Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis

inspired by this painting by Rembrandt van Rijn and the Histories of Tacitus detailing the Batavian Rebellion

Gaius Julius held up his strong hand, his sword hand
He looked out over the people with one eye,
Fearsome, sombre, and wroth.
What did he see as he spoke his great speech?
The bright rage, like a flame in his heart
As it caught on our faces and climbed?

We filled our mouths with rich red wine, hard bread,
Stuffing our faces with glory and courage.
Batavia was rising, throwing off its yoke--
No longer would our sons be conscripted
Into any army but our own.

My chief made sword-oath, the clash of metal
Was a din, hideous foreteller of the battles to come
Did Civilis see his death reflected in the steel?
He looked sad at the end, thoughtful,
But he knew what needed to be done.

I was there—old man, grey-beard, living
Perhaps beyond my time, veteran of many battles—
And even I was caught up in the fervor,
Vibrant again as a green lad before a king,
Shouting for blood with the rest.
Tremble before the empty names of legions?
Not likely! Not us!
We had brothers in that army,
Sons torn from mothers’ breasts, eager to return.
We knew the measure of those men.

And Claudius Civilis, king and hero,
Conspirator and traitor, told us all Gaul was rising.
He wrought us, sharp and eager swordsmen,
Or flat and determined as shields,
Into the army he wanted.
He had cunning and courage aplenty
And we followed him into death.

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