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Marcus Junianus Justinus
Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus.
translated, with notes, by the Rev. John Selby Watson.
London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Convent Garden (1853).


Table of contents


Book IV

Sicily; Aetna; Scylla and Charybdis, I.—Ancient inhabitants of Sicily, II.—Dissension between Rhegium and Himera; the Athenians successful in Sicily at first, III.—The Syracusans seek aid from the Lacedaemonians; the progress of the war, IV.—Utter defeat of the Athenians, V.

1 2 3 4 5

1 IT is said that Sicily was formerly joined to Italy by a narrow pass,1 and was torn off, as it were, from the larger body, by the violence of the upper sea,2 which impels itself in that direction with the whole force of its waters. The soil itself, too, is light and frangible, and so perforated with caverns and passages, that it is almost everywhere open to blasts of wind; and the very matter of it is naturally adapted for generating and nourishing fire, as it is said to be impregnated with sulphur and bitumen, a circumstance which is the cause that when air contends with fire in the subterraneous parts, the earth frequently, and in several places, sends forth flame, or vapour, or smoke. Hence it is that the fire of Mount Aetna has lasted through so many ages. And when a strong wind passes in through the openings of the cavities, heaps of sand are cast up.

The promontory of Italy on the side nearest to Sicily, is called Rhegium,3 because things broken off are designated by that term in Greek. Nor is it strange that antiquity should have been full of fables concerning these parts, in which so many extraordinary things are found together. The sea, in the first place, is nowhere so impetuous, pouring on with a current not only rapid but furious, not only frightful to those who feel its effects, but to those who view it from a distance. So fierce is the conflict of the waves as they meet, that you may see some of them, put to flight as it were, sink down into the depths, and others, as if victorious, rising up to the skies. Sometimes, in one part, you may hear the roaring of the sea as it boils up; and again, in another part, the groaning of it as it sinks into a whirlpool. Next are to be observed the adjacent and everlasting fires of Mount Aetna and the Aeolian islands, which burn as if their heat were nourished by the sea itself; nor indeed could such a quantity of fire have endured in such narrow bounds for so many ages unless it were supported by nourishment from the water.4 Hence fables produced Scylla and Charybdis; hence barkings were thought to have been heard; hence the appearances of monsters gained credit, as the sailors, frightened at the vast whirlpools of the subsiding waters, imagined that the waves, which the vortex of the absorbent gulf clashes together, actually barked. The same cause makes the fires of Mount Aetna perpetual; for the shock of the waters forces into the depths a portion of air hurried along with it, and then keeps it confined till, being diffused through the pores of the earth, it kindles the matter which nourishes the fire.

In addition, the proximity of Italy and Sicily is to be noticed, with the heights of their respective promontories, which are so similar, that, whatever wonder they raise in us in the present day, they excited proportionate terror in the ancients, who believed that whole ships were intercepted and destroyed by the promontories closing together and opening. Nor was this invented by the ancients to gratify the hearer with a fabulous wonder, but occasioned by the terror and consternation of those who passed by those parts; for such is the appearance of the coasts to anyone beholding them from a distance, that you would take the passage between them for a bay in the sea, and not a strait; and, as you draw nearer, you would think that the promontories, which were before united, part asunder and separate.

2 At first Sicily had the name of Trinacria;5 afterwards it was called Sicania.6 It was originally the abode of the Cyclops; when they became extinct, Cocalus made himself ruler of the island. After his time the cities fell severally under the dominion of tyrants, of whom no country was more productive. One of them, Anaxilaus, strove to be as just as the others were cruel, and reaped no small advantage from his equity; for having left, at his death, some sons very young, and having committed the guardianship of them to Micythus, a slave of tried fidelity, so great was the respect paid to his memory among all his subjects, that they chose rather to submit to a slave than to abandon the king’s children; and the noblemen of the state, forgetful of their dignity, suffered the authority of government to be exercised by a bondman. The Carthaginians, too, attempted to gain the sovereignty of Sicily, and fought against the tyrants for a long time with various success; but at length, after losing their general Hamilcar and his army, they remained quiet for some time in consequence of that defeat.

3 In the meantime, the people of Rhegium being troubled with dissension, and the city being divided by disputes into two factions, a body of veteran soldiers from Himera, who were invited by one of the parties to their assistance, having first expelled from the city those against whom they had been called, and then put to the sword those whom they had come to aid, took the government into their own hands, and made prisoners of the wives and children of their allies; venturing upon an atrocity to which that of no tyrant can be compared; so that it would have been better for the Rhegians to have been conquered than to conquer;7 for whether they had become slaves to their conquerors by the laws of war,8 or, withdrawing from their country, had been necessitated to live in exile, yet they would not have been butchered amidst their altars and household gods, and have left their country, with their wives and children, a prey to the most cruel of tyrants.

The people of Catana, also, finding themselves oppressed by the Syracusans, and distrusting their own power to withstand them, requested assistance from the Athenians, who, whether from desire of enlarging their dominions, so that they might master all Greece and Asia, or from apprehension of a fleet lately built by the Syracusans, and to prevent such a force from joining the Lacedaemonians, sent Lamponius, as general, with a naval armament into Sicily, that under pretence of assisting the people of Catana, they might endeavour to secure the sovereignty of the whole island. Having succeeded in their first attempts, and made havoc among the enemy on several occasions, they despatched another expedition to Sicily, with a greater fleet and more numerous army, under the command of Laches and Chariades. But the people of Catana, whether from fear of the Athenians, or from being weary of the war, made peace with the Syracusans, and sent back the Athenian force that had come to assist them.

4 After a lapse of some time, however, as the articles of the peace were not observed by the Syracusans, they sent ambassadors a second time to Athens, who, arriving in a mean dress, with long hair and beards, and every sign of distress adapted to move pity, presented themselves in that wretched plight before the public assembly. To their entreaties were added tears; and the suppliants so moved the people to compassion, that the commanders who had withdrawn the auxiliary force from them received a sentence of condemnation.9 A powerful fleet was then appointed to aid them; Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus were made captains; and Sicily was revisited with such a force as was a terror even to those to whose aid it was sent. In a short time, Alcibiades being recalled to answer certain charges made against him, Nicias and Lamachus fought two successful battles by land, and, drawing lines of circumvallation around Syracuse, cut off all supplies from the enemy by sea, keeping them closely blocked up in the city. The Syracusans, being greatly reduced by these measures, sought assistance from the Lacedaemonians, by whom Gylippus alone was sent; but he was a man equal to whole troops of auxiliaries. He, having heard on his way of the declining state of the war, and having collected some support partly from Greece and partly from Sicily, took possession of some posts suitable for carrying on the war. He was then conquered in two battles, but engaging in a third, he killed Lamachus, put the enemy to flight, and rescued his allies from the siege. But as the Athenians transferred their warlike efforts from the land to the sea, Gylippus sent for a fleet and army from Lacedaemon; upon intelligence of which the Athenians themselves, too, sent out Demosthenes and Eurymedon, in the room of their late leader, with a reinforcement to their troops. The Peloponnesians again, by a general resolution of their cities, sent powerful assistance to the Syracusans, and, as if the Greek war had been transported into Sicily, the contest was pursued on both sides with the utmost vigour.

5 In the first encounter at sea, the Athenians were worsted, and lost their camp, with all their money, both what was public and what belonged to private individuals. When, in addition to these disasters, they were also beaten in a battle on land, Demosthenes began to advise that “they should quit Sicily, while their condition, though bad, was not yet desperate; and that they should not persist in a war so inauspiciously commenced, as there were more considerable, and perhaps more unhappy wars, to be dreaded at home, for which it was expedient that they should reserve the present force of their city.” But Nicias, whether from shame at his ill success, from fear of the resentment of his countrymen for the disappointment of their hopes, or from the impulse of destiny, contended for staying. The war by sea was therefore renewed, and their thoughts turned from reflections on their previous ill-fortune to the hopes of a successful struggle, but, through the unskilfulness of their leaders, who attacked the Syracusans when advantageously posted in a strait, they were easily overcome. Their general, Eurymedon, was the first to fall, fighting bravely in the front of the battle; and thirty ships which he commanded were burnt. Demosthenes and Nicias being also defeated, set their forces on shore, thinking that retreat would be safer by land. Gylippus seized a hundred and thirty ships which they had left, and then, pursuing them as they fled, took some of them prisoners, and put others to death. Demosthenes, after the loss of his troops, saved himself from captivity by voluntarily falling on his sword. But Nicias, not induced, even by the example of Demosthenes, to put himself out of the power of fortune, added to the loss of his army the disgrace of being made prisoner.


Table of contents


1 Angustis faucibus.] It was supposed that the two countries had formed one tract of land, with merely a narrow valley or defile between them, and that the sea rushed into this valley and split them asunder.

2 Superi maris.] The Adriatic.

3 From R(H/GNUMI, to break.

4 Nisi humoris nutrimentis aleretur.] Justin seems to mean nothing more than what he expresses below, that the water carried down with it into the earth a certain portion of air, which kindled, or at least excited, the subterraneous fires. I make this observation lest anyone should suppose that he had an idea like that of Sir Humphrey Davy, that water, by coming in contact with certain substances beneath the earth, might be decomposed into gases.

5From having TRI/A A)/KRA, three promontories, or three great angular points.

6From the Sicani, an Iberian tribe, according to Dionysius Halicarnassensis, lib. i. The Siculi, from whom it was called Sicilia, are said to have come into the island from Italy.—Wetzel.

7 A remark scarcely applicable to the subject. Part of the Rhegians were conquered by the other part, with the aid of the people of Himera.

8 Jure captivitatis.

9 It is not easy to see on what ground such a sentence was pronounced; for it is stated at the end of the third chapter that the Catanians themselves sent back their Athenian auxiliaries.


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The English translation of Justin's Epitome was entered by David Camden (2003) from Watson's 1853 edition. This text is in the public domain and may be copied and distributed for private and educational use, provided this original notice is kept intact. Any commercial use of this text, including print-publication and inclusion in subscription-based archives, is prohibited.

The Latin text and French translation, along with the secondary material written in French, are copyright © Marie-Pierre Arnaud-Lindet 2003, and are NOT in the public domain.

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