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Claudian: Hell’s numberless monsters plot war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Claudian
From First Poem: Against Rufinus
Translated by Maurice Platnauer

A frugal life is best. Nature has given the opportunity of happiness to all, knew they but how to use it. Had we realized this we should now have been enjoying a simple life, no trumpets would be sounding, no whistling spear would speed, no ship be buffeted by the wind, no siege-engine overthrow battlements.

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Dire Allecto once kindled with jealous wrath on seeing widespread peace among the cities of men. Straightway she summons the hideous council of the nether-world sisters to her foul palace gates. Hell’s numberless monsters are gathered together, Night’s children of ill-omened birth. Discord, mother of war, imperious Hunger, Age, near neighbour to Death; Disease, whose life is a burden to himself; Envy that brooks not another’s prosperity, woeful Sorrow with rent garments; Fear and foolhardy rashness with sightless eyes; Luxury, destroyer of wealth, to whose side ever clings unhappy Want with humble tread, and the long company of sleepless Cares, hanging round the foul neck of their mother Avarice. The iron seats are filled with all this rout and the grim chamber is thronged with the monstrous crowd. Allecto stood in their midst and called for silence, thrusting behind her back the snaky hair that swept her face and letting it play over her shoulders. Then with mad utterance she unlocked the anger deep hidden in her heart.

“Shall we allow the centuries to roll on in this even tenour, and man to live thus blessed? What novel kindliness has corrupted our characters? Where is our inbred fury? Of what use the lash with none to suffer beneath it?…Lo! a golden age begins; lo! the old breed of men returns. Peace and Godliness, Love and Honour hold high their heads throughout the world and sing a proud song of triumph over our conquered folk. Justice herself (oh the pity of it!), down-gliding through the limpid air, exults over me and, now that crime has been cut down to the roots, frees law from the dark prison wherein she lay oppressed. Shall we, expelled from every land, lie this long age in shameful torpor? Ere it be too late recognize a Fury’s duty: resume your wonted strength and decree a crime worthy of this august assembly. Fain would I shroud the stars in Stygian darkness, smirch the light of day with our breath, unbridle the ocean deeps, hurl rivers against their shattered banks, and break the bonds of the universe.”

So spake she with cruel roar and uproused every gaping serpent mouth as she shook her snaky locks and scattered their baneful poison…

Invidiae quondam stimulis incanduit atrox
Allecto, placidas late cum cerneret urbes.
protinus infernas ad limina taetra sorores
concilium deforme vocat. glomerantur in unum
innumerae pestes Erebi, quascumque sinistro
Nox genuit fetu: nutrix Discordia belli,
imperiosa Fames, leto vicina Senectus
impatiensque sui Morbus Livorque secundis
anxius et scisso maerens velamine Luctus
et Timor et caeco praeceps Audacia vultu
et Luxus populator opum, quem semper adhaerens
infelix humili gressu comitatur Egestas,
foedaque Avaritiae complexae pectora matris
insomnes longo veniunt examine Curae.
complentur vario ferrata sedilia coetu
torvaque collectis stipatur curia monstris.
Allecto stetit in mediis vulgusque tacere
iussit et obstantes in tergum reppulit angues
perque umeros errare dedit. tum corde sub imo
inclusam rabidis patefecit vocibus iram…

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“Then the world shall be owned by all in common, no field marked off from another by any dividing boundary, no furrow cleft with bended ploughshare; for the husbandman shall rejoice in corn that springs untended. Oak groves shall drip with honey, streams of wine well up of every side, lakes of oil abound. No price shall be asked for fleeces dyed scarlet, but of themselves shall the flocks grow red to the astonishment of the shepherd, and in every sea the green seaweed with laugh with flashing jewels.”

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Claudian
Panegyric on the Consulship of Fl. Manlius Theodorus
Translated by Maurice Platnauer

He is a savage who delights in punishment and seems to make the vengeance of the laws his own; when his heart is inflamed with the poison of wrath he is goaded by fury and rushes on knowing nothing of the cause and eager only to do hurt. But he whom reason, not anger, animates is a peer of the gods, he who, weighing the guilt, can with deliberation balance the punishment. Let others boast them of their bloody swords and wish to be feared for their ferocity, while they fill their treasuries with the goods of the condemned. Gently flows the Nile, yet it is more beneficent than all rivers for all that no sound reveals its power. More swiftly the broad Danube glides between its quiet banks. Huge Ganges flows down to its mouths with gently moving current. Let torrents roar horribly, threaten weary bridges, and sweep down forests in their foaming whirl; ’tis repose befits the greater; quiet authority accomplishes what violence cannot, and that mandate compels more which comes from a commanding calm.

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Claudian
(From) On the Fourth Consulship of the Emperor Honorius
Translated by Maurice Platnauer

“Above all fail not in loving-kindness; for though we be surpassed in every virtue yet mercy alone makes us equal with the gods. Let thine actions be open and give no grounds for suspicion, be loyal to thy friends nor lend an ear to rumours. He who attends to such will quake at every idle whisper and know no moment’s peace. Neither watch nor guard nor yet hedge of spears can secure thee safety; only thy people’s love can do that. Love thou canst not extort; it is the gift of mutual faith and honest goodwill. Seest thou not how the fair frame of the very universe binds itself together by love, and how the elements, not united by violence, are for ever at harmony among themselves? Dost thou not mark how that Phoebus is content not to outstep the limits of his path, nor the sea those of his kingdom, and how the air, which in its eternal embrace encircles and upholds the world, presses not upon us with too heavy a weight nor yet yields to the burden which itself sustains? Whoso causes terror is himself more fearful; such doom befits tyrants. Let them be jealous of another’s fame, murder the brave, live hedged about with swords and fenced with poisons, dwelling in a citadel that is ever exposed to danger, and threaten to conceal their fears. Do thou, my son, be at once a citizen and a father, consider not thyself but all men, nor let thine own desires stir thee but thy people’s.

“If thou make any law or establish any custom for the general good, be the first to submit thyself thereto; then does a people show more regard for justice nor refuse submission when it has seen their author obedient to his own laws. The world shapes itself after its ruler’s pattern, nor can edicts sway men’s minds so much as their monarch’s life; the unstable crowd ever changes along with the prince.

“Nor is this all: show no scorn of thine inferiors nor seek to overstep the limits established for mankind. Pride joined thereto defaces the fairest character…”

From history thou mayest learn that no ill fortune can master worth; Punic savagery extends thy fame, Regulus, to eternity; the failure of Cato outdoes success. From history thou mayest learn the power of frugal poverty; Curius was a poor man when he conquered kings in battle; Fabricius was poor when he spurned the gold of Pyrrhus; Serranus, for all he was dictator, drove the muddy plough. In those days the lictors kept watch at a cottage door, the fasces were hung upon a gateway of wood; consuls helped to gather in the harvest, and for long years the fields were ploughed by husbandmen who wore the consular robe.”

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