Gen. Regulus, Escorted Back to Carthage
this sunset with which I sit face to face
the waves that keep striking, the jetty that’s wet with waves
the marble buildings that glint
the people, with the warships back, delighting noisily in trading things
many a bottle of spice and condiment laid out on the carpets on the wharf
looking at these, am I really this I?
The soldiers surrounding me
their lips roaring victoriously
looking at them up close, tormented by anxiety
is it I whose hands have just been freed from the ropes?
Carthage captured me again
they didn’t even declare death
the mercenary captain in armor and helmet with peacock designs on them
had a page take out a small pair of scissors
and was content to snip the muscles of both of my eyelids.
I was thrown out onto the beach boiling with joy
into the midst of base crowds where stone-rubbing words flew back and forth.
Things that are reflected in my eyes
I can no longer close:
the setting sun, the waves that roll in, the merchants
these are the last images on earth I see.
Neither the Artemis incarnate
nor my beloved children playing in the land I own
but the market spectacles that are in any coastal town:
merchants with their bottles and boxes laid out on their carpets
with hookahs in their mouths chatting with customers
a child chasing a dog, a dressed-up woman with her porter carrying a pot.
None of these barbarians know my fate
that my eyeballs will soon dry up and lose their light.
In the distance golden waves roll, the sunset is close at hand.
But my eyes won’t be able to ascertain the morning
when soft light shines on the sea again.
In no time a fierce flash of light will assault me
and everything will be left in the amorphous muddiness of light:
Waves rolling in and carpets, glass bottles and children
how peaceful and banal these last images are:
I collapse within the world’s indifference.
The eyes that salt was rubbed into begin to hurt,
eyes that have dried and begun to mist,
if I had any wish, it would be this:
This evening when I, having lost all, wander the streets,
would that tears be allowed to flow in my blinded eyes.
What kind of god would grant this small consolation?
 The Roman general Marcus Atilius Regulus (d. 250 B.CC.) was defeated and captured in one of the battles against Carthage. The New Century Classical Handbook, ed. Catherine Avery (Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962), says: “the Carthaginians sent Regulus, who had been held in captivity for five years, with an embassy to Rome to ask for peace or an exchange of prisoners. Regulus is said to have given his word that he would return to Carthage. When his embassy produced no results because he himself strongly advised the Senate not to accept the Carthaginian terms, he refused to follow the advice of friends who urged him to stay in Rome. Instead, he went back to Africa and was tortured to death. Later, Carthaginian prisoners who were handed over to his family were put to death with most cruel tortures.”
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