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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.


Cato in the Deserts of Africa

By Lucan (39–65 A.D.)

(From Pharsalia, Book IX)
Translated by Nicholas Rowe

NOW near approaching to the burning zone,

To warmer, calmer skies they journeyed on.

The slackening storms the neighboring sun confess,

The heat strikes fiercer, and the winds grow less,

Whilst parching thirst and fainting sweats increase.

As forward on the weary way they went,

Panting with drought, and all with labor spent,

Amidst the desert desolate and dry,

One chanced a little trickling spring to spy:

Proud of the prize, he drained the scanty store,

And in his helmet to the chieftain bore.

Around, in crowds, the thirsty legions stood,

Their throats and clammy jaws with dust bestrewed,

And all with wishful eyes the liquid treasure viewed.

Round the leader cast his careful look,

Sternly, the tempting envied gift he took,

Held it, and thus the giver fierce bespoke:

“And think’st thou then that I want virtue most!

Am I the meanest of this Roman host!

Am I the first soft coward that complains!

That shrinks, unequal to these glorious pains!

Am I in ease and infamy the first!

Rather be thou, base as thou art, accursed,

Thou that dar’st drink, when all beside thee thirst.”

He said; and wrathful stretching forth his hand,

Poured out the precious draught upon the sand.

Well did the water thus for all provide,

Envied by none, while thus to all denied,

A little thus the general want supplied.