; and for the work
They choose Achillas.

Where the treacherous shore
Runs out in sand below the Casian mount
And where the shallow waters of the sea
Attest the Syrtes near, in little boat
Achillas and his partners in the crime
With swords embark. Ye gods! and shall the Nile
And barbarous Memphis and th' effeminate crew
That throngs Pelusian Canopus raise
Its thoughts to such an enterprise? Do thus
Our fates press on the world? Is Rome thus fallen
That in our civil frays the Phaxian sword
Finds place, or Egypt? O, may civil war
Be thus far faithful that the hand which strikes
Be of our kindred; and the foreign fiend
Held worlds apart! Pompeius, great in soul,
Noble in spirit, had deserved a death
From Caesar's self. And, king, hast thou no fear
At such a ruin of so great a name?
And dost thou dare when heaven's high thunder rolls,
Thou, puny boy, to mingle with its tones
Thine impure utterance? Had he not won
A world by arms, and thrice in triumph scaled
The sacred Capitol, and vanquished kings,
And championed the Roman Senate's cause;
He, kinsman of the victor? 'Twas enough
To cause forbearance in a Pharian king,
That he was Roman. Wherefore with thy sword
Dost stab our breasts? Thou know'st not, impious boy,
How stand thy fortunes; now no more by right
Hast thou the sceptre of the land of Nile;
For prostrate, vanquished in the civil wars
Is he who gave it.

Furling now his sails,
Magnus with oars approached th' accursed land,
When in their little boat the murderous crew
Drew nigh, and feigning from th' Egyptian court
A ready welcome, blamed the double tides
Broken by shallows, and their scanty beach
Unfit for fleets; and bade him to their craft
Leaving his loftier ship. Had not the fates'
Eternal and unalterable laws
Called for their victim and decreed his end
Now near at hand, his comrades' warning voice
Yet might have stayed his course: for if the court
To Magnus, who bestowed the Pharian crown,
In truth were open, should not king and fleet
In pomp have come to greet him? But he yields:
The fates compel. Welcome to him was death
Rather than fear. But, rushing to the side,
His spouse would follow, for she dared not stay,
Fearing the guile. Then he, 'Abide, my wife,
And son, I pray you; from the shore afar
Await my fortunes; mine shall be the life
To test their honour.' But Cornelia still
Withstood his bidding, and with arms outspread
Frenzied she cried: 'And whither without me,
Cruel, departest? Thou forbad'st me share
Thy risks Thessalian; dost again command
That I should part from thee? No happy star
Breaks on our sorrow. If from every land
Thou dost debar me, why didst turn aside
In flight to Lesbos? On the waves alone
Am I thy fit companion?' Thus in vain,
Leaning upon the bulwark, dazed with dread;
Nor could she turn her straining gaze aside,
Nor see her parting husband. All the fleet
Stood silent, anxious, waiting for the end:
Not that they feared the murder which befell,
But lest their leader might with humble prayer
Kneel to the king he made.

As Magnus passed,
A Roman soldier from the Pharian boat,
Septimius, salutes him. Gods of heaven!
There stood he, minion to a barbarous king,
Nor bearing still the javelin of Rome;
But vile in all his arms; giant in form
Fierce, brutal, thirsting as a beast may thirst
For carnage. Didst thou, Fortune, for the sake
Of nations, spare to dread Pharsalus field
This savage monster's blows? Or dost thou place
Throughout the world, for thy mysterious ends,
Some ministering swords for civil war?
Thus, to the shame of victors and of gods,
This story shall be told in days to come:
A Roman swordsman, once within thy ranks,
Slave to the orders of a puny prince,
Severed Pompeius' neck. And what shall be
Septimius' fame hereafter? By what name
This deed be called, if Brutus wrought a crime?

Now came the end, the latest hour of all:
Rapt to the boat was Magnus, of himself
No longer master, and the miscreant crew
Unsheathed their swords; which when the chieftain saw
He swathed his visage, for he scorned unveiled
To yield his life to fortune; closed his eyes
And held his breath within him, lest some word,
Or sob escaped, might mar the deathless fame
His deeds had won. And when within his side
Achillas plunged his blade, nor sound nor cry
He gave, but calm consented to the blow
And proved himself in dying; in his breast
These thoughts revolving: 'In the years to come
Men shall make mention of our Roman toils,
Gaze on this boat, ponder the Pharian faith;
And think upon thy fame and all the years
While fortune smiled: but for the ills of life
How thou could'st bear them, this men shall not know
Save by thy death. Then weigh thou not the shame
That waits on thine undoing. Whose strikes,
The blow is Caesar's. Men may tear this frame
And cast it mangled to the winds of heaven;
Yet have I prospered, nor can all the gods
Call back my triumphs. Life may bring defeat,
But death no misery. If my spouse and son
Behold me murdered, silently the more
I suffer: admiration at my death
Shall prove their love.' Thus did Pompeius die,
Guarding his thoughts.

But now Cornelia filled
The air with lamentations at the sight;
'O, husband, whom my wicked self hath slain!
That lonely isle apart thy bane hath been
And stayed thy coming. Caesar to the Nile
Has won before us; for what other hand
May do such work? But whosoe'er thou art
Sent from the gods with power, for Caesar's ire,
Or thine own sake, to slay, thou dost not know
Where lies the heart of Magnus. Haste and do!
Such were his prayer -- no other punishment
Befits the conquered. Yet let him ere his end
See mine, Cornelia's. On me the blame
Of all these wars, who sole of Roman wives
Followed my spouse afield nor feared the fates;
And in disaster, when the kings refused,
Received and cherished him. Did I deserve
Thus to be left of thee, and didst thou seek
To spare me? And when rushing on thine end
Was I to live? Without the monarch's help
Death shall be mine, either by headlong leap
Beneath the waters; or some sailor's hand
Shall bind around this neck the fatal cord;
Or else some comrade, worthy of his chief,
Drive to my heart his blade for Magnus' sake,
And claim the service done to Ceasar's arms.
What! does your cruelty withhold my fate?
Ah! still he lives, nor is it mine as yet
To win this freedom; they forbid me death,
Kept for the victor's triumph.' Thus she spake,
While friendly hands upheld her fainting form;
And sped the trembling vessel from the shore.

Men say that Magnus, when the deadly blows
Fell thick upon him, lost nor form divine,
Nor venerated mien; and as they gazed
Upon his lacerated head they marked
Still on his features anger with the gods.
Nor death could change his visage -- for in act
Of striking, fierce Septimius' murderous hand
(Thus making worse his crime) severed the folds
That swathed the face, and seized the noble head
And drooping neck ere yet was fled the life:
Then placed upon the bench; and with his blade
Slow at its hideous task, and blows unskilled
Hacked through the flesh and brake the knotted bone:
For yet man had not learned by swoop of sword
Deftly to lop the neck. Achillas claimed
The gory head dissevered. What! shalt thou
A Roman soldier, while thy blade yet reeks
From Magnus' slaughter, play the second part
To this base varlet of the Pharian king?
Nor bear thyself the bleeding trophy home?
Then, that the impious boy (ah! shameful fate)
Might know the features of the hero slain,
Seized by the locks, the dread of kings, which waved
Upon his stately front, on Pharian pike
The head was lifted; while almost the life
Gave to the tongue its accents, and the eyes
Were yet scarce glazed: that head at whose command
Was peace or war, that tongue whose eloquent tones
Would move assemblies, and that noble brow
On which were showered the rewards of Rome.
Nor to the tyrant did the sight suffice
To prove the murder done. The perishing flesh,
The tissues, and the brain he bids remove
By art nefarious: the shrivelled skin
Draws tight upon the bone; and poisonous juice
Gives to the face its lineaments in death.

Last of thy race, thou base degenerate boy,
About to perish soon, and yield the throne
To thine incestuous sister; while the Prince
From Macedon here in consecrated vault
Now rests, and ashes of the kings are closed
In mighty pyramids, and lofty tombs
Of thine unworthy fathers mark the graves;
Shall Magnus' body hither and thither borne
Be battered, headless, by the ocean wave?
Too much it troubled thee to guard the corse
Unmutilated, for his kinsman's eye
To witness! Such the faith which Fortune kept
With prosperous Pompeius to the end.
'Twas not for him in evil days some ray
Of light to hope for. Shattered from the height
Of power in one short moment to his death!
Years of unbroken victories balanced down
By one day's carnage! In his happy time
Heaven did not harass him, nor did she spare
In misery. Long Fortune held the hand
That dashed him down. Now beaten by the sands,
Torn upon rocks, the sport of ocean's waves
Poured through its wounds, his headless carcase lies,
Save by the lacerated trunk unknown.

Yet ere the victor touched the Pharian sands
Some scanty rites to Magnus Fortune gave,
Lest he should want all burial. Pale with fear
Came Cordus, hasting from his hiding place;
Quaestor, he joined Pompeius on thy shore,
Idalian Cyprus, bringing in his train
A cloud of evils. Through the darkening shades
Love for the dead compelled his trembling steps,
Hard by the marin of the deep to search
And drag to land his master. Through the clouds
The moon shone sadly, and her rays were dim;
But by its hue upon the hoary main
He knew the body. In a fast embrace
He holds it, wrestling with the greedy sea,
And deftly watching for a refluent wave
Gains help to bring his burden to the land.
Then clinging to the loved remains, the wounds
Washed with his tears, thus to the gods he speaks,
And misty stars obscure: 'Here, Fortune, lies
Pompeius, thine: no costly incense rare
Or pomp of funeral he dares to ask;
Nor that the smoke rise heavenward from his pyre
With eastern odours rich; nor that the necks
Of pious Romans bear him to the tomb,
Their parent; while the forums shall resound
With dirges; nor that triumphs won of yore
Be borne before him; nor for sorrowing hosts
To cast their weapons forth. Some little shell
He begs as for the meanest, laid in which
His mutilated corse may reach the flame.
Grudge not his misery the pile of wood
Lit by this menial hand. Is't not enough
That his Cornelia with dishevelled hair
Weeps not beside him at his obsequies,
Nor with a last embrace shall place the torch
Beneath her husband dead, but on the deep
Hard by still wanders?'

Burning from afar
He sees the pyre of some ignoble youth
Deserted of his own, with none to guard:
And quickly drawing from beneath the limbs
Some glowing logs, 'Whoe'er thou art,' he said
'Neglected shade, uncared for, dear to none,
Yet happier than Pompeius in thy death,
Pardon I ask that this my stranger hand
Should violate thy tomb. Yet if to shades
Be sense or memory, gladly shalt thou yield
This from thy pyre to Magnus. 'Twere thy shame,
Blessed with due burial, if his remains
Were homeless.' Speaking thus, the wood aflame
Back to the headless trunk at speed he bore,
Which hanging on the margin of the deep,
Almost the sea had won. In sandy trench
The gathered fragments of a broken boat,
Trembling, he placed around the noble limbs.
No pile above the corpse nor under lay,
Nor was the fire beneath. Then as he crouched
Beside the blaze, 'O, greatest chief,' he cried,
Majestic champion of Hesperia's name,
If to be tossed unburied on the deep
Rather than these poor rites thy shade prefer,
From these mine offices thy mighty soul
Withdraw, Pompeius. Injuries dealt by fate
Command this duty, lest some bird or beast
Or ocean monster, or fierce Caesar's wrath
Should venture aught upon thee. Take the fire;
All that thou canst; by Roman hand at least
Enkindled. And should Fortune grant return
To loved Hesperia's land, not here shall rest
Thy sacred ashes; but within an urn
Cornelia, from this humble hand received,
Shall place them. Here upon a meagre stone
We draw the characters to mark thy tomb.
These letters reading may some kindly friend
Bring back thine head, dissevered, and may grant
Full funeral honours to thine earthly frame.'

Then did he cherish the enfeebled fire
Till Magnus' body mingled with its flames.
But now the harbinger of coming dawn
Had paled the constellations: he in fear
Seeks for his hiding place. Whom dost thou dread,
Madman, what punishment for such a crime,
For which thy fame by rumour trumpet-tongued
Has been sent down to ages? Praise is thine
For this thy work, at impious Caesar's hands;
Sure of a pardon, go; confess thy task,
And beg the head dissevered. But his work
Was still unfinished, and with pious hand
(Fearing some foe) he seizes on the bones
Now half consumed, and sinews; and the wave
Pours in upon them, and in shallow trench
Commits them to the earth; and lest some breeze
Might bear away the ashes, or by chance
Some sailor's anchor might disturb the tomb,
A stone he places, and with stick half burned
Traces the sacred name: HERE MAGNUS LIES.

And art thou, Fortune, pleased that such a spot
Should be his tomb which even Caesar's self
Had chosen, rather than permit his corse
To rest unburied? Why, with thoughtless hand
Confine his shade within the narrow bounds
Of this poor sepulchre? Where the furthest sand
Hangs on the margin of the baffled deep
Cabined he lies; yet where the Roman name
Is known, and Empire, such in truth shall be
The boundless measure of his resting-place.
Blot out this stone, this proof against the gods!
Oeta finds room for Hercules alone,
And Nysa's mountain for the Bromian god;
Not all the lands of Egypt should suffice
For Magnus dead: and shall one Pharian stone
Mark his remains? Yet should no turf disclose
His title, peoples of the earth would fear
To spurn his ashes, and the sands of Nile
No foot would tread. But if the stone deserves
So great a name, then add his mighty deeds:
Write Lepidus conquered and the Alpine war,
And fierce Sertorius by his aiding arm
O'erthrown; the chariots which as knight he drove;
Cilician pirates driven from the main,
And Commerce safe to nations; Eastern kings
Defeated and the barbarous Northern tribes;
Write that from arms he ever sought the robe;
Write that content upon the Capitol
Thrice only triumphed he, nor asked his due.
What mausoleum were for such a chief
A fitting monument? This paltry stone
Records no syllable of the lengthy tale
Of honours: and the name which men have read
Upon the sacred temples of the gods,
And lofty arches built of hostile spoils,
On desolate sands here marks his lowly grave
With characters uncouth, such as the glance
Of passing traveller or Roman guest
Might pass unnoticed.

Thou Egyptian land
By destiny foredoomed to bear a part
In civil warfare, not unreasoning sang
High Cumae's prophetess, when she forbad
The stream Pelusian to the Roman arms,
And all the banks which in the summer-tide
Are covered by his flood. What grievous fate
Shall I call down upon thee? May the Nile
Turn back his water to his source, thy fields
Want for the winter rain, and all the land
Crumble to desert wastes! We in our fanes
Have known thine Isis and thy hideous gods,
Half hounds, half human, and the drum that bids
To sorrow, and Osiris, whom thy dirge
Proclaims for man. Thou, Egypt, in thy sand
Our dead containest. Nor, though her temples now
Serve a proud master, yet has Rome required
Pompeius' ashes: in a foreign land
Still lies her chief. But though men feared at first
The victor's vengeance, now at length receive
Thy Magnus' bones, if still the restless wave
Hath not prevailed upon that hated shore.
Shall men have fear of tombs and dread to move
The dust of those who should be with the gods?
O, may my country place the crime on me,
If crime it be, to violate such a tomb
Of such a hero, and to bear his dust
Home to Ausonia. Happy, happy he
Who bears such holy office in his trust!
Haply when famine rages in the land
Or burning southern winds, or fires abound
And earthquake shocks, and Rome shall pray an end
From angry heaven -- by the gods' command,
In council given, shalt thou be transferred
To thine own city, and the priest shall bear
Thy sacred ashes to their last abode.

Who now may seek beneath the raging Crab
Or hot Syene's waste, or Thebes athirst
Under the rainy Pleiades, to gaze
On Nile's broad stream; or whose may exchange
On the Red Sea or in Arabian ports
Some Eastern merchandise, shall turn in awe
To view the venerable stone that marks
Thy grave, Pompeius; and shall worship more
Thy dust commingled with the arid sand,
Thy shade though exiled, than the fane upreared
On Casius' mount to Jove! In temples shrined
And gold, thy memory were viler deemed:
Fortune lies with thee in thy lowly tomb
And makes thee rival of Olympus' king.
More awful is that stone by Libyan seas
Lashed, than are Conquerors' altars. There in earth
A deity rests to whom all men shall bow
More than to gods Tarpeian: and his name
Shall shine the brighter in the days to come
For that no marble tomb about him stands
Nor lofty monument. That little dust
Time shall soon scatter and the tomb shall fall
And all the proofs shall perish of his death.
And happier days shall come when men shall gaze
Upon the stone, nor yet believe the tale:
And Egypt's fable, that she holds the grave
Of great Pompeius, be believed no more
Than Crete's which boasts the sepulchre of Jove.

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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