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"Hic altera sicco
Scylla mari latrat; hic pulverulenta Charybdis."1 Meanwhile Darius assembles new forces. Alexander leaves Egypt and rushes to meet him. An eclipse of the moon causes sedition among his soldiers, who dare to accuse their king. The phenomenon is explained by soothsayers, and the sedition is appeased.
The fourth book opens with a funeral. It is of the Persian queen. Alexander laments her with tears. Darius learns at the same time her death and the generosity of his enemy. He addresses prayers to the gods for the latter, and offers propositions of peace. Alexander refuses these, and proceeds to bestow funeral honors upon the spouse of him he was about to meet in battle. Then comes an invention of the poet, which may have suggested afterwards to Dante that most beautiful passage of the "Purgatorio," where great scenes are sculptured on the walls.2 At the summit of a mountain a tomb is constructed by the skilful Hebrew Apelles, to receive the remains of the Persian queen; and on this tomb are carved, not only kings and names of Greek renown, but histories from the beginning of the world:"Nec solum reges et nomina gentis Achææ,
Sed generis notat historias, ab origine mundi
Here in breathing gold is the creation in six days; the fall of man, seduced by the serpent; Cain a wanderer; the increase of the human race; vice prevailing over
1 Lib. III. 389, 390. There is a contemporary poem in leonine verses on the death of Thomas à Becket, with the same allusion to opposite dangers:
2 Canto X.
"Ut post Syrtes mittitur in Charybdim navis,
Flatibus et fluctibus transitis tranquille,
DU MÉRIL, Poésies Pop Lat du Moyen Age, p. 82.
virtue; the deluge; the intoxication of Noah; the story of Esau, of Jacob, of Joseph; the plagues of Egypt,"Hic dolet Egyptus denis percussa flagellis "; 1
the flight of the Israelites,
"Et puro livescit pontus in auro";2
the manna in the Desert; the giving of the Law; the gushing of water from the rock; and then the succession of Hebrew history, stretching to the time of Esdras,
"Totaque picturæ series finitur in Esdra." 8
At once, after these great obsequies, Alexander marches against Darius. And here the poet dwells on the scene of the Persian army watching by its camp-fires. Helmets rival the stars; the firmament is surprised to see fires like its own reflected from bucklers, and fears lest the earth be changed into sky and the night become day. Instead of the sun, there is the helmet of Darius, which shines like Phoebus himself, and at its top a gem of flame, obscuring the stars and yielding only to the rays of the sun; for, as much as it yields to the latter, so much does it prevail over the former. The youthful chieftain, under protection of a benignant divinity, passes the night in profound repose. His army is all marshalled for the day, and he still sleeps. He is waked, harangues his men, and gives the order for battle. The victory of Arbela is at hand.
The fifth book is occupied with a description of this battle. Here are episodes in imitation of the ancients, with repetitions or parodies of Virgil. The poet apostrophizes the unhappy, defeated Darius, as he is about to flee, saying,-"Whither do you go, O King, about to perish in useless flight? You do not know, alas!
lost one, you do not know whom you flee.
While you flee from one enemy, you run upon other enemies. Desiring to escape Charybdis, you fall upon Scylla."
66 'Quo tendis inerti,
Rex periture, fuga? Nescis, heu! perdite, nescis
The Persian monarch finds safety at last in Media, and Alexander enters Babylon in triumph, surpassing all other triumphs, even those of ancient Rome: and this is merited, so sings the poet, for his exploits are above those of the most celebrated warriors, whether sung by Lucan in magnificent style, or by Claudian in pompous verse. The poet closes the book by referring to the condition of Christianity in his own age, exclaiming, that, if God, touched by the groans and the longings of his people, would accord to the French such a king, the true faith would soon shine throughout the universe. Had he witnessed either Bonaparte on the throne of France, it is doubtful if he would not have regretted his supplicatory prophecy, or rejected them as unworthy of Alexander.
The sixth book glows with the luxury of Alexander at Babylon, the capture of Susa, the pillage of Persepolis. Here the poet forgets the recorded excesses of his hero, with Thaïs by his side, and the final orgy, when the celebrated city was handed to the flames at the bidding of a courtesan; but he dwells on an incident of his own invention, calculated to excite emotions of honor rather than of condemnation. Alexander meets three thousand Greek prisoners, wretchedly mutilated by
1 Lib. V. 308-311. Some of the expressions of this passage may be compared with other writers. See Burmanni Anthologia Veterum Latinorum Epigrammatum et Poematum, Lib. I. Ep. CLXXVIII. 44, 199, Tom. I. pp. 152, 163; Ovidii Metam., Lib. I. 514, 515.
the Persians, and delivers them. He leaves to them the choice of returning to Greece, or of fixing themselves in the country there on lands he promises to distribute. Some propose to go back. Others insist, that, in their hideous condition, they cannot return to the eyes of their families and friends, when an orator declares that it is always pleasant to see again one's country, that there is nothing shameful in the condition caused by a barbarous enemy, and that it is unjust to those who love them to think that they will not be glad to see them. A few follow the orator; but the larger part remain behind, and receive from their liberator the land he had promised, also money, flocks, and whatever was necessary for farmers.
In the seventh book we meet the treason of Bessus substantially as in Quintus Curtius. Darius, with chains of gold on his feet, is carried in a closed vehicle to be delivered up. Alexander, who was still in With more pursuit of his enemy, is horror-struck. rapidity he moves to deliver or to avenge the Persian monarch than he ever moved to his defeat. He is aroused against the criminals, like Jupiter pursuing the Giants with his thunder. Darius is found in his carriage covered with wounds and bathed in his blood. With the little breath that remains, and yet struggling on the last confines of life, he makes a long speech, which the poet follows with bitter exclamations against his own age, beginning with venal Simon and his followers, and ending with the assassins of Thomas à Becket:
"Non adeo ambiret cathedræ venalis honorem
1 Lib. VII. 327-329.
Thus here again the poet precedes Dante, whose terrible condemnation of Simon has a kindred bitterness: –
"O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci,
Che le cose di Dio, che di bontate
Per oro e per argento adulterate." 1
These ejaculations are closed by an address to the manes of Darius, and a promise to immortalize him in the verse of the poet. The grief of Alexander for the Persian queen is renewed for the sovereign. The Hebrew Apelles is charged to erect in his honor a lofty pyramid in white marble, with sculptures in gold. Four columns of silver, with base and capital of gold, support with admirable art a concave vault, where are represented the three continents of the terrestrial globe, with their rivers, forests, mountains, cities, and people. In the characteristic description of each nation, France has soldiers and Italy wine:
"Francia militibus, celebri Campania Bacco." 2
From funeral the poet passes to festival, and portrays the banquets and indulgence to which Alexander now invites his army. Sedition ensues. The soldiers ask return to their country. Alexander harangues and awakens the love of glory. They swear to confront all dangers, following him to the end of the world. The eighth book chronicles the march into Hyrcania; the visit of Talestris, queen of the Amazons, and her Amazonian life, with one breast burnt so as to accommodate the bent bow; then the voluntary sacrifice of all the immense booty of the conqueror, as an example for the troops; then the conspiracy against Alexander in his own camp, with the examination and torture of the son of Parmenio, suspected of complicity; and then
1 Inferno, Canto XIX. 1-4.
2 Lib. VII 420.