Claudian, Against Rufinus

First Poem Claudian, Against Rufinus


When Python had fallen, laid low by the arrow of Phoebus, his dying limbs outspread o’er Cirrha’s heights — Python, whose coils covered whole mountains, whose maw swallowed rivers and whose bloody crest touched the stars — then Parnassus was free and the woods, their serpent fetters shaken off, began to grow tall with lofty trees. The mountain-ashes, long shaken by the dragon’s sinuous coils, spread their leaves securely to the breeze, and Cephisus, who had so often foamed with his poisonous venom, now flowed a purer stream with limpid wave. The whole country echoed with the cry, “hail, Healer”: every land sang Phoebus’ praise. A fuller wind shakes the tripod, and the gods, hearing the Muses’ sweet song from afar off, gather in the dread caverns of Themis.

A blessed band comes together to hear my song, now that a second Python has been slain by the weapons of that master of ours who made the rule of the brother Emperors hold the world steady, observing justice in peace and showing vigour in war.


My mind has often wavered between two opinions: have the gods a care for the world or is there no ruler therein and do mortal things drift as dubious chance dictates? For when I investigated the laws and the ordinances of heaven and observed the sea’s appointed limits, the year’s fixed cycle and the alternation of light and darkness, then methought everything was ordained according to the direction of a God who had bidden the stars move by fixed laws, plants grow at different seasons, the changing moon fulfil her circle with borrowed light and the sun shine by his own, who spread the shore before the waves and balanced the world in the centre of the firmament. But when I saw the impenetrable mist which surrounds human affairs, the wicked happy and long prosperous and the good discomforted, then in turn my belief in God was weakened and failed, and even against mine own will I embraced the tenets of that other philosophy​ which teaches that atoms drift in purposeless motion and that new forms throughout the vast void are shaped by chance and not design — that philosophy which believes in God in an ambiguous sense, or holds that there be no gods, or that they are careless of our doings. At last Rufinus’ fate has dispelled this uncertainty and freed the gods from this imputation. No longer can I complain that the unrighteous man reaches the highest pinnacle of success. He is raised aloft that he may be hurled down in more headlong ruin. Muses, unfold to your poet whence sprang this grievous pest.

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? Why this purposeless girdle of smoky torches? Sluggards, ye, whom Jove has excluded from heaven, Theodosius from earth. 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. Of two minds was the band of her sisters. The greater number was for declaring war upon heaven, yet some respected still the ordinances of Dis and the uproar grew by reason of their dissension, even as the sea’s calm is not at once restored, but the deep still thunders when, for all the wind be dropped, the swelling tide yet flows, and the last weary winds of the departing storm play o’er the tossing waves.

Thereupon cruel Megaera rose from her funereal seat, mistress she of madness’ howlings and impious ill and wrath bathed in fury’s foam. No blood her drink but that flowing from kindred slaughter and forbidden crime, shed by a father’s, by a brother’s sword. ‘Twas she made e’en Hercules afraid and brought shame upon that bow that had freed the world of monsters; she aimed the arrow in Athamas’​ hand: she took her pleasure in murder after murder, a mad fury in Agamemnon’s palace; beneath her auspices wedlock mated Oedipus with his mother and Thyestes with his daughter. Thus then she speaks with dread-sounding words:

“To raise our standards against the gods, my sisters, is neither right nor, methinks, possible; but hurt the world we may, if such our wish, and bring an universal destruction upon its inhabitants. I have a monster more savage than the hydra brood, swifter than the mother tigress, fiercer than the south wind’s blast, more treacherous than Euripus’ yellow flood — Rufinus. I was the first to gather him, a new-born babe, to my bosom. Often did the child nestle in mine embrace and seek my breast, his arms thrown about my neck in a flood of infant tears. My snakes shaped his soft limbs by licking them with their three-forked tongues. I taught him guile whereby he learnt the arts of injury and deceit, how to conceal the intended menace and cover his treachery with a smile, full-filled with savagery and hot with lust of gain. Him nor the sands of rich Tagus’ flood by Tartessus’ town could satisfy nor the golden waters of ruddy Pactolus; should he drink all Hermus’ stream he would parch with the greedier thirst. How skilled to deceive and wreck friendships with hate! Had that old generation of men produced such an one as he, Theseus had fled Pirithous, Pylades deserted Orestes in wrath, Pollux hated Castor. I confess myself his inferior: his quick genius has outstripped his preceptress: in a word (that I waste not your time further) all the wickedness that is ours in common is his alone. Him will I introduce, if the plan commend itself to you, to the kingly palace of the emperor of the world. Be he wiser than Numa, be he Minos’ self, needs must he yield and succumb to the treachery of my foster child.”

A shout followed her words: all stretched forth their impious hands and applauded the awful plot. When Megaera had gathered together her dress with the black serpent that girdled her, and bound her hair with combs of steel, she approached the sounding stream of Phlegethon, and seizing a tall pine-tree from the scorched summit of the flaming bank kindled it in the pitchy flood, then plied her swift wings o’er sluggish Tartarus.

There is a place where Gaul stretches her furthermost shore spread out before the waves of Ocean: ’tis there that Ulysses is said to have called up the silent ghosts with a libation of blood. There is heard the mournful weeping of the spirits of the dead as they flit by with faint sound of wings, and the inhabitants see the pale ghosts pass and the shades of the dead. ‘Twas from here the goddess leapt forth, dimmed the sun’s fair beams and clave the sky with horrid howlings. Britain felt the deadly sound, the noise shook the country of the Senones,​ Tethys stayed her tide, and Rhine let fall his urn and shrank his stream. Thereupon, in the guise of an old man, her serpent locks changed at her desire to snowy hair, her dread cheeks furrowed with many a wrinkle and feigning weariness in her gait she enters the walls of Elusa,​ in search of the house she had long known so well. Long she stood and gazed with jealous eyes, marvelling at a man worse than herself; then spake she thus: “Does ease content thee, Rufinus? Wastest thou in vain the flower of thy youth inglorious thus in thy father’s fields? Thou knowest not what fate and the stars owe thee, what fortune makes ready. So thou wilt obey me thou shalt be lord of the whole world. Despise not an old man’s feeble limbs: I have the gift of magic and the fire of prophecy is within me. I have learned the incantations wherewith Thessalian witches pull down the bright moon, I know the meaning of the wise Egyptians’ runes, the art whereby the Chaldeans impose their will upon the subject gods, the various saps that flow within trees and the power of deadly herbs; all those that grow on Caucasus rich in poisonous plants, or, to man’s bane, clothe the crags of Scythia; herbs such as cruel Medea gathered and curious Circe. Often in nocturnal rites have I sought to propitiate the dread ghosts and Hecate, and recalled the shades of buried men to live again by my magic: many, too, has my wizardry brought to destruction though the Fates had yet somewhat of their life’s thread to spin. I have caused oaks to walk and the thunderbolt to stay his course, aye, and made rivers reverse their course and flow backwards to their fount. Lest thou perchance think these be but idle boasts behold the change of thine own house.” At these words the white pillars, to his amazement, began to turn into gold and the beams of a sudden to shine with metal.

His senses are captured by the bait, and, thrilled beyond measure, he feasts his greedy eyes on the sight. So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold: but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold cursed his prayer. Thus Rufinus, overcome, cried out: “Whithersoever thou summonest I follow, be thou man or god.” Then at the Fury’s bidding he left his fatherland and approached the cities of the East, threading the once floating Symplegades and the seas renowned for the voyage of the Argo, ship of Thessaly, till he came to where, beneath its high-walled town, the gleaming Bosporus separates Asia from the Thracian coast.

When he had completed this long journey and, led by the evil thread of the fates, had won his way into the far-famed palace, then did ambition straightway come to birth and right was no more. Everything had its price. He betrayed secrets, deceived dependents, and sold honours that had been wheedled from the emperor. He followed up one crime with another, heaping fuel on the inflamed mind and probing and embittering the erstwhile trivial wound. And yet, as Nereus knows no addition from the infinitude of rivers that flow into him and though here he drains Danube’s wave and there Nile’s summer flood with its sevenfold mouth, yet ever remains his same and constant self, so Rufinus’ thirst knew no abatement for all the streams of gold that flowed in upon him. Had any a necklace studded with jewels or a fertile demesne he was sure prey for Rufinus: a rich property assured the ruin of it own possessor: fertility was the husbandman’s bane. He drives them from their homes, expels them from the lands their sires had left them, either wresting them from the living owners or fastening upon them as an inheritor. Massed riches are piled up and a single house receives the plunder of a world; whole peoples are forced into slavery, and thronging cities bow beneath the tyranny of a private man.

Madman, what shall be the end? Though thou possess either Ocean, though Lydia pour forth her golden waters, though thou join Croesus’ throne to Cyrus’ crown, yet shalt thou never be rich nor ever contented with thy booty. The greedy man is always poor. Fabricius, happy in his honourable poverty, despised the gifts of monarchs; the consul Serranus sweated at his heavy plough and a small cottage gave shelter to the warlike Curii. To my mind such poverty as this is richer than thy wealth, such a home greater than thy palaces. There pernicious luxury seeks for the food that satisfieth not; here the earth provides a banquet for which is nought to pay. With thee wool absorbs the dyes of Tyre; thy patterned clothes are stained with purple; here are bright flowers and the meadow’s breathing charm which owes its varied hues but to itself. There are beds piled on glittering bedsteads; here stretches the soft grass, that breaks not sleep with anxious cares. There a crowd of clients dins through the spacious halls, here is song of birds and the murmur of the gliding stream. 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.

Still grew Rufinus’ wicked greed, and his impious passion for new-won wealth blazed yet fiercer; no feeling of shame kept him from demanding and extorting money. He combines perjury with ceaseless cajolery, ratifying with a hand-clasp the bond he purposes to break. Should any dare to refuse his demand for one thing out of so many, his fierce heart would be stirred with swelling wrath. Was ever lioness wounded with a Gaetulian’s spear, or Hyrcan tiger pursuing the robber of her young, was ever bruisèd serpent so fierce? He swears by the majesty of the gods and tramples on his oath. He reverences not the laws of hospitality. To kill a wife and her husband with her and her children sates not his anger; ’tis not enough to slaughter relations and drive friends into exile; he strives to destroy every citizen of Rome and to blot out the very name of our race. Nor does he even slay with a swift death; ere that he enjoys the infliction of cruel torture; the rack, the chain, the lightless cell, these he sets before the final blow. Why, this remission is more savage, more madly cruel, than the sword — this grant of life that agony may accompany it! Is death not enough for him? With treacherous charges he attacks; dazed wretches find him at once accuser and judge. Slow to all else he is swift to crime and tireless to visit the ends of the earth in its pursuit. Neither the Dog-star’s heat nor the wintry blasts of the Thracian north wind detain him. Feverish anxiety torments his cruel heart lest any escape his sword, or an emperor’s pardon lose him an opportunity for injury. Neither age nor youth can move his pity: before their father’s eyes his bloody axe severs boys’ heads from their bodies; an aged man, once a consul, survived the murder of his son but to be driven into exile. Who can bring himself to tell of so many murders, who can adequately mourn such impious slaughter? Do men tell that cruel Sinis of Corinth e’er wrought such wickedness with his pine-tree, or Sciron with his precipitous rock, or Phalaris with his brazen bull, or Sulla with his prison? O gentle horses of Diomede! O piti­ful altars of Busiris! Henceforth, compared with Rufinus thou, Cinna, shalt be loving, and thou, Spartacus, a sluggard.

All were a prey to terror, for men knew not where next his hidden hatred would break forth, they sob in silence for the tears they dare not shed and fear to show their indignation. Yet is not the spirit of great-hearted Stilicho broken by this same fear. Alone amid the general calamity he took arms against this monster of greed and his devouring maw, though not borne on the swift course of any wingèd steed nor aided by Pegasus’ reins. In him all found the quiet they longed for, he was their one defence in danger, their shield out-held against the fierce foe, the exile’s sanctuary, standard confronting the madness of Rufinus, fortress for the protection of the good.

Thus far Rufinus advanced his threats and stayed; then fell back in coward flight: even as a torrent swollen with winter rains rolls down great stones in its course, overwhelms woods, tears away bridges, yet is broken by a jutting rock, and, seeking a way through, foams and thunders about the cliff with shattered waves.

How can I praise thee worthily, thou who sustainedst with thy shoulders the tottering world in its threatened fall? The gods gave thee to us as they show a welcome star to frightened mariners whose weary bark is buffeted with storms of wind and wave and drifts with blind course now that her steersman is beaten. Perseus, descendant of Inachus, is said to have overcome Neptune’s monsters in the Red Sea, but he was helped by his wings; no wing bore thee aloft: Perseus was armed with the Gorgons’ head that turneth all to stone; the snaky locks of Medusa protected not thee. His motive was but the love of a chained girl, thine the salvation of Rome. The days of old are surpassed; let them keep silence and cease to compare Hercules’ labours with thine. ‘Twas but one wood that sheltered the lion of Cleonae, the savage boar’s tusks laid waste a single Arcadian vale, and thou, rebel Antaeus, holding thy mother earth in thine embrace, didst no hurt beyond the borders of Africa. Crete alone re-echoed to the bellowings of the fire-breathing bull, and the green hydra beleaguered no more than Lerna’s lake. But this monster Rufinus terrified not one lake nor one island: whatsoever lives beneath the Roman rule, from distant Spain to Ganges’ stream, was in fear of him. Neither triple Geryon nor Hell’s fierce janitor can vie with him nor could the conjoined terrors of power­ful Hydra, ravenous Scylla, and fiery Chimaera.

Long hung the contest in suspense, but the struggle betwixt vice and virtue was ill-matched in character. Rufinus threatens slaughter, thou stayest his hand; he robs the rich, thou givest back to the poor; he overthrows, thou restorest; he sets wars afoot, thou winnest them. As a pestilence, growing from day to day by reason of the infected air, fastens first upon the bodies of animals but soon sweeps away peoples and cities, and when the winds blow hot spreads its hellish poison to the polluted streams, so the ambitious rebel marks down no private prey, but hurls his eager threats at kings, and seeks to destroy Rome’s army and overthrow her might. Now he stirs up the Getae​ and the tribes on Danube’s banks, allies himself with Scythia and exposes what few his cruelties have spared to the sword of the enemy. There march against us a mixed horde of Sarmatians and Dacians, the Massagetes who cruelly wound their horses that they may drink their blood, the Alans who break the ice and drink the waters of Maeotis’ lake, and the Geloni who tattoo their limbs: these form Rufinus’ army. And he brooks not their defeat; he frames delays and postpones the fitting season for battle. For when thy right hand, Stilicho, had scattered the Getic bands and avenged the death of thy brother general, when one section of Rufinus’ army was thus weakened and made an easy prey, then that foul traitor, that conspirator with the Getae, tricked the emperor and put off the instant day of battle, meaning to ally himself with the Huns, who, as he knew, would fight and quickly join the enemies of Rome.

These Huns are a tribe who live on the extreme eastern borders of Scythia, beyond frozen Tanais; most infamous of all the children of the north. Hideous to look upon are their faces and loathsome their bodies, but indefatigable is their spirit. The chase supplies their food; bread they will not eat. They love to slash their faces and hold it a righteous act to swear by their murdered parents. Their double nature fitted not better the twi-formed Centaurs to the horses that were parts of them. Disorderly, but of incredible swiftness, they often return to the fight when little expected.

Fearless, however, against such forces, thou, Stilicho, approachest the waters of foaming Hebrus and thus prayest ere the trumpets sound and the fight begins: “Mars, whether thou reclinest on cloud-capped Haemus, or frost-white Rhodope holdeth thee, or Athos, severed to give passage to the Persian fleet, or Pangaeus, gloomy with dark holm-oaks, gird thyself at my side and de thine own land of Thrace. If victory smile on us, thy meed shall be an oak stump adorned with spoils.”

The Father heard his prayer and rose from the snowy peaks of Haemus shouting commands to his speedy servants: “Bellona, bring my helmet; fasten me, Panic, the wheels upon my chariot; harness my swift horses, Fear. Hasten: speed on your work. See, my Stilicho makes him ready for war; Stilicho whose habit it is to load me with rich trophies and hang upon the oak the plumed helmets of his enemies. For us together the trumpets ever sound the call to battle; yoking my chariot I follow wheresoever he pitches his camp.” So spake he and leapt upon the plain, and on this side Stilicho scattered the enemy bands in broadcast flight and on that Mars; alike the twain in accoutrement and stature. The helmets of either tower with bristling crests, their breastplates flash as they speed along and their spears take their fill of widely dealt wounds.

Meanwhile Megaera, more eager now she has got her way, and revelling in this widespread calamity, comes upon Justice sad at heart in her palace, and thus provokes her with horrid utterance: “Is this that old reign of peace; this the return of that golden age thou fondly hopedst had come to pass? Is our power gone, and no place now left for the Furies? Turn thine eyes this way. See how many cities the barbarians’ fires have laid low, how vast a slaughter, how much blood Rufinus hath procured for me, and on what widespread death my serpents gorge themselves. Leave thou the world of men; that lot is mine. Mount to the stars, return to that well-known tract of Autumn sky where the Standard-bearer dips towards the south.​ The space next to the summer constellation of the Lion, the neighbourhood of the winter Balance has long been empty. And would I could now follow thee through the dome of heaven.”

The goddess made answer: “Thou shalt rage no further, mad that thou art. Now shall thy creature receive his due, the destined avenger hangs over him, and he who now wearies land and the very sky shall die, though no handful of dust shall cover his corpse. Soon shall come Honorius, promised of old to this fortunate age, brave as his father Theodosius, brilliant as his brother Arcadius; he shall subdue the Medes and overthrow the Indians with his spear. Kings shall pass under his yoke, frozen Phasis shall bear his horses’ hooves, and Araxes submit perforce to be bridged by him. Then too shalt thou be bound with heavy chains of iron and cast out from the light of day and imprisoned in the nethermost pit, thy snaky locks overcome and shorn from thy head. 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 will laugh with flashing jewels.”

Claudian, Against Rufinus, Second Poem


Return, ye Muses, and throw open rescued Helicon; now again may your company gather there. Nowhere now in Italy does the hostile trumpet forbid song with its viler bray. Do thou too, Delian Apollo, now that Delphi is safe and fear has been dispelled, wreath thy avenger’s head with flowers. No savage foes sets profane lips to Castalia’s spring or those prophetic streams. Alpheus’​ flood ran all his length red with slaughter and the waves bore the bloody marks of war across the Sicilian sea; whereby Arethusa, though herself not present, recognized the triumphs freshly won and knew of the slaughter of the Getae, to which that blood bore witness.

Let peace, Stilicho, succeed these age-long labours and ease thine heart by graciously listening to my song. Think it no shame to interrupt thy long toil and to consecrate a few moments to the Muses. Even unwearying Mars is said to have stretched his tired limbs on the snowy Thracian plain when at last the battle was ended, and, unmindful of his wonted fierceness, to have laid aside his spear in gentler mood, soothing his ear with the Muses’ melody.


After the subjugation of the Alpine tribes and the salvation of the kingdoms of Italy the heavens welcomed the Emperor Theodosius​ to the place of honour due to his worth, and so shone the brighter by the addition of another star. Then was the power of Rome entrusted to thy care, Stilicho; in thy hands was placed the governance of the world. The brothers’ twin majesty and the armies of either royal court were given into thy charge. But Rufinus (for cruelty and crime brook not peace, and a tainted mouth will not forgo its draughts of blood), Rufinus, I say, began once more to inflame the world with wicked wars and to disturb peace with accursed sedition. Thus to himself: “How shall I assure my slender hopes for survival? By what means beat back the rising storm? On all sides are hate and the threat of arms. What am I to do? No help can I find in soldier’s weapon or emperor’s favour. Instant dangers ring me round and a gleaming sword hangs above my head. What is left but to plunge the world into fresh troubles and draw down innocent peoples in my ruin? Gladly will I perish if the world does too; general destruction shall console me for mine own death, nor will I die (for I am no coward) till I have accomplished this. I will not lay down my power before my life.”

So spake he, and as if Aeolus unchained the winds so he, breaking their bonds, let loose the nations, clearing the way for war; and, that no land should be free therefrom, apportioned ruin throughout the world, parcelling out destruction. Some pour across the frozen surface of quick-flowing Danube and break with the chariot wheel what erstwhile knew but the oar; others invade the wealthy East, led through the Caspian Gates and over the Armenian snows by a newly-discovered pass. The fields of Cappadocia reek with slaughter; Argaeus, father of swift horses, is laid waste. Halys’ deep waters run red and the Cilician cannot defend himself in his precipitous mountains. The pleasant plains of Syria are devastated, and the enemy’s cavalry thunders along the banks of Orontes, home hitherto of the dance and of a happy people’s song. Hence comes mourning to Asia, while Europe is left to be the sport and prey of Getic hordes even to the borders of fertile Dalmatia. All that tract of land lying between the stormy Euxine and the Adriatic is laid waste and plundered, no inhabitants dwell there; ’tis like torrid Africa whose sun-scorched plains never grow kindlier through human tillage. Thessaly is afire; Pelion silent, his shepherds put to flight; flames bring destruction on Macedonia’s crops. For Pannonia’s plain, the Thracians’ helpless cities, the fields of Mysia were ruined but now none wept; year by year came the invader, unsheltered was the countryside from havoc and custom had robbed suffering of its sting. Alas, in how swift ruin perish even the greatest things! An empire won and kept at the expense of so much bloodshed, born from the toils of countless leaders, knit together through so many years by Roman hands, one coward traitor overthrew in the twinkling of an eye.

That city,​ too, called of men the rival of great Rome, that looks across to Chalcedon’s strand, is stricken now with terror at no neighbouring war; nearer home it observes the flash of torches, the trumpet’s call, and its own roofs the target for an enemy’s artillery. Some guard the walls with watchful outposts, others hasten to fortify the harbour with a chain of ships. But fierce Rufinus is full of joy in the leaguered city and exults in its misfortunes, gazing at the awful spectacle of the surrounding country from the summit of a lofty tower. He watches the procession of women in chains, sees one poor half-dead wretch drowned in the water hard by, another, stricken as he fled, sink down beneath the sudden wound, another breathe out his life at the tower’s very gates; he rejoices that no respect is shown to grey hairs and that mother’s breasts are drenched with their children’s blood. Great is his pleasure thereat; from time to time he laughs and knows but one regret — that it is not his own hand that strikes. He sees the whole countryside (except for his own lands) ablaze, and has joy of his great wickedness, making no secret of the fact that the city’s foes are his friends. It is his boast, moreover, that to him alone the enemy camp opened its gates, and that there was allowed right of parley between them. Whene’er he issued forth to arrange some wondrous truce his companions thronged him round and an armed band of dependents danced attendance on a civilian’s standards. Rufinus himself in their midst drapes tawny skins of beasts about his breast (thorough in his barbarity), and uses harness and huge quivers and twanging bows like those of the Getae — his dress openly showing the temper of his mind. One who drives a consul’s chariot and enjoys a consul’s powers has no shame to adopt the manners and dress of barbarians; Roman law, obliged to change her noble garment, mourns her slavery to a skin-clad judge.

What looks then on men’s faces! What furtive murmurs! For, poor wretches, they could not even weep nor, without risk, ease their grief in converse. “How long shall we bear this deadly yoke? What end shall there ever be to our hard lot? Who will free us from this death-fraught anarchy, this day of tears? On this side the barbarian hems us in, on that Rufinus oppresses us; land and sea are alike denied us. A pestilence stalks through the country: yes, but a deadlier terror haunts our houses. Stilicho, delay no more but succour thy dying land; of a truth here are thy children, here thy home, here were taken those first auspices for thy marriage, so blessed with children, here the palace was illumined with the torches of happy wedlock. Nay, come even though alone, thou for whom we long; wars will perish at thy sight and the ravening monster’s rage subside.”

Such were the tempests that vexed the turbulent East. But so soon as ever winter had given place to the winds of spring and the hills began to lose their covering of snow, Stilicho, leaving the fields of Italy in peace and safety, set in motion his two armies and hastened to the lands of the sunrise, combining the so different squadrons of Gaul and of the East. Never before did there meet together under one command such numerous bands, never in one army such a babel of tongues. Here were curly-haired Armenian cavalry, their green cloaks fastened with a loose knot, fierce Gauls with golden locks accompanied them, some from the banks of the swift-flowing Rhone, or the more sluggish Saône, some whose infant bodies Rhine’s flood had laved, or who had been washed by the waves of the Garonne that flow more rapidly towards, than from, their source, whenever they are driven back by Ocean’s full tide. One common purpose inspires them all; grudges lately harboured are laid aside; the vanquished feels no hate, the victor shows no pride. And despite of present unrest, of the trumpet’s late challenge to civil strife, and of warlike rage still aglow, yet were all at one in their support of their great leader. So it is said that the army that followed Xerxes, gathered into one from all quarters of the world, drank up whole rivers in their courses, obscured the sun with the rain of their arrows, passed through mountains on board ship, and walked the bridged sea with contemptuous foot.

Scarce had Stilicho crossed the Alps when the barbarian hordes began to restrict their forays and for fear of his approach gathered together in the plain and enclosed their pasture lands within a defensive ring. They then built an impregnable fortification with a double moat, planted stakes two deep at intervals along its summit and set wagons rigged with ox-hide all round like a wall.

Panic fear seized upon Rufinus as he saw this from afar, and his cheeks grew pale. He stood with ice-cold face, not knowing whether to fly, to own himself beaten and sue for mercy, or go over to an enemy whose good faith his treachery had assured. Of what use now were his riches, his vast stores of golden ore, his halls upheld with red marble pillars, his sky-towering palace? He hears of Stilicho’s march and counts the days, measuring his term of life according to the distance of his enemy from him. He is troubled with thoughts of coming peace and cannot sleep, often starts up distraught from his bed and suffers as punishment the fear of punishment. But his fury repossesses him and, regaining his genius for crime, he enters the sacred portal of the rich palace and addresses Arcadius with prayers and threats: “By thy brother’s royal star, by the deeds of thy divine sire and the flower of thine own age, I beg thee deliver me from the edge of the sword; let me escape the cruel threatenings of Stilicho. All Gaul is sworn to my destruction. Tethys’ extreme coasts, the wandering tribes beyond the farthest Britons are stirred up against me. Am I thought fit prey for all those armies? Are so many standards advanced against a solitary man? Whence comes this lust for blood? Stilicho lays claim to either hemisphere and will brook no equal. The world forsooth must lie at his feet. Italy is his kingdom, Libya his dominion, Spain and Gaul his empire. The sun’s path circumscribes him not, no nor the whole universe. All the wealth collected here by Theodosius or received by him after the war is Stilicho’s alone, and he has small mind to restore what he has once acquired. Is he to enjoy his gains in peace and quietness while ’tis mine to stand a siege? Why should he encroach on thy share? Let him leave Illyria, send back his Eastern troops, divide the hosts fairly between the two brothers, and do thou not be heir to the sceptre only but to thy forces. But if thou neglect to come to mine aid and make not ready to prevent my death, this head of mine shall not fall alone — by the dead and the stars I swear it. The blood of another shall be mingled with mine. I will not go unaccompanied to the waters of Styx nor shall the victor be free to exult in my death.”

So saying he dictates a treasonable letter and sends therewith an emissary to bear the message extorted from the emperor’s unwilling lips.

Meanwhile Stilicho, exulting in the thought of advancing upon the foe and of the narrow stretch of country that separated him from the fortifications, inflames with his words the hearts of his troops already thirsting for battle. On the left wing are posted the Armenians, farther to the right the Gauls. A beholder might have seen bits covered with warm foam, clouds of dust uprising, and on all sides waving banners bearing the device of a scarlet dragon; the very air seemed to teem with these fierce flying monsters. The glint of steel fills all Thessaly and the cave of the wise Centaur; the river whose banks supported Achilles’ baby footsteps and the forests of Oeta are agleam with arms, snowy Ossa re-echoes to the sound and Olympus smitten therewith sends it back twofold. Neither precipice nor deep river could check their advance: their headlong speed would have overthrown all barriers.

If the two armies had then joined battle in this temper ruined Greece would not have witnessed such disaster as she did, the cities of the Peloponnese would still have been flourishing untouched by the hand of war, Arcadia and Sparta’s citadel would have remained unravaged. Burning Corinth would not have heated the waves of her two seas, nor would cruel chains have led in captivity the matrons of Athens. That day might have set an end to our disasters and destroyed the seeds of future calamities. For shame, envious Fortune, of what a triumph didst thou rob us! The kingly mandate came to Stilicho in arms amid the cavalry and the trumpets’ din.

He stood amazed; anger and great grief o’erwhelm the hero and he wonders that such power for ill is allowed a coward. His wavering mind ponders the uncertain issue: shall he continue his advance or fail his brave beginnings? He longs to stem Illyria’s ruin but fears to disobey orders. Loyalty annuls the prickings-on of valour. The public good urges him one way, fear of the emperor’s displeasure another. At length in his distress he raises his hands to heaven and speaks from deep within his heart: “Ye gods not yet glutted with Rome’s destruction, if ye will that our empire be utterly uprooted, if ye have resolved to blot out all the centuries with one blow, if ye repent you of the race of man, then let the sea’s unrestrained fury burst forth upon the land or let Phaëthon, deviating from his ordained course, drive his straying chariot at random. Shall Rufinus be your tool? ‘Twere shame that such an one should be the author of the world’s destruction. O the grief of it! recalled in mid fight; forced to lay down the swords we have drawn! Cities marked out for the flames, walls doomed to destruction, I call you to witness: see, I retire; I leave the unhappy world to its fate. Turn your banners, captains; to your homes, soldiers of the east. Needs must we obey. Silence, ye clarions; men, forbear to shoot. The foe is at hand, spare him; ’tis Rufinus’ command.”

At these words an unanimous roar went up from all the companies. With less din are the cliffs of Ceraunia buffeted by the Italian sea or the thunders evoked from the western winds’ wet storm-clouds. They will not separate, and demand the battle of which they have been defrauded. East and west claim the leader­ship of that illustrious chief. It is a contest of affection; insubordination that none can blame threatens to sap the loyalty of both armies who thus utter their common complaint: “Who is it robs us of our drawn swords? Who strikes the lance from our hand and bids us unstring the bent bow? Who dares dictate to an army under arms? Valour once roused knows no abatement. Spears thirsting for barbarian blood cast themselves from out our hands; our headlong blades force our vengeful arms to follow them; our very scabbards refuse to sheath an unblooded sword. I will not bear it. Shall the Getae ever profit by our dissension? Behold once more the shadow of civil war. Why dost thou seek to separate armies whose blood is one, standards of immemorial alliance? We are a body one and indivisible. Thee will we follow whithersoever thou goest; thee will we accompany even as far as Thule lying icebound beneath the pole-star, or to the burning sands of Libya. Should thy path be by the waters of Ind, or the bays of the Red Sea,​ I would go drink Hydaspes’ golden stream. Shouldst thou bid me fare south and search out the hidden sources of the stripling Nile, I would leave behind me the world I know. Wheresoever Stilicho plants his tent there is my fatherland.”

But Stilicho said them nay: “Cease, I beg you,” he cried, “stay your eager hands. Suffer to disperse the mountain of hatred that towers over me. I hold not victory so dear that I would fain seem to win it for myself. Loyal gentlemen, so long my fellow-soldiers, get you gone.” He said no more but turned away, as a lion loath to retire makes off with empty maw when the serried spears and the burning branches in the hands of the shepherd band drive him back and he droops his mane and closes his downcast eyes and with a disappointed roar pushes his way through the trembling forest.

When the armies saw that they had been parted and left, they groaned deeply and bedewed their helmets with a stream of tears. The sighs that refused egress to their smothered words shook the strong fastenings of their breastplates. “We are betrayed,” they cried, “and forbidden to follow him we love so well. Dost thou despise, matchless chief, thine own right hands which have so often won thee the victory? Are we thus vile? Is the Western sky to be the happier which has won the right to enjoy thy rule? What boots it to return to our country, to see once more our children dear after so long an absence, to live again in the home we love? Without thee is no joy. Now must I face the tyrant’s dread wrath; mayhap e’en now he is making ready against me some wicked snare and will make me a slave to the foul Huns or restless Alans. Yet is not my strength altogether perished nor so complete my powerlessness to wield the sword. Rest thou beneath the sun’s westering course, Stilicho, thou art still ever our general, and though we be not together thou shalt still know our loyalty. Long has a victim been owed thee; he shall be sacrificed and thou placated by an immolation promised of old.”

Sad at heart the army left Thessaly, reached the borders of Macedon, and arrived before the walls of Thessalonica. Indignation deep hid in their hearts prepares the silent wrath of revenge. They look for a place where they may wreak their vengeance and a moment propitious for the blow, and of all that vast army not one is found to divulge with incautious speech his heart’s intent. What succeeding age and time but will marvel that a plot so widespread could be kept hid, a deed of such vast import concealed; that the ardour of their minds was not rendered of no avail by the chance word of a soldier on the march or a drunkard’s babbling? But discretion ruled all alike and the people’s secret was kept. The army crossed the Hebrus, left Rhodope behind, and struck across the uplands of Thrace until it came to the city called after Hercules.

When Rufinus learned that Stilicho had retired and that his troops were approaching he held his head high in triumph, believing everything safe, and, anxious to seize the power, inflamed his traitorous minions with this speech: “We have conquered; have driven off our enemy; empire is within my grasp, nor have we anything to fear from the foe. Will one who dared not approach me when I stood alone defeat me now that I am strengthened by the addition of so great a force? Who could stand against him armed whom unarmed he could not conquer? Plot my destruction in exile, friend Stilicho. What harm can that do so long as a vast stretch of country divide us and Nereus’ waves thunder between? Thou shalt have no chance of crossing the rocky Alps while I live. Transfix me from thence with thine arrows, if thou canst. Seek in thy fury a sword that from Italy shall reach my city’s walls. Does not the experience and the example of those who have tried before deter thee? Who that has dared approach can boast escape from my hands? I have driven thee from the centre of the civilized world and at the same time deprived thee of thy great army. Now, my friends, is come the time for feasting and making ready bounti­ful gifts and bestowing gold upon these new legions. To‑morrow’s light dawns prosperously for my purpose. Needs must the emperor will what he would not and bid a portion of his empire to be given to me. Mine alone be the happy fortune to rise above a private estate and yet escape the charge of tyranny.”

To such words they shout acclaim — that vile band of traitors, waxed fat on plunder, whom one principle makes fellows with Rufinus, the holding nothing unlawful, and whose bond of friendship is to guard guilt in silence. Straightway they joyfully promise themselves foreign wives and all to no purpose forecast the booty they will win and the cities they will sack.

Night had begun to soothe human toils in her deep bosom and sleep had spread his black wings when Rufinus, whose mind had long been a prey to anxiety, sank into a troubled slumber. Scarce had quiet fastened on his heart when, lo, he sees flit before his eyes the dread ghosts of those whom he had killed. Of them one, more distinct than the rest, seemed thus to address him: “Up from thy couch! why schemes thine anxious mind further? This coming day shall bring thee rest and end thy toils. High above the people shalt thou be raised, and happy crowds shall carry thee in their arms.” Such was the ambiguous prophecy of the ghost, but Rufinus observed not the hidden omen and saw not it foretold the elevation of his severed head upon a spear.

Now Lucifer touched the peak of Haemus with his rays and Titan urged his hastening wheel quicker than his wont, so soon to see at last the death of Rufinus. Rufinus himself leapt from his bed and bade make ready the capacious palace with regal splendour in preparation for the feast; the gold to be given in largesse he ordered to be stamped with his own fateful image. Himself went to welcome the troops returning from the battle in kingly pride and arrogance above a prince’s. Sure now of empire he wore a woman’s raiment about his neck; as though the purple already clothed his limbs and the jewelled crown blazed upon his brow.

Hard by a crowded quarter of the city of Constantinople, towards the south, there lies a plain. The rest is surrounded by the sea which here allows itself to be parted by a narrow way. Here the avenging army, bright with the panoply of the war god, disposes its squadrons. On the left stands the infantry. Over against them the cavalry seek to restrain their eager steeds by holding tight the reins. Here nod the savage waving plumes whose wearers rejoice to shake the flashing colours of their shoulder-armour; for steel clothes them on and gives them their shape; the limbs within give life to the armour’s pliant scales so artfully conjoined, and strike terror into the beholder. ‘Tis as though iron statues moved and men lived cast from that same metal. The horses are armed in the same way; their heads are encased in threatening iron, their forequarters move beneath steel plates protecting them from wounds; each stands alone, a pleasure yet a dread to behold, beautiful, yet terrible, and as the wind drops the parti-coloured dragons​ sink with relaxing coils into repose.

The emperor first salutes the hallowed standards; Rufinus follows him, speaking with that crafty voice wherewith he deceived all, praising their devoted arms and addressing each by name. He tells those who have returned that their sons and fathers are still alive. The soldiers, observing a feigned rivalry in asking questions, begin to extend their long lines behind his back and to join up the ends so as to form a circle unnoticed by Rufinus. The space in the centre grows smaller and the wings meeting with serried shields gradually form into one lessening circle. Even so the huntsman surrounds the grassy glades with his widespread snares: so the spoiler of the ocean drives to land the frightened fish, narrowing the circuit of his nets and closing up all possible ways of egress. All others they exclude. In his eagerness he notes not yet that he is being surrounded and, strongly seizing his robe, chides the hesitating emperor: let him mount the lofty platform and declare him sharer in his sceptre, partaker in his dignities — when suddenly they draw their swords and above the rest there rang out a mighty voice: “Basest of the base, didst thou hope to cast upon us the yoke of slavery? Knowest thou not whence I return? Shall I allow myself to be called another’s servant, I who gave laws to others and restored the reign of liberty? Two civil wars have I quenched, twice forced the barrier of the Alps. These many battles have taught me to serve no tyrant.”

Rufinus stood rooted to earth. There is no hope of escape, for a forest of flashing spears hems him in. Shut in on the right hand and on the left he stood and gazed in wonder on the drawn blades of the armed throng; as a beast who has lately left his native hills, driven in exile from the wooded mountains and condemned to the gladiatorial shows, rushes into the arena while over against him the gladiator, heartened by the crowd’s applause kneels and holds out his spear. The beast, alarmed at the noise, gazes with head erect upon the rows of seats in the amphitheatre and hears with amazement the murmuring of the crowd.

Then one more daring than the rest drew his sword and leapt forward from the crowd and with fierce words and flashing eye rushed upon Rufinus crying: “It is the hand of Stilicho whom thou vauntest that thou didst expel that smites thee; his sword, which thou thoughtest far away, that pierces thy heart.” So spake he and transfixed Rufinus’ side with a well-deserved thrust.

Happy the hand that first spilt such vile blood and poured out vengeance for a world made weary. Straightway all pierce him with their spears and tear quivering limb from limb; one single body warms all these weapons with its blood; shame to him whose sword returns unstained therewith. They stamp on that face of greed and while yet he lives pluck out his eyes; others seize and carry off his severed arms. One cuts off the foot, another wrenches a shoulder from the torn sinews; one lays bare the ribs of the cleft spine, another his liver, his heart, his still panting lungs. There is not space enough to satisfy their anger nor room to wreak their hate. Scarce when death had been accomplished do they leave him; his body is hacked in pieces and the fragments borne on the soldiers’ spears. Thus red with blood ran the Boeotian mountain when the Maenads caused Pentheus’ destruction or when Latona’s daughter seen by Actaeon betrayed the huntsman, suddenly transformed into a stag, to the fury of her Molossian hounds. Dost thou hope, Fortune, thus to right thy wrongs? seekest thou to atone by this meting out of punishment for favour ill bestowed? Dost thou with one death make payment for ten thousand murders? Come, portion out Rufinus’ corpse among the lands he has wronged. Give the Thracians his head; let Greece have as her due his body. What shall be given the rest? Give but a limb apiece, there are not enough for the peoples he has ruined.

The citizens leave the town and hasten exulting to the spot from every quarter, old men and girls among them whom nor age nor sex could keep at home. Widows whose husbands he had killed, mothers whose children he had murdered hurry to the joyful scene with eager steps. They are fain to trample the torn limbs and stain their deep pressed feet with the blood. So, too, they eagerly hurl a shower of stones at the monstrous head, nodding from the summit of the spear that transfixed it as it was carried back in merited splendour to the city. Nay his hand too, made over to their mockery, goes a-begging for alms, and with its awful gains pays the penalty for his greedy soul, while forced, in mimicry of its living clutch, to draw up the fingers by their sinews.

Put not now your trust in prosperity; learn that the gods are inconstant and heaven untrustworthy. That hand which sought to wield a sceptre, which a humbled nobility stooped so often to kiss, now torn from its wretched trunk and left long unburied begs after death a baneful alms. Let him gaze on this whoso carries his head high in pride of prosperity, see trodden under foot at the cross-roads him who built pyramids for himself and a tomb, large as a temple, to the glory of his own ghost. He who trusted to be clothed in Tyrian purple is now a naked corpse and food for birds. See, he who owns the world lies denied six foot of earth, half covered with a sprinkling of dust, given no grave yet given so many.

Heaven knew of his death and earth is freed of her hated burden, now that the stars can breathe again. His shade oppresses the rivers of Hell. Old Aeacus shudders and Cerberus bays to stop, in this case, the entry of a ghost. Then those shades which he had sent to death beneath his cruel laws flock round him and hale him away with horrid shoutings to the tribunal of the gloomy judge: even as bees whom a shepherd has disturbed swarm round his head when he would rob them of their sweet honey, and flutter their wings and put forth their stings, making them ready for battle in the fastnesses of their little rock, and seek to defend the crevices of their home, their beloved pumice-stone cave, swarming over the honeycombs therein.

There is a place where the unhallowed rivers of Cocytus and Phlegethon mingle their dread streams of tears and fire. Between the rivers yet nearer to that of Phlegethon there juts a tower stiff with solid adamant that bathes its left side in the flames; its right hand wall extends into Cocytus’ stream and echoes the lamentation of the river of tears. Hither come all the children of men whose life is ended; here there abide no marks of earthly fortune; no reverence is shown; the common beggar ousts the king, now stripped of his empty tittle. Seen afar on his lofty throne the judge Minos examines the charges and separates the wicked from the righteous. Those whom he sees unwilling to confess their sins he remits to the lash of his stern brother; for he, Rhadamanthus, is busy close at hand. When he has closely examined the deeds of their earthly life and all that they did therein, he suits the punishment to their crimes and makes them undergo the bonds of dumb animals. The spirits of the cruel enter into bears, of the rapacious into wolves, of the treacherous into foxes. Those, on the other hand, who were ever sunk in sloth, sodden with wine, given to venery, sluggish from excesses, he compelled to enter the fat bodies of filthy swine. Was any above measure talkative, a betrayer of secrets, he was carried off, a fish, to live in the waters amid his kind, that in eternal silence he might atone for his garrulity. When for thrice a thousand years he had forced these through countless diverse shapes, he sends them back once more to the beginnings of human form purged at last with Lethe’s stream.

So then while he settles these suits, dread business of that infernal court, while he examines in due order the criminals of old, he marks afar Rufinus, scans him with a stern scrutiny and speaks, shaking his throne to its foundation. “Hither, Rufinus, scourge of the world, bottomless sink of gold who wouldst dare aught for money; hither conscienceless seller of justice (that crime of crimes), faithless cause of that northern war whose thousand slaughtered victims now throng Hell’s narrow entry and weigh down Charon’s crowded barque. Madman, why deny what all know? The foul stains of wickedness are branded upon thy heart, thy crimes have made their impress on thy spirit and thy sins cannot be hid. Right glad I am to sentence thee to every kind of punishment. O’er thee shall hang the threatening rock the moment of whose fall thou knowest not. The circling wheel shall rack thee. Thy lips the stream’s waves shall flee, thirst shall parch thee to whose chin its elusive waters mount. The vulture shall leave his former prey and feast for ever on thy heart. And yet all these, Rufinus, whom the like punishments torment, how paltry their wickedness compared with thine! Did bold Salmoneus’ thunderbolt or Tantalus’ tongue ever do like wrong or Tityos so offend with his mad love? Join all their crimes together yet wilt thou surpass them. What sufficient atonement can be found for such wickedness? What to match thy sum of crimes whose single misdeeds outmatch all punishment? Shades, remove from this our ghostly company that presence that disgraces it. To have seen once is enough. Have mercy now on our eyes, and cleanse the realm of Dis. Drive him with whips beyond the Styx, beyond Erebus; thrust him down into the empty pit beneath the lightless prison of the Titans, below the depths of Tartarus and Chaos’ own realm, where lie the foundations of thickest midnight; deep hidden there let him live while ever the vault of heaven carries round the stars and the winds beat upon the land.”