Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX. 1876–79.

Greece: Pharsalia, Thessaly


By Lucan (39–65 A.D.)

(From Pharsalia, Book VI)
Translated by N. Rowe

WHERE Eurus blows, and wintry suns arise,

Thessalia’s boundary proud Ossa lies;

But when the God protracts the longer day,

Pelion’s broad back receives the dawning ray.

Where through the lion’s fiery sign he flies,

Othrys his leafy groves for shade supplies.

On Pindus strikes the fady western light,

When glittering Vesper leads the starry night.

Northward, Olympus hides the lamps, that roll

Their paler fires around the frozen pole.

The middle space, a valley low depressed,

Once a wide, lazy, standing lake possessed;

While growing still the heapy waters stood,

Nor down through Tempe ran the rushing flood:

But when Alcides to the task applied,

And cleft a passage through the mountains wide;

Gushing at once the thundering torrent flowed,

While Nereus groaned beneath the increasing load.

Then rose (O, that it still a lake had lain!)

Above the waves Pharsalia’s fatal plain,

Once subject to the great Achilles’ reign.

Then Phylace was built, whose warriors boast

Their chief first landed on the Trojan coast;

Then Pteleos ran her circling wall around,

And Dorion, for the Muses’ wrath renowned;

Then Trachin high, and Melibœa stood,

Where Hercules his fatal shafts bestowed;

Larissa strong arose, and Argos, now

A plain, submitted to the laboring plough.

Here stood the town, if there be truth in fame,

That from Bœotian Thebes received its name.

Here sad Agave’s wandering sense returned,

Here for her murdered son the mother mourned;

With streaming tears she washed his ghastly head,

And on the funeral pile the precious relic laid.

The gushing waters various soon divide,

And every river rules a separate tide;

The narrow Æas runs a limpid flood,

Evenos blushes with the Centaur’s blood;

That gently mingles with the Ionian sea,

While this, through Calydonia, cuts his way.

Slowly fair Io’s aged father falls,

And in hoarse murmurs his lost daughter calls.

Thick Acheloüs rolls his troubled waves,

And heavily the neighbor isles he laves;

While pure Amphrysus winds along the mead,

Where Phœbus once was wont his flocks to feed:

Oft on the banks he sat a shepherd swain,

And watched his charge upon the grassy plain.

Swift to the main his course Sperchios bends,

And, sounding, to the Malian gulf descends.

No breezy air near calm Anauros flies,

No dewy mists, nor fleecy clouds arise.

Here Phœnix, Melas, and Asopus run,

And strong Apidanus drives slow Enipeus on.

A thousand little brooks, unknown to fame,

Are mixed, and lost in Peneus’ nobler name:

Bold Titaresus scorns his rule, alone,

And, joined to Peneus, still himself is known:

As o’er the land his haughty waters glide,

And roll unmingling, a superior tide.

’T is said through secret channels winding forth,

Deep as from Styx he takes his hallowed birth;

Thence, proud to be revered by gods on high,

He scorns to mingle with a mean ally.


Late, and unwilling, from his watery bed,

Upreared the mournful sun his cloudy head

He sickened to behold Emathia’s plain,

And would have sought the backward east again:

Full oft he turned him from the destined race,

And wished some dark eclipse might veil his radiant face.

Pompey, meanwhile, in pleasing visions past

The night of all his happy nights the last.

It seemed, as if, in all his former state,

In his own theatre secure he sate:

About his side unnumbered Romans crowd,

And, joyful, shout his much-loved name aloud;

The echoing benches seem to ring around,

And his charmed ears devour the pleasing sound.

Such both himself, and such the people seem,

In the false prospect of the feigning dream;

As when in early manhood’s beardless bloom,

He stood the darling hope and joy of Rome.

When fierce Sertorius by his arms suppressed,

And Spain subdued, the conqueror confessed;

When raised with honors never known before,

The consuls’ purple, yet a youth, he wore:

When the pleased senate sat with new delight,

To view the triumph of a Roman knight.

Perhaps, when our good days no longer last,

The mind runs backward, and enjoys the past;

Perhaps, the riddling visions of the night

With contrarieties delude our sight;

And when fair scenes of pleasure they disclose,

Pain they foretell, and sure ensuing woes.

Or was it not that, since the Fates ordain

Pompey should never see his Rome again,

One last good office yet they meant to do,

And gave him in a dream this parting view?

O, may no trumpet bid the leader wake!

Long, let him long the blissful slumber take!

Too soon the morrow’s sleepless night will come,

Full fraught with slaughter, misery, and Rome;

With horror and dismay those shades shall rise,

And the lost battle live before his eyes.


Straight, at the fatal signal, all around

A thousand fifes, a thousand clarions sound;

Beyond where clouds or glancing lightnings fly,

The piercing clangors strike the vaulted sky.

The joining battles shout, and the loud peal

Bounds from the hill, and thunders in the vale;

Old Pelion’s caves the doubling roar return,

And Œta’s rocks, and groaning Pindus mourn;

From pole to pole the tumult spreads afar,

And the world trembles at the distant war.

Now flit the thrilling darts through liquid air,

And various vows from various masters bear:

Some seek the noblest Roman heart to wound,

And some to err upon the guiltless ground;

While chance decrees the blood that shall be spilt,

And blindly scatters innocence and guilt.

But random shafts too scanty death afford,

A civil war is business for the sword:

Where face to face the parricides may meet,

Know whom they kill, and make the crime complete.

Firm in the front, with joining bucklers closed,

Stood the Pompeian infantry disposed;

So crowded was the space, it scarce affords

The power to toss their piles, or wield their swords.

Forward, thus thick embattled though they stand,

With headlong wrath rush furious Cæsar’s band;

In vain the lifted shield their rage retards,

Or plaited mail devoted bosoms guards;

Through shields, through mail, the wounding weapons go,

And to the heart drive home each deadly blow;

O rage ill-matched! O much unequal war,

Which those wage proudly, and these tamely bear!

These by cold, stupid piety disarmed;

Those by hot blood and smoking slaughter warmed.

Nor in suspense uncertain Fortune hung,

But yields, o’ermastered by a power too strong,

And borne by fate’s impetuous stream along.

From Pompey’s ample wings, at length, the horse

Wide o’er the plain extending take their course;

Wheeling around the hostile line they wind,

While lightly armed the foot succeed behind.

In various ways the various bands engage,

And hurl upon the foe the missile rage;

There fiery darts and rocky fragments fly,

And heated bullets whistle through the sky:

Of feathered shafts, a cloud thick shading goes,

From Arab, Mede, and Ituræan bows:

But driven by random aim they seldom wound;

At first they hide the heaven, then strew the ground;

While Roman hands unerring mischief send,

And certain deaths on every pile attend.

But Cæsar, timely careful to support

His wavering front against the first effort,

Had placed his bodies of reserve behind,

And the strong rear with chosen cohorts lined.

There, as the careless foe the fight pursue,

A sudden band and stable forth he drew;

When soon, O shame! the loose barbarians yield,

Scattering their broken squadrons o’er the field,

And show, too late, that slaves attempt in vain

The sacred cause of Freedom to maintain.

The fiery steeds, impatient of a wound,

Hurl their neglected riders to the ground;

Or on their friends with rage ungoverned turn,

And trampling o’er the helpless foot are borne.

Hence foul confusion, and dismay succeed,

The victors murder, and the vanquished bleed:

Their weary hands the tired destroyers ply,

Scarce can these kill, so fast as those can die.

O that Emathia’s ruthless guilty plain

Had been contented with this only stain;

With these rude bones had strewn her verdure o’er,

And dyed her springs with none but Asian gore!

But if so keen her thirst for Roman blood,

Let none but Romans make the slaughter good;

Let not a Mede nor Cappadocian fall,

No bold Iberian, nor rebellious Gaul:

Let these alone survive for times to come,

And be the future citizens of Rome.

But fear, on all alike, her powers employed,

Did Cæsar’s business, and like fate destroyed.

Prevailing still the victors held their course,

Till Pompey’s main reserve opposed their force;

There, in his strength, the chief unshaken stood,

Repelled the foe, and made the combat good;

There in suspense the uncertain battle hung,

And Cæsar’s favoring Goddess doubted long;

There no proud monarchs led their vassals on,

Nor eastern bands in gorgeous purple shone;

There the last force of laws and freedom lay,

And Roman patriots struggled for the day.

What parricides the guilty scene affords!

Sires, sons, and brothers, rush on mutual swords!

There every sacred bond of nature bleeds;

There met the war’s worst rage, and Cæsar’s blackest deeds.