Home > Uncategorized > Statius: Devilish monster’s tongue at last tells of war. “Whither, unhappy ones, whither are ye rushing to war, though fate and heaven would bar the way?”

Statius: Devilish monster’s tongue at last tells of war. “Whither, unhappy ones, whither are ye rushing to war, though fate and heaven would bar the way?”

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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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Statius
From Thebaid
Translated by J.H. Mozley

Rumour flies through the kindred cities, and is carried from lip to lip in the neighbouring lands…nor less does the same tumultuous goddess descend upon Ogygian Thebes. With wings full-stretched she broods over those walls, bringing terror that accords with the past night to the Labdacian chief: the welcome and the marriage does she relate, and the royal covenant and the union of houses – what mad licence in the devilish monster’s tongue! – and at last she tells of war…

The folk are swift to believe him; the Lord of Arms inclines them to credit all, and, once welcomed, Rumour redoubles fear…

And now amid the night-wandering shades the god of battle from on high made to resound with the thunder of arms the Nemean fields and Arcady from end to end, and the height of Taenarum and Therapnae favoured of Apollo, and filled excited hearts with passion for himself. Fury and Wrath make trim his crest, and Panic, his own squire, handles his horses’ reins. But Rumour, awake to every sound and girt with empty tidings of tumult, flies before the chariot, sped onward by the winged steeds’ panting breath, and with loud whirring shakes out her fluttering plumes; for the charioteer with blood-stained goad urges her to speak, be it truth or falsehood

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[A]lready we suffer the extremities of war. Alas! what sweat of toil in the thick dust of battle is in store for men and steeds! alas! how high will ye flow, ye rivers, blushing your cruel red! All this will our youth behold, yet green to war…

And now tumultuous grow the Thunderer’s high behests, and lay waste of men both fields and ancient towns; on every side the war-god sweeps countless troops before him; gladly do they leave their homes and beloved wives and babes that wail upon the threshold; with such power hath the god assailed their frenzied hearts. Eager are they to tear away the weapons from their fathers’ doorposts and the chariots made fast in the inmost shrines of the gods; then they refashion for cruel wounds the spears that rotting rust has worn, and the swords that stick in their scabbards from neglect, and on the grindstone force them to be young once more. Some try shapely helms and the brazen mail of mighty corselets, and fit to their breasts tunics that creak with the mouldering iron, others bend Gortynian bows; in greedy furnaces scythes, ploughs and harrows and curved mattocks glow fiercely red. Nor are they ashamed to cut strong spear-shafts from sacred trees, or to make a covering for their shields from the worn-out ox. They rush to Argos, and at the doors of the despondent king clamour with heart and voice for war, for war!

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“Whither, unhappy ones, whither are ye rushing to war, though fate and heaven would bar the way? What Furies’ lash drives you blindly on? Are ye so weary of life? Is Argos grown so hateful? Hath home no sweetness? Heed ye not the omens?…I saw a mighty ruin foreshown, I saw gods and men dismayed and Megaera exultant and Lachesis with crumbling thread laying the ages waste. Cast away your arms! behold! heaven, yea, heaven withstands your frenzy! Miserable men, what glory is there in drenching Aonia and the fallows of dire Cadmus with the blood of vanquished foes? But why do I warn in vain? why do I repel a fate foredoomed? I go to meet it –“ Here ceased the prophet and groaned.”

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“One would think it was Scythia swarming with tumultuous bucklers, when the Father gives rein to armed conflict and flings wide the gates of savage War. Their uproar held no varying voices, nor did dissension cleave into opposing factions, as is the wont of a crowd; one frenzy, one purpose inspires all alike, to lay desolate our homes, to break life’s thread for young and old, to crush babes against the teeming breasts, and with the sword make havoc through every age…”

And now the horn-footed steeds snort at the corpses in alarm and probe the ground, and every wheel-track runs o’er bodies and reddens deep with severed limbs. Some the remorseless axle grinds unconscious, but others half-dead from wounds – and powerless to escape – see it as it draws nigh to crush them. Already the reins are wet with gore, the slippery care gives no foothold, blood clogs the wheels and trampled entrails hinder the horses’ hooves: then the hero himself madly tears out darts abandoned in the slain and spears projecting from the midst of corpses: ghosts shriek and pursue the chariot.

 

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