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Juvenal: Weigh the greatest military commanders in the balance


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Juvenal: Mighty warriors and their tombs are circumscribed by Fate

Juvenal: The spoils of war and the price thereof

Juvenal: War and violence, baser than the beasts


From Satires
Translated by G. G. Ramsay

Put Hannibal into the scales; how many pounds’ weight will you find in that greatest of commanders? This is the man for whom Africa was all too small – a land beaten by the Moorish sea and stretching to the steaming Nile, and then, again, to the tribes of Aethiopia and a new race of elephants! Spain is added to his dominions: he overleaps the Pyrenees; Nature throws in his way Alps and snow: he splits the rocks asunder, and breaks up the mountain-side with vinegar! And now Italy is in his grasp, but still on he presses: “Nought is accomplished,” he cries, “until my Punic host breaks down the city gates, and I plant my standard in the midst of the Subura! “O what a sight was that! What a picture it would make, the one-eyed General riding on the Gaetulian monster! What then was his end? Alas for glory! A conquered man, he flees headlong into exile, and there he sits, a mighty and marvellous suppliant, in the King’s antechamber, until it please his Bithynian Majesty to awake! No sword, no stone, no javelin shall end the life which once wrought havoc throughout the world: that little ring shall avenge Cannae and all those seas of blood. On! on! thou madman, and race over the wintry Alps, that thou mayest be the delight of schoolboys and supply declaimers with a theme!

One globe is all too little for the youth of Pella; he chafes uneasily within the narrow limits of the world, as though he were cooped up within the rocks of Gyara or the diminutive Seriphos; but yet when once he shall have entered the city fortified by the potter’s art, a sarcophagus will suffice him! Death alone proclaims how small are our poor human bodies! We have heard how ships once sailed through Mount Athos, and all the lying tales of Grecian history; how the sea was paved by those self-same ships, and gave solid support to chariot-wheels; how deep rivers failed, and whole streams were drunk dry when the Persian breakfasted, with all the fables of which Sostratus sings with reeking pinions. But in what plight did that king flee from Salamis? he that had been wont to inflict barbaric stripes upon the winds Corus and Eurus – never treated thus in their Aeolian prison-house – he who had bound the Earth-shaker himself with chains, deeming it clemency, forsooth, not to think him worthy of a branding also: what god, indeed, would be willing to serve such a master? – in what plight did he return? Why, in a single ship; on blood-stained waves, the prow slowly forcing her way through waters thick with corpses! Such was the penalty exacted for that long-desired glory!

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