Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Amyclas and Caesar

This scene from book 5 of Lucan's Pharsalia is placed here for ease of reference for the discussion in this blog post. It's the story of Amyclas and Caesar that is alluded to in Paradiso 11. 

Fortune for his guide,
Alone he passes on, and o'er the guard
Stretched in repose he leaps, in secret wrath
At such a sleep. Pacing the winding beach,
Fast to a sea-worn rock he finds a boat
On ocean's marge afloat. Hard by on shore
Its master dwelt within his humble home.
No solid front it reared, for sterile rush
And marshy reed enwoven formed the walls,
Propped by a shallop with its bending sides
Turned upwards. Caesar's hand upon the door
Knocks twice and thrice until the fabric shakes.
Amyclas from his couch of soft seaweed
Arising, calls: ' What shipwrecked sailor seeks
'My humble home? Who hopes for aid from me,
' By fates adverse compelled? ' He stirs the heap
Upon the hearth, until a tiny spark
Glows in the darkness, and throws wide the door.
Careless of war, he knew that civil strife
Stoops not to cottages. O! happy life
That poverty affords! great gift of heaven
Too little understood! what mansion wall,
What temple of the gods, would feel no fear
When Caesar called for entrance? Then the chief:
' Enlarge thine hopes and look for better things.
' Do but my bidding, and on yonder shore
' Place me, and thou shalt cease from one poor boat
' To earn thy living; and in years to come
' Look for a rich old age: and trust thy fates
' To those high gods whose wont it is to bless
' The poor with sudden plenty.' So he spake
E'en at such time in accents of command,
For how could Caesar else? Amyclas said,
''Twere dangerous to brave the deep to-night.
' The sun descended not in ruddy clouds
' Or peaceful rays to rest; part of his beams
' Presaged a southern gale, the rest proclaimed
' A northern tempest; and his middle orb,
' Shorn of its strength, permitted human eyes
' To gaze upon his grandeur; and the moon
' Rose not with silver horns upon the night
' Nor pure in middle space; her slender points
'Not drawn aright, but blushing with the track
' Of raging tempests, till her lurid light
'Was sadly veiled within the clouds. Again
' The forest sounds; the surf upon the shore;
' The dolphin's mood, uncertain where to play;
' The sea-mew on the land; the heron used
' To wade among the shallows, borne aloft
' And soaring on his wings-all these alarm;
' The raven, too, who plunged his head in spray,
' As if to anticipate the coming rain,
And trod the margin with unsteady gait.
But if the cause demands, behold me thine.

'Either we reach the bidden shore, or else
'Storm and the deep forbid-we can no more.'
Thus said he loosed the boat and raised the sail.
No sooner done than stars were seen to fall
In flaming furrows from the sky: nay, more;
The pole star trembled in its place on high:
Black horror marked the surging of the sea;
The main was boiling in long tracts of foam,
Uncertain of the wind, yet seized with storm.
Then spake the captain of the trembling bark:
See what remorseless ocean has in store!
Whether from east or west the storm may come
Is still uncertain, for as yet confused
'The billows tumble. Judged by clouds and sky
'A western tempest: by the murmuring deep
'A wild south-eastern gale shall sweep the sea.
'Nor bark nor man shall reach Hesperia's shore
In this wild rage of waters. To return
'Back on our course forbidden by the gods,
'Is our one refuge, and with labouring boat
'To reach the shore ere yet the nearest land
'May be too distant.'
But great Caesar's trust
Was in himself, to make all dangers yield.
And thus he answered: ' Scorn the threatening sea,
Spread out thy canvas to the raging wind;
If for thy pilot thou refusest heaven,
'Me in its stead receive. Alone in thee
One cause of terror just-thou dost not know
'Thy comrade, ne'er deserted by the gods,
'Whom fortune blesses e'en without a prayer.
'Break through the middle storm and trust in me.
'The burden of this fight falls not on us
But on the sky and ocean; and our bark
Shall swim the billows safe in him it bears.
Nor shall the wind rage long: the boat itself
Shall calm the waters. Flee the nearest shore,
Steer for the ocean with unswerving hand:
Then in the deep, when to our ship and us
No other port is given, believe thou hast
'Calabria's harbours. And dost thou not know
'The purpose of such havoc? Fortune seeks
'In all this tumult of the sea and sky
A boon for Caesar.'

Then a hurricane
Swooped on the boat and tore away the sheet:
The fluttering sail fell on the fragile mast:
And groaned the joints. From all the universe
Commingled perils rushed. In Atlas' seas
First Corus1 raised his head, and stirred the depths
To fury, and had forced upon the rocks
Whole seas and oceans; but the chilly north
Drove back the deep that doubted which was lord.
But Scythian Aquilo prevailed, whose blast
Tossed up the main and showed as shallow pools
Each deep abyss; and yet was not the sea
Heaped on the crags, for Corus' billows met
The waves of Boreas: such seas had clashed
Even were the winds withdrawn; Eurus enraged
Burst from the cave, and Notus black with rain,
And all the winds from every part of heaven
Strove for their own; and thus the ocean stayed
Within his boundaries. No petty seas
Rapt in the storm are whirled. The Tuscan deep
Invades th' AEgean; in Ionian gulfs
Sounds wandering Hadria. How long the crags
Which that day fell, the Ocean's blows had braved!
What lofty peaks did vanquished earth resign!
And yet on yonder coast such mighty waves
Took not their rise; from distant regions came
Those monster billows, driven on their course
By that great current which surrounds the world.2
Thus did the King of Heaven, when length of years
Wore out the forces of his thunder, call
His brother's trident to his help, what time
The earth and sea one second kingdom formed
And ocean knew no limit but the sky.
Now, too, the sea had risen to the stars
In mighty mass, had not Olympus' chief
Pressed down its waves with clouds: that night from heaven
Came not, as others; but the murky air
Was dim with pallor of the realms below; 3
The sky lay on the deep; within the clouds
The waves received the rain : the lightning flash
Clove through the parted air a path obscured
By mist and darkness: and the heavenly vaults
Re-echoed to the tumult, and the frame
That holds the sky was shaken. Nature feared
Chaos returned, as though the elements
Had burst their bonds, and night had come to mix
Th' infernal shades with heaven.
In such turmoil
Not to have perished was their only hope.
Far as from Leucas point the placid main
Spreads to the horizon, from the billow's crest
They viewed the dashing of th' infuriate sea;
Thence sinking to the middle trough, their mast
Scarce topped the watery height on either hand,
Their sails in clouds, their keel upon the ground.
For all the sea was piled into the waves,
And drawn from depths between laid bare the sand.
The master of the boat forgot his art,
For fear o'ercame; he knew not where to yield
Or where to meet the wave: but safety came
From ocean's self at war: one billow forced
The vessel under, but a huger wave
Repelled it upwards, and she rode the storm
Through every blast triumphant. Not the shore
Of humble Sason,4 nor Thessalia's coast
Indented, not Ambracia's scanty ports
Dismayed the mariners, but the giddy tops
Of high Ceraunia's cliffs.
But Caesar now,
Thinking the peril worthy of his fates:
Are such the labours of the gods? ' exclaimed,
Bent on my downfall have they sought me thus,
Here in this puny skiff in such a sea?
If to the deep the glory of my fall
Is due, and not to war, intrepid still
Whatever death they send shall strike me down.
Let fate cut short the deeds that I would do
And hasten on the end: the past is mine.
The northern nations fell beneath my sword;
'My dreaded name compels the foe to flee.
'Pompeius yields me place; the people's voice
Gave at my order what the wars denied.
And all the titles which denote the powers
Known to the Roman state my name shall bear.
Let none know this but thou who hear'st my prayers,
Fortune! that Caesar summoned to the shades,
Dictator, Consul, full of honours, died
Ere his last prize was won. I ask no pyre
Or tomb, ye gods! wherein my dust may rest:
Nay! plunge in middle deep this battered frame!
All earth shall look for me, nor shall men cease
At Caesar's name to fear.' Such words he spake,
When lo! a tenth gigantic billow raised
The feeble keel, and where between the rocks
A cleft gave safety, placed it on the shore.
Thus in a moment fortune, kingdoms, lands,
Once more were Caesar's. 

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