Friday, May 30, 2008


Caesarian Section

Thanks to Eric Thomson for adding this passage from Lucan's Pharsalia (3.399-401, 422-437, tr. J.D. Duff) to the series on "sad ravages in the woods":
A grove there was untouched by men's hands from ancient times, whose interlacing boughs enclosed a space of darkness and cold shade, and banished the sunlight from above.


The people never resorted thither to worship at close quarters, but left the place to the gods. For, when the sun is in mid-heaven or dark night fills the sky, the priest himself dreads their approach and fears to surprise the lord of the grove.

This grove was sentenced by Caesar to fall before the stroke of the axe; for it grew near his works. Spared in earlier warfare, it stood there covered with trees among hills already cleared. But strong arms faltered; and the men, awed by the solemnity and terror of the place, believed that, if they aimed a blow at the sacred trunks, their axes would rebound against their own limbs. When Caesar saw that his soldiers were sore hindered and paralysed, he was the first to snatch an axe and swing it, and dared to cleave a towering oak with the steel: driving the blade into the desecrated wood, he cried: "Believe that I am guilty of sacrilege, and thenceforth none of you need fear to cut down the trees."

lucus erat longo numquam violatus ab aevo
obscurum cingens conexis aera ramis
et gelidas alte summotis solibus umbras.


non illum cultu populi propiore frequentant
sed cessere deis. medio cum Phoebus in axe est
aut caelum nox atra tenet, pavet ipse sacerdos
accessus dominumque timet deprendere luci.

hanc iubet inmisso silvam procumbere ferro;
nam vicina operi belloque intacta priore
inter nudatos stabat densissima montis.
sed fortes tremuere manus, motique verenda
maiestate loci, si robora sacra ferirent,
in sua credebant redituras membra securis.
inplicitas magno Caesar torpore cohortes
ut vidit, primus raptam librare bipennem
ausus et aeriam ferro proscindere quercum
effatur merso violata in robora ferro
'iam nequis vestrum dubitet subvertere silvam
credite me fecisse nefas'.
Eric remarks:
I like the idea of axes rebounding on those that wield them, like the kickback of a chainsaw. If only the cohorts of illegal loggers worldwide could feel their hands tremble - moti verenda maiestate loci. As for Caesar, eco-warriors would see some retributive justice when he was felled in the senate. Nemus, nefas and nemesis may be related, poetically at any rate.

Mersoferrally, Caesar didn't suffer long.

You said you liked bad puns. They don't come much worse.
Mersoferally is a delightfully bad pun on Lucan 3.435 (merso ... ferro).

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