The March of Xerxes
Translated by Sir Aubrey de Vere
WHEN in the wantonness of kingly pride,
Vain Xerxes spurred his war-horse through the tide,
And bore his fleet o’er mountain-tops,—e’en there
The Eternal bade his evil heart despair:
O’er Hellespont and Athos’ marble head,
More than a god he came, less than a man he fled.
Xerces was a Persian ruler who invaded Greece about five centuries before Jesus was born.
There’s something refreshing to me about the honesty of the time. He didn’t jump through rhetorical hoops to show that offense was really defense, or pretend that he was all about freeing an oppressed people; he simply wanted their stuff and intended to take it. He may have been kind of grabby, but he was unflinchingly honest about it.
As he assembled his army and marched off there was an eclipse, which was taken to be a Very Bad Omen by his advisors, but he had a full head of steam worked up and pressed on. Then along the way a horse gave birth to a rabbit, and again his advisors said “You know, this means something,” but he insisted everything was fine and pressed on.
He finally met the Greeks at The Battle of Salamis, and- as the omens predicted- he was soundly defeated. The soldiers who didn’t die in battle died of starvation and dysentery during the ignoble retreat homeward.
But eventually we got a good poem out of it.
You can read about Xerces HERE.