Publius’ Severed Head Speaks! The Third Act of a Fantastic Friday

In two earlier posts, we have the story of a victorious Roman army beset by tragic prophecies provided by a zombie opponent, the oracle at Delphi, and a suddenly mad general. Here, the general prophesies, dies, and speaks again. Oh, there’s a red wolf involved too.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 3 (Part 3)

“After he said these things, he spoke in verse again:

When the shining gold-bedecked Nêsaian horses
Trod on the shining earth, after they leave behind their seat
The horses Daidalian Êetion once made in the city
Of the very wealthy Syracusans, building up a longed-for friendship.
He put a fire on the bronze and laid golden knots
On their halters and he fit all this too on the son of
Hyperion who shines with rays and light.
On that day, Roman, harsh griefs will occur for you.
A broad army will come and it will destroy your whole land,
It will desolate your marketplaces, and it will make your cities burned ash.
It will fill the rivers with blood; it will fill Hades,
And it will cast pitiful, hateful, terrible slavery upon you.
No wife will welcome her husband come from war
But darkly-dressed Hades who lives below will hold them
among the rotting places where he has stolen children from their mothers,
as this foreign Ares will craft his day of enslavement.

He was silent and then, after he left the camp, he climbed up a certain tree. Because the crowd followed him, he addressed them again and said: “Roman men and remaining soldiers, it is fated for me to be eaten by a red wolf after I die on the same day. But you must take to heart that everything which I have said will turn out well for you. Take the coming appearance of this beast and my death as a clear sign that I have spoken truly, inspired from a god.”

After he said these things, he ordered them to hold back and that no one should stop the beast from approaching, warning that it would not help them if they turned it away. When the mob did what was ordered, a wolf arrived before too long. When Publius say it, he came down from the tree and fell to his back. The wolf tore him apart and dined on him while everyone was walking. Once it had eaten up his body except for his head, he turned to the mountain. When the mob approached and was considering collecting what was left and burying him, the head spoke as it sat upon the earth and uttered these lines.

Don’t touch my head! For it is not right
For those upon whose thoughts Athena has set a savage rage
To touch a godly head. No, stop!
Heed the true prophecy which I will tell you.
For a great a powerful Ares will approach this land—
He will send a host in arms down to Hades’ gloom.
It will break the stone fortifications and long walls
And after that, once it has taken our wealth and wives and children
Will lead it all to Asia by crossing the waves.
Phoibos Apollo has uttered these truths to you
The Pythian one who sent me as his strong servant
And has led me now to the homes of Persephone and the blessed.

Once they heard these voices, they were extremely upset. Once they built a shrine to Lykian Apollo along which an altar in the very place where the head say, they embarked on their ships and everyone sailed to their own country. Everything promised by Publius happened in time.”

ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἔλεξεν αὖθις ἐν ἔπεσι τάδε·

ἡνίκα Νησαῖοι χρυσάμπυκες ἀργέται ἵπποι
βῶσιν ἐπὶ χθόνα δῖαν, ἑὴν προλιπόντες ἐφέδρην
—οὕς ποτ’ ἐν ἄστει τεῦξε Συρηκοσίων πολυόλβων
δαίδαλος ᾿Ηετίων, φιλίην πολυήρατον αὔξων,
δαῖτ’ ἐπὶ χαλκείῃ, δεσμοῖς δ’ ἐπὶ δεσμὸν ἴαλλεν
χρύσεον, ἐν δ’ αὐτὸν πᾶσιν ῾Υπερίονος υἱὸν
ἥρμοσεν ἀκτίνεσσι καὶ ὄμμασι μαρμαίροντα—
καὶ τότε σοί, ῾Ρώμη, χαλέπ’ ἄλγεα πάντα τελεῖται.
ἥξει γὰρ στρατὸς εὐρύς, ὅ σου χθόνα πᾶσαν ὀλέσσει,
χηρώσει δ’ ἀγοράς, ἄστη δέ τε πυρπόλα θήσει,
αἵματι δὲ πλήσει ποταμούς, πλήσει δὲ καὶ ῞Αιδην,
δουλοσύνην τ’ οἰκτρήν, στυγερήν, ἀτέκμαρτον ἐφήσει.
οὐδὲ γυνὴ πόσιν ὅν γ’ ὑποδέξεται ἐκ πολέμοιο
νοστήσαντ’, ᾿Αΐδης δὲ καταχθόνιος, μελανείμων
ἕξει ἐνὶ φθιμένοισιν ὁμοῦ τέκνα μητρὸς ἀπούρας,
῎Αρης δ’ ἀλλοδαπὸς περιθήσει δούλιον ἦμαρ.

ἀποφθεγξάμενος δὲ ταῦτα ἐσιώπησεν καὶ πορευθεὶς ἔξω τοῦ στρατοπέδου ἀνέβη ἐπί τινα δρῦν. ἐπακολουθήσαντος δὲ τοῦ ὄχλου προσεκαλέσατο αὐτοὺς καὶ εἶπε τάδε· «ἐμοὶ μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες ῾Ρωμαῖοι καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ στρατιῶται, καθήκει τελευτή-
σαντι ὑπὸ λύκου πυρροῦ εὐμεγέθους καταβρωθῆναι ἐν τῇ σήμερον ἡμέρᾳ, ὑμεῖς δὲ τὰ ῥηθέντα ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ γινώσκετε συμβησόμενα ὑμῖν πάντα, τεκμηρίοις χρώμενοι τῇ νῦν ἐσομένῃ ἐπιφανείᾳ τοῦ θηρίου τε καὶ τῇ ἐμῇ ἀναιρέσει, ὅτι ἀληθῆ εἴρηκα ἔκ τινος θείας ὑποδείξεως.» τοσαῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἐκέλευσεν αὐτοὺς ἀποστῆναι καὶ μηδένα κωλύσαι τὸ θηρίον προσελθεῖν φάσκων, ἐὰν ἀποστρέψωσιν, οὐ συνοίσειν αὐτοῖς.

ποιήσαντος δὲ τοῦ πλήθους τὸ προσταχθὲν οὐκ εἰς μακρὰν παραγίνεται ὁ λύκος. ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Πόπλιος κατέβη ἀπὸ τῆς δρυὸς καὶ ἔπεσεν ὕπτιος, ὁ δὲ λύκος ἀνασχίσας αὐτὸν κατεδαίνυτο πάντων ὁρώντων. ἀναλώσας δὲ τὸ σῶμα αὐτοῦ πλὴν τῆς κεφαλῆς ἐτράπετο εἰς τὸ ὄρος. προσελθόντος δὲ τοῦ ὄχλου καὶ βουλομένου ἀνελέσθαι τὰ ἀπολελειμμένα κτερίσαι τε αὐτὸν νομίμως, ἡ κεφαλὴ κειμένη ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀνεῖπε τοὺς στίχους τοιούτους·

μὴ ψαῦ’ ἡμετέρης κεφαλῆς· οὐ γὰρ θέμις ἐστίν,
οἷσιν ᾿Αθηναίη χόλον ἄγριον ἐν φρεσὶ θῆκεν,
ἅπτεσθαι θείοιο καρήατος· ἀλλὰ πέπαυσο
μαντοσύνην τ’ ἐπάκουσον, ἀληθέα ᾗπερ ἐρῶ σοι.
ἥξει γὰρ χθόνα τήνδε πολὺς καὶ καρτερὸς ῎Αρης,
ὃς λαὸν μὲν ἔνοπλον ὑπὸ σκότον ᾿Αΐδι πέμψει,
ῥήξει δ’ αὖ λιθίνους πύργους καὶ τείχεα μακρά,
ὄλβον δ’ ἡμέτερον καὶ νήπια τέκν’ ἀλόχους τε
μάρψας εἰς ᾿Ασίην ἄξει διὰ κῦμα περήσας.
ταῦτά σοι εἴρηκεν νημερτέα Φοῖβος ᾿Απόλλων
Πύθιος, ὅς μοι ἑὸν κρατερὸν θεράποντ’ ἐπιπέμψας
ἤγαγεν εἰς μακάρων τε δόμους καὶ Περσεφονείης.

ἀκούσαντες δὲ τῶν ἐπῶν τούτων οὐ μετρίως ἐταράχθησαν, ἱδρυσάμενοί τε ναὸν ᾿Απόλλωνος Λυκίου καὶ βωμόν, οὗπερ ἔκειτο ἡ κεφαλή, ἐνέβησαν εἰς τὰς ναῦς καὶ ἀπέπλεον ἕκαστος ἐπὶ τὰς ἑαυτῶν πατρίδας. καὶ συνέβη ἅπαντα τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποπλίου ῥηθέντα γενέσθαι.

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