The Emptiness of Military Glory

Juvenal Satires 10.133-162

The spoils of wars, a breastplate fastened to lopped-off trophies and a cheek-piece hanging from a broken helmet and a yoke stripped of [its] pole and the sternpost of a captured trireme and a sad captive on the top of a [triumphal] arch are believed [to be] glories greater than human (lit., greater than human glories). To this have Roman and Greek and foreign general aspired, [and] from this they had incentives for [enduring] danger and toil; so much greater is the thirst for fame than [that] for virtue. For who embraces virtue itself (i.e., for its own sake) if you were to remove rewards? However, in the past the ambition of a few has overwhelmed [their] country, and the desire for praise and an epitaph that will cling to [tomb] stones, the guardians of [their] ashes, [and] to shatter these (lit., which) the weak strength of a sterile fig tree is sufficient, since destruction has also been assigned to the graves themselves.

Weigh Hannibal; how many pounds will you find in the greatest of generals? This is [the man] who cannot be held by Africa (lit., whom Africa ... does not hold), lashed by the Moorish ocean and extending to the warm Nile [and] southward to the peoples of the Ethiopians and different elephants. Spain is added to [his] empire; he jumps over the Pyrenees. In [his] way nature places the Alps and snow; he splits rocks and breaks through a mountain with vinegar. Now he occupies Italy, yet he strives to proceed farther. "Nothing has been achieved," he says, "unless I break the gates [of RomeJ with the Carthaginian soldier and place [our] standard in the middle of the Subura."

O what a sight and worthy of what a picture when a Gaetulian monster (i.e., an elephant) was carrying the one-eyed general. So what is [his] fate? O glory! The same [man] is, of course, conquered and flees headlong into exile and there, [as] an important and remarkable client, he sits at the kings palace until the Bithynian tyrant should deign to rise.

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