According to Lucretius
With bulls too the Carthaginians waged war
on their foes, and not just bulls but wild boar.
Using an armed handler to keep the beast in line
some went further again, with a fierce lion.
But pity the man who thinks that he can keep
a lion on a leash and it not give him the slip.
Blood up, they’d rampage here and there and sow
chaos among the squadrons, friend and foe,
their shaking, horrent manes and then their roars
enough to put the wind up any horse.
In vain their riders urged them with the snaffle,
the sight of angry she-lions proved too awful:
pouncing from nowhere into their victims’ faces,
landing on their backs and ripping them to pieces,
catching hold and wrestling them to the ground
then pinning them by the gaping, mortal wound
that they’d inflict with grim bites and slashing claws.
Their own side the bulls would trample and toss
in the air, and horses they would run right through
with their horns, impaling the creatures from below
then pawing the dust with menacing intent.
The boars also turned their horns on foe and friend
and washed the weapons lodged in them in blood.
Cavalry tumbled, infantry died where they stood.
The panicked, bolting horses tried to veer
to safety or, rising up, would paw the air
in vain: on every side the earth rang out
and shook with the collapsing horses’ weight.
If anyone doubted that these beasts were wild
before, the proof lay on the battlefield
in carnage, uproar, terror, anarchy.
Nothing will keep such killers, broken free,
from dealing death all round with no one spared,
just like elephants, badly battle-scarred,
that stagger and stamp down hard on anyone
in their way. As if they care what side he’s on!
David Wheatley’s latest poetry collection is A Nest on the Waves (Gallery Press). His poem Air Street Fugue appears in the downloadable version of The Burning Bush 2.