Thapsus

by Katy Kappele


Mournful Zephyrus[2] howls in the forest of standards,

With it’s carpet of bodies, lying discarded

By souls, and  roams over the steppes,

Down to where the bodies of elephants lie

In the mud stirred up by their blood in the sand,

And the wind passes over Thapsus with a sigh,

As if to say he was sorry for the loss of so many

Good men.  Pluto[3] and Mars[4]

Seem better friends than Mars and Victoria[5].

In this vast remoteness of death,

The steam from corpses rises like a

Curtain, so that it seems like the Styx[6]

Has already been crossed, and trampled into mud

By thousands of hob-nailed caligae[7].

And he lies wondering what could keep him alive.

Home.

Had he ever really assigned that immense value

To this barren place?

He’d thought he led a charmed existence;

It’s a common human foible to imagine that everyone

Wants us but Pluto.  And he wonders if it’s a crime

To lose, if it’s wrong to give up his beliefs

As he lies dying.  His horse stands above him,

Snorting, afraid, but unable to take a step

Away, as if tied.  The wind, that enchanting element,

So cruel at times, so gentle now, folds him in,

Touches his scarred hands and arms, soothes

His fevered brow as his life leaks out of rents,

Into the sand.

His forehead furrows, his mother flicks

Into his mind, and tries to reach for his sword,

But his limbs are frozen; a noble suicide

Eludes him[8].

At least, he tells himself, he will not live

Under Caesar’s tyranny, to have died at Thapsus

A Republican, never to have conceded.

For years the senate had fostered its little

Band of men, cherished the fight,

Held close the idea of a return to the Rome

They loved, harboured the dream of

Cincinnatus and Horatius[9].

Thapsus.  Not quite the end of the world,

But close.  Once, this had been home,

But it had been transformed into the

Underworld, and he watched as the Furies[10]

Rent the Republic as if in a funeral dirge[11],

An excess of passion like the ripping

Gusts of Vulturnus[12], the east wind that

Tore through the battle field

And blew Fortuna[13] and Victoria to Caesar,

Where he seduced them like wives[14].

And gentle Zephyrus, who lent his name, Favonius,

To the vanquished officer in the sand,

Caresses the dying, as if to say goodbye,

Before flying over the sea to Rome,

Bearing the unbearable news.



[1] Thapsus is generally considered the last battle of the first Roman civil war.  Caesar and his legions defeated the raw recruits of Metellus Scipio and Cato the Younger, earning himself for once and all the title of Dictator, a constitutionally sanctioned office which Caesar usurped to become a virtual king of Rome, ending forever the world’s first republic.

[2] Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind, a gentle spring wind adopted into the Roman pantheon as Favonius, also a common given name for Roman men.

[3] The god of the Underworld.

[4] One of the chief gods of war.  The martial arts are named for Mars.

[5] The deified vision of victory.

[6] The Styx is the great river that separates the Underworld from the land of the living.

[7] Roman army boots, glorified sandals with  hobnails on the bottom for traction.

[8] Suicide was considered honourable in ancient Rome, and was often offered to noblemen as a means to escape punishment for crimes.

[9] Cincinnatus and Horatius are two of the most famous Romans of all time, the two most famous before Caesar made himself a king.  Both were staunch Republicans.  Horatius was famed for having held a bridge against an invading army, Cincinnatus for having taken up the office of Dictator with great reluctance, turning around a coalition of invading armies, and stepping down from power in a term of 16 days.

[10] The Furies are avenging demons who could do a lot of damage when aroused.

[11] It was a popular custom for women to tear their clothing to shreds in grief when their family members died.

[12] The evil, unlucky twin of Zephyrus, the east wind.  Truly a wind that blew no man good.

[13] Deified luck.

[14] Caesar was famous for his affairs with other men’s wives, a habit that got him into a lot of trouble before become Dictator.


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