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Dio Cassius: Weeping and lamenting the fratricide of 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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Dio Cassius
From Roman History
Translated by Earnest Cary

As they lay opposite each other the appearance of the camps bore, indeed, some semblance of war, but their arms were idle as in time of peace. As they considered the greatness of the danger and foresaw the obscurity and uncertainty of the issue, and still felt some regard for their common ancestry and their kinship, they continued to delay…Meanwhile they exchanged propositions looking toward friendship and appeared to some likely even to effect an empty reconciliation. The reason was that they were both reaching out after the supreme power and were influenced greatly by native ambition and greatly also by acquired rivalry, – since men can least endure to be outdone by their equals and intimates; hence they were not willing to make any concessions to each other, since each felt that he might win, nor could they feel confident, if they did reach some agreement, that they would not be always striving to gain the upper hand and would not fall to quarrelling again over the supreme issue. In temper they differed from each other to this extent, that Pompey desired to be second to no man and Caesar to be first of all…The deeds, however, through which they hoped to accomplish all that they wished, were perforce common to both alike. For it was impossible for any one successfully to gain these ends without fighting against his countrymen, leading foreigners against kindred, obtaining vast sums by unjust pillage, and killing unlawfully many of his dearest associates. Hence, even though they differed in their desires, yet in their acts, by which they hoped to realise those desires, they were alike…

As they both came from the same state and were talking about the same matters and called each other tyrants and themselves liberators from tyranny of the men they addressed, they had nothing different to say on either side, but stated that it would be the lot of one side to die, of the other to be saved, of the one side to be captives, of the other to enjoy the master’s lot, to possess everything or to be deprived of everything, to suffer or to inflict a most terrible fate. After addressing some such exhortations to the citizens and furthermore trying to inspire the subject and allied contingents with hopes of a better lot and fears of a worse, they hurled at each other kinsmen, sharers of the same tent, of the same table, of the same libations. Yet why should any one, then, lament the fate of the others involved, when those very leaders, who were all these things to each other, and had, moreover, shared many secret plans and many exploits of like character, who had once been joined by domestic ties and had loved the same child, one as a father, the other as grandfather, nevertheless fought? All the ties with which nature, by mingling their blood, had bound them together, they now, led by their insatiable lust of power, hastened to break, tear, and rend asunder. Because of them Rome was being compelled to fight both in her own defence and against herself, so that even if victorious she would be vanquished…

Such was the struggle in which they joined; yet they did not immediately come to close quarters. Sprung from the same country and from the same hearth, with almost identical weapons and similar formation, each side shrank from beginning the battle, and shrank from slaying any one. So there was great silence and dejection on both sides; no one went forward or moved at all, but with heads bowed they stood motionless, as if devoid of life. Caesar and Pompey, therefore, fearing that if they remained quiet any longer their animosity might become lessened or they might even become reconciled, hurriedly commanded the trumpeters to give the signal and the men to raise the war cry in unison. Both orders were obeyed, but the combatants were so far from being imbued with courage, that at the sound of the trumpeters’ call, uttering the same notes, and at their own shout, raised in the same language, they showed their sense of relationship and betrayed their kinship more than ever, and so fell to weeping and lamenting. But after a long time, when the allied troops began the battle, the rest also joined in, fairly beside themselves at what they were doing. Those who fought at long range were less sensible of the horrors, as they shot their arrows, hurled their javelins, discharged their slings without knowing whom they hit; but the heavy-armed troops and the cavalry had a very hard time of it, as they were close to each other and could even talk a little back and forth; at one and the same moment they would recognize those who confront them and would wound them, would call them by name and would slaughter them, would recall the towns they had come from and would despoil them. Such were the deeds both done and suffered by the Romans and by the others from Italy who were with them on the campaign, wherever they met each other. Many sent messages home through their very slayers…

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