THE MAN WHO SAVED HISTORY

Luminescently lush lies a peninsula nation
Italy one hundred five years before Christ is born
Birthplace of great empire, cradle of civilization
A glorious green canvas for history to adorn
So pretty a sight, some would take it by fight
Mainly most monstrously martial marauders
As a good scholar poses, each history chapter closes
With a dark rush of barbarian invaders.

For the tribe of the Romans the closer no mystery
No dimming the memory now three hundred years old
When Celtic Gauls cross Allia into history
The rout that followed, the Sack of Rome, told and retold
None can outlive fears, passed down through the years
The half-century of Hell brought by these raiders
They find release from the Celts, but no relief from their welts
Ever wary of new swarms of invaders.


I.

Three hundred thousand strong the Teutonic warriors come
With a greater number of their women and children
Seeking territories to proclaim their new kingdom
They hurtle forth as devouring flames of violence
Living off plunder, turning nations asunder
They grow more monstrous with each tribe they capture
In all aspects terrible, in numbers incredible
All tremble at the rumble of these invaders.

Panicked Romans dispatch greatest generals to the fray
Overthrown ingloriously, each returns with a story
Once brave defenders now become ignominious prey
How these maniacal Germans turn Roman valor gory
With grey-eyed fierceness, they march to Rome fearless
Those who assault them possess not a prayer
In this majestic land, is there a military man
To save history from these gruesome invaders?


II.

Seeking greatest glory, fighting in North Africa
Through cleverness a Roman general conquers
The mighty Jugurtha, King of Numidia
In view of Romans, an unconquerable curse
To Sulla glory goes, but Italy knows
They would nominate the sly one their savior:
"Consul Caius Marius, you are the man we all choose
To save us from fierce Teutonic invaders."

Born in the country, to obscure daily laborers
Marriage to Julia Caesar heightened his stature
He purged Spain of its infested barbarous robbers
Nephew Julius modeled after his character
Tireless in labor, temperate with liquor
He declined to learn Greek (taught by slave teachers)
With the proper countenance, and the help of Providence
Can he rally Italy against such invaders?

Naturally warlike, they say, and known for rough character
More suited for camp discipline than life of city
Demands for uprightness and courage come no stricter
Punishment of dalliance he pursues with tenacity
But he himself stoops, to what he asks of the troops
Sharing both work and danger with his soldiers
He must gain their respect, if he has hope to eject
Monstrously oversized, teeming invaders.

Contrary to custom, even to law, first he enlists the slave—
next the poor—making each soldier carry his own baggage
That those humbled by such labor might one day crave
Even with Teutonic monsters . . battle to engage
He builds superhumans, to defeat the Germans
The long marches in pursuit to inure his fighters
Only maximum fitness, matching strength to quickness
Can overcome the invincible invaders.

Marius with alert of where enemy approaches
Passes Romans through Alps in swift expedition
Pitching camp by river Rhone where sea encroaches
But sandy bottom and clay bar carriage of provision
They must have victuals, to fuel martial rituals
So he sets soldiers to diverting the river
Course they turn with great trench (one that still serves the French)
To supply their attack on fierce invaders.


III.

A full head taller than the Italians at their best
Strange in appearance and uttering strange idiom
These great masses take six days to pass over a crest
Stunning huge numbers, but the Unknown proves more fearsome—
Stark impending doom, in Roman faces looms
Trebled through Teutonic taunts meant to wither:
"We can pass last words, to your women who purr
When we become their most belovťd invaders."

Ever training and running and observing the Germans
That familiarity might conquer their great fear
For Marius knows better acquaintance with strange men
Makes them far less frightful than they appear
Then arrives the day, the straining soldiers say:
"Youíre holding us back from a battle most fair—
Let us prove ourselves to be the men to save Italy
From these impertinently taunting invaders."

Responds sly Marius, secretly pleased with their valor:
"Think not of fine glory, of triumphs and trophies
Rather how we might repel such a tempest of war,
Whilst I consult oracles on our victory."
(A supposed prophetess, his strategy to bless)
Leaving the soldiers to rejoice at two vultures
Who signal their success, accompanying their marches
After these menacingly maneuvering invaders.

This Syrian woman the soldiers regard suspiciously
With her purple robe and little spear trimmed with ribbons
But a night-sky battle of flaming darts reads propitiously
With shields clashing in soldierly postures and motions
One light show retreats west, to Eternal Rest
In the direction from which hail fierce raiders
Taken as good omens, by much-beleaguered Romans
Who pray the gods side not with the invaders.

However welcome, the good signs Marius do not sway
As he awaits best auspices to bring force to bear
In this cat-and-mouse game where he turns predator to prey
Time and place must be nailed with great care
The enemy may taunt, his power to vaunt
But he stands no chance to engage Roman soldiers
Until their commander sights, the best spot for their fights
To even the match against these rash invaders.


IV.

Crazed Teutons sneak attack on quieted Roman camp
Losing vast numbers to arrows in shower arched
Redirecting forward their march, Alpine crest to tramp
With Marius following after, till his men are parched
He exploits their thirst, to elicit their worst
Camping at a reach from Sextilius' Waters
For their dry throats to slake, in fierce skirmish partake
By trading blood for water with the invaders.

By his design Marius puts an edge to their courage
To divert them from battle first the camp they fortify
But engagement with the enemy he must discourage
His soldiers obey, but boys and servants defy
They make the river, the bounteous giver
Ready to wrestle with Germans for some water
They happen upon hot springs, where Teutons lounge like drunk kings
Tripping a rush to arms by invaders.

Massive enemy waves urgent shouts spur into action
Marius works doubly hard to contain his force
Of barbarian tribes, this the most warlike faction
More than thirty thousand charging from their source
This band of Ambrones, worse than Teutones
Had won big in previous Roman encounters
Once they defeat Caepio, Manlius they overthrow
Marking them the fiercest of the invaders.

Though thoroughly gorging themselves on drink and food
They advance not with unruly step or in mere fury
Keeping time as they leap onward, clashing in concert their wood
In most orderly fashion into battle they scurry
Shouting "Ambrones!", and again "Ambrones!"
At Roman hearts to strike the terror greater
And with each mighty shout, lungs so lusty and stout
Encourage one another the invaders.

They strain to draw together but the river disorders
As they sustain a hard charge by the Ligurians
From higher ground Romans then pour down (against orders)
Filling the river with massacred barbarians
The river flows red, with blood of the dead
And body parts brutally hacked and severed
They came for the water, but found a great slaughter
Survivors escape to rile up the invaders.

As they retire from their kill of Ambrones night descends
But Romans indulge not in anthems of victory
No mutual entertainments or drinking in their tents
Without rampart or palisade for security
Their thoughts turn to thousands, upon many thousands
Of their enemies yet to be conquered
And their great need for sleep, repairs of rest to reap
This need will be denied by the invaders.


V.

All through the night wild bewailings are heard
Beastlike cursings and howlings that chill
Threats and lamentations arise from the hordes
Echoing ominously through river banks and hills
This army of freaks up from the plain shrieks
Striking the Roman soldiers with terror
Giving Marius to fear a nighttime clash of spears
With these hideously wailing invaders.

But Germans attack not that night, nor the entire next day
Instead drawing themselves up to greatest advantage
Granting Marius the chance a martial trick to play
Dispatching thousands to hide behind them in foliage
On cue these to appear, at the enemy's rear
During battle chaotic rout instigators
So greatly outnumbered, with less force encumbered
Romans use guile to defeat the invaders.

Refreshed with victuals and sleep, at dawn Romans creep
At first command the horse sally onto plain
The sight of their cavalry alters German odds so steep
Their pent-up warlust, so long withheld, they cannot contain
Waiting not for good terms, they rashly charge berms
Where Roman urges are checked by their officers
Who tell them to hold, to the last instant be bold
Yielding not their advantage to the invaders.

Hastily-armed Germans charge in fury up hillside
Marius commands Romans to stand still, hold their ground
They hurl javelins just as Teutons come within stride
Then use swords and joined shields their advantage to compound
In the hill's steepness, the Germans lose fierceness
As wise Marius had foretold his soldiers
Their swords weakly they wield, unable to lock shield
All goes as predicted for the invaders.

When again level Teutons restore their van posture
Claudius Marcellus lets slip not his great chance
He looses hiding Romans across the green pasture
With loud cries at full speed they put rearguard Germans to lance
This Roman intrusion, makes for German confusion
Thus broke in upon they flee fast in disorder
The Romans make hot pursuit, taking the lives and the loot
Of over one hundred thousand invaders.

Whatever it be in prosperity that turns hope to terror
That prevents its enjoyment being pure and sincere
What must mix good with bad: Nature? Fate? Human error?
With the serenity of Rome must now interfere
No sooner the cheers, than they are crushed by new fears
As if being punished by divine displeasure
Having just divided spoils, Destiny their joy roils
Sending them double again the invaders.


VI.

Dire circumstance finds Catalus Lutatius, a colleague
Who marching against Cimbri falls back from offense
To avoid Alpine passes, he finds river Adige
On both sides he constructs tall fortresses in defense
Connected by a bridge, lest they come over the ridge
That he might cross to the assistance of his soldiers
But thus go best plans, to protect the Romans
Having contrary ideas the invaders.

The barbarians appear with such contempt and insolence
Out of no necessity, just to show strength and courage
Climbing tops of hills naked, through deep snow and ice, thence
Sliding down vast slippery slopes, with broad shields their passage
By river pitching camp, Roman style to cramp
To destroy Italian forts they'd use the waters
By acting fierce giants, they reduce Romans to ants
Sending them screaming from the mighty invaders.

They tear down nearby hills, and pull trees up by their roots
Bringing heaps of earth to the river to dam its course
Great material they roll downstream against the bridge shoots
Dashing into supporting beams that give way to the force
Romans flea in panic, these feats gigantic
Too fearful to recall they are the defenders
Now only Marius, these barbarians can refuse
To halt the rout wrought by these rushing invaders.

Cimbri come to demand of him land for themselves and their brethren
Checking missed news, Marius wonders at the temerity
They mean the Teutones? Know they not they're in Heaven?
He assures them these now have land for eternity
His impudent brass, prompts insults so crass
He drags out in chains kings of their fallen brothers
They demand a place and time, where they can avenge this crime
Marius obliges the outraged invaders.


VII.

Dawn breaks on the battlefield and a horrible sight
Extravagant warriors resembling wild beasts
Quadruple the Romans, overly anxious to fight
Full-length white shields glittering over iron breasts
Fifteen thousand horse riders, wearing great plume feathers
On such splendid horse they seem even taller
More like an ocean tide, thirty furlongs each side
Seems the great infantry of these invaders.

The cavalry heads not straight at the Romans, veering right
Seeking to draw them best for attack by infantry
Roman commanders spot the ruse, but can't shift their might
While the whole barbarian foot comes on like a sea
Marius falls to his knees, anything the gods please
He vows a hecatomb that they might heed his prayers
The gods send a dust cloud, the Teutons to enshroud
Cloaking the huge numbers of the invaders.

They fight hand-to-hand with courageous force
Not afrighted by German hordes they canít see
Who, raised in cold and shady climates up north
Melt away in the blazing hot sun of Italy
Much out-of-breath, and sweating to death
But not a single Roman, in all the toil and glare
Breaks into a sweat, so well-conditioned instead
To attack tirelessly the wilting invaders.

Front-row barbarians tied tight one to another
Their breaking ranks or retreating to prevent
Long chains attach through their belts like a tether
Presenting like sweet meat the warriors most valiant
Flailing without surcease, Romans hack them to pieces
The Teutons resist no more their penetrators
But losing all valiance, rapidly flee the Italians
Chaos defeating the neatly-rowed invaders.

The Roman soldiers pursue Teutons fleeing blood-stained lands
Met by German women in black with swords on wagons
Who slay all of their fathers and brothers and husbands
And strangle their own children with bloody talons
Then toss them like chattel, under feet of cattle
As Romans aghast can do nothing but stare
The men use the oxen to tear themselves limb-from-limb
Thus would go history with such warlike invaders.


§§§§§

All battle glory they ascribe to Caius Marius
The populace naming him Third Founder of Rome
For diverting a danger far more serious
Than ancient Gauls sacking their ancient kingdom
All the history, coming from Italy
Civilization, Christianity, Caesars
Might neveríve been, Marius the gods hadnít chosen
To save history from these barbaric invaders.

© 2000 by Michael J. Farrand


Story taken from the life of Caius Marius found in Plutarch's Lives (originally Parallel Lives) by the Greek historian Plutarch, who lived roughly 50-125 A.D.

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