Triumph of Fame
Filled with amazement endless and profound
At the sight of these heroic men of Rome
Ne'er in the world was such another host
I turned to records of the olden age
Wherein great names and virtues are inscribed,
And found that much was lacking to my tale.
Yet now my thoughts to foreign heroes turned:
To Hannibal, and then to Achilles, sung
In verse that gave to him immense renown;
Two famous Trojans; two great Persian kings;
Then Philip, and his son, whose swift campaigns
Won victories from Greece to India;
The other Alexander, near at hand,
Moving less swiftly: he had mightier foes
(How much true honor Fortune tears away!);
The three of Thebes, already named, together;
Then he who sought to see too much of the world,
Ulysses; with him Ajax and Diomed;
Nestor, who knew so much and lived so long;
And Agamemnon, who with Menelaus,
Unhappy in wedlock, filled the world with strife;
Leonidas, who to his troop proposed
A dinner hard, and supper with the dead,
And in a narrow pass wrought wondrously;
And Alcibiades, who so many times
Turned Athens back and forth, to suit his will,
By his fair face and by his honeyed words;
Miltiades, who took the yoke from Greece,
With his good son, who, loving perfectly,
Binding himself, set his dead father free;
Themistocles and Theseus with this group,
And Aristides-like to our Fabricius
To whom Athenian burial was denied,
Their excellence illumined by the vice
Of others: nought so well contrasts two acts
As brevity of intervening time;
Phocion, banished even in his death,
Was of the company of these three men
Far different from his deeds was his reward!
Turning mine eyes, I saw the valiant Pyrrhus,
And the good king Masinissa-ill content
That he had not had place in the Roman host.
Gazing this way and that, I saw with him
The Syracusan Hiero, and then
Cruel Hamilcar, far removed from them.
The Lydian king I saw, as from the fire
Naked he came, making it manifest
That nought avails against the will of Fate.
I beheld Syphax, prey to like distress,
Brennus, so many of whose followers fell
As he too fell, below the Delphic fane.
Great was the throng, and various in dress.
Then, looking upward toward a height, I saw
A group all closely gathered, and aloof
Foremost therein was he who planned to build
A dwelling place for God among mankind;
But he who built came after him, for so
It was ordained. He raised the holy House,
From base to summit-but within his heart
He builded not so well, as I infer.
Then he who had received such grace from God
That he held converse with Him, face to face,
A privilege no other man can claim;
And he who, by the virtue of his speech,
Did bind the sun, even as a beast is caught,
That he might still pursue his enemies:
Oh noble faith! That he who worships God
Is master over all that God creates
And with his simple words may stay the heavens!
And then I saw our father, who was called
To leave his homeland, and to make his way
To the place that was elect for our salvation;
With him his son, and his son's son, deceived
As to his wives; and then, somewhat apart,
I saw that son's son, ]oseph, wise and chaste;
And gazing then as far as I could gaze
I saw him beyond whom no eye may reach,
Whose disobedience despoiled the world.
Nearer, I saw the builder of the Ark,
And he who undertook to build the tower
Laden so heavily with fault and sin;
Then Judas Maccabaeus, who held true
To his father's laws, invincible and bold,
As one rushing on death for a just cause.
My will to see was growing weary now,
Till I beheld a new and gracious sight
That made me still more eager than before.
A troop of warrior women now I saw:
Antiope and Orithia, armed and fair;
Hippolyta, mourning for her lifeless son,
And Menalippe, each of them so swift
That Hercules could hardly vanquish them
And one he kept, the other gave to Theseus;
The widow who, unweeping, saw her son
In death, and then for him such vengeance took
That she slew Cyrus, and now slays his fame:
For even now, hearing his dreadful end,
He seems again to be dying in his guilt,
So much of honor did he lose that day!
Then I saw her who in an evil hour
Saw Troy; and with them too the Latin maid
Who fought the Trojan band in Italy.
And then I saw the queen, high-spirited,
Who with her hair half kempt and half unkempt
Sped to 0' ercome revolt in Babylon,
And Cleopatra, both of them aflame
With wrongful love; and in the line I saw
Zenobia, more jealous of her honor:
For she was fair, and in the flower of youth,
And all the more in beauty and in youth
To cherish honor is to merit praise;
And in her woman's heart was strength so great
That with her beauty and her armored locks
She brought dismay to men unused to fear
I speak of the imperial might of Rome
That she assailed in war-albeit at last
She for our triumph was a wealthy prize.
Among the names that I must disregard
Shall not be that of Judith, widow brave,
Who reft her foolish lover of his head.
But Ninus, with whom history begins,
Where leave I him? And where his great successor?
Whose pride reduced him to a bestial life?
Where too is Belus, worshiped sinfully,
But not through his own fault? Where Zoroaster,
With whom the use of magic arts began?
And where is he who, east of the Euphrates,
So fiercely dealt with our ill-starred commanders
A sorry plaster for Italic woes!
Where the great Mithridates, that eternal
Foe of the Romans-from whose toils he fled,
Summer or winter, to return again!
Much greatness now most briefly I compress.
Where is King Arthur? Where three emperors,
An African, a Spaniard, and a Gaul?
With Arthur were his dozen paladins.
Thereafter the duke Godfrey came alone,
To undertake crusade and righteous steps,
Who in Jerusalem with his own hands
Built the nest now bereft of care or guard,
Whence in my wrath I cry aloud-in vain!
Live on, ye wretched Christians, in your pride,
Consuming one the other, caring not
That the tomb of Christ be in the clutch of dogs!
Few men, if any, saw I after him
Rise to high fame, if I be not deceived,
Either through arts of peace or arts of war.
And yet, as men who are elect come last,
Near to the end I saw the Saracen
who to our armies brought such shame and harm;
And he of Loria followed Saladin.
Then came the Duke of Lancaster, who erst
Was a rough neighbor to the realm of France.
Then, like a man who presses still ahead,
I strove to see if I could recognize
Any whom I had seen aforetime, here on earth;
And I saw two who only yestereve
Departed from our life and from our land;
They were the two who closed the honored troop:
The good Sicilian king, of high intent,
Truly an Argus in his foresight keen,
And by his side I saw my great Colonna,
Constant and generous, and of noble heart.