Valerius Flacchus: War, the scourge of all the earth. Slaughtering with swords the scions of heaven.


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace


Valerius Flacchus
From Argonautica
Translated by J.H. Mozley

“I will tell thee,” said Mopsus, “and wholly explain the causes of this plague;” then, looking at the stars, “If we, who once were fire and high Olympus’ kin, suffer mortal frames and brief apportionments and a short span of destiny, it is not therefore right to engage in reckless slaughter and to drive hence with the sword souls that yet would tarry, and seeds that will one day return to heaven; for we are not dissolved into the breezes or into mere bones at the last: anger abides and grief endures. Thereafter when they are come to the throne of awful Jove and have set forth all the sorrowful story of their dreadful end, the gate of death is opened for them and they may return a second time; one of the Sisters is given them as a companion, and they range together over lands and seas. Each involves in penalties the guilty souls of his own foes; they rack them with various terrors after their deserving. But those whose hands have dripped with blood unwillingly – or were it cruel mischance, though nigh to guilt, that swept away the wretches – these men their own minds harry in divers ways, and their own deeds vex the doers; languid now and ventureless they decline into tears and spiritless alarms and sickly sloth: such thou doest here behold…”

Moreover, he duly places oak trees stripped of their foliage and shaped to the likeness of the warriors, and fastens thereto pretended armour. To these with prayer he bids pass over the Stygian threats and the shed blood’s unrelenting anger, upon these he prays that he wakeful remorse may weigh, and thus with atoning chant he calls to them: “Go, slain ones, make an end of unforgetting wrath; leave us in peace, and be content at last with your Stygian resting-place; far from our course, far from the sea abide, and have naught to do with wars. I would not have you go to Grecian cities or shriek at cross-roads; let no plague come hereby on herds or crops, nor baneful season bear hard upon them; let not our people or our offspring atone these deeds.”

At the dead of night they hear from closed caverns of the earth the unresting labour of the Chalybes; thy husbandmen, Gradivus, they ply their weary tools; loud rings the travail of those hands that first created war, the scourge of all the earth. For ere they dragged unknown iron from its stony bed and provided swords, Hatred roamed feeble because unarmed, Anger was resourceless and Revenge but slow…