Chapter 1.50

Proximō diē īnstitūtō suō Caesar e castrīs utrīsque cōpiās suās ēdūxit paulumque ā maiōribus castrīs prōgressus aciem īnstrūxit; hostibus pugnandī potestātem fēcit. Ubi nē tum quidem eōs prōdīre intellēxit, circiter merīdiem exercitum in castra redūxit. Tum dēmum Ariovistus partem suārum cōpiārum quae castra minōra oppugnāret mīsit. Ācriter utrimque usque ad vesperum pugnātum est. Sōlis occāsū suās cōpiās Ariovistus, multīs et inlātīs et acceptīs vulneribus, in castra redūxit. Cum ex captīvīs quaereret Caesar quam ob rem Ariovistus proeliō nōn dēcertāret, hanc reperiēbat causam, quod apud Germānōs ea cōnsuētūdō esset ut mātrēs familiae eōrum sortibus et vāticinātiōnibus dēclārārent utrum proelium committī ex ūsū esset necne; eās ita dīcere: nōn esse fās Germānōs superāre, sī ante novam lūnam proeliō contendissent.

The first day’s fighting proves to be indecisive; the superstitious Germans want to wait for the new moon.

proximō diē: ablative of time when (AG 423.1).

īnstitūtō suō: “according to his previous practice” (A-G); “in accordance with his custom” (H-T); “in accordance with his plan” (Hodges). Institūtum here refers to a custom or practice, in accordance with some settled resolution or design (Anthon). Ablative of accordance (AG 418 a).

paulumque … prōgressus: Caesar had failed to secure a battle in the position most favorable to himself; therefore he now offered battle in a position equally favorable to both armies (Walker).

ā maiōribus castrīs: “from the larger camp,” i.e., the first one pitched (Anthon).

pugnandī potestātem fēcit: “he offered battle” (Hodges), literally, “he gave an opportunity of fighting” (Kelsey)

tum: note its emphatic position surrounded by nē … quidem (A-G): “not even then.”

prōdīre: “come forth [to battle]” (Anthon); “to come out” of their encampment for the purpose of fighting (Spencer).

merīdiem: probably for medidiem, from medius and diēs (M-T).

exercitum in castra redūxit: Caesar’s main object in forming two different camps was to gain possession of the road both north and south; so that Ariovistus could not escape without fighting. Besides this, such an arrangement tempted the Germans strongly to an attack on the entrench-ments, which would be sure to give an advantage to the Romans. Lastly, it gave an opportunity for the stratagem to be described in Chapter 51 (Moberly).

tum dēmum: “then at length” (H-T).

quae castra minōra oppugnāret: quae = ut ea (L-E): “to attack / storm the smaller camp” (Harkness); relative purpose clause (AG 531) (A-G).

ācriter utrimquepugnātum est: “fiercely the battle raged on both sides” (Kelsey); “both sides fought fiercely” (Walker). Cassius Dio (38.48) informs us that Ariovistus came near taking the camp of the Romans on this occasion. He adds that the German leader, elated with his success, disregarded the predictions of the German women, and came to an action with Caesar (Anthon). Pugnātum est is impersonal passive of an intransitive verb (AG 208 d).

ad vesperum: vesper is a word of two declensions, with genitives vesperis and vesperī. In classical prose the ablatives vesperī, vespere (the former perhaps a locative), and accusative vesperum, are most common (M-T).

sōlis occāsū: “at sunset” (H-T); occāsū is ablative of time when (AG 423.1).

multīs inlātīs et acceptīs vulneribus: “many wounds having been inflicted as well as received” (Hodges).

quam ob remnōn dēcertāret: “why (literally, “for what reason” (Kelsey)) Ariovistus did not offer a general engagement” (Harkness); “ … would not fight a decisive battle.” Ariovistus had used only a part of his forces (Kelsey). Subjunctive in an indirect question (AG 574) dependent on quaereret.

proeliō dēcertāret: “fight it out in a [pitched] battle” (Hodges); “ … in a general engagement” (Anthon); “fight a general and decisive battle” (Walker). Proeliō, without epithet, is loosely regarded as an instrumental ablative (AG 409) (M-T), i.e., a regular “battle” in which the whole army takes part (Spencer).

quod apud Germānōs ea cōnsuētūdō esset: “whereas there was this custom among the Germans” (Walker). A substantive quod clause (AG 570) in apposition with and explaining hanc causam (Hodges); the subjunctive is due to implied indirect discourse (Walker):

ut … dēclārārent: subjunctive in a substantive result clause (AG 570) which stands in apposition to ea cōnsuētūdō: “that the matrons indicated whether or not it was advantageous to engage in battle” (L-E).

mātrēs familiae: “matrons,” “married women” (Kelsey). Tacitus (Ger. 8) states that the ancient Germans believed there was something sacred and prophetic in the female sex, and that, therefore, they disdained not their advice, but placed the greatest confidence in them and their predictions. He speaks of Veleda and Aurinia in particular, as having been held in the highest veneration (Anthon).

sortibus: “by casting lots” (L-E). Tacitus (Germ. 10) describes this method of divination: slips cut from a fruit free, and inscribed with mystic words (runes), were shaken together on a white cloth, and the omen was drawn from the words on the first three taken up haphazard by the priest, or (according to Tacitus) the paterfamiliās (M-T). The Germans made frequent use of lots in divining the future (Harkness).

vāticinātiōnibus: “auguries” (Anthon); “divination” (H-T), “prophetic utterances,” inspired by eddies of rivers and whirling and noises of currents (Kelsey); possibly the mere prophetic impressions analogous to “second sight” (A-G).

utrum … necne: “whether … or not”; used in double or alternative questions (AG 335) (L-E).

ex ūsū esset: “it would be of advantage” (Harkness); “it would be expedient” (Kelsey). Indirect question (AG 574).

nōn esse fās: “that it was not fated” (A-G); “that it was not right” (Harkness); “that it was not the will of heaven.” Fās denotes what is in accordance with the divine law and the rules of religion (Anthon), as distinct from iūs, “human law” (M-T). Indirect discourse dependent on dīcere (Kelsey).

superāre: “should be victorious” (Kelsey).

ante novam lūnam: a common superstition among semi-civilized peoples (cf. Tacitus, Ger. 11). This “new moon” fell on Sept. 18 in 58 B.C. The Germans considered the days of the new moon and full moon lucky days, and so, were wont to begin important undertakings on these days (L-E). The Greeks had the same notion, as shown by the refusal of the Spartans to march to the help of the Athenians at Marathon until after the full moon (L-E). The ancient German superstition about the influence of the moon still lingers in many places, particulary in respect to commencing certain farming operations “in the old of the moon” (Kelsey). For simple nations the first new light of the moon is most cheering and joyful. From its appearance they obtain the order of the months, and, in the absence of astronomical obsservations, that of the whole civil and religious year (Moberly).

sī … proeliō contendissent: “if they should fight.” Contendissent stands for contenderint (future perfect) in the direct form (Walker).

īnstitūtum, -ī n.: design; custom, habit; institution.

paulum, -ī n.: a little; often used adverbially, a little, somewhat.

prōgredior, -gredī, -gressus : go forward, advance, proceed.

īnstruō, -struere, -strūxī, -strūctus : build in; set up, prepare; marshal, draw up; fit out, equip, rig.

prōdeō, -īre, -īvī (-iī), -itus : go forward, advance, go out.

circiter : (1) adv., about, nearly; (2) prep. with acc., about, around, near.

merīdiēs, defective, acc. -em, abl. -ē m.: midday, noon; south.

redūcō, -dūcere, -dūxī, -ductus : lead back, bring back; draw off, withdraw; draw back, extend back.

dēmum : adv., at last, at length.

Ariovistus, -ī, m.: Ariovistus, a German chief, or king.

oppugnō, -āre, -āvī, -ātus : fight against, attack, besiege.

ācriter : adv., sharply, keenly, fiercely; vigorously, courageously; sup, ācerrimē.

utrimque : adv., from each side; on either side, on both sides.

vesper, -erī or -eris, m.: evening; sub vesperum, toward evening.

occāsus, -ūs m.: going down, settıng; occāsus sōlis, sunset, west.

captīvus, -a, -um : taken, captured; as subst., m., captive, prisoner.

quam ob rem: on account of which thing; therefore; why

dēcertō, -āre, -āvī, -ātus : fight it out, fight to a finish, decide by battle.

Germānus, -ī, m. : a German; pl., the Germans; as adj., Germānus, -a, -um, German

vāticinātiō, -ōnis f.: soothsaying, prediction.

dēclārō, -āre, -āvī, -ātus : state publicly, declare.

necne : conj., used in the second member of a double (disjunctive) question, or not.

fās, indecl., found only in nom. and acc. n.: divine law; justice, right; fās esse, be lawful, be proper.

contendō, -tendere, -tendī, -tentus : strain, exert oneself; strive for, attempt, try; hasten, press forward; contend, vie; join battle, fight, quarrel; insist; demand.


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Christopher Francese, Caesar: Selections from the Gallic War. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2011, revised and enlarged 2018. ISBN: 978-1-947822-02-3.