Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Ave, Caesar!


[See the painting by Gérôme, in the International Exhibition, Foreign Gallery, No. 122. It was the custom, during the times of the Empire, for each successive troop of gladiators, before beginning their conflict, to advance to the Imperial box when the Emperor was present, and to salute him with the words, “Ave, Cæsar Imperator; morituri te salutant.”]


When the Emperor lay a-dying
And an unresisted spell,
Like a cloud across his eyelids
From the land of darkness fell;
“Ave, Cæsar!”
Sounded o’er him like a knell—
“Ave, Cæsar!”
From the borderland of hell.


For a vision rose upon him,
In the dimness of the night,
Dark at first, but clear and clearer
Ere he died at morning light—
Musing, musing,
All too late, on Wrong and Right;
(“Ave, Cæsar!”)
Twas a vision of affright.


Lo! the storied Coliseum,
All a-blaze with green and red;
Lo! the elephant and panther
On the canopy overhead;
Sand is strewing
Where the fighting-men have bled;
(“Ave, Cæsar!”)
Men are dragging off the dead.


Now a myriad ranks are silent,
Watching what may next befall;
And another troop advances,
Buckler’d Thracian, sinewy Gaul;[1]
Them the trainer—
Loud, uncaring, daring, all—
Unto Cæsar
Brings, to greet him ere they fall,


Ave, Cæsar Imperator!”
Thus they used to shout of old;
Dying men salute thee, Caesar!”
Thus the horrid greeting rolled
In the vision,
Round and round his bed of gold,
(“Ave, Cæsar!”)
While his limbs were growing cold.


And they waved their arms before him;
Touched the purple one by one;
Said, “The dying greet thee, Cæsar,
From another world begun,
(Ave, Cæsar!),
Where our servitude is done;
(Ave, Cæsar!)
Emperor and slave are one.”

Horace Moule.

  1. Most of the gladiators were called by the names of the nations whose arms they adopted.