Hic postquam medio iuvenis stetit aequore Poenus,
vulneris increscens dolor et vicinia durae
mortis, agens stimulis ardentibus, urget anhelum.
ille videns propius supremi temporis horam,
incipit: “heu qualis fortunae terminus altae est!
quam laetis mens caeca bonis! furor ecce potentum
praecipiti gaudere loco. status ille procellis
subiacet innumeris, et finis ad alta levatis
est ruere. heu tremulum magnorum culmen honorum,
spesque hominum fallax et inanis gloria fictis
illita blanditiis! heu vita incerta labori
dedita perpetuo, semperque, heu, certa nec unquam
sat mortis praevisa dies! heu sortis iniquae
natus homo in terris! animalia cuncta quiescunt;
irrequietus homo, perque omnes anxius annos
ad mortem festinat iter. Mors, optima rerum,
tu retegis sola errores, et somnia vitae
discutis exactae. video nunc quanta paravi
ha! miser in cassum, subii quot sponte labores,
quos licuit transire mihi. moriturus ad astra
scandere quaerit homo, sed Mors docet omnia quo sint
nostra loco. Latio quid profuit arma potenti,
quid tectis inferre faces! quid foedera mundi
turbare atque urbes tristi miscere tumultu?
aurea marmoreis quidve alta palatia muris
erexisse iuvat, postquam sic sidere laevo
in pelago periturus eram? carissime frater,
quanta paras animis, heu, fati ignarus acerbi,
ignarusque mei?” dixit: tum liber in auras
spiritus egreditur, spatiis unde altior aequis
despiceret Romam, simul et Carthaginis urbem,
ante diem felix abiens, ne summa videret
excidia et claris quod restat dedecus armis
fraternosque suosque simul patriaeque dolores.
(Petrarca, Africa 6.885-918)
And as the Punic youth thus fared upon
mid-ocean, there the ever-waxing pain
of his deep wound and the clear prescience
of bitter death, as if with fiery goads,
assailed his fever-stricken breast. Aware
that his last hour drew nigh, he voiced his grief:
“Ah, sorry ending to my life of glory!
How blind the soul to its true good and weal!
What mad, tempestuous force of folly moves
a man of mark to struggle to ascend
vertiginous heights! The summit is exposed
to countless tempests, and ascent must end
in ruinous collapse. The lofty peak,
deluding hope of man, is hollow fame
daubed with the glittering tint of false delight.
Our lives are wasted in incessant toil
of no sure issue; only our last day,
to which we give no heed, is fixed and sure.
Alas for the injustice of man’s lot:
the brutes in peace live out their tranquil lives;
mankind alone is harried and harrassed
and driven through laborious year on year
along the road to death. Nay, Death, thou art
the fairest thing we know; thou dost erase
our faults and dissipate our idle dreams,
quenching our lives. At last I can perceive
how long and fruitless have my labors been.
What countless toils I’ve faced that I might well
have put aside! Doomed though he be to die,
man still aspires to Heaven, but death reveals
the worth of his endeavor. What served it me
to ravage Latium with fire and sword,
to breach the universal peace that ruled
throughout the world and spread a panic fear
in countless cities? What did it avail
to raise up golden palaces and gird
their walls with marble if I am at last
to die, ill-starred, upon the lonely sea?
Dear brother, what are you devising now,
all unaware of Fortune’s plan and of
my wretched lot?” And, as he spoke, his soul
broke from the flesh and straightway mounted high
to Heaven, whence it surveyed the earthly plain
and Rome and Carthage with its citadel;
and in its passage Mago found a sad
contentment, that in life he might not see
the final ruin, the shame of mighty arms
once glorious, and the sorrow yet to fall
upon his land, his brother, and his race.
(tr. Thomas G. Bergin & Alice S. Wilson)