Triumph of Fame
WHEN DEATH had triumphed in the countenance
That had so often triumphed over me,
And when the sun was taken from our world,
That pitiless and evil one had gone,
Pallid in aspect, horrible, and proud,
By whom the light of beauty had been quenched.
Then, as I gazed across the grassy vale
I saw appearing on the other side
Her who saves man from the tomb, and gives him life.
As at the break of day an amorous star
Comes from the east before the rising sun,
Who gladly enters her companionship,
Thus came she. From what rhetoricians' school
Shall come the master who could fully tell
What I shall only tell in simple words?
The sky all round about was now so bright
My eyes were vanquished by its brilliancy,
In spite of the desire that filled my heart.
Those who attended her bore on their brows
The signs of worthiness: among them were
Some I had seen aforetime bound by Love.
At her right hand, where first I bent mine eyes,
Were Scipio and Caesar; but which one
Was closer to her I could not discern.
One of the twain served virtue and not love,
The other served them both. Then there appeared,
Following those who were so glorious,
Folk armed alike with valor and with steel,
As in the triumphs that in olden times
Proceeded through the sacred ways of Rome.
They came in the order I shall now set forth,
And every one in aspect seemed to bear
The name that is most glorious of all.
I was intent upon their noble talk,
Their faces, and their actions. The first two
Were followed by a grandson, and a son
Who was unique and peerless in the world;
And those who willed to block the enemy
With their own bodies, fathers two, were there,
Companioned by three sons. One went before,
And two came afterward: the last being first
In honor for the praise that he had won.
Then, flashing like a ruby bright, came one
Who with his counsel and his bravery
Rescued all Italy in the time of need:
I speak of Claudius, who in the silent night,
When he saw the Metaurus, came to purge
The fields of Rome of all their evil growth,
For he had eyes for sight, and wings for speed.
And after him there came a great old man
Who with his art held Hannibal at bay.
With him, two Catos and two Fabii,
Two Pauli, Bruti two, and two Marcelli,
Regulus, who loved others more than self;
Curio and Fabricius, nobler far
In poverty than Midas with his gold,
Or Crassus, rebels against honesty;
Serranus following ever in their steps,
With Cincinnatus; great Camillus then,
Weary of life, but not of serving Rome;
For he so highly won the honor of heaven
That his clear virtue led him to return
Thither whence a blind rage had driven him.
Then came Torquatus, he who smote his son,
Preferring to be reft of him than that
His troops be reft of spirit and of strength;
Then the two Decii who with their breasts
Opened the hostile ranks. Oh fearsome vow,
That offered father and son to one same death!
With them came Curtius, like to them avowed,
Who plunged in armor into the great cave
That horribly within the Forum yawned;
Laevinus, Mummius, and Attilius;
Flaminius, who conquered Greece by force,
But even more by generosity.
He too was there who drew a noble ring
Around the Syrian king, and with his brow
And with his tongue compelled him to consent;
And he who, arm'd, alone, defended once
A hill whence later he was hurled; and he
Who held a bridge against all Tuscany;
He also who had raised his hand in vain
Amid the enemy's host, and burned it then,
So wrathful that he felt no pain therefrom;
And he who first was victor on the sea
Against the Carthaginians; and he
Who by the islands scattered all their fleet;
Appius, blinded, and his kindred all,
Ever oppressive to the humble plebs.
Then saw I a great man of gentle mien,
Who had been first had not his light grown dim:
He surely was for us as were for Thebes
Epaminondas, Bacchus, and Hercules.
But it is ill to live too long! And next
Him I beheld, the flower of his time,
Who from his skill and swiftness had his name.
He in command was cruel and severe;
But he who followed was of kindly heart,
Worthy as captain and as man-at-arms.
Noble Volumnius, meriting high praise,
Came then, who by his conduct had removed
A bleeding tumor, livid, and malign;
Cossus and philo and Rutilius;
Then, at one side, three by themselves I saw,
Their bodies wounded, and their armor cleft,
Three thunderbolts and mighty cliffs of war,
Dentatus, Scaeva, Marcus Sergius,
Who through a younger kinsman lost his fame.
Marius then, who crushed the German rage,
Jugurtha, and the Cimbri; Fulvius,
Who against orders put ingrates to death;
The nobler Fulvius; of the Gracchi one
From all that garrulous and restless brood
That tried the patience of the men of Rome;
Metellus, who to all seemed glad and blest?
I do not say he was, for one sees not
Into a heart shut close in secrecy;
His father and his heirs were there as well:
From Macedon and from Numidia
They brought their booty, and from Crete and Spain.
And then I saw Vespasian and the son
Who was fair and good (the other, fair and vile),
Nerva and Trajan, trusty princes both,
Hadrian, Antonine his foster son,
Marcus Aurelius too-a goodly set,
For good men want good men to follow them.
While in my eagerness I looked ahead
I saw the founder of Rome and its next five kings:
The last was buried under his burden of shame,
As doth befall scorners of righteousness.