I'm still working on my Iron Gates setting. In brief, it's a mythic medieval pointcrawl. Dark Souls via the Alexander Romance instead of Arthurian legend. Start here, and skim the rest of the series for context. Gold and iron. Darkness and water. Dreams and immortality.
Part of the research process is reading source texts. Here's a fairly obscure one.
Next to the Táin bó Cúalgne and the Acallam na Senórach, the Cath Catharda, the Civil War of the Romans, is the longest prose composition of the mediaeval Irish. It is a free adaptation of Books I–VII of Lucan's Pharsalia, a poem which seems to have been popular in Gaeldom, not because of its poetic merits, but from its stirring accounts of battles, onfalls, sieges, its reports of visions and speeches, and its vivid descriptions of magical processes for dispelling disease and ascertaining the future. Even its less praiseworthy characteristics—its pedantic language, its unnatural similes—must have gratified the Irish literary taste, the debasement of which seems to have begun in the fourteenth, and grown in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
-Introduction, Cath Catharda, Whitley Stokes
I don't like using "debased" or "corrupted" when it comes to literature, but reading Cath Catharda... the translator has a point. It's an action movie adaptation; Pharsalia for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did the author see the work as high literature, popular entertainment, or a way to make a quick buck? An adaptation for contemporary tastes, or a work that stands on its own merits?
Pharsalia isn't light reading, even in translation. It's quite
long, deliberately formal, and full of extended metaphors. I can
empathize with the author of Cath Catharda's decision to trim Lucan down to a manageable level, but it's not merely an abridged translation of Lucan's text. The author adds explanatory material, embellishes descriptions, and tries to place the conflict in a larger context. The ideological struggles of Lucan (let alone Cato) were probably not at the forefront of a 12th century Irish author's mind. This
sort of adaptation is very interesting for the Iron Gates project. Like
the Alexander Romance, it's a tale of tales, a mythological retelling
of events in another time, another part of the world, and for a
different audience. The author of Cath Catharda saw a very different Caesar than Lucan or Shakespeare.
Of the Civil War of the Romans, which the Gaels
call the Cath Catharda
times, by dint of strength and heroism, six abodes of lordship gained dominion
and supremacy over the countries and provinces of the mundane globe, to wit,
(first) the beautiful dominion of the Assyrians,— as the poet said:
1. A king of the Assyrians before
gained the truly constant dominion;
a man with wreathed hair, with clear sense,
Assur son of Shem, son of Noah.
(secondly) the most noble dominion of the Medes. And (thirdly) the primary
dominion of the Persians. And (fourthly) the pure-formed dominion of the
Chaldees. And (fifthly) the fierce-great dominion of the Greeks. And the royal
Roman senate (was) the sixth dominion.
the beginning and commencement of the high realm of the Assyrians are taken
from Ninus, son of Belus, son of Ploscus, of the clans of Shem, son of Noah,
son of Lamech. By him was built the famous chief-city, even Babylon. Vast was
the size of that city: fouredged was its shape: a hundred brazen doors upon it:
sixty thousand paces in its circumference: fifty cubits the thickness of its
wall: two hundred cubits the height thereof. There were two full-great lines of
houses on the top of its wall: between those two ranges they used to drive a
score of four-horsed carriages, such was the thickness of the wall besides.
That city was the abode of lordship, and the anvil of knowledge, and the
dwelling-place of king Ninus, son of Belus, and king of all the Assyrians.
of Belus (was) the first king of the Assyrians, and Tonus (?) their last king.
Eleven hundred and six score (years) was the length of their dominion.
hundred and fifty-nine years was the length of the dominion of the Medes. Eight
men assumed the kingship of them. Arbaces (was) their first king and Astyages
their last king.
son of Darius, the first king of the Persians, was the son of Astyages'
daughter. 'Tis he that dethroned his mother's father. By him Babylon was
sacked, and its king, Belshazzar, was slain, and he freed the Children of
Israel from the seventy years' captivity in Babylon, and he let them go to
Jerusalem with the utensils of Solomon's Temple, to wit, five thousand vessels
of gold and four hundred vessels of silver.
(Codomannus) was the last king of the Persians. Twelve kings reigned over them.
Two hundred and thirty years was the length of their dominion.
king of the soldiers of Greece was Alexander son of Philip, overlord of the
whole world from Spain in the west to India in the east, and from Ethiopia in
the south to the Riphaean mountains in the north. 'Tis by that Alexander the
fleet was sent upon the fiery sea to discover the southern temperate zone; for
to know only the northern temperate zone did not suffice him. At the end of his
twelfth year Alexander proceeded to invade (Greece). Two and thirty years was
his age when poison killed him in Babylon. Now Philip was the last king of the
Roman dominion had a beginning in manner different from those of the high
dominions aforesaid; for not at all with overkings did Rome's supremacy abide.
But whenever it was desirable, the chiefs of the senate, together with men of
rank and honourable degrees, gave orders to levy their tribute for them from
foreign races, and to invade the several tribes of the world, to rule and to
guide the royal Roman right.
Decanus was the appellation of the lowest of those ranks. He was chief of ten:
he was the man who used to punish every theft and robbery and outrage that was
committed amidst the City.
above the Decanus: chief of a hundred was that man.
above the Centurio: chief of two hundred or three hundred was he.
above the Tribunus: that man used to assume the function of the Comes when the
Comes would go to converse with the king.
above the Vicarius: chief of one city was he.
('chieftain') above the Comes: twelve cities were subject to him.
above the Tóissech; the righthand man of a King or Emperor; and this was his
work, to pass judgments and decrees instead of the overlord when the king
himself was weary.
the Patricius: three tribes were his domain.
above the King. Howbeit the Romans had not that rank until Julius Caesar took
it by dint of his hand, as the tale hereafter will tell. The Emperor, now, was
overlord of the world above everyone, and there was no one superior to him.
Under capitalism, people find it difficult to write non-capitalist stories. How does society function without employers and employees, without currency and hoarded value? Similarly, for the author of Cath Catharda, the world clearly follows a semi-feudal clan structure. The division of Roman ranks has very little to do with Roman history, but has a great deal to say about how the author viewed the world.
were, moreover, two grades, the rank of Consul and the rank of Dictator. Now
the Consul had (only) one year in his rank, and at the end of the year he was
changed lest he should become the height of his rank. If it happened that
during that year he prospered in his consulate he was re-appointed to the same
rank by the will of the senate and the finding of the people. Junius Brutus was
the first to obtain that rank among the Romans.
Dictator, whether he did well or ill, was not changed from his rank till the
end of five years. If then everyone was thankful for him, he was not changed at
all. Wherefore that rank is the most esteemed that they had, until an Emperor's
might rested upon them.
the Roman realm extended and spread out to the four airts of the world, so that
pride and glory grew thereout in the Romans, and vast quarrels and civil
warfare arose among some of those nobles in the provinces wherein they dwelt
outside throughout the world, and others in Rome itself in the midst, for the
greatness of their pride, and because of the exceeding great power which they
had acquired over the nations and kindreds of the globe.
space of two-hundred-and-fifty-three years the royal dominion of the Romans
remained in that wise, without an Emperor, without a monarch over them, but the
men of diverse ranks directing their government. Until once upon a time, by
decision of the senate and by advice of the people, (a Dictator) was made by
them, for the dictatorship is the one rank they had that is noblest and most
persons equally high were then ordained by them, and the whole world was parted
among them to be put by free-will or perforce under the Romans' tax and
tribute. And this is why they appointed three to that grade, because if one of
them should exalt himself against the senate// the third man would be at peace
between and because the three of them would not agree in rising against the
fatherland, for rare is accordant union with a trio.
are three to whom was then entrusted the guidance of that grade, to wit, Pompey
the Great and Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar. As to that Caesar, his father's
name was Ferius, and he was of the Rutulians. On his mother's side he was of
the race of Ilus son of the Trojan Aeneas, and therefore it was that the
dictatorship was conferred upon him by the Romans. He was called by the name of
Caesar, because he was a furbaide ('excised') and his mother's womb was severed
when he was taken from her. Now Caesar in the Roman language is tesctha
'severed' in the Gaelic.
Caesar had a queenly, very beautiful daughter named Julia. She became the wife
of Pompey the Great, one of the three dictators then appointed.
nations of the world were divided among that trio. The southwest of the world
from Spain in the west, and the tribes of the whole of Africa, were entrusted
to Pompey the Great.
was appointed the ruling of the northwest of the world, to wit, the land of
Gallia and the isles of Britain and the broad-long lands of Lochlann.
Crassus, to him was given the supremacy of Asia and the east of the world.
companies of the great army of Rome and of the youth of Italy went with them to
the territories and the kindreds to conquer them.
Crassus, he seized the tribes of Asia in the east, till he came to the country
of the Parthians. And from every tribe that he conquered he levied tribute, and
he accepted from them no other treasure but gold, for little he deemed the
burden of carrying it on a hosting, and great was its profit after he reached
his home. When the Parthians heard that, they gathered their hosts, so that
they were in one place. Plans were made by them as to how they should act
towards the Romans, whether they should submit to them or resist them. This is
what the Parthians decided, to wait and meet them in battle. So then a bloody
battle, side by side, was delivered by the Parthians, and full-many warriors
fell among them; but finally the Romans were defeated, and their slaughter was
inflicted upon them, and they left their standards with the victors.
Marcus Crassus was captured, and he was brought by main force to the assembly
of the Parthians, and this is the plan they determined on, to give him his
bellyful of gold, for he was seeking it greedily throughout the world. Then
they melted the full of an earthen pot of golden ingots, and they spilled it as
a molten fluid into his mouth, and he died at once, his entrails being burnt by
the boiling fluid of the molten gold.
the Great, however, he obtained the tribes of the southwest of the world, from
Spain in the west; and he left two leaders of his household in supremacy of
Spain, Petreius and Afranius were their names. He himself returned to Rome,
after gaining victory and triumph from everyone to whom he came.
This is a decent mythological summary of world history, from Noah to Caesar. Not an accurate summary by any means, but full of lively details. The translator says Crassus' grisly death was lifted from Florus' Epitome, but I'm not so sure. The details don't match. It could be another source or an amalgamated legend.
What does "Parthian" even mean to a 12th century Irish noble?
The Causes of the Civil War
Now there were many causes and reasons why the mishaps of
civil war were fated to arise at that time in Rome and in the senate. The first
of these causes, the cause by which every mighty, powerful people on the globe is
abated and cast down, to wit, pride and glory and high spirit filled them
because of the greatness of their strength and their lordship and the abundance
of their treasure: for at that time the wealth of the Romans was immeasurable,
because of the abundance of their gold and silver and matchless garments, and
the beauty of the ornaments of their resplendent houses, and their covered
canopies and their shining sollers, their ships, their galleys, their chariots
and their four-horsed carriages, their beakers and horns and cups and abundance
of every other good thing, and because of the extravagance of their consumption
of food and drink by day or at night. For of all the Romans there was not one
man who deemed it honorable to say that any of the people was better than
himself; so that for sake of gold and treasure base clans were arranged among
them into high clans and into high mighty grades; and neither the laws nor the
decisions of the senate were rightly with them, so that everyone in the City
had great hatred and ill-will for another; and they all desired that a cause of
war should grow among themselves and also among their leaders, so that each of
them might attain his ill-will and his evil design on another.
This section isn't directly taken from Lucan. The closet Lucan comes to it is this passage:
This, Magnus, is thy fear; thy roll of fame,
Of glorious deeds accomplished for the state
Allows no equal; nor will Caesar's pride
A prior rival in his triumphs brook;
Which had the right 'twere impious to enquire;
Each for his cause can vouch a judge supreme;
I think the author started with a section from Florus' Epitome, then expanded it with local idoms and relevant stylistic passages.
The cause of this great calamity was the same which caused
all our calamities, namely, excessive good fortune. [...] Caesar's power now
inspired the envy of Pompeius, while Pompeius' eminence was offensive to
Caesar; Pompeius could not brook an equal or Caesar a superior. Oh, the
wickedness of it! They strove for the first place, as though the fortunes of a
great empire could not find room for both of them.
In the passage from Cath Catharda, Caesar is just another warlord. The greatest of warlords, whose army mustered from the four corners of the world, whose riches were beyond measure... but strip away the fine speeches and marble statues and an Irish author, writing eleven centuries later, could recognize the truth beneath the veneer.
The rest of the section is a sort of greatest-hits tour of the Pharsalia.
cause of the Civil War was the disparting of dominion among three lords; for so
long as water remains above earth and air above water, and so long as the
restless, fading moon and the pure-radiant, golden sun are on their immoveable,
unstaying course, ordering day and night, harmonious fellowship or loyal union
will never be found in the world or on earth among sharers of dominion before
Power corrupts and cannot be shared.
cause of the Civil War: the killing of Marcus Crassus, for, as the mountain
named Isthmus forbids the triumphant wave-displaying confluence of the Ionian
Sea and the sea of Aegeus, and lets them not (go) against each other, so Marcus
Crassus, as long as he was alive hindered the disuniting storm which afterwards
arose between Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar.
Don't borrow metaphors if you don't know what they mean. This one still works, but it's clearly a transplant.
cause of the Civil War was the death of the high queen Julia, Caesar's
daughter. For so long as she remained with Pompey in wedlock she would hinder
the uprising of her father and her husband, so that she would let neither of
them (go) against the other.
"High queen" Julia, eh. Rome was famously adverse to kings, but I think the author recongized that a king by any other name is still a king, and Julia was, in effect, analagous to a queen.
then, when those causes and many reasons of the Civil War arose in Rome itself
between the two chief leaders of the royal Roman rule, the kingly Roman
dominion was confused and greatly perturbed. The peaceful sway of the Italian
empire was severed and swiftly scattered throughout the four airts of the
globe, and the whole world became a ‘sod of trembling’ from the point near
which the sun rises to the place at which he sets, and from the borders of the torrid
zone in the south to the edges of the cold, icy frigid zone in the north, so
that the like or semblance of the ever-rough disturbance which then moved the
Roman senate and the districts and nations of the world was never found, save
the confusion and turmoil which sages and authors say the mundane elements will
suffer at the completion and end of the world— that is, when the pure stars
shall fall from their stations and their proper places, and when a vast and
awful sea of wondrous waters shall swiftly spread over the face of the earth,
and when there will be a mutual crushing and collision of the contrary elements
among themselves at being loosened and severed from the harmonious friendship
and from the law of nature wherein they are: so that all will be cast into the
common confusion of the unique formless mass wherein they were at first.
This is, probably, the most mangled and confused passage in Cath Catharda. Some bits from Pharsalia, some bits from Epitome, some bits in the local style, and none of it harmonious.
Sneer: In short, that even the finest passages you steal are of no
service to you, for the poverty of your own language prevents their
assimilating; so that they lie on the surface like lumps of marl on a barren
moor, incumbering what it is not in their power to fertilize!
-Sheridan, The Critic
The City of Rome
they went fleeing from the battle, it was to battle that they fled. It was not
delayingly that one fled there, for though wife were calling her husband, or
son were calling his father, or father calling his son, no one would stay for
another. Many of them there were who looked for the last time on Rome then, for
to Rome they never came again. It is manifest from the inhabitants of Rome that
it is harder and more difficult to preserve honour that to obtain prosperity. A
great part of the kindred of the folk that quitted the City was left there.
Many of the nations of the world came to that City after their defeat by the
folk of the City itself. Regal was the size of the City which the Romans
forfeited on that day, for if the human race had come together to it in one
journey there would have been room for all of them at the same time in the
middle of Rome.
The author mangles Lucan's poetic turn of phrase.
They passed the
city gates and fled to war.
No aged parent
now could stay his son;
Nor wife her
spouse, nor did they pray the gods
To grant the
safety of their fatherland.
None linger on
the threshold for a look.
Of their loved
city, though perchance the last.
Ye gods, who
lavish priceless gifts on men.
Nor care to
guard them given! thus was Rome
conquered nations, whose vast walls
all mankind, by coward hands
To coming Caesar
left an easy prey.
A city that had "compassed all mankind" (i.e. a cosmopolitan city) becomes a city large enough to literally contain all mankind. Let's do some back-of-a-napkin math. It takes about 7 billion people to cover Rhode Island. World population in 1 AD was about 300 million. (0.3/7) = 0.04 x 3,144 km² = 134 km². The Aurelianic walls give us an area of 3000 acres = 12 km². So no, not actually large enough to hold the entire human race, even with generous fudging.
Signs and Prophecies
Every text on the civil war is full of omens, prophecies, portents, and signs. Cath Catharda is no exception. Here are a few of the more concise ones.
monstrous births were at that time brought forth in Rome, with (unnatural) bulk
of body, and number of hands and feet and heads, so that fear and horror filled
their own mothers on seeing them.
beating together of the bones amid the coffins in all the burial-places of the
City is heard every night. Loud awful voices and terrible cries were heard in
the woods and sacred groves of Italy, and whoso used to cause that was unseen.
shades and the phantoms and the ghosts of hell were seen every night around
Rome, so that the market-folk and the foreign inhabitants of the town left
their abodes and their houses from horror and terror at the appearances that
were revealed to them.
of battle Erinnys was seen every night, with her torch of pine
red-flaming in her hand, and her snaky, poisonous tresses rattling around her
head, urging the Romans to battle.
night they heard the trumpets resounding, the clashing of the shields, the
whistling of the javelins, the smiting of the swords, the clamour of the
battalions coming together: and no one saw what was causing that.
Fragments of the past, both mythic and historical, dot the narrarative. Caesar and Pompey, and their followers, cross storied ground.
struggle on this hill Antaeus got his death from Hercules. Wherefore,
thenceforward it is called ‘the Hill of the Struggle’.’ ‘Noble is that
appellation’, says Curio.
that is nobler than that is found’, says the African warrior, ‘to wit, ‘the
Hill of the Disused Encampment’ is another name of it.’
is this?’ asks Curio.
say’, answers the African warrior. ‘Scipio Africanus, together with the
warriors of Rome, pitched a camp round this hill and round the fields of this
river below where your camp is now situate. Seest thou not still there the
trace of the entrenchment, and the site of the wall, and the butts of the
stakes, and the places of the cow-fields, and the outlines of the great camp?
Out of this the whole of Africa was raided and ravaged by him, and its armies
were utterly destroyed, and the whole country shook.’
warrior’, says Curio, ‘what name hath yon great half-ruined city before us? Is
indeed’, says the African warrior.
not Scipio leave it in fair flourishing condition?’ says Curio.
youths of that stead, were brave and numerous,’ says the African warrior, ‘so
they were all put to death by Scipio, and the walls of the city were razed
by him, so that it is in the flourishing condition that thou seest.’
and strength of spirit came thence to Curio, for he deemed it a good omen that
he had chanced on the camp out of which Africa was subdued by Scipio. Then he
came to his people cheerfully and spiritedly, and sat down among them in his
directed his soldiers through the rough, difficult, thorny fields of Greece
towards this steading. When Pompey heard that, he marched with his troops,
beside the sea on the levels of the shore, and arrayed his troops and his camps
at the fortress of Dyrrachium before Caesar came at all near him. When Caesar
saw that the place had been seized by Pompey, he was pondering in his mind what
plan he should form. He began to reconnoitre and survey the land on every side.
the design that he made, to build a strong wall of stone over all the land from
one sea to another (and thus) to enclose and surround Pompey and his troops in
the narrow place in which he was. No mounds of mere clay or sods were built
there by Caesar, but the stones and the rocks of the neighbouring districts
were dragged and gathered to him. The ramparts and great strongholds of the
side near to Greece were loosened and sundered. Thereof he builds an unspeakable,
vast structure, to wit, a high wall, broad, full-strong, that would be hard to
destroy by battering-rams or by any engine for rending strongholds in the whole
world. High towers and turrets of conflict and many block-houses were built
over it above. A fulldeep trench was dug on one side of it from one end to the
other. Vast was the bulk of that work! Pompey
with his troops used to make shiftings and changes of camp in the midst of it.
Such was the length of the structure that the rivers and streams that arose
there used to be exhausted and go under ground again in the midst thereof. And
when Caesar came to go round that work he used not to get, in one whole day,
from one end to the other to a camp in the middle between its two extremities.
Never in the
world had there been built ramparts like that wall. Never was there any desire
(?) to equal with it the walls of Troy or of Babylon. Yet let no one wonder
that that great work was achieved by Caesar in so short a time; for though
great was the labour many were the workers. Such were the multitude of Caesar's
troops and the spirit of his soldiers, that if he had imposed it as labour,
they would have made traversable land of the surface of the Tyrrhene sea, from
the isle of Sestos in the territory of Europe to the isle of Abydos in a port
of Africa. Or they would have brought the main-sea in its burst of flood-tide
and severed the shore of Epirus from the lands of Greece. Or they would have
moved any spot in the world that they liked to a place whither they preferred
it to go. And in doing so they would have met with no opposition.
The Final Battle
The final confrontation between the two great war-chiefs needs a suitable setting.
description of that country of Thessaly will now be given below.
names there are by which it called throughout the world: Emathia so named from
Emathus, a good king who once ruled it: Pharsalia, another name, from
Pharsalus, an old noble city therein: Thessaly, however, is its original name.
A land strong, difficult, evil, unsmooth, bitter, gloomy, secure is that land,
with rocky peaks of mountain-ranges lofty, rugged, around it on every side,
namely, Mount Pelion between them and the summer rising: Mount Ossa on the east
between them and the winter rising, so that the rays of the sun do not shine in
it at the beginning of any day in the year: Mount Othrys in the south of it
between them and the sun's warmth: Mount Pindus on the west of it between them
and the sunset, so that at the end of any day the sun's rays never shine
therein: Mount Olympus on the north side between them and the frigid zone.
Those that dwell to the south of that mountain are not smitten by the north
wind, and they never see the seven stars (near the north pole). For but a small
part of the day does the sun shine therein past the other mountains we have
A land thus
deprived of the stars of the day and of the night were fit to have the Great
Battle fought in it.
many cities in that same land, namely, the city Pharsalus, wherein was Achilles
son of Peleus, and the city Phylace in which the Argo was built, that is, the
ship in which Jason son of Aeson went for the Golden Fleece to the island of
the Colchians. In it is the city Pteleus, and the city Dorion, and the city
Trachyn and the city [...] two cities of Hercules son of Amphitryon, and
the city Meliboea in which the arrows of Hercules were hidden after his death,
and the city Larissa, and the city Argos: therein Agave beheaded her only son
A land wherein evil like that would be
wrought, it were meet to deliver the Great Battle therein.
also many streams and fearful rivers in this land. Of them is the stream Aeas
and the stream Oeneus, and the river Achelous on which are the Echinades
islands, the Malian river, and the river Spercheus, the stream Amphrysus, and
the river Anaurus, the river Apidanus and the river Enipeus, the stream Asopus
and the stream Phoenix, the stream Melas, the stream Titaresos, and the river
Peneus. The shanachies of Thessaly relate that the source of that stream wells
out of the river Styx in hell.
In a land
wherein that river flows it were meet to deliver the Great Battle.
also many unknown peoples in that country, to wit, the people of the Boebyces
and the people of the Leleges, the people of the Aeolians and the people of the
Dolopes, the people of the Magnetes and the people of the Minyae, the monstrous
folk of the Centaurs and the men-horses, that is, horse and man in a mixture of
one person in them. Of them were the famous horse-mongrels Monychus the
one-hoofed and Rhoetus the very valiant. 'Tis he that used to drag the tallest
trees in the woods with their roots out of the earth, and used to hurl a cast
of them at will. Of them too was Nessus the centaur. He it was that tried to
rape Hercules' wife; there was a river between him and Hercules; and Hercules
killed him with an arrow-shot across the river. Of them, again was Chiron the
centaur, the tutor of Achilles son of Peleus. Thus then do the astronomers shape
his image in the heavenly firmament, with a bow and an arrow adjusted in his
hand, out opposite the constellation Scorpio, as if he were slaying it.
In a land
wherein those monsters would be produced it were fitting to fight the great
land of Thessaly, then, first appeared the germs and causes of battle and
warfare. Therein, too, a horse was first broken in, and a bridle-bit was put
into his mouth, and a rider mounted him. Therein was first built a ship and
vessel of the sea to search the world and the foreign unknown countries.
Itonus, also, king of Thessaly, was the first to smelt and liquefy the ore of
gold and of silver into ingots, and to ordain coined money for selling and
bargaining. Therein, too, gold and wealth were first hoarded and stored up.
same Thessaly, also was generated the famous, poisonous serpent Python, which
devastated and destroyed the world before it, until Apollo son of Jove killed
it. Therein were brought forth the children of Aloeus the monster, to wit, Otus
and Ephialtes with their brothers. Three hands was their own increase every
day. An ell and a hand was the growth of each of their sons every month; so
that pride and haughtiness filled them, and this was the plan they plotted, to
arrange the mountains of the world, one on top of the other, and to go and
invade heaven and seize its realm. But when attempting that mighty labour they
were destroyed by fiery thunderbolts.
land where those great evils would be born it were fitting to fight the Great
This section is a significantly altered version of Luc. 6.263. It takes on a supernatural, almost gothic tone. The author owes no fidelity to actual Thessaly, and is free to invent a mythic Thessaly that makes Mordor look like a herb garden.
Thessaly also has witches. I'm not going to quote the whole of chapter 20, "The Prophecy of the Spectre out of Hell", but it's well worth a read.
hearing that cruel prophecy of battle-rout which the evil, aged, hellish
Erictho spoke, not happily nor
pleasantly was that night before the battle spent in the camps of the men of
the world. All the cave-doors of hell that existed in the land of Thessaly were
opened on that night. Their secret screens and their magical concealments were
on that same night taken from all the demonic places of the land. The wolves
and flying things, and wild, watchful beasts, and the demonic rabble of the
whole country came that night into the deserts of Thessaly and awaited the
great battle on the morrow.
shields and spears of the whole globe fell from their racks on the same night.
Multitudinous thunderbolts and fireballs were seen falling from the walls of
the heavenly firmament, so that they were encompassing the earth all round the
two great camps. On that night the three tidal outbursts of the world poured
throughout the globe, to wit, the Caspian Sea, and the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean
Sea, till their billows struck all that was nearest of the rocky seashores and
the peaks of the cliffs and of the lofty mountains of the earth, so that
throughout the neighbouring districts was heard the roar of the great sea and
the storm of the ocean, and the rough clamour of the monsters and the porpoises
and the seals and the rinnaig, tollchinn, coirrchinn, the whales and the
leviathans, and the many other unknown beasts of the ocean.
same night the four chief winds of the world howled throughout the globe, to
wit, Zephyrus from the west, Boreas from the north, Eurus from the east and
Auster from the south, so that smiting and beating came from them on the midst
of the land of Thessaly, and thence grew fireflaughts and thunder and an exceeding
great tempest in the air, so that trembling and earthquake increased in the
sods and bedrocks of the earth, and the whole demonic assembly that dwelt in
Thessaly moved out of the caverns of the earth, out of the deserts of its
forests, out of the clefts of its rocks, out of the forks of its hills, out of
the sloping valleys of its heights, out of the passes of its mountains, so that
they cried together at the same time round the two great camps of those two
high-kings, Pompey and Caesar, and to hear them was enough of horror and
loathing and heartbreak.
croakings and cluckings of the frogs and the toads; at the howls and barking of
the wolves, and the hounds and the packs and the ‘sons of earth’; at the
groaning and angry bellowing of the deer and the herds and the savage wild
beasts: at the roars and cries of the leopards and the lions and the bears: at
the cawing voices of the birds and the fowls and the other flying things: at
the rough-bitter, wail-screaming of the madmen, and the taloned griffins, and
the witches, and the spectres, and the red-mouthed lamias, and the phantoms
with dishevelled hair, and the crowds of demonic multitudes and the other
devil-fishes of the air above them, neither slumber nor nap nor sleep was
allowed to a single soul in each of the two great camps so long as the witches
were at that game around them.
If the men of the world had known, to see the morning of that day would have
been cause of gloom and of great grief, for since the Flood, never did one day
prepare for the human race the like of what that day prepared for them, to wit,
their destruction and their ruin in the joining of the great battle between
Pompey and Caesar for the space of that day only.
The author is, once again, placing this conflict in the context of world/Biblical history. This is it.
However, it is ‘going beyond nature’, and it is ‘effort above strength’, and
‘diving the ocean’, and ‘seeking knowledge in depth’, and ‘seeing a view in
streaked (?) darkness’, and ‘resisting a full sea in flood’, and ‘attempting to
force a high-king’, and ‘entering battle without grasping a weapon’, and
‘sailing against the wind’, and ‘asking a cure against death’, and ‘reckoning
an infinite number’, for one person in the world to attempt to relate or
declare that day's fighting.
A whole stack of idioms for "impossible". It's interesting to note what the choice of idoms says about the author's worldview.
The description of the battle itself is full of medieval detail-upon-detail. Every ornament is described. No embellishment of scale is spared. Javelins and arrows blot out the sun. The shouting armies are heard on distant mountains. Their marching shakes the world like an earthquake.
Then Caesar, when he saw everyone performing his battle-duties, began to
display his royal deeds in the battle. Heat and burning and madness and fury
and frenzy of mind and nature filled him when he beheld the battle maintained
against him; so that there was nothing like him save the war-goddess who is
said to be with her bloody scourges in her hand around the battles, inciting
the hosts to combat. Even so was Caesar through his followers and around them,
for no one found him absent in the van or the rear, on the flank or in the
middle, in a nook or a corner, in a point or an end or a forefront of the
battle. But it seemed to those men in every place that he was among them alone,
and he without stop or stay, from the van to the rear of the battle, closing up
and pushing and joining together the troops in the fight, heartening the
heroes, exhorting the warriors, urging the champions, egging on the soldiers,
inciting the bands, commanding the halting, pressing on the standing still,
persuading the attack. So that by means of that instigation and incitement be
was putting an increase of might and valour into the spirits of his soldiers
and into the natures of his warriors, although they had been previously
eagerly, earnestly slaying their enemies and slaughtering their foes.
corpses and heads and bodies of the wellborn Romans grew and increased amid the
battle-field, so that they were as heaps and equal hills, and as ridges and
vast mounds, without any admixture of the lowborn or rabble or wretched people,
but only the true, proper roots of the Romans themselves, the kingliest, freest
and noblest that had come from them, including the race of Remus and Romulus,
and Junius, Vulteius and Marius and Marcus and Metellus and Sylla and Scipio
and Cato and Curio and Camillus and Quadratus (?) and Corvinus: including the
race of Fabius and Varus and Antonius and Lucius and Lucilius and Torquatus the
Proud; and including the race of the other Roman royal lords and the worthy
nobles who descended from Aeneas son of Anchises, and from Ascanius son of
Aeneas, down to that time of the great slaughter in the plain of Thessaly.
The author describes the Battle of Thessaly not just as the end of the Senate, but as the end of the Roman people as well. The tale ends when the battle ends. Caesar's victory is not proclaimed. His last words are to a dying enemy, who spits defiance in Caesar's face. It is the final battle of a world.
There's a lot of material here that's worth adapting for the Iron Gates setting.
Rhen, the Evening City is the setting's Rome analogue. What lurks at its heart? A murdered Caesar, pierced by a dozen blades? A triumphant Caesar, ruler of stone and desolation? A sleeping Pope, gargantuan, sprawling? The Ten Kings and Wolf of Ren are the remnants of the previous (bronze-based) age. Who rules this vast city, depopulated by war, riven by catastrophe?
And, elsewhere, what else can the PCs find? Crassus's corpse, filled with gold?
In this setting, were Pompey and Caesar two of Iskandar's generals, who, after betraying him, squabbled for control? Was Pompey the original asassin and Caesar the usurper, willing to destroy the world for the sake of pride?
He would not take a crown, but found that a crown grew from his head, made of golden leaves.