Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
In Cath Catharda: The Civil War of the Romans (Author: [unknown])

chapter 19

The Description of Thessaly

Now when Caesar perceived the great ill-luck and the irk that had befallen him and his troops on those plains of Epirus and at the forts of Dyrrhachium, he made this plan, to quit that country wholly, and to march to another country and see whether his fortune in battle would be better therein. So he turned with his troops, and ordered his tents and his camps to be pitched towards the east on the level plains of the land of Thessaly.

When Pompey heard that, his generals and lieutenants and superior officers of his army were gathered to him to counsel how he should act. This is the advice they gave him, since Caesar had attacked, to go and invade Rome and Italy, for there was no army holding it against him. ‘Nay!’ says Pompey. ‘I will not act on that advice. I will not go to Rome as Caesar went. Never shall it behold me returning save after leaving my army to their lands, and after putting the question of the Great Battle. If I desired to make war in the midst of Rome, I should never come out of it as I came. Provided it were a cause of rest and peace to Rome, I should make no question as to marching to northern Scythia or to the torrid zone in the south. Would it be meet for me, now that I am victorious, to go and make war in Rome, when I formerly fled from it in order that there should be no unrest of war therein?’

When he finished that speech, he ordered his standards before his troops over the mountains of Candavia directly east, until he established a position and camp in Thessaly in the same country as Caesar. That was a cause of conflict and matter of a great fight, for there the Fates had determined that the Great Battle should be delivered.

Some description of that country of Thessaly will now be given below.


Three names there are by which it called throughout the world: Emathia so named from Emathus, a good king who once ruled it: Pharsalia, another name, from Pharsalus, an old noble city therein: Thessaly, however, is its original name. A land strong, difficult, evil, unsmooth, bitter, gloomy, secure is that land, with rocky peaks of mountain-ranges lofty, rugged, around it on every side, namely, Mount Pelion between them and the summer rising: Mount Ossa on the east between them and the winter rising, so that the rays of the sun do not shine in it at the beginning of any day in the year: Mount Othrys in the south of it between them and the sun's warmth: Mount Pindus on the west of it between them and the sunset, so that at the end of any day the sun's rays never shine therein: Mount Olympus on the north side between them and the frigid zone. Those that dwell to the south of that mountain are not smitten by the north wind, and they never see the seven stars (near the north pole). For but a small part of the day does the sun shine therein past the other mountains we have mentioned.

A land thus deprived of the stars of the day and of the night were fit to have the Great Battle fought in it.

There are many cities in that same land, namely, the city Pharsalus, wherein was Achilles son of Peleus, and the city Phylace in which the Argo was built, that is, the ship in which Jason son of Aeson went for the Golden Fleece to the island of the Colchians. In it is the city Pteleus, and the city Dorion, and the city Trachyn and the city [...] two cities of Hercules son of Amphitryon, and the city Meliboea in which the arrows of Hercules were hidden after his death, and the city Larissa, and the city Argos: therein Agave beheaded her only son Pentheus.5


A land wherein evil like that would be wrought, it were meet to deliver the Great Battle therein.

There are also many streams and fearful rivers in this land. Of them is the stream Aeas and the stream Oeneus, and the river Achelous on which are the Echinades islands, the Malian river, and the river Spercheus, the stream Amphrysus, and the river Anaurus, the river Apidanus and the river Enipeus, the stream Asopus and the stream Phoenix, the stream Melas, the stream Titaresos, and the river Peneus. The shanachies of Thessaly relate that the source of that stream wells out of the river Styx in hell. In a land wherein that river flows it were meet to deliver the Great Battle.

There are also many unknown peoples in that country, to wit, the people of the Boebyces and the people of the Leleges, the people of the Aeolians and the people of the Dolopes, the people of the Magnetes and the people of the Minyae, the monstrous folk of the Centaurs and the men-horses, that is, horse and man in a mixture of one person in them. Of them were the famous horse-mongrels Monychus the one-hoofed and Rhoetus the very valiant. 'Tis he that used to drag the tallest trees in the woods with their roots out of the earth, and used to hurl a cast of them at will. Of them too was Nessus the centaur. He it was that tried to rape Hercules' wife; there was a river between him and Hercules; and Hercules killed him with an arrow-shot across the river. Of them, again was Chiron the centaur, the tutor of Achilles son of Peleus. Thus then do the astronomers shape his image in the heavenly firmament, with a bow and an arrow adjusted in his hand, out opposite the constellation Scorpio, as if he were slaying it.

In a land wherein those monsters would be produced it were fitting to fight the great battle.


In that land of Thessaly, then, first appeared the germs and causes of battle and warfare. Therein, too, a horse was first broken in, and a bridle-bit was put into his mouth, and a rider mounted him. Therein was first built a ship and vessel of the sea to search the world and the foreign unknown countries. Itonus, also, king of Thessaly, was the first to smelt and liquefy the ore of gold and of silver into ingots, and to ordain coined money for selling and bargaining. Therein, too, gold and wealth were first hoarded and stored up.

In the same Thessaly, also was generated the famous, poisonous serpent Python, which devastated and destroyed the world before it, until Apollo son of Jove killed it. Therein were brought forth the children of Aloeus the monster, to wit, Otus and Ephialtes with their brothers. Three hands was their own increase every day. An ell and a hand was the growth of each of their sons every month; so that pride and haughtiness filled them, and this was the plan they plotted, to arrange the mountains of the world, one on top of the other, and to go and invade heaven and seize its realm. But when attempting that mighty labour they were destroyed by fiery thunderbolts. In the land where those great evils would be born it were fitting to fight the Great Battle.

So far one of the foretales of the Great Battle of Thessaly. The Description of Thessaly is the name of the story.