Elephant miniature by Sam Garcia
Miniature by Sam Garcia

Non videtur esse praetermittendum de virtute militis veterani V. legionis. nam cum in sinistro cornu elephas vulnere ictus et dolore concitatus in lixam inermem impetum fecisset eumque sub pede subditum dein genu innixus pondere suo proboscide erecta vibrantique stridore maximo premeret atque enecaret, miles hic non potuit pati quin se armatus bestiae offerret. quem postquam elephas ad se telo infesto venire animadvertit, reliquo cadavere militem proboscide circumdat atque in sublime extollit. armatus, qui in eiusmodi periculo constanter agendum sibi videret, gladio proboscidem qua erat circumdatus caedere quantum viribus poterat non destitit. quo dolore adductus elephas milite abiecto maximo cum stridore cursuque conversus ad reliquas bestias se recepit. (Ps.-Caesar, Bell. Afr. 84)

I ought not, I think, to omit to mention the gallantry of a veteran soldier of the Fifth legion. On the left wing an elephant, maddened by the pain of a wound it had received, had attacked an unarmed sutler, pinned him underfoot, and then knelt upon him; and now, with its trunk erect and swaying, and trumpeting loudly, it was crushing him to dead with its weight. This was more than the soldier could bear; he could not but confront the beast, fully armed as he was. When it observed him coming towards it with weapon poised to strike, the elephant abandoned the corpse, encircled the soldier with its trunk, and lifted him up in the air. The soldier, perceiving that a dangerous crisis of this sort demanded resolute action on his part, hewed with his sword again and again at the encircling trunk with all the strength he could muster. The resulting pain caused the elephant to drop the soldier, wheel round, and with shrill trumpetings make all speed to rejoin its fellows. (tr. A.G. Way)



Ἄπειρον γὰρ ἦγες ἱππέων πλῆθος, καθάπερ ἀνδριάντας ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων ὀχουμένους, οἷς συνήρμοστο τὰ μέλη κατὰ μίμησιν τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως· ἀπὸ μὲν τῶν ἄκρων καρπῶν ἐς τοὺς ἀγκῶνας, ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους, καὶ ὁ θώραξ ἐκ τμημάτων κατὰ τὸ στέρνον καὶ τὰ νῶτα συναρμοζόμενος, τὸ κράνος αὐτῷ προσώπῳ σιδηροῦν ἐπικείμενον ἀνδριάντος λαμπροῦ καὶ στίλβοντος παρέχει τὴν ὄψιν, ἐπεὶ μηδὲ κνῆμαι καὶ μηροὶ μηδὲ ἄκροι πόδες τῆς σκευῆς ταύτης ἔρημοι λείπονται. συναρμοζομένων δὲ αὐτῶν τοῖς θώραξι διά τινων ἐκ κρίκου λεπτοῦ πεποιημένων οἱονεὶ ὑφασμάτων οὐδὲν ἂν ὀφθείη τοῦ σώματος γυμνὸν μερος, ἅτε καὶ τῶν χειρῶν τοῖς ὑφάσμασι τούτοις σκεπομένων πρὸς τὸ καὶ καμπτομένοις ἐπακολουθεῖν τοῖς δακτύλοις.
(Julian, Or. 1 [Panegyric in Honour of Constantius] 37C-38A)

Your cavalry was almost unlimited in numbers and they all sat their horses like statues, while their limbs were fitted with armour that followed closely the outline of the human form. It covers the arms from wrist to elbow and thence to the shoulder, while a coat of mail protects the shoulders, back and breast. The head and face are covered by a metal mask which makes its wearer look like a glittering statue, for not even the thighs and legs and the very ends of the feet lack this armour. It is attached to the cuirass by fine chain-armour like a web, so that no part of the body is visible and uncovered, for this woven covering protects the hands as well, and is so flexible that the wearers can bend even their fingers. (tr. Wilmer Cave Wright)

Hat tip to Jeroen Wijnendaele!


Calgacus addressing the Caledonians

“Nos terrarum ac libertatis extremos recessus ipse ac sinus famae in hunc diem defendit; atque omne ignotum pro magnifico est; sed nunc terminus Britanniae patet, nulla iam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus ac saxa, et infestiores Romani, quorum superbiam frustra per obsequium ac modestiam effugias. raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, mare scrutantur; si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit; soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. auferre, trucidare, rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.”
(Tacitus, Agr. 30.4-7)

“Here at the world’s end, on its last inch of liberty, we have lived unmolested to this day, in this sequestered nook of story; for the unknown is ever magnified. But to-day the uttermost parts of Britain are laid bare; there are no other tribes to come; nothing but sea and cliffs and these more deadly Romans, whose arrogance you shun in vain by obedience and self-restraint. Harriers of the world, now that earth fails their all-devastating hands, they probe even the sea: if their enemy have wealth, they have greed; if he be poor, they are ambitious; East nor West has glutted them; alone of mankind they behold with the same passion of concupiscence waste alike and want. To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.” (tr. William Peterson)


Charon (Litovshenko)
Aleksandr Litovchenko, Charon carrying souls across the river Styx (1861)

Nocte vagae ferimur, nox clausas liberat umbras,
errat et abiecta Cerberus ipse sera.
luce iubent leges Lethaea ad stagna reverti:
nos vehimur, vectum nauta recenset onus.
nunc te possideant aliae: mox sola tenebo:
mecum eris, et mixtis ossibus ossa teram.
(Propertius 4.7.89-94)

By night we drift abroad, night frees imprisoned shades, and even Cerberus casts aside his chains, and strays. At dawn the law compels us to return to Lethe’s waters: we board, the ferryman counts the cargo boarded. Other women may possess you now: soon I alone shall hold you: with me you will be, and my bones shall press yours in close entwining. (tr. G.P. Goold)


lion cub feeding

Ἔθρεψεν δὲ λέοντος ἶ-
νιν δόμοις ἀγάλακτον οὕ-
τως ἀνὴρ φιλόμαστον,
ἐν βιότου προτελείοις
ἅμερον, εὐφιλόπαιδα,
καὶ γεραροῖς ἐπίχαρτον·
πολέα δ’ ἔσκ’ ἐν ἀγκάλαις
νεοτρόφου τέκνου δίκαν,
φαιδρωπὸς ποτὶ χεῖρα σαί-
νων τε γαστρὸς ἀνάγκαις.

χρονισθεὶς δ’ ἀπέδειξεν ἦ-
θος τὸ πρὸς τοκέων· χάριν
γὰρ τροφεῦσιν ἀμείβων
μηλοφόνοισι σὺν ἄταις
δαῖτ’ ἀκέλευστος ἔτευξεν·
αἵματι δ’ οἶκος ἐφύρθη,
ἄμαχον ἄλγος οἰκέταις,
μέγα σίνος πολυκτόνον·
ἐκ θεοῦ δ’ ἱερεύς τις Ἄ-
τας δόμοις προσεθρέφθη.

(Aeschylus, Agamemnon 717-736)

Just so a man once
reared in his home an infant lion,
fond of the nipple but deprived of its milk,
in its undeveloped time of life
tame, well loved by children
and a delight to the old:
it was much in his arms
like a young suckling baby,
gazing bright-eyed at his hand*
and fawning when hunger pressed it.

But in time it displayed the character
inherited from its parents; it returned
thanks to its nurturers
by making, with destructive slaughter of sheep,
a feast, unbidden.
The house was steeped in blood,
and uncontrollable grief to the household,
a great calamity with much killing**.
What a god had caused to be reared as an inmate of the house
was a priest*** of ruin.

* “Which fed or might feed it” (Rose).
** These expressions are somewhat excessive if the only loss of life has been among sheep, and it is more likely that we are to understand that together with (σὺν) the slaughter of animals, the lion’s “unbidden feast” also included human flesh.
*** i.e. sacrificer, slaughterer.
(tr. Alan H. Sommerstein, with his notes)



Hoc et pontifices vicium, si creditur, atque
abbates premit, ah, documentum flagiciosum!
clericus hinc canones avertitur et Benedicti
monachus iniuncta claustrumque chorumque perosi
pharmacopolarum male olentia tecta frequentant.
proh dolor! et sceleri si compta iuvencula desit,
succumbit veteres ululans edentula cantus.
visere nunc discunt meritoria feda scolares;
sanctarum fugiunt habitacula relliquiarum.
non turpis flatus, non illos polipus arcet,
non unce nares, non dependentia labra.
cordibus humanis ceu flamma insistit ofellis
saevus amor, qui nos confundere iura fidemque
compellit; renum nil importunius igne!
(Sextus Amarcius, Sat. 1.3.230-243)

If one can believe it, this vice even afflicts bishops and abbots. Ah, the shameful example! On account of this the cleric turns away from the canons, and the monk from the commands of Benedict; hating the cloister and choir, they frequent the houses that reek badly of drug peddlers. Oh grief! Even if a beautiful young girl is lacking for their evil deed, a toothless hag howling old songs submits to it. Now scholars learn to look upon shameful rooms for rent; they flee from the dwelling places of holy relics. Foul breath does not keep them away, nor a nasal polyp, nor hooked noses, nor lips that hang down. Fierce passion, which forces us to confound laws and faith, pursues human hearts as a flame pursues bits of meat. Nothing is more troublesome than the fire in the loins! (tr. Ronald E. Pepin)


Giuseppe Crespi - Brutus Kissing the Earth (1725)
Giuseppe Crespi, Brutus Kissing the Earth (1725)

Quo in genere acuminis in primis Iunius Brutus referendus est: nam cum a rege Tarquinio, avunculo suo, omnem nobilitatis indolem excerpi, interque ceteros etiam fratrem suum, quod vegetioris ingenii erat, interfectum animadverteret, obtunsi se cordis esse simulavit, eaque fallacia maximas virtutes suas texit. profectus etiam Delphos cum Tarquinii filiis, quos is ad Apollinem Pythium muneribus et sacrificiis honorandum miserat, aurum deo nomine doni clam cavato baculo inclusum tulit, quia timebat ne sibi caeleste numen aperta liberalitate venerari tutum non esset. peractis deinde mandatis patris, Apollinem iuvenes consuluerunt quisnam ex ipsis Romae regnaturus videretur. at is penes eum summam urbis nostrae potestatem futuram respondit qui ante omnes matri osculum dedisset. tum Brutus, perinde atque casu prolapsus, de industria se abiecit, terramque, communem omnium matrem existimans, osculatus est. quod tam vafre Telluri impressum osculum urbi libertatem, Bruto primum in fastis locum tribuit.
(Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 7.3.2)

In this sort of sharpness Junius Brutus deserves particular mention. He noticed that his uncle king Tarquin was picking out all men of promise among the nobility and that among others his own brother had been put to death because of his lively intelligence. He therefore pretended to be dull of intellect and veiled his great abilities by that deception. Leaving too for Delphi with Tarquin’s sons, whom the king had sent to honour Pythian Apollo with gifts and sacrifices, he took some gold for the god as a gift secretly hidden in a hollow stick, fearing that it would not be safe for him to venerate the heavenly deity with an open donation. After attending to their father’s commissions, the young men consulted Apollo as to which among them seemed likely to be king in Rome. The god replied that supreme power in our city would lie with him who was the first to give his mother a kiss. Then Brutus purposely threw himself on the ground as though by an accidental stumble and kissed it, reckoning it to be the common mother of all kings. That kiss so craftily impressed on Earth gave freedom to the city and the first place in the Fasti to Brutus. (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey)