« PředchozíPokračovat »
and a dagger was the surest and handiest instrument for cutting the knot. The shameless cynicism of the speech assigned by Lucan to Pothinus (484-535) cannot but revolt us; but we must recognise the address with which it handles the essential facts of the situation and the power which it evinces of reading a tyrant's heart.'
"Out of the palace ye that would be good!
For aye they fear whom cruelties revolt' (493-6).
* Canst doubt that I must harm thee when I may?
Ne'er chose the merely wretched for a friend.' The council determined that Pompey must die; and Achillas was appointed to carry out the sentence. The Pompeian vessels were now at anchor off the promontory of Casius. The Egyptian troops were lining the sandy and surf-beaten strand, the king in royal purple conspicuous in their midst. A small fishing boat put off from shore, making for the commander's galley. Besides the general and the necessary rowers and attendants, three or four at most, it had on board only two Roman officers from the Egyptian army, and these specially chosen to avert suspicions, Salvius and Septimius, of whom Septimius had been a centurion of Pompey in the war against the Pirates. When the boat came alongside, Septimius greeted his old commander with the highest title that a Roman soldier knew— Haue imperator'; and Achillas, with all expressions of respect, invited him to descend into the boat, for whose smallness he offered the
apology that landing from larger vessels was not possible in those shallow waters. The explanation was not such as altogether to reassure. Pompey's wife and the friends who had collected on his trireme, uneasy at the character of his reception, had besought him, while still possible, to retreat. Nor was he himself wholly free from misgivings. But he was sick of the suspense and perhaps apprehensive of the consequences which might ensue if he were suspected of distrust. He noticed too with anxiety that some of the king's ships were even now being got ready for sea. Accordingly he bade adieu to his wife and son, and, preceded by two of his own centurions, by Philippus, his freedman, and a servant called Scythes, he stepped into the boat. As he did so, he repeated a couplet of Sophocles, which has been thus translated :
'He that once enters at a tyrant's door
Becomes a slave, though he were free before.' It was some distance to land; but Achillas and his centurions maintained a stony silence. Pompey addressed Septimius : 'Surely I am right in thinking you were once a comrade of mine?' Septimius nodded but vouchsafed no further reply. So Pompey turned to read the notes of the speech which he had composed in Greek to deliver before the king. They presently neared the shore; and the anxious watchers on the trireme's deck observed a great company ready to receive them. Pompey took the hand of Philippus to help him to rise, when Septimius stabbed him in the back, and Salvius first and then Achillas plunged their swords in his side. A shriek of horror burst from the trireme, and Cornelia fainted. But Pompey died without a cry, with no attempt at resistance, covering his eyes as he fell.
The thoughts of one thus struck out of existence it is beyond man's power to divine. We may believe only that their succession in the last few moments of consciousness is incredibly rapid and intense.* But Lucan assuredly never intended his readers to take the utterance of the reflexions which he has ascribed to the dying
* See a remarkable description of the end by hanging of a civilian in the American Civil War in Ambrose Bierce's 'In the Midst of Life' (1892), pp. 31 sqq.
Pompey as any real soliloquy. With the ancients a speech was a recognised literary form for conveying the import and lessons of a situation rather than for rendering with literal or psychological exactness what was actually thought or said. With every shape of violent and compulsory death, sudden or protracted, the Romans of the Early Empire had become familiar. The illustrious victims, who starved or bled themselves to death under the tyrannies of a Seianus, a Caligula or a Nero, were careful so to order their last hours that they should furnish monition and example to posterity. The same motives and spirit are to be sought in the verses of Lucan, though they may, not unnaturally, seem stiff and theatrical to a generation whose artificialities have been those of levity rather than of gravity. The lines (622–635) begin with the reflection that future ages are watching to see if Pompey, after all his felicity, can bear misfortunes worthily. He must not fret that he falls to an ignoble hand, but deem that he owes his death to Cæsar. Nor must he grieve if worse indignities await him :
• “ Yea, let them back and scatter. Still, ye powers,
So held his dying spirit in control’ (629–636). The butchers' work was not finished yet; a trophy must be secured. So Septimius tore the covering from the face, hacked the head from the trunk and flung the body on the shoals. The poet continues (679–686):
That a base boy might look on Pompey's face,
The head was carried to the king, and subsequently embalmed, for an object that will presently appear.
The tragedy of Pompey the Great was over and actors and spectators quitted the scene. His fleet had long ago plucked up anchors and fled ; * and darkness was falling on the deserted shore. This is the moment chosen by the poet for grave reflexions, whose impressiveness is best rendered by prose: • With the same punctiliousness with which Fortune perfected the prosperity of Pompey did she strike him to death from the pinnacle of power, and on a single merciless day exact in payment all the miseries from which she had given him so many years exempt. Thus Pompey had never both joys and sorrows mingled in his cup-happy with no god to trouble him, wretched with none to spare him. Fortune long held her stroke and struck but once. He is tossed on the sands, torn by the rocks; the waves pour through his wounds; the sea makes him its sport; and, as no shape is loft him, the one sign that he is Pompey the Great is the neck from which the head has been torn' (701-711.)
It is night and the moon is dim;t but another figure may be descried upon the shore. This is Cordus, who, according to Lucan, the earliest, perhaps the only witness to the statement, played a part which others, as Plutarch (c. 80), assigned to Pompey's freedman Philippus, but in which it is probable that both were associated, since Plutarch speaks of an old Roman who had served with Pompey as taking part in the burial. Cordus, we are told, had been the quæstor of Pompey in his earlier days. The relation of a quæstor to his chief, as we know from Cicero, was all but a filial one; and thus Cordus seemed designated to perform the last pious offices to the body now tossing on the shoals (721-728) :
• All faint, sad Cynthia glimmered thro' the cloud ;
* The vessel on which were Cornelia and Sextus escaped ; most, if not all, of the rest were captured and those they carried killed.
+ The moon is an embellishment of the poet's. Our astronomer royal assures me that on the night of the murder she would not rise till nearly dawn.
Waited the waves; and, dry land won at last,
His appeal to the ruthless powers is in substance this. The favourite of Fortune sues not now for the pomp and pageant of the public funeral that is his meed; he asks no more than the meagre rites accorded to the lowest of the low. It is penalty enough that his wife can pay none of the last tributes to her husband, so near and yet so far away.
The burning of the body is then described (743–775). The account contains nothing incredible, and one of its incidents the confirmation of other writers proves to have been historical.
. So spake the warrior when afar he spied