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This webpage reproduces
The Gothic War

by
Claudian

published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

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p125

Claudian, The Gothic War

XXV

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After years of sloth my Muse, as if startled from long slumber, rejoices to sing a Roman song to Roman ears. Once more the same halls bring the gathering I longed for, and Apollo's temple echoes to the voice of a familiar bard. 'Twas here I sang of the consular fasces and of the winning back of Libya and here must I sing of the war that overthrew the Getae.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But my former success won for me a brazen statue1 and the Fathers set up my likeness in my honour; at the Senate's prayer the Emperor allowed the claim — bethink thee, Muse, how strict a judgement thou dost face! Wit wins less favour when too soon rewarded, and so great a gift refuses indulgence for my song. Now that my name is read and my features are known in the forum my Muse labours for a sterner critic than before.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Yet my theme itself brings cheer and, as I begin to speak, eagerly lightens much of my accustomed fear. A gracious and more devoted hearing is secured for me, be it by the war's deserving or be it by Stilicho's love.

XXVI

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] p127 When the intrepid Argo, passing between the clashing rocks that guarded its entrance, burst through the portals where Aeëtes ruled, it is said that, when all were panic-stricken by the nearing danger, Tiphys alone — with heaven's help — kept safe the almost uninjured bark. 'Twas thanks to him that the Argo escaped the cliffs threatening ruin and came out victorious into the open sea, cunningly eluding the meeting shock of the floating rocks. Amazed were the proud Symplegades thus subdued by the hero's skill, and, submitting to the novel laws of the fixed earth, offer unmoved an easy passage to all ships since once they have learned defeat. But if the merit of saving a single vessel from ruin won, and rightly won, for Tiphys such meed of honour, what praises shall suffice for thee, Stilicho, who hast freed so great an empire from destruction? Poets may exaggerate the story; they may boast that Minerva toiled with her own hands to hew the Argo's beams, and that she fitted together no senseless timber from a dumb forest, but felled the augural grove of Tomarian2 Jove and with those prophetic trees quickened its planks to speech. But though they burden their recital with the story of countless prodigies to captivate the mind of the unlettered p129young, though they tell of fierce Harpies, of the dragon whose unsleeping length lay curled in protecting folds about the golden fleece, of a springing crop of helmets, a field from out whose furrows grew a Martian race, of seeds of war whose increase yielded a harvest, too, of war, yet do these fictions fall short of the truth. Is it a nobler title to fame to have driven off the greedy Harpies and banished them from the table of a single man than to have had the strength to beat back those countless Getic maws that thirsted for the spoil of Latium? Am I to look with more admiration upon those earth-born warriors than upon the slaughtered ranks of Getae whom the goddess of war reared on so many spoils and whose martial life came to grey hairs, passed ever beneath helmets?

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thou and thou alone, Stilicho, hast dispersed the darkness that enshrouded our empire and hast restored its glory; thanks to thee civilization, all but vanished, has been freed from the gloomy prison and can again advance. The old order of justice now makes distinction between magistracies which fear had made equal in a common gloom. Thy right hand has snatched us from impending death and restored to their homes and lands peoples whom fate sentenced and thy valour saved. No longer, herded together like sheep by a scare-crow, do we watch from the ramparts our fields ablaze with the enemy's fire, no longer measure the depth of rivers which we feebly hope will retard our destruction nor ask the streams and flying clouds to p131keep the promise of their waters or complain that the sunshine conspires against us with its splendour.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thou, too, Rome, so long vexed with internal discord, lift up thy hills at last more peacefully in safety. Arise, honoured mother, be sure that God's favour is with thee; banish the lowly timorousness of age. City that art coëval with the world, inexorable Lachesis shall not exercise against thee her rights of destruction until Nature has so changed the immutable laws of the universe that Tanais turn his course and water Egypt, Nile flow into Lake Maeotis, Eurus blow from the west, Zephyr from India, and the south wind rage in tempest o'er the summit of Caucasus, while that of the north binds the deserts of Africa with its frost.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thus far came the fatal hordes; now their threats, whereof so many omens warned us, have vanished away. Heaven's self was not always at peace: they tell how even Jove trembled (if one may dare to say so) when Typhoeus attacked him, arming his hundred hands with a hundred mountains and touching the astonished constellation of the Bear with his towering snaky coils. What wonder if trouble harasses mortal realms when cruel Aloeus' two sons cast Mars in chains and attempted to build that forbidden road to the stars so that the universe almost ceased to move, what time the three rocks3 were uprooted in the war of heaven? But their blind fury was of no effect; wicked hopes never exult for long. Aloeus' children never reached man's estate; Otus, attempting to uproot Pelion, was stricken down by Phoebus, and Ephialtes as he died wearily let Ossa fall athwart his side.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] p133 Lift up thy head, Rome, and behold thine enemy; see how, leading back in dishonour a shattered host, he is cast forth from Italy. How different is he from what he was when he sware that everything should yield to his onset and took an oath by Danube whom he and his fathers worshipped that he would never unbuckle his breastplate until he had marched in triumph through the Forum. How strange are the changes Fate brings about! He who destined the women of Rome as victims of his lust has seen his own wives and children led away captive; he who in imagination had drained the countless wealth of our city became himself his victor's easy prey; he who once sought to corrupt the loyalty of our troops has been deserted by his own people and has returned to his country beggared of men and arms.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Then too if, laying hatred aside, thou shouldest weigh the cause that won them pardon from their doom, surely to spare a fallen foe is itself a triumph and to see him on his knees punishment enough. What vengeance so satisfying as when terror makes pride stoop, and want bows down him who before bore spoils? But our clemency was in part due to another cause, for we thought of thee, O Rome. Concern for thee constrained us to offer a way of escape to the beleaguered foe lest, with the fear of death before their eyes, their rage should grow the more terrible for being confined.a An enemy before thy very walls would have been too heavy a price to pay for the destruction of the race and name of the Getae. May Jove from on high forbid that the barbarian should outrage even with a glance Numa's shrine or Romulus' temple, or discover aught of the secrets of our empire.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] p135 And yet — if duly I recall ancient conflicts — then also when, fair liberty lending vigour, the senate was everywhere successful with native troops, they sought trophies from such wars as were waged far away across the sea where our soldiers could exercise their courage without danger to their homes; chariots and fettered kings were accounted but the shows that overflowing fortune gave. But whenever a dread storm burst upon Italy or hung threateningly over her head their thought was not how to give vent to profitless fury but how best at such a crisis to secure the safety of the state. The leader of their choice was not he who hazarded all on one rash throw but one who gave careful thought to each eventuality, were it fortune or the reverse, one who could bear adversity with fortitude and success with moderation, and by slackening or tightening the reins of government knew how to make use of victory and to temporize after a setback. The physician's skill deals more carefully with grave diseases and ulcers that are near the heart: here he is more sparing of the knife for fear lest the blade, driven too deep, should slip and sever beyond healing some vital organ.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Proud assuredly is the strain in which bards of old sing of Curius who drove Pyrrhus, son of Aeacus, from the shores of Italy;4 not more resplendent were the triumphs of Paulus and of Marius who dragged captive kings behind their white-horsed chariots. The expulsion of Pyrrhus is more praised than the capture of Jugurtha; and although Curius drove out a prince whose spirit had already been broken by two reverses, at the hands of Decius and of the blameless Fabricius whom neither bribes p137nor arms could overcome, yet the whole glory of that expulsion is given to him. But how much greater the task we see fulfilled by Stilicho alone! He has conquered not Chaones or Molossi, Epirot tribes, nor yet the armies of Dodona that idly boast their prophetic grove, but a mighty people whose home lies in those snowy regions beneath the icy constellation of the Bear.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Fabius was the first to stay by his slow struggles Hannibal's lightning rush; then Marcellus, meeting him in the open field, taught him defeat, but it was the valour of Scipio that drove him from the shores of Italy. In the case of our latest foe Stilicho succeeded in combining in himself the diverse skill of all these three; he broke their frenzy by delaying, vanquished them in battle and drove the vanquished host from Italy.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] And all this in so short a time. Full five years did Italy mourn beneath the scattered fires of Pyrrhus, for well-nigh eighteen years did the African steeds of the Carthaginians tread down and devastate our harvests, and it was a second generation, born after the outbreak of the war, that, exacting a tardy vengeance for the first, with difficulty drove an aged Hannibal back to his own country. Stilicho acted more quickly: he saw to it that the winter of our distress should last but one winter5 but that spring in its earliest months should bring back fair weather alike to heaven and to fatherland.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Why should I make mention of the wars waged all those weary years against Hannibal and Pyrrhus when that vile gladiator Spartacus, ravaging all at countryside with fire and sword, oft engaged the consuls in open war and, driving out its feeble masters p139from the Roman camp, put to rout the unwarlike eagles defeated with shameful carnage by a band of slaves? We, unused to war's alarms, an age enervated with luxury, grumble and give up in despair if a ploughing ox is looted or our harvest so much as touched. It was no slaves' prison that loosed on us the Getic hordes; these were not a crowd of rebellious gladiators. Thrace, Haemus and Moesia can tell you what manner of foe Stilicho expelled.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thrice ten times has chill winter cast her snowy mantle over leafless Haemus; as oft has spring, when those snows were melted, renewed the mountain's verdant cloak since the Getic race, forgetful of its native stars and once having crossed the Danube, set destructive foot on Thracian soil. Whether fate led them or the heavy anger of the gods planning disaster upon disaster, from that day, whithersoever the Furies have driven those errant bands, they have poured pell-mell over remote lands, over every obstacle, like a storm of hail or a pestilence. No streams or rocks availed to defend their country. Neither Rhodope nor huge Athos nor Hebrus could save Thrace; the Bessi cursed the Strymon crossed with scornful ease and the Haliacmon that flowed swiftly and to no purpose. The Macedonians in amaze saw Olympus, too high even for clouds, trodden by them as it had been a plain. Thessaly bewails the uselessness of Tempe and conquered Oeta's ridges made a mock. Sperchius and Enipeus, loved of maidens, served to wash the barbarian's hair. The barrier of Pindus could not save the Dryopes nor cloud-capped Leucates the coasts of Actium. Thermopylae itself that had once more boldly withstood the Persians yielded a passage p141at the first onset. Sciron's cliffs protected by the waves, the wall that joins sea to sea across the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow pass of Lechaeum, all lay open to their approach. Thou, Erymanthus, couldst not protect the people of Arcadia with thy leafy ridges and thou, Amyclae, didst tremble to see the enemy's cavalry on the heights of Taygetus.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] At last, however, the Alps avenged on the Getae the disgrace of all mountains else and victorious Eridanus that of all other rivers. The event has proved that deep hidden are the ways of destiny. Who would have believed that, once a passage had been forced over the Alps, so much as the shadow of Italy's name would survive? Did not the awful report of Rome's fall cross the sea and spread beyond Gaul and over the Pyrenees? Did not Rumour, her sable wing sped on with panic, sweeping all before her in her flight, affright Ocean from Britain's coast to Gades' city and far away from our world make distant Thule tremble with the unaccustomed echoes of war?

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] And shall we fling to the South-wind's blasts all the terrors we endured, lest mid feasting sadness trouble our ears? Or rather does such memory delight and does precursive pain ever changefully heighten unexpected joy? Even as to sailors storm-tossed at the Pleiads' setting the rudeness of the sea commands the harbour's calm, so to me does Stilicho appear greater when I compare happiness with hazard and all those troubles come again before my mind.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Did not our steel-girt walls seem to fall at the enemy's attack, feeble as the towers that crowned them, and our doors of iron to open of their own accord to give him entry? It seemed as though p143no rampart nor palisade were stout enough to withstand his cavalry's wind-swift onset. Even now they6 make ready to go aboard their ships, to dwell in Sardinia's creeks and Corsica's rocky, inhospitable coast, and to guard their lives behind the foaming main. Sicily herself, mistrusting the narrow strait, would fain retreat, did but Nature permit, and open a wider passage for the Ionian waves by withdrawing Pelorus. The rich, setting no store by their fretted golden ceilings, would rather have lived in greater security in an Aeolian cave. Soon, too, wealth was considered a burden, and greed of gain was curbed at last by reason of anxieties more overwhelming. Then — for that fear is by nature a babbler and allows all sorts of tales to be invented and believed — dreams, portents, and omens of ill were discussed on all sides. What, men asked, did that flight of birds portend, what message would heaven fain deliver to mortals by the thunderbolt, what did those prophetic books demand that guard the destiny of Rome? Constant eclipses of the moon alarmed us and night after nightb throughout the cities of Italy sounded wailings and the beating of brazen gongs to scare the shadow from off her darkened face. Men would not believe that the moon had been defrauded of her brother the sun, forbidden to give light by the interposition of the earth; they thought that Thessalian witches, accompanying the barbarian armies, were darkening her rays with their country's magic spells. Then with these new portents their troubled minds link the signs of the past year and any omens that perchance peaceful days had neglected — showers of stones, bees swarming in strange places, furious p145fires destroying houses from no known cause, a comet — ne'er seen in heaven without disaster — which first rose where Phoebus lifts his rosy morning beam and old Cepheus shines together with starry Cassiopeia, his spouse; then it withdrew little by little to the constellation of Lycaon's daughter7 and with its errant tail dimmed the stars of the Getic Wain until at last its dying fires grew feeble and vanished.c

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But what terrified men's minds still more was the portent of the two slaughtered wolves. Ay, before the Emperor's face as he practised his cavalry upon the plain two wolves savagely attacked his escort. Slain by darts they disclosed a horrid portent and a wondrous sign of what was to be. In each animal, on its being cut open, was found a human hand, in the stomach of one a left hand, in that of the other a right was discovered, both still twitching, the fingers stretched out and suffused with living blood. Wouldest thou search out the truth, the beast as messenger of Mars foretold that the foe would fall before the emperor's eyes. As the hands were found to be living when the stomachs were cut open, so, when the Alps had been broken through, the might of Rome was to be discovered unimpaired. But fear, ever a poor interpreter, read disaster in the portent; severed hands, 'twas said, and nursing wolf threatened destruction on Rome and her empire. Then they reckoned up the years and, cutting off the flight of the twelfth vulture, tried to shorten the centuries of Rome's existence by hastening the end.8

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 'Twas Stilicho alone who by his courage assured despairing Rome the promise of a better fate; at p147this crisis he showed himself by his courage at once general and seer. "A little patience," said he; "away with womanly repinings; let us bear with fortitude whatever fate lays upon us. What good do the sailors' cries do to the storm-driven vessel? Neither waves nor winds will abate their fury for coward tears or useless prayer. Now for the general safety it befits us to use every effort, to struggle with all our strength — to attend to the sails, work the pumps,d manage the various ropes, and obey every order of the skilful captain. Because the Getae have broken through, seizing by treachery the hour for striking home, what time Raetia claimed our attention and our regiments were busied with another war — not for that is all hope lost. Marvel indeed I might, if by some new guile, some discovered path, the barbarian ignorantly marched over the unexplored Alps; now, however, the successive defeats of the two tyrants9 have made the road notorious, nor has the foeman missed the well-known track that was built for him by our civil strife. They have come a well-known way and Roman discord has opened the approach to barbaric war.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Past generations have known a like fate. Full often, we know, has Italy been attacked — but never without the enemy's paying dear. With their own blood did our country extinguish the fires lit by the Senones and, once the victim of a Germanic invasion, she soon saw the squalid necks of Teutons and Cimbri loaded with the chains of captivity. Of little value is that glory whose worth has not been augmented by previous hardship; 'tis great dangers that beget great triumphs.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Do you meditate shameful flight and fix your p149eyes on Gaul? Would you leave Latium and establish on the banks of the Saône a camp of refugees? Is Rome to be ceded to Arctic tribes, our empire to settle on the Rhone, and shall the trunk survive the head? If the thought of your children has any weight with you, remember that I too am not unaffected by similar feelings of nature; my heart is not so hard that I do not nor will not recognize the sacred ties that bind son to father-in‑law, wife to husband and children to sire. But never, forgetting honour, shall cowardly affection seek refuge in ignominious flight. Nor do I give you bold advice, more careful for myself alone; here is my family, my wife, a son-in‑law whom I love more than life itself; not one of my relations is beyond the reach of this tempest. O land of Italy, know that my heart is set on bearing with weight whatsoever ills thou art called on to bear. Romans, hold your walls but for a short while till I return, bringing back to the sound of trumpets the flower of your host."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] With these words he instilled courage into the fearful hearts of the citizens and checked any inclination towards flight in the Court. The dark shadow fled and Italy dared raise her head once more seeing her emperor ready to share her perils, and stood her ground with such a hostage for fortune. Where Larius clothes his banks with shady olive-trees and with his fresh water imitates the sea's salt waves, Stilicho crossed the lake with all speed in a small boat. Next he ascended those mountains, inaccessible in winter, with no thought for the season or the weather. Even so a lion, leaving his starving cubs within the p151cave, issues forth hunger-maddened some winter night and with silent tread goes out across the deep snow with murder in his heart, his mane frozen about his shoulders, and icicles clinging to his tawny coat; nought recks he of death nor cares for snow nor frost if only he can procure food for his little ones.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Near to the Hercynian forest the uplands of Raetia stretch out towards the north, Raetia, proud parent of Danube and Rhine, twain rivers that she sets to guard the empire of Rome. Small are their streams at first, but soon they grow in depth and like kings compel the lesser waters to pass with tributary wave beneath their name. The Cimbric ocean receives Rhine's flood outpoured through his two mouths; the Thracian wave swallows that of Ister flowing out through five channels. Both rivers are navigable though both bear at times the marks of chariot-wheels upon their frozen surface; stout allies both of the north wind and the god of war. But on the side where Raetia marches with Italy precipitous mountains touch the sky, scarce even in summer offering an awful path. Many a man has there been frozen to death as though he had looked on the Gorgon's head; many have been engulfed beneath vast masses of snow, and often are carts and the oxen that draw them plunged into the white depths of the crevasse. Sometimes the mountain plunges downwards in an avalanche of ice, loosening neath a warmer sky foundations that trust vainly in the precipitous slope.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Such was the country over which Stilicho passed in mid winter. No wine was there; Ceres' gifts were sparing; 'twas enough to snatch a hurried meal, eaten sword in hand, while, burdened with rain-drenched p153cloak, he urged on his half-frozen steed. No soft bed received his weary limbs. If the darkness forced him to halt in his advance he would either enter some dreadful beast's den or sleep in some shepherd's hut, his head pillowed upon his shield. The shepherd stands pale at the sight of his stately guest, and ignorant of his name the rustic mother points out to her squalid infant the glory of his face. It was those hard couches beneath the rough pines, those nights amid the snow, all that care and anxious toil, that won peace for this world, this tranquillity it had despaired of for the empire. From out those Alpine huts, Rome, came thy salvation.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now had the peoples broken their treaties and, encouraged by the news of Latium's trouble, had seized upon the glades of Vindelicia and the fields of Noricum. Like slaves whom news of their master's death lures into luxury with an idle tale, if mid the debauch and while wild licence riots with wine and dance some unexpected chance bring back their lord, then they stand panic-stricken and, abhorring liberty, servile terror shakes their guilty souls; so all the rebels were struck with terror at the sight of the general and in one man the Emperor, Latium and all Rome blazed before their eyes. Joy sat not upon his countenance nor excess of gloom nor yet dejection by reason of Rome's reverses but nobility and indignation mixed, such as filled Hercules at Eurystheus' inhuman orders, or such as dims the face of heaven when at Jove's frown the troubled sky is gathered into a murky cloud.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Put ye such faith," he cried, "in Getic arms? Is it they that swell your hearts with empty pride? Fate has not brought Rome's name so low that she p155cannot punish your rebellion with but a handful of her forces. Not to delay you with foreign tales, hear this example from your deeds of old. When warlike Hannibal was spreading destruction throughout the cities of Italy, and Cannae had doubled Trebia's cruel losses, a vain hope drove Philip of Macedon to turn his feeble sword against a people which, as he thought, was in difficulties. The monstrous insult roused the Roman Fathers, although more pressing dangers were crowding upon them, and they took it ill that, while two great cities were disputing the mastery of the world, a lesser race should be insolent. They determine upon instant vengeance and command Laevinus, even while he conducts the war with Carthage, to do battle also with the king of Macedonia. The consul obeyed his orders, and Philip, intruding his feeble arms between mighty nations, was routed by a passing band and learned that it does not do to tempt the anger of powerful peoples even when they are in distress."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] With this warning Stilicho alike checked the threatened war and won new allies for war, enrolling them at their entreaty and setting such number to their forces as should best suit — neither a burden to Italy nor a terror to its lord.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Then, indeed, at the news of his return, the legions, such love they bore their general, hastened together from every side, and at the sight of Stilicho their courage revived and they broke out into sobbings and tears of joy. So when a herd of cattle has been scattered throughout some vast forest by the storm's violence the beasts eagerly make for the sound of the ox-herd's well-known song or whistle and p157the pasture of their native vale, guiding their steps in away to his voice and glad faithfully to reply with lowing, while, wherever his tones fall upon their ear, horns show themselves here and there through the dark foliage. First hasten up the neighbouring troops, their loyalty attested by their defence of Raetia and their mass of spoil from Vindelicia; next the legion that had been left to guard Britain,10 the legion that kept the fierce Scots in check, whose men had scanned the strange devices tattooed on the faces of the dying Picts. Even the legions that faced the flaxen-haired Sygambri, and those who held the Chatti and wild Cherusci in subjection hither turned their threatening arms, leaving the Rhine, whose garrison they had formed, defended by but one thing — the fear of Rome. Will any posterity credit the tale? Germany, once the home of peoples so proud and fierce that former emperors could scarce keep them in check with the whole weight of their armies, now offers herself so willing a follower of Stilicho's guiding hand that she neither attempts an invasion of the territory exposed to her attack by the removal of its frontier troops nor crosses the stream, too timid to approach an undefended bank.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Greater art thou, Stilicho, than all; thine only rival is Camillus, was arms broke the rash power of Brennus as thine have broken that of Alaric. At a time of dire peril ye both gave the aid of gods; but he too late avenged a captured Rome, thou one still safe. What a reversal of fortune did thy return bring about! A new vigour returned to every part of our empire alike, and the glow of health came back to our suffering cities. A p159woman, so the story goes, who died to save the life of a loved husband, was recalled to the upper world by the might of Hercules. Diana with the help of Circe's magic herbs restored to life Hippolytus whom the scorned passion of a stepmother had caused to be torn in pieces. Crete, if the fable be true, saw Glaucus, son of Minos, issue living from the tomb; his body was discovered by the cries of birds to Polyidus, the aged seer, who restored him to life by means of simples; strange indeed was the ruling of fate which apportioned sweet honey as the cause of his death and a hideous serpent as the restorer of his life.11 But thy return, Stilicho, recalled not one body from the shades but countless peoples sunk in a common death, and snatched whole towns from the jaws of Hell.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] That very day Rome rang with the report (though none ever knew its author) that the hero had arrived, and the citizens, assured of Stilicho's protection, applauded this augury of certain victory. Who could tell of the Emperor's joy, who of the courtiers' eager greetings? From the lofty battlements we sight a distant cloud of dust and know not whether its obscurity conceals friend or foe. Suspense keeps us all in silence. Then suddenly from that dusty cloud emerged the helm of Stilicho, glittering like a star, and we recognized his gleaming white hair. Up rose the happy shout from the walls: " 'Tis he." Safe at last the crowd surges out through the gates to meet and greet the army's return. Gone for ever are our wretched impressed levies; no longer p161does the reaper, laying aside his sickle, try to hurl the impotent javelin, nor Ceres lay aside her harrow and, to the amusement of Bellona, essay the buckler. Stilled are the noisy wrangles of untried leaders; here is Rome's true strength, her true leader, Mars in human form.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The more happy hopes grew in our hearts the more they deserted the Getae, who, touching the stars with their heads, after crossing the Alps accounted all their own and deemed nothing left to do. But when they saw our glorious youth, all the quickly levied infantry, all the squadrons of horse, a countryside protected by so many rivers and fortresses, and themselves caught in a snare, a trouble they dared not voice seized their hearts and a regret that they had invaded Italy with too forward eagerness; and Rome they hoped within their grasp seemed far away. Weariness of their mighty undertaking steals over them. Yet Alaric's face conceals his fear; he bids to the council of war those whose age or prowess had gained them the dignity of leadership. There sat the senate of long-haired, skin-clad Getic leaders. Many a scar received in battle adorned their faces, spears guide their tottering steps and, instead of a staff, old age, refusing to disarm, supports itself on their tall shafts. Then arose one older than the rest, trusted for his counsel and advice, who, fixing his gaze upon the ground, shaking his hoary locks and leaning on his ivory hilt, thus spake: "If I miscount not the years this is well-nigh the thirtieth winter since we swam across the swift Ister. All that time we have escaped defeat at the hands of Rome. Yet never, Alaric, has Mars brought your fortunes to such p163straits. Take the advice of an old man who has been through countless fights, one who like a father was wont to give thee in thine earliest youth little quivers to sling across thy backe and to fit short bows to thy young shoulders. Often did I urge in vain that thou should'st observe the treaty and remain safe at home in Emathia. But if the fire of hot youth hurried thee into war, now at least, I beg thee, make good thine escape from out this net if thou hast any love left for thy people. The enemy's forces are far away; thou hast the chance; flee headlong from Italy's lands lest, in thy desire for fresh spoils, thou lose even what thou hast got and like a wolf pay the penalty of former depredations to the shepherd by being killed within the sheepfold. Why dost thou have ever on thy lips the richness of Tuscan vineyards and some Rome or other with its Tiber? If our parents speak sooth, never has any who has assailed that city in mad war returned to boast that he has done her violence. The gods desert not their own home; thunderbolts, they tell, are hurled from afar upon her foes and unearthly fires flash before her walls, whether 'tis heaven or Rome that thunders. If thou fearest not the gods beware the might of Stilicho; fortune is ever on his side against assaulting enemies. Thou thyself knowest how high with bones he piled our funeral pyres in Arcadia, and with what vast outpourings of our blood he made the rivers of Greece run warm; and thou hadst been killed had not treason in the guise of law and the goodwill of the Emperor of the East protected thee."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] While the elder spake thus Alaric, eyeing him p165askance with fiery brow, brooked his words no longer, but his enkindled pride broke forth in furious speech: "Did not witless age that has deprived thee of thy senses grant thee indulgence never, on my life, should Danube listen unavenged to such coward insults. Am I who have routed so many emperors (Hebrus' river is my witness) to endure flight at thine advice — I whom all nature obeys? Have I not seen the mountains levelled at my feet, the rivers dried up? Never may my country's gods, the spirits of my forefathers, allow that I retrace my footsteps on a backward path. This land shall be mine whether I hold it in fee as conqueror or in death as conquered. I have overrun so many peoples and cities, I have burst through the Alps and drunk of the waters of Eridanus from out a victor's helmet. What is left me but Rome? My nation was strong even when it had no allied arms to help it. But now that I hold sway over Illyria, now that its people have made me their leader, I have forced the Thracians to forge me spears, swords, helmets with the sweat of their brows, and Roman towns (whose rightful overlord I now am) to contribute iron for mine own uses. Thus is fate on my side. Rome, whose territories I have laid waste year by year, has become my slave. 'Tis she has supplied me with arms; her own metal has glowed in the furnace, artfully molten and fashioned for her own undoing by reluctant smiths. The gods, too, urge me on. Not for me are dreams or birds but the clear cry uttered openly from the sacred grove: 'Away with delay, Alaric; boldly cross the Italian Alps this year and thou shalt reach the city.' Thus far the p167path is mine. Who so cowardly as to dally after this encouragement or to hesitate to obey the call of Heaven?"

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So he spake and made ready his army to take the road, exhorting them to combat. Prophecy serves to augment his vain pride. Ah! for the grudging oracles ever dumb with mystic utterance; 'tis the event alone that (too late) discloses the true meaning which the seers themselves could not read. Alaric reached the farthest confines of Liguria where flows a river with the strange name of the City.12 There he suffered defeat and even then scarcely realized (though that defeat made it clear) that fate had tricked him with an ambiguous word.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Stilicho, too, fails not: at full speed he advanced his army clamorous for battle and spurs their march with these words: "Friends of Rome, the time has now come for you to exact vengeance for outraged Italy. Wipe out the disgrace which the investment of your emperor by his foes has brought upon you, and let your swords end the shame which the defeat on the Timavus13 and the enemy's passage of the Alps has caused to Rome. This is the foe whom ye so often put to flight on the plains of Greece, whom not their own valour but a world torn by civil strife has kept safe thus far, as they treacherously mock at treaties and traffic in perjury now with the West, now the East. Reflect that all the fierce peoples of Britain and the tribes who dwell on Danube's and Rhine's banks are watching and stand ready. Win a victory now and so be conquerors in many an unfought war. Restore Rome to her former glory; the frame of empire is tottering; let your shoulders support it. A p169single battle and all will be well; but one victory and the world's peace will be assured. We fight not on the slopes of Thracian Haemus nor await our foe where Maenalus throws his shadow across the banks of Alphaeus. We defend not Tegea nor Argos. No: as ye see, the scene of war is the very centre and heart of Italy. Protect Father Tiber with your shields." Thus spake Stilicho to foot and horse.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Orders were at the same time sent to the auxiliary troops. The Alans, now subject to Roman rule, followed our trumpets' call, taught by their chief to lay down their lives in the cause of Italy. Small was his stature but great his soul and fierce anger blazed from his eyes. Covered with wounds was he and with a visage rendered the more glorious and the more proud by reason of the scar some spear-thrust had left. At Stilicho's command he hastened up with his cavalry, fated to bite the soil of Italy in death. Happy warrior, worthy of the Elysian fields and of my meed of song, who wast eager even at the cost of life to cleanse thy loyalty from stain! The sword that spilled thy generous blood, it was thy judge, acquitting thee of that most unjust charge of treachery. Thrown into confusion by the hero's death his horsemen turned rein and, its flank thus exposed, the whole host would have reeled had not Stilicho quickly gathered a legion and hastening to the spot rallied the cavalry to the fight with infantry support.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] What poet, were he inspired by the Muses or even by Apollo himself, could relate the blessings showered that day by Mars upon the city whose founder he himself was? Never was the sword of Rome plunged so deep in the Scythians' throat; p171never was Tanais' pride abased by such a crushing defeat nor the horns of Ister so broken. Thirsting to drink the enemy's hateful blood our soldiers passed by rich and varied raiment, carts laden with gold, heaps of silver, and, eager for the foe's destruction, spurned his wealth. They held blood of more account than gold; none of them would stoop to pick up the fortune that lay at their feet but drew their swords and sated their wild fury. The crafty foe threw in the path of our advancing troops the robes of scarlet dye, and other spoils reft from Valens14 who perished in the flames, heavy mixing-bowls looted from unhappy Argos and lifelike statues rescued from burning Corinth — all in vain, for this ill-omened booty, so far from delaying our men, reminded them of past reverses and so the more inflamed their righteous indignation.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The crowd of prisoners is loosed from its fetters and all the peoples of different tongue whom the Getae had led away captive. Freed at last by the slaughter of their captors they plant thankful kisses on the bloody hands of their deliverers and hasten back to their long-lost homes and their dear children. At each his household looks in wonder as they tell the story of their woes and then recount the marvel of welcome victory.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] What must then have been thy despair, Alaric, when ruin overwhelmed thy wealth and all that gear that years of robbing had won thee, when there struck thine ear the cries of that wife of thine who, too confident in her long unconquered husband, demanded in her madness the jewelled necklaces of Italian matrons for her proud neck and Roman girls for her tire-women! The fair girls p173of Greece from Corinth and Sparta were, forsooth, not good enough now for so great a lady. But Nemesis, the goddess worshipped at Rhamnus, she whose pleasure it is to check unbridled desire, was wroth and turned her wheel; harsh poverty overwhelms the vanquished, and in one day Rome's arm requites all that we have lost in thirty years.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thy glory, Pollentia, shall live for ever; worthy is thy name to be celebrated by my song, a fit theme for rejoicing and for triumph. Fate pre-ordained thee to be the scene of our victory and the burial-place of the barbarians. Full often have thy fields and plains seen ample vengeance exacted for aggression against the descendants of Romulus. 'Twas there, in that same countryside, that the Cimbric hordes, bearing down upon Rome from Ocean's farthest shore and crossing the Alps by another pass, suffered their final defeat. The coming generation should mingle the bones of these two races and engrave with this one inscription the monument which records our double victory: "Here beneath the soil of Italy lie the bodies of brave Cimbri and Getae: their death they owed to our famous generals Marius and Stilicho. Learn, presumptuous peoples, not to despise Rome."


The Translator's Notes:

1 For Claudian's statue see Introduction, p. xii. For a similar honour conceded to Sidonius cf. Sid. Apol. Epp. IX.16.3; Carm. viii.8.

2 A reference to the "talking oaks" of Dodona, Tomarus (or Tmarus) being a mountain in Epirus near Dodona.

3 i.e. the mountains Pelion, Ossa and Olympus.

4 After his defeat by Curius Dentatus near Beneventum in 277 B.C. Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was forced to evacuate Italy. Claudian, in this section, is at pains tactfully to justify Stilicho's expulsion of Alaric from Italy, as opposed to his capture.

5 The winter of 401‑402.

6 i.e. the inhabitants of Italy.

7 i.e. The Great Bear.

8 The twelve vultures seen by Romulus (Livy I.7.1) were interpreted as twelve centuries of Roman power. Taking the traditional date of the founding of the city (754 B.C.) more than eleven centuries had already passed.

9 Maximus and Eugenius.

10 Legio II Augusta. The legion referred to in l. 414 is probably III Italica.

11 Glaucus, son of Minos, fell into a vat of honey and was drowned. Polyidus, the seer, led by an oracle, discovered the body, and was, at Minos' command, immured with it in a tomb until he should find a means of restoring it to life. Two snakes approached the corpse, one of which Polyidus slew. Observing the other bring its dead companion to life by placing a certain herb in its mouth, Polyidus applied the same method with success to the resuscitation of Glaucus (p159)(Hyginus, Fab. 136. Both Sophocles and Euripides wrote tragedies on the subject; see Soph. Frag. ed. Pearson, vol. II pp56 sqq.).

12 The river on whose banks Pollentia stood. Sozomenes (ix.6) mentions the oracle.

13 Little is known of this battle. It is to be attributed presumably to (?) November 401 and is doubtless connected with Alaric's attempt on Aquileia (Jerome, Contra Ruf. iii.21).

14 At Adrianople, Aug. 9, 378; see Introduction, p. vii.


Thayer's Notes:

a Good classic tactics: for the principle and ten examples from Greek and Roman history, see Frontinus, Strategemata II.6.

b The translation is accurate, but it is also clear that Claudian knew too much about eclipses to imagine that they could occur on successive nights, whether many or even two; as he points out a bit further on, it's not believable. At the same time he gives the impression that the light of the moon really was obscured several nights running, or even for some longer period. Since all but the very darkest lunar eclipses in fact leave the moon visible but darkened and reddened, one is tempted to see in this passage the description of atmospheric disturbances due to a volcanic eruption that would have done the same thing: if powerful enough, such an eruption could have been anywhere on earth, and no Roman need have known of the eruption itself.

c To the naked-eye observer, comets tend to pop out full blown, the gradual build-up not being noticeable at first; they disappear as described, because we're watching them. Prima facie, this particular track is possible, since unlike meteors, comets need not travel in the plane of the solar system; I leave it to the astronomer to investigate further into the specifics.

d This is not the anachronism that some might suspect. The ancients did know pumps and use them regularly, and some have survived to our time; for a photo of one and a bibliography, see my diary, Oct. 20, 1997.

e Sharp-eyed reader Richard Keatinge, MD points out that the Latin merely reads donare pharetras (actually, the Loeb edition has pharetra, an ungrammatical typo): to give thee quivers; nothing at all about how they might be carried. This matters because there is controversy about just how the Romans carried their arrows; many believe the quivers were slung not over the back, but around the waist.


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