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

chapter 20

The Prophecy of the Spectre out of Hell

When the two generals, Pompey and Caesar, had ordered each of their camps in the midst of the unique land of Thessaly, the


hosts of all the world which were along with them were determined and certain that they would not separate from the contest without a battle; and all took heed and notice that near at hand to them was the hour of intervention and severance, and the time of the multitude's parting from life, and the season of the great danger, to wit, the day of the Great Battle.

The natures of nobles, and the minds of their soldiers were heightened and urged and strongly uplifted thereby, at preparing the battle. But the minds of soft warriors, and cowards and lowborn degenerate rabble were prostrated and turned and abased and disturbed and disquieted at the terror of the battle, and the horrible hatred of the smiting, and the dread of death.

Great searching and scrutiny, and mournful, natural pondering, and murmurous counsel, the minds of those armies experienced in the nights before the battle. The general Pompey had a son in the camp. Sextus Pompeius was his name. This is the plan to which his fear impelled him, to go and ask of the prophets and wizards what the decision of the Great Battle would be, and which of the generals would be defeated.

Not to a temple of Jove or of Apollo or any other god or goddess did Sextus Pompeius go to ask for those tidings. Not from observers of stars or constellations, or of the course of lightnings, or the cries of birds did he ask them, for he thought he would obtain his certain knowledge from the druidesses of the land wherein he was, that is, from the witches of Thessaly. For their cities and hamlets were near to the great encampment. Wondrous and strange were the art and the science of the Thessalian druidesses. Every prodigy in the world their demons used to reveal to them, and their science was whatever was more wondrous and incredible than its fellow. For poisonous plants and magic-working herbs were more numerous in that land of Thessaly than in the rest of the lands of the world.


For when the famous druidess Medea, daughter of Aeëtes king of the Colchians, came with Jason son of Aeson into Greece, she found in the land of Thessaly, although she was the chief witch of the world, much more than her witchcraft and druidic spells and poisonous herbs. The places on the globe wherein the Science of magic was most common, namely, the city of Memphis, and the land of Egypt, Babylon and the countries of the Chaldees, were all exceeded by the Thessalian witches. For they used to work their magic spells on the mundane elements, so that their own shapes were not left upon them. They used to lengthen the night and shorten the day as they wanted. They used not to leave the air or the firmament in its own power, for when they desired they would stop the firmament from its mundane course. They would bring thunders and storms into the air, and rainy clouds and darkness over the sun at the time when his lightnings were manifest and his rays were clear.

They used to disperse the clouds and the heavy-pouring floods when they were greatest. They used to bring waves and storm on the ocean in the midst of calm and stillness. They used to forbid the waves and abate the storm when the wind on the sea was roughest. They used to bring the ships under full sail right against the wind on the sea. They used to cause steady suspense to the rough, copious, noisy torrents and to the mighty, down-rushing rivers. They used to make smooth plains of the lofty mountains. They used to lower Mount Olympus, so that the clouds would appear above it. This is a great marvel, for such is the height of Mount Olympus that its upper part and its summit are above the tumultuous air, while beneath it the clouds shine always. The man that once goes to its top hears nothing at all afterwards, his hearing being disturbed by the thunder of the course of the planets and by the noise of the revolving firmament.


The same witches used to cause the snow of Scythia to dissolve and thaw in the cold of winter, without the heat of sun or of fire striking against it. They used to make the flood-tide turn back against the might of the ocean and the moon. They used to make the immoveable mass of the earth oscillate, so that it is seen running round and round. They used to put darkness on the face of the moon, and compel her to approach the earth, so that her dew and her foam were wrung through her upon the poisonous grasses of the earth (for those witches) to practise thereby their many crafts of magic.

Howsoever, every animal in all the world which is hurtful to man, both lion and bear and toad and tiger and viper and serpent and other poisonous snake, was in fear of those witches and the phantoms; and it availed none of them to pour its poison against them, for more savage and more devilish were the poisons of the Thessalians than the poisons of any of these animals.

Now although in the land of Thessaly there was many an evil witch reverenced in that art, one witch was there who surpassed them all and to whom all used to yield recognition and authority. A lath of a blue-haired hideous hag was she: Erictho her name, a sage of witchcraft she. Wizards' inventions, and new spells were made by herself on every day. She used to visit hell and the fields of the river Styx and the abodes of Pluto king of hell whenever she desired. Her dwelling and her habitation and her couch were in clefts of rocks and in cavernous holes of the earth and in tombs of the dead.

She frequented no assembly nor city nor human dwellings out of them, unless the darkness of mist or rain or night should have come. She culled and gathered her poisonous herbs and her magical gear throughout the districts that were near her. And the ploughed corn-field or the meadow untilled,


on which she used then to tread, its grass or its corn would not grow for a long time afterwards. She never used to demand prophecy save from the demons of hell. These would answer her forthwith at the first spell; and they durst not wait for the second spell from her.

Many abominable deeds that spectre used to do in the land wherein she dwelt. When they were burning the dead in her neighbourhood she would go to them and gather the bones of their entrails, and the ashes of the corpses, and the fetid embers of the hearth; and she would also drag the torches out of the hands of the parents, who were burning the body of their dead (child). Where bodies were left in jeopardy on their biers before being burnt, she would pluck with her fingers their eyes out of their skulls: with her teeth she would cuttingly peel their nails from then; and she would carry off great lap-faggots of chips of the biers.

She used to take the bodies of crucified men from their crosses, and sever with her teeth the knots of the withes and halters which were holding them on their crosses. She used to be gnawing the crosses with her teeth and scraping them with her nails. At one time she was hanging to a crucified man's body, with her teeth sticking in its sinews and ligatures; and the corpse which was without the honour of burial in the district she would reach before the wild beasts and the birds of the country. Howbeit, she would not ply her hands upon it until the wolves and the wild beasts would tear it, and (then) she would gather their half-chewed morsels out of their gullets.


When she desired the blood of a living person for her magic, she used to enter battles and conflicts, so that she might be attending the blood out of the men's wounds before their gore would drop upon the ground. So she used to drag the little, living infants out through the womb-sides of the pregnant women. So when she found no entrails ready for her profit, she would even murder a human being. No kind of death was inflicted on man kind that she did not inflict upon them. She used to cut off with her left hand men's hair and their beards when they were dying. When a kinsman of hers was going to death she would come to his body and be kissing his limbs. She would afterwards open the dead man's gullet, and chew his tongue, and chant her magic spell in his throat, so that a message was sent between her and the demons of hell.

Many other hurtful and gloomy deeds, which cannot be reckoned here, that horrible witch and Thessalian spectre, Erictho, performed in the various lands in which she dwelt. When the general's son, Pompeius Sextus, heard that that gloomy hag was near him, he came at midnight out of the camp, together with a few of his trusty followers. They began searching. and enquiring in the caverns of the earth and in the graveyards of the idolaters of the country, till they heard her rough humming in the cleft of a rock in the breast of Mount Haemus above the city of Pharsalus. She was there forbidding the adored gods to transfer the great battle and conflict of the two generals, Pompey and Caesar, to another country away from her; for she thought that she would never obtain enough of corpses of kings and entrails of nobles unless she got them in that one battle at which the many nations of the earth were collected. However, the desire to get the body of Pompey and the body of Caesar filled her mind and her nature,


so that the fate and the destruction which she herself longed for might fall upon them.

Then the general's son with his following came to seek her, and they saw (her) in the bight of the crag as a fearful and horrible spectre. Hateful was the offcast that was seen there, the wicked witch, the Thessalian Erictho, to wit: A hag dark, misshapen, fleshless, and meagre, dwarfish (?), hard-loined. She had a face grey-white, sad, fit for a ghost: with angular cheeks, with hollow jowls, with bare brows. In her head were eyes deepset, grey-pitted, watery. She had a nose cavernous, greedy, curved and thick, grey-bridged, thinnish, crooked, loathsome. She had scaly lips, dark-green, gloomy, truly-fearful, undershaped (?). A rough, hateful row of spiky teeth, green-topped, dun-based, in each of her two gums. Very grey hair dishevelled, as a rough, scattered broom round her head. Hollow thick, hairy arms she had: with them rough, grey-sinewed hands: fingers curved, thick-ended, on her rough paws: the nails very sharp, dun-yellow, of a hawk were on them. Her waist was cramped and venous. Very narrow thighs she had, hard as yew, and two knees rough and staggering (?). Two leg-calves spreading, crooked, hairy, under her. Two broad, disjointed (?), long-toed feet supporting her. Most hideous of the world's shapes was her appearance. She herself was worse than the sight of her.

‘May thine adored gods bless thee!’ says the general's son. The hag looked on him fiercely and answered him not at all. ‘We have come to hold speech with thee, O lady, for we have heard that it is (matter of) praise and ornament to the women of all Thessaly that thou art born of them. We have heard also that from thee comes the prediction of every thing that will enter the world. And whatever thou wouldst fain forbid thou lettest it never come to pass. A blessing on thee! tell us the outcome of the great battle which is here preparing. Be it known to thee, that it is no low person who


seeks this of thee, but the son of the overking of the world, to wit, Sextus Pompeius son of Pompey the Great.’

‘I shall be the lord of the men of the world if I and my father escape from the battle victoriously. Though he should fall, I shall be owner (?) of all his heritage after him, and thus my company is good (enough) for anyone. Yet, not to know the certain issue of the battle greatly depresses my spirit, and surely I am willing to endure whatever evil omen I hear regarding it. But this is one thing that we seek of thee, that the evil of the misery may not come to us before it is overtaken. Enjoin the heavenly gods to relate it to us; or spare them, and entreat the demons of hell to declare it. Enjoin Death himself to come out of hell to reveal to thee which of our armies he will on this occasion take with him in greater numbers to hell: for thou art able (to do) all that. Though great is the toil, it is meet for a lady like thee to spend this labour upon it.’

Howbeit, to hear herself thus famed and renowned greatly delighted Erictho, and she began fit converse with the lad, saying:

‘O warrior’, quoth Erictho, ‘one of the two things that thou hast attributed to us is true, namely, that we have complete foreknowledge of the future. 'Tis probable that if the matters which thou puttest to us were small, slight, unimportant I could forbid them for a certain space of time. But the matter concerning which thou hast come, namely, the decision of this great battle of Pompey and Caesar, the Fates and the adored gods and Fortune have determined long ago; and with them the decision of this battle is firm and immoveable, for it was ordained fixedly, decisively, from the beginning of the world and from the formation of the elements. For the course of the whole human race is according to the rule of Fortune,


and we admit openly that the might of Fortune is greater than ours. However, if thou deemest it enough to get from me a predeclaration of the course of those mighty deeds, I will leave no kind of soothsaying on earth or on sea on field or in forest, on rock or in air or in hell, that I will not search until thou takest with thee a knowledge of the truth.’

‘Truly I deem it enough from thee’, says the youth, ‘to have the issue and decision of this great matter declared to me.’

‘Soon shalt thou have it’, says the hag, ‘for I will now revive for thee in thy presence the corpse of some dead man, and into it I will put a soul out of hell that it may tell thee all thou askest of it.’

‘That seems good to me’, saith he.

Thereat she formed around her a dark black cloud of wizardry, and turned away to seek the corpse of some dead man, with the breath out of it. And this she was saying: ‘O glorious (?) gods, 'tis shortly there will be many bodies of nobles and corpses of high-kings dishonoured in this land, though I am tonight seeking a corpse therein.’ Then she came to a certain place where a slaughter had taken place in the land, and many bodies lay there unburied.

When she entered the battlefield, at once all the wolves and wild beasts and birds that were there took to flight, from the greatness of the horror and hideousness of the witch who had come towards them. There were then many souls in hell expecting her, for they knew not which of them would be given up to declare to her the tidings of the Great Battle. For if she had gone to work to arouse by her magical incantations the souls of all those that had been killed in the battlefield, she would have succeeded, and there would have been no opposition to her concerning it.


Then she chose out of that battlefield a certain corpse, wry-mouthed, hateful, sore-wounded, pale-faced, large; and she set her mind upon it. Round its neck she passed a withe, with a very short rake (?) out of it, and at its end a sickle-crook hard and stiff. She took that sickle in her hand and dragged the corpse after her over hard, roughheaded rocks, and over uneven hill-sods, and over the broken, foul-mouthed gaps of the road, till it came with her to the place in which she used to practise her witchcraft and her wizardry, namely a cavernous cleft, hideous and fearful, adjoining a crag of Mount Haemus.

Abundant shrubs and truly dark groves and a branchy copious wood and densely-branched bushes of yew (grew) round the entrance of that cave, so that neither ray of sun nor any other light had ever shone therein, but the light that was made by the incantations of wizards or through the spells of witchcraft. A common border of the land of the living and of the land of the dead, to wit, a place for punishing the souls in hell was that cavern.

She arranged herself supine in the backpart of the cavern, Sextus Pompeius with his followers in her presence. She then donned her garb of feat and witchcraft, to wit, a mantle hateful (?), many-speckled, with the sheen of every colour through it. Her hands she put to her blue rough-grey mane and shed her broomy dishevelled rugged hair backwards out over her shoulderblades. To confine that hair she arranged round her head a branchy, shapen wreath of poisonous snakes, with two principal snakes leaping and hanging out of the wrappage of her crown.

Fear and dread filled Sextus Pompeius and his following as they looked at that proceeding. When she perceived that, she turned her face sullenly upon them and said: ‘What kind of fear is appearing on you, O youths?’ she says. ‘Banish


your alarm and your terror. In your presence a soul will be put into this corpse, so that it will be conversing with you and declaring truth to you. Moreover, though ghosts of hell itself with its many torments should be displayed to you, it were wrong for you to loathe or dread them, seeing that I am along with you.’

Then she turned to the corpse and began to ply her witchcraft upon it. First she spilt a pool of reeking blood around its breast und bosom, and then rubbed lunar poisons abundantly throughout it: forceful juices which her own magic spells used to squeeze out of the moon. Thereto she added every other destruction and every baneful invention that seemed to her useful. For every monstrous birth, and every poisonous juice, and every gloomy element, and every other destructive device (?) from the beginning of the world, of none of them was there then want or scarcity.

Truly she lacked not the foaming froth of mad dogs. She lacked not the entrails of the lynx—that is a kind of viper, and when its offspring matures in its womb the younglings cut open the womb with their nails, and they themselves, together with their mother's entrails, come forth through her belly. She lacked not, also, the knotted (ifne)—those are a kind of snakes that grow in the marrow of the dead, and their dwelling is always in their tombs. Such is their virulence that they destroy men by inhaling their breath. She lacked not the baleful fish —that is a kind of salmon (only) a foot long; but it stops the ship under full sail in the midst of the sea. She lacked not, also, the eyes of the dragons, and the stones that lie in the nests of the eagles and of the bitterns, for so great is the warmth of those birds that they would set their eyries under them on fire unless cooling stones were put therein to moderate their heat. She lacked not,


also, winged serpents of the land of Arabia and of the shore of the Red Sea. She lacked not also the sloughs of the horned snakes in the districts of Africa. Nor did she lack the ashes of the phoenix from the east of the world. A strange bird is that: two years is the length of its life. At the end of that period, it makes a fire, leaps into it and is burnt therein, so that a new bird grows again out of its ashes.

So Erictho mingled all those poisonous instruments on the corpse, and added to them all the virulent herbs that were in Thessaly, and the plants on which she herself had set a spell as soon as they were born from the earth. She then raised a great rough humming, and a discordant, repugnant sound of a cry, to entreat and beseech the infernal demons to put a soul for her into the corpse that lay before her.

Many are the noises whose semblance appeared in that magical wail of Erictho. The barkings of the hounds, and the howlings of the wolves, and the screeches of the horned owls, and the shrieks of the night-owls, the roaring of the wild beasts, the hissing of the serpents, the noise of the waves, the jarring sound of the woods, the crashes of the winds, and the thunder of the (bursting) clouds.

In that magical entreaty she named significantly the names of the honourable and mighty folk of hell and of the chiefs of its torments. Of them was Death himself, and Pluto son of Saturn, the king of the darknesses, and pale-faced Hecate his queen, and Cerberus of the open maw, the doorward of the darknesses, and Charon the dun-skinned, ferryman of the river Styx in hell, and the three Furies of hell, to wit, Alecto and Tisiphone and Megaera, and the three infernal Parcae who are spinning (the threads of) the life of everyone in the world, namely, Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos.


When that great entreaty ended, she looked upon the corpse; and she was panting and breathing hard and groaning greatly, and round her mouth and her nose and all her face were great foam and abundant slaver. She beheld the shadow of the soul fluttering above the body; for out of dread of the hag the soul durst not leave it, and it was loath to enter the restrained prison and the narrow bonds of the dead body, which lay before her, fit for a battle-field, to wit, alone, frozen, stretched out, with its eyes open, its cavernous, maw-open mouth, and great, long, transverse wounds torn through it.

That great slowness seemed strange to the hag, to presume at all against her power or her magic. Anger and rage then filled her, and she took in her hand a living serpent by the belly, and dealt three blows of it on the body, and began to threaten greatly the demons of hell, and to make complaint against them.

Then warmth entered the body, and the blood ran into the veins, and its sinews throbbed, and its limbs grew soft. And it leapt up, so that it rose at once from the earth, without closing of foot against it, without setting elbow or hand upon the ground, without contention of going, until it remained standing upright like a straight column in the presence of Sextus Pompeius and his following. However, there was still a kind of mortality upon it, for the stiffness and paleness of death remained in its limbs. It struck up its eyelids then, and looked at the men. However, it attempted no converse with them, it spoke no word to them: No voice was granted to it, save only to answer whatever was asked of it.

The Thessalian hag said to it: ‘I will give thee a goodly guerdon if now thou tellest truth to me: for if I am thankful


to thee I will grant thee such honour of burial that, till the end of the world neither witches nor spectres will dare to arouse thee again to relate or declare tidings to them. Often’, quoth she, ‘is the declaration of the other prophets obscure and doubtful. Do not act like them, but give intelligible names to the things thou utterest, and declare decisively the places and the times at which they will be done.’

Then she went very near to it and chanted a magical spell into its lips. So its wail burst forth on the wretched, miserable corpse and its tears ran over its cheeks. It began to speak to them, saying: ‘O good men, I have not come to the very depths of hell over the river Styx, where everyone's life and career are known, where the infernal Destinies are spinning (the threads) of lives. For I was summoned to you from the brink of the river when I was proceeding to cross it. So that I know nothing of the length or the shortness of the life of anyone in the world. However, what I saw and what I know I will duly relate to you.’

‘I saw vast disunion and serious discord among all the Roman ghosts in hell. I saw them greatly disturbed in preparation for this battle of Pompey and Caesar, the good quitting the good places for the better men who are killed in this battle, and the bad quitting their bad places for the worse men who are killed in the same battle. I beheld an aspect of great sadness on the Roman nobles in hell because of their sorrow for the delivery of this battle. I beheld a countenance of great delight on their guilty ones, for they deem the delivery of this battle a benefit, since they expect a lightening of their punishments and a sharing of their laments from the coming to them of the very many sinners that are killed in the battle.’


‘I beheld great grief on Sulla in hell, and he had a bitter complaint against Fortune because of his son (also named Sulla), who is killed at this time in the battle. I beheld great grief on Scipio Africanus in hell because of his descendant (also a Scipio), who will fall in Africa in consequence of this battle. I beheld great joylessness on the philosopher, on Cato, because of his descendant, Cato Uticensis, who will fall in consequence of this battle. I beheld great joy and exceeding happiness on Brutus in hell. This was the cause of the great joy, for 'tis he himself that expelled Tarquin the Proud from the kingship of Rome, and his descendant, another Brutus, will kill Caesar in Rome.’

‘Howbeit, then, but in hell I beheld sad and joyless every one whose son or grandson is killed in the conflict of this great battle. I beheld happy and cheerful everyone whose torments will be lessened and lightened by the coming of the guilty ones. I beheld Pluto son of Saturn, the king of darkness and of the land of the dead, gathering unto him his executioners and his tormentors and his demoniac multitudes; and he said to them in my presence: ‘Let your chains and your fetters and your gyves be strengthened. Let your spikes and sickles and sword-edges be whetted. Let your spears and axes and sledgehammers for smiting souls be made sure. Let your angry, burning fires be kindled. Let your stones and rough-headed rocks be sharpened. Let your cave-doors of torturing and execution, and the places of torture that have never before been opened by you, be now opened; for never from anyone battle in the world have come to you, and never from anyone battle in the world will come again, so many as will come to meet you out of the conflict of this great battle of Pompey and Caesar.’’


‘I beheld Pluto's household happy and high-spirited thereat, and all of them readily waiting to beat and flog the sinners who will come to them out of this great battle. It is cause of exceeding sorrow to thee indeed, O son of the generalissimo; but take this little comfort, I saw Pluto himself ordaining a place of punishment for Caesar in hell. I also saw a place of rest (prepared) for Pompey and his two sons, on the Hill of Mercy in the sunny plains of hell. For though the generalissimos are not slaughtered in this great battle, woe is me! it is soon they will arrive together at their certain places in hell.’

‘Indeed it is greatly to your honour that you have formed a strong desire to seek them. This is the distinction made by this great warfare between the generalissimos: one of them to be killed in Egypt, with his tomb in the river Nile, and the other to be killed in Italy, with his tomb in the river Tiber in Rome. But thou thyself, O son of the generalissimo, ask me not to prophesy to thee: for thou wilt find a prophet more trustworthy than I am to relate to thee thy destiny, namely, the general, thine own father, who will come to have speech with thee after his death. But lo, one thing I say to thee! put no trust in Europe, or in Africa, or in Asia, for in all the world I find no part that is safer for thee than Thessaly.’

The generalissimo's son was the more desirous to deliver the battle in that Thessaly. Yet the prophet's word was true, for though it was unsafe for them in Thessaly, other parts of the world were still more unsafe. For Pompey himself was killed in Asia, and one of his sons in Africa, and the other son in Europe.

Now when the corpse had finished telling them those tidings, it remained, silently, dumbly, wretchedly, sadly, standing


in their presence, a waiting death from the hag; for its soul durst not separate from the body until the hag gave it permission. Then the hag Erictho came before them, out through the cave, and in front thereof built a pile of vast fire, and put the corpse upon it to be burnt.

She left the corpse there, and came along with Sextus Pompeius towards the camp of his father, Pompey the Great. They reached the camp and the tents in the twilight of early morning, the hour of dividing day and night.

So far one of the foretales of the Great Battle of Thessaly. The Adventure of Sextus Pompeius, and the Predictions of Thessalian Erictho, and the Prophecy of the infernal Spectre is the name of that story. That, then, is the last foretale of the Battle of Thessaly. So far is the number of fifteen foretales. The tidings and descriptions and distinctions of the great battle itself, and the endings of the warriors in the meeting of the great conflict on the plain of Thessaly, these are what are set forth below.