When Tibullus (55-19 BC) was called to serve as a knight in the Roman army, he expressed his abhorrence of war in this poem. In the first 12 lines he deplores that weapons have ever been invented, but is also aware that not weapons are the cause of war, but human greed. O, could he have lived in those times when war was unknown!
As neither Messalia nor Delia – his mistresses - is mentioned, scholars believe this is the oldest surviving poem.
Tibullus, Elegies book 1.10, 1-12 (in some editions it is elegy 11)
Quis fuit, horrendos primus qui protulit enses?
Quam ferus et vere ferreus ille fuit!
Tum caedes hominum generi, tum proelia nata,
Tum brevior dirae mortis aperta via est.
An nihil ille miser meruit, nos ad mala nostra 5
Vertimus, in saevas quod dedit ille feras?
Divitis hoc vitium est auri, nec bella fuerunt,
Faginus adstabat cum scyphus ante dapes.
Non arces, non vallus erat, somnumque petebat
Securus sparsas dux gregis inter oves. 10
Tunc mihi vita foret, volgi nec tristia nossem
Arma nec audissem corde micante tubam;
primus: as first
profero protuli prolatum: to produce
ensis ensis (m.) sword
ferreus: made of iron (i.e. from the time metal was introduced, contrary to line 8 -10.)
caedes caedis (f.): slaughter
generi: dative of disadvantage
nata: both with caedes and proelia
aperio aperui apertum: to uncover, lay open
An nihil ille miser meruit, nos ad mala nostra / Vertimus, in saevas quod dedit ille feras? Or has he –the poor man - deserved no blame, because he gave (swords) against wild beasts (fera), we (self) turned to our own misery?
dives divitis: costly
vitium: fault, vice
faginus scyphus: a bowl made of beech wood (Tibullus is referring to a time when metal was unknown. Of course this is an imagined time and a literary topos.)
adstabat ante dapes: `was present before’ (a drinking party before a banquet (daps dapis f.) is meant.)
arx arcis (f.): fortification
peto petivi (petii) petitum: to seek
securus: adjective for adverb `safely’
grex gregis (m.): flock
sparsas oves: sheep dispersed (over the field). The herdsman can safely sleep as no one would steal them. But what about wolves?
foret: old form for esset: `might life then be for me’
volgi = vulgi. Again a deliberate archaism.
nossem = novissem
corde micante: with trembling (mico) heart
tubam: the trumpet used for giving signals during battle
The following translation is by T.C. Williams, New York, 1905. Unfortunately it is the only translation available on internet. When you compare this translation with the Latin, it is easy to see that the translator has taken some liberties.
Whoe'er first forged the terror-striking sword,
His own fierce heart had tempered like its blade.
What slaughter followed! Ah! what conflict wild!
What swifter journeys unto darksome death!
But blame not him! Ourselves have madly turned
On one another's breasts that cunning edge
Wherewith he meant mere blood of beast to spill.
Gold makes our crime. No need for plundering war,
When bowls of beech-wood held the frugal feast.
No citadel was seen nor moated wall;
The shepherd chief led home his motley flock,
And slumbered free from care. Would I had lived
In that good, golden time; nor e'er had known
A mob in arms arrayed; nor felt my heart
Throb to the trumpet's call!