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Julius Caesar by  Jacob Abbott


 

 

FLIGHT AND DEATH OF POMPEY

[171]

C
AESAR pursued the discomfited and flying bodies of Pompey's army to the camp. They made a brief stand upon the ramparts and at the gates, in a vain and fruitless struggle against the tide of victory which they soon perceived must fully overwhelm them. They gave way continually here and there along the lines of intrenchment, and column after column of Cæsar's followers broke through into the camp. Pompey, hearing from his tent the increasing noise and uproar, was at length aroused from his stupor, and began to summon his faculties to the question what he was to do. At length a party of fugitives, hotly pursued by some of Cæsar's soldiers, broke into his tent. "What!" said Pompey, "into my tent too!" He had been for more than thirty years a victorious general, accustomed to all the deference and respect which boundless wealth, extended and absolute power, and the highest military rank could afford. In the encampments which [172] he had made, and in the cities which he had occupied from time to time, he had been the supreme and unquestioned master, and his tent, arranged and furnished, as it had always been, in a style of the utmost magnificence and splendor, had been sacred from all intrusion, and invested with such a dignity that potentates and princes were impressed when they entered, with a feeling of deference and awe. Now, rude soldiers burst wildly into it, and the air without was filled with an uproar and confusion, drawing every moment nearer and nearer, and warning the fallen hero that there was no longer any protection there against the approaching torrent which was coming on to overwhelm him.

Pompey aroused himself from his stupor, threw off the military dress which belonged to his rank and station, and assumed a hasty disguise, in which he hoped he might make his escape from the immediate scene of his calamities. He mounted a horse and rode out of the camp at the easiest place of egress in the rear, in company with bodies of troops and guards who were also flying in confusion, while Cæsar and his forces on the other side were carrying the intrenchments and forcing their way in. As soon as he had thus made his escape from the im- [173] mediate scene of danger, he dismounted and left his horse, that he might assume more completely the appearance of a common soldier, and, with a few attendants who were willing to follow his fallen fortunes, he went on to the eastward, directing his weary steps toward the shores of the Ęgean Sea.

The country through which he was traveling was Thessaly. Thessaly is a vast amphitheater, surrounded by mountains, from whose sides streams descend, which, after watering many fertile valleys and plains, combine to form one great central river that flows to the eastward, and after various meanderings, finds its way into the Ęgean Sea through a romantic gap between two mountains, called the Vale of Tempe—a vale which has been famed in all ages for the extreme picturesqueness of its scenery, and in which, in those days, all the charms both of the most alluring beauty and of the sublimest grandeur seemed to be combined. Pompey followed the roads leading along the banks of this stream, weary in body, and harassed and disconsolate in mind. The news which came to him from time to time, by the flying parties which were moving through the country in all directions, of the entire and overwhelming completeness [174] of Cæsar's victory, extinguished all remains of hope, and narrowed down at last the grounds of his solicitude to the single point of his own personal safety. He was well aware that he should be pursued, and, to baffle the efforts which he knew that his enemies would make to follow his track, he avoided large towns, and pressed forward in by-ways and solitudes, bearing as patiently as he was able his increasing destitution and distress. He reached, at length, the Vale of Tempe, and there, exhausted with hunger, thirst, and fatigue, he sat down upon the bank of the stream to recover by a little rest strength enough for the remainder of his weary way. He wished for a drink, but he had nothing to drink from. And so the mighty potentate, whose tent was full of delicious beverages, and cups and goblets of silver and gold, extended himself down upon the sand at the margin of the river, and drank the warm water directly from the stream.

While Pompey was thus anxiously and toilsomely endeavoring to gain the sea-shore, Cæsar was completing his victory over the army which he had left behind him. When Cæsar had carried the intrenchments of the camp, and the army found that there was no longer any [175] safety for them there, they continued their retreat under the guidance of such generals as remained. Cæsar thus gained undisputed possession of the camp. He found every where the marks of wealth and luxury, and indications of the confident expectation of victory which the discomfited army had entertained. The tents of the generals were crowned with myrtle, the beds were strewed with flowers, and tables every where were spread for feasts, with cups and bowls of wine all ready for the expected revelers. Cæsar took possession of the whole, stationed a proper guard to protect the property, and then pressed forward with his army in pursuit of the enemy.

Pompey's army made their way to a neighboring rising ground, where they threw up hasty intrenchments to protect themselves for the night. A rivulet ran near the hill, the access to which they endeavored to secure, in order to obtain supplies of water. Cæsar and his forces followed them to this spot. The day was gone, and it was too late to attack them. Cæsar's soldiers, too, were exhausted with the intense and protracted excitement and exertions which had now been kept up for many hours in the battle and in the pursuit, and they needed repose. They [176] made, however, one effort more. They seized the avenue of approach to the rivulet, and threw up a temporary intrenchment to secure it, which intrenchment they protected with a guard; and then the army retired to rest, leaving their helpless victims to while away the hours of the night, tormented with thirst, and overwhelmed with anxiety and despair. This could not long be endured. They surrendered in the morning, and Cæsar found himself in possession of over twenty thousand prisoners.

In the mean time, Pompey passed on through the Vale of Tempe toward the sea, regardless of the beauty and splendor that surrounded him, and thinking only of his fallen fortunes, and revolving despairingly in his mind the various forms in which the final consummation of his ruin might ultimately come. At length he reached the sea-shore, and found refuge for the night in a fisherman's cabin. A small number of attendants remained with him, some of whom were slaves. These he now dismissed, directing them to return and surrender themselves to Cæsar, saying that he was a generous foe, and that they had nothing to fear from him. His other attendants he retained, and he made arrangements for a boat to take him the next day [177] along the coast. It was a river boat, and unsuited to the open sea, but it was all that he could obtain.

He arose the next morning at break of day, and embarked in the little vessel, with two or three attendants, and the oarsmen began to row away along the shore. They soon came in sight of a merchant ship just ready to sail. The master of this vessel, it happened, had seen Pompey, and knew his countenance, and he had dreamed, as a famous historian of the times relates, on the night before, that Pompey had come to him in the guise of a simple soldier and in great distress, and that he had received and rescued him. There was nothing extraordinary in such a dream at such a time, as the contest between Cæsar and Pompey, and the approach of the final collision which was to destroy one or the other of them, filled the minds and occupied the conversation of the world. The shipmaster, therefore, having seen and known one of the great rivals in the approaching conflict, would naturally find both his waking and sleeping thoughts dwelling on the subject; and his fancy, in his dreams, might easily picture the scene of his rescuing and saving the fallen hero in the hour of his distress.

[178] However this may be, the shipmaster is said to have been relating his dream to the seamen on the deck of his vessel when the boat which was conveying Pompey came into view. Pompey himself, having escaped from the land, supposed all immediate danger over, not imagining that seafaring men would recognize him in such a situation and in such a disguise. The shipmaster did, however, recognize him. He was overwhelmed with grief at seeing him in such a condition. With a countenance and with gestures expressive of earnest surprise and sorrow, he beckoned to Pompey to come on board. He ordered his own ship's boat to be immediately let down to meet and receive him. Pompey came on board. The ship was given up to his possession, and every possible arrangement was made to supply his wants, to contribute to his comfort, and to do him honor.

The vessel conveyed him to Amphipolis, a city of Macedonia near the sea, and to the northward and eastward of the place where he had embarked. When Pompey arrived at the port, he sent proclamations to the shore, calling upon the inhabitants to take arms and join his standard. He did not, however, land, or take any other measures for carrying these arrangements [179] into effect. He only waited in the river upon which Amphipolis stands long enough to receive a supply of money from some of his friends on the shore, and stores for his voyage, and then get sail again. Whether he learned that Cæsar was advancing in that direction with a force too strong for him to encounter, or found that the people were disinclined to espouse his cause, or whether the whole movement was a feint to direct Cæsar's attention to Macedon as the field of his operations, in order that he might escape more secretly and safely beyond the sea, can not now be ascertained.

Pompey's wife Cornelia was on the island of Lesbos, at Mitylene, near the western coast of Asia Minor. She was a lady of distinguished beauty, and of great intellectual superiority and moral worth. She was extremely well versed in all the learning of the times, and yet was entirely free from those peculiarities and airs which, as her historian says, were often observed in learned ladies in those days. Pompey had married her after the death of Julia, Cæsar's daughter. They were strongly devoted to each other. Pompey had provided for her a beautiful retreat on the island of Lesbos, where she was living in elegance and splendor, [180] beloved for her own intrinsic charms, and highly honored on account of the greatness and fame of her husband. Here she had received from time to time glowing accounts of his success all exaggerated as they came to her, through the eager desire of the narrators to give her pleasure.

From this high elevation of honor and happiness the ill-fated Cornelia suddenly fell, on the arrival of Pompey's solitary vessel at Mitylene, bringing as it did, at the same time, both the first intelligence of her husband's fall, and himself in person, a ruined and homeless fugitive and wanderer. The meeting was sad and sorrowful. Cornelia was overwhelmed at the suddenness and violence of the shock which it brought her, and Pompey lamented anew the dreadful disaster that he had sustained, at finding how inevitably it must involve his beloved wife as well as himself in its irreparable ruin.

The pain, however, was not wholly without some mingling of pleasure. A husband finds a strange sense of protection and safety in the presence and sympathy of an affectionate wife in the hour of his calamity. She can, perhaps, do nothing, but her mute and sorrowful concern and pity comfort and reassure him. Cor- [181] nelia, however, was able to render her husband some essential aid. She resolved immediately to accompany him wherever he should go; and, by their joint endeavors, a little fleet was gathered, and such supplies as could be hastily obtained, and such attendants and followers as were willing to share his fate, were taken on board. During all this time Pompey would not go on shore himself, but remained on board his ship in the harbor. Perhaps he was afraid of some treachery or surprise, or perhaps, in his fallen and hopeless condition, he was unwilling to expose himself to the gaze of those who had so often seen him in all the splendor of his former power.

At length, when all was ready, he sailed away. He passed eastward along the Mediterranean, touching at such ports as he supposed most likely to favor his cause. Vague and uncertain, but still alarming rumors that Cæsar was advancing in pursuit of him met him every where, and the people of the various provinces were taking sides, some in his favor and some against him, the excitement being every where so great that the utmost caution and circumspection were required in all his movements. Sometimes he was refused permission to land; [182] at others, his friends were too few to afford him protection; and at others still, though the authorities professed friendship, he did not dare to trust them. He obtained, however, some supplies of money and some accessions to the number of ships and men under his command, until at length he had quite a little fleet in his train. Several men of rank and influence, who had served under him in the days of his prosperity, nobly adhered to him now, and formed a sort of court or council on board his galley, where they held with their great though fallen commander frequent conversations on the plan which it was best to pursue.

It was finally decided that it was best to seek refuge in Egypt. There seemed to be, in fact, no alternative. All the rest of the world was evidently going over to Cæsar. Pompey had been the means, some years before, of restoring a certain king of Egypt to his throne, and many of his soldiers had been left in the country, and remained there still. It is true that the king himself had died. He had left a daughter named Cleopatra, and also a son, who was at this time very young. The name of this youthful prince was Ptolemy. Ptolemy and Cleopatra had been made by their father joint heirs [183] to the throne. But Ptolemy, or, rather, the ministers and counselors who acted for him and in his name, had expelled Cleopatra, that they might govern alone. Cleopatra had raised an army in Syria, and was on her way to the frontiers of Egypt to regain possession of what she deemed her rights. Ptolemy's ministers had gone forth to meet her at the head of their own troops, Ptolemy himself being also with them. They had reached Pelusium, which is the frontier town between Egypt and Syria on the coast of the Mediterranean. Here their armies had assembled in vast encampments upon the land, and their galleys and transports were riding at anchor along the shore of the sea. Pompey and his counselors thought that the government of Ptolemy would receive him as a friend, on account of the services he had rendered to the young prince's father, forgetting that gratitude has never a place on the list of political virtues.

Pompey's little squadron made its way slowly over the waters of the Mediterranean toward Pelusium and the camp of Ptolemy. As they approached the shore, both Pompey himself and Cornelia felt many anxious forebodings. A messenger was sent to the land to inform the young king of Pompey's approach, and to solicit his [184] protection. The government of Ptolemy held a council, and took the subject into consideration.

Various opinions were expressed, and various plans were proposed. The counsel which was finally followed was this. It would be dangerous to receive Pompey, since that would make Cæsar their enemy. It would be dangerous to refuse to receive him, as that would make Pompey their enemy, and, though powerless now, he might one day be in a condition to seek vengeance. It was wisest, therefore, to destroy him. They would invite him to the shore, and kill him when he landed. This would please Cæsar; and Pompey himself, being dead, could never revenge it. "Dead dogs," as the orator said who made this atrocious proposal, "do not bite."

An Egyptian, named Achillas, was appointed to execute the assassination thus decreed. An invitation was sent to Pompey to land, accompanied with a promise of protection; and, when his fleet had approached near enough to the shore, Achillas took a small party in a boat, and went out to meet his galley. The men in this boat, of course, were armed.

The officers and attendants of Pompey watched all these movements from the deck of his galley. They scrutinized every thing that oc- [185] curred with the closest attention and the greatest anxiety, to see whether the indications denoted an honest friendship or intentions of treachery. The appearances were not favorable. Pompey's friends observed that no preparations were making along the shore for receiving him with the honors due, as they thought, to his rank and station. The manner, too, in which the Egyptians seemed to expect him to land was ominous of evil. Only a single insignificant boat for a potentate who recently had commanded half the world! Then, besides, the friends of Pompey observed that several of the principal galleys of Ptolemy's fleet were getting up their anchors, and preparing apparently to be ready to move at a sudden call. These and other indications appeared much more like preparations for seizing an enemy than welcoming a friend. Cornelia, who, with her little son, stood upon the deck of Pompey's galley, watching the scene with a peculiar intensity of solicitude which the hardy soldiers around her could not have felt, became soon exceedingly alarmed. She begged her husband not to go on shore. But Pompey decided that it was now too late to retreat. He could not escape from the Egyptian galleys if they had [186] received orders to intercept him, nor could he resist violence if violence were intended. To do any thing like that would evince distrust, and to appear like putting himself upon his guard would be to take at once, himself, the position of an enemy, and invite and justify the hostility of the Egyptians in return. As to flight, he could not hope to escape from the Egyptian galleys if they had received orders to prevent it; and, besides, if he were determined on attempting an escape, whither should he fly? The world was against him. His triumphant enemy was on his track in full pursuit, with all the vast powers and resources of the whole Roman empire at his command. There remained for Pompey only the last forlorn hope of a refuge in Egypt, or else, as the sole alternative, a complete and unconditional submission to Cæsar. His pride would not consent to this, and he determined, therefore, dark as the indications were, to place himself, without any appearance of distrust, in Ptolemy's hands, and abide the issue.

The boat of Achillas approached the galley. When it touched the side, Achillas and the other officers on board of it hailed Pompey in the most respectful manner, giving him the title [187] of Imperator, the highest title known in the Roman state. Achillas addressed Pompey in Greek. The Greek was the language of educated men in all the Eastern countries in those days. He told him that the water was too shallow for his galley to approach nearer to the shore, and invited him to come on board of his boat, and he would take him to the beach, where, as he said, the king was waiting to receive him.

With many anxious forebodings, that were but ill concealed, Pompey made preparations to accept the invitation. He bade his wife farewell, who clung to him as they were about to part with a gloomy presentiment that they should never meet again. Two centurions who were to accompany Pompey, and two servants, descended into the boat. Pompey himself followed, and then the boatmen pushed off from the galley and made toward the shore. The decks of all the vessels in Pompey's little squadron, as well as those of the Egyptian fleet, were crowded with spectators, and lines of soldiery and groups of men, all intently watching the operations of the landing, were scattered along the shore.

Among the men whom Achillas had provided to aid him in the assassination was an offi- [188] cer of the Roman army who had formerly served under Pompey. As soon as Pompey was seated in the boat, he recognized the countenance of this man, and addressed him, saying, "I think I remember you as having been in former days my fellow-soldier." The man replied merely by a nod of assent. Feeling somewhat guilty and self-condemned at the thoughts of the treachery which he was about to perpetrate, he was little inclined to renew the recollection of the days when he was Pompey's friend. In fact, the whole company in the boat, filled on the one part with awe in anticipation of the terrible deed which they were soon to commit, and on the other with a dread suspense and alarm, were little disposed for conversation, and Pompey took out a manuscript of an address in Greek which he had prepared to make to the young king at his approaching interview with him, and occupied himself in reading it over. Thus they advanced in a gloomy and solemn silence, hearing no sound but the dip of the oars in the water, and the gentle dash of the waves along the line of the shore.

At length the boat touched the sand, while Cornelia still stood on the deck of the galley, watching every movement with great solicitude [189] and concern. One of the two servants whom Pompey had taken with him, named Philip, his favorite personal attendant, rose to assist his master in landing. He gave Pompey his hand to aid him in rising from his seat, and at that moment the Roman officer whom Pompey had recognized as his fellow-soldier, advanced behind him and stabbed him in the back. At the same instant Achillas and the others drew their swords. Pompey saw that all was lost. He did not speak, and he uttered no cry of alarm, though Cornelia's dreadful shriek was so loud and piercing that it was heard upon the shore. From the suffering victim himself nothing was heard but an inarticulate groan extorted by his agony. He gathered his mantle over his face, and sank down and died.


[Illustration]

DEATH OF POMPEY

Of course, all was now excitement and confusion. As soon as the deed was done, the perpetrators of it retired from the scene, taking the head of their unhappy victim with them, to offer to Cæsar as proof that his enemy was really no more. The officers who remained in the fleet which had brought Pompey to the coast made all haste to sail away, bearing the wretched Cornelia with them, utterly distracted with grief and despair, while Philip and his [190] fellow-servant remained upon the beach, standing bewildered and stupefied over the headless body of their beloved master. Crowds of spectators came in succession to look upon the hideous spectacle a moment in silence, and then to turn, shocked and repelled, away. At length, when the first impulse of excitement had in some measure spent its force, Philip and his comrades so far recovered their composure as to begin to turn their thoughts to the only consolation that was now left to them, that of performing the solemn duties of sepulture. They found the wreck of a fishing boat upon the strand, from which they obtained wood enough for a rude funeral pile. They burned what remained of the mutilated body, and, gathering up the ashes, they put them in an urn and sent them to Cornelia, who afterward buried them at Alba with many bitter tears.


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