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.
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.
|Caesar crosses the Rubicon (1473)|
Royal 18 E V f. 330v
Of the Civil War of the Romans, which the Gaels call the Cath Catharda
In former 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 everyone
gained the truly constant dominion;
a man with wreathed hair, with clear sense,
Assur son of Shem, son of Noah.
And (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.
Howbeit, 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.
Ninus son 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.
Two 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.
Now Cyrus 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.
Darius (Codomannus) was the last king of the Persians. Twelve kings reigned over them. Two hundred and thirty years was the length of their dominion.
The first 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 Greeks.
The royal 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.
Now 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.
Centurio above the Decanus: chief of a hundred was that man.
Tribunus above the Centurio: chief of two hundred or three hundred was he.
Vicarius above the Tribunus: that man used to assume the function of the Comes when the Comes would go to converse with the king.
Comes above the Vicarius: chief of one city was he.
Tóissech ('chieftain') above the Comes: twelve cities were subject to him.
Patricius 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.
King above the Patricius: three tribes were his domain.
Emperor 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.
There 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.
Now the 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.
Thus then 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.
For the 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 honorable.
Three 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.
Now these 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.
That Caesar had a queenly, very beautiful daughter named Julia. She became the wife of Pompey the Great, one of the three dictators then appointed.
So the 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.
To Caesar 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.
Marcus Crassus, to him was given the supremacy of Asia and the east of the world.
Then vast 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.
Marcus 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.
Then 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.
Pompey 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?
|Life of Julius Caesar (14th century)|
Royal 16 G VII f. 219
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.
Another 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 or after.
Power corrupts and cannot be shared.
Another 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.
Another 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.
Well, 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!
The City of Rome
Although 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
Teeming with conquered nations, whose vast walls
Had compassed 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.
|Building of Rome (13th century)|
Additional 15268 f.156
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.
Many 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.
The 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.
The 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.
In the 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.
|Caesar in Battle (14th century)|
Royal 16 G VII f. 243
Fragments of the past, both mythic and historical, dot the narrarative. Caesar and Pompey, and their followers, cross storied ground.
‘In that 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.
‘A name that is nobler than that is found’, says the African warrior, ‘to wit, ‘the Hill of the Disused Encampment’ is another name of it.’
‘Why then is this?’ asks Curio.
‘Easy to 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.’
‘Alas, O warrior’, says Curio, ‘what name hath yon great half-ruined city before us? Is it Carthage?’
‘It is indeed’, says the African warrior.
‘Why did not Scipio leave it in fair flourishing condition?’ says Curio.
‘Even the 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.’
Great joy 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 camp.
Caesar 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.
This is 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.
Some description of that country of Thessaly will now be given below.
Three 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 mentioned.
A land thus deprived of the stars of the day and of the night were fit to have the Great Battle fought in it.
There are 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 Pentheus.
A land wherein evil like that would be wrought, it were meet to deliver the Great Battle therein.
There are 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.
There are 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 battle.
In that 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.
In the 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.
In the land where those great evils would be born it were fitting to fight the Great Battle.
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.
After 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.
The 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.
On the 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.
At the 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.
Then the 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.
|The Murder of Julius Caesar (1473)|
Royal 18 E V f. 355v
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.