Necromancy On the shores of Gaul
From Claudian's Against Rufinus part 1
late 3nd c. CE
Est locus extremum pandit qua Gallia litus
Oceani praetentus aquis, ubi fertur Ulixes
sanguine libato populum movisse silentem.
illic umbrarum tenui stridore volantum
flebilis auditur questus; simulacra coloni
pallida defunctasque vident migrare figuras.
hinc dea prosiluit Phoebique egressa serenos
infecit radios ululatuque aethera rupit
terrifico: sentit ferale Britannia murmur
et Senonum quatit arva fragor revolutaque Tethys
substitit et Rhenus proiecta torpuit urna.
tunc in canitiem mutatis sponte colubris
longaevum mentita senem rugisque severas
persulcata genas et ficto languida passu
invadit muros Elusae, notissima dudum
p36 tecta petens, oculisque diu liventibus haesit
peiorem mirata virum, tum talia fatur:
"Otia te, Rufine, iuvant frustraque iuventae
consumis florem patriis inglorius arvis?
heu nescis quid fata tibi, quid sidera debent,
quid Fortuna parat: toto dominabere mundo,
si parere velis! artus ne sperne seniles!
namque mihi magicae vires aevique futuri
praescius ardor inest; novi quo Thessala cantu
eripiat lunare iubar, quid signa sagacis
Aegypti valeant, qua gens Chaldaea vocatis
imperet arte deis, nec me latuere fluentes
arboribus suci funestarumque potestas
herbarum, quidquid letali gramine pollens
Caucasus et Scythicae vernant in crimina rupes,
quas legit Medea ferox et callida Circe.
saepius horrendos manes sacrisque litavi
nocturnis Hecaten et condita funera traxi
carminibus victura meis, multosque canendo,
quamvis Parcarum restarent fila, peremi.
ire vagas quercus et fulmen stare coegi
versa non prono curvavi flumina lapsu
in fontes reditura suos. ne vana locutum
me fortasse putes, mutatos cerne penates."
dixerat, et niveae (mirum!) coepere columnae
ditari subitoque trabes lucere metallo.
There is a place where Gaul stretches her furthermost shore spread out before the waves of Ocean: 'tis there that Ulysses is said to have called up the silent ghosts with a libation of blood. There is heard the mournful weeping of the spirits of the dead as they flit by with faint sound of wings, and the inhabitants see the pale ghosts pass and the shades of the dead. 'Twas from here the goddess leapt forth, dimmed the sun's fair beams and clave the sky with horrid howlings. Britain felt the deadly sound, the noise shook the country of the Senones, Tethys stayed her tide, and Rhine let fall his urn and shrank his stream. Thereupon, in the guise of an old man, her serpent locks changed at her desire to snowy hair, her dread cheeks furrowed with many a wrinkle and feigning weariness in her gait she enters the walls of Elusa, in search of the house she had long known so well. Long p37she stood and gazed with jealous eyes, marvelling at a man worse than herself; then spake she thus:
"Does ease content thee, Rufinus? Wastest thou in vain the flower of thy youth inglorious thus in thy father's fields? Thou knowest not what fate and the stars owe thee, what fortune makes ready. So thou wilt obey me thou shalt be lord of the whole world. Despise not an old man's feeble limbs: I have the gift of magic and the fire of prophecy is within me. I have learned the incantations wherewith Thessalian witches pull down the bright moon, I know the meaning of the wise Egyptians' runes, the art whereby the Chaldeans impose their will upon the subject gods, the various saps that flow within trees and the power of deadly herbs; all those that grow on Caucasus rich in poisonous plants, or, to man's bane, clothe the crags of Scythia; herbs such as cruel Medea gathered and curious Circe. Often in nocturnal rites have I sought to propitiate the dread ghosts and Hecate, and recalled the shades of buried men to live again by my magic: many, too, has my wizardry brought to destruction though the Fates had yet somewhat of their life's thread to spin. I have caused oaks to walk and the thunderbolt to stay his course, aye, and made rivers reverse their course and flow backwards to their fount. Lest thou perchance think these be but idle boasts behold the change of thine own house." At these words the white pillars, to his amazement, began to turn into gold and the beams of a sudden to shine with metal.
The association of the shores of Gaul with a place of the dead shows up elsewhere; Procopius, writing 150 years later, speaks of the isle of Brittia, where the souls of the dead abide, and to which one can sail taking boats steered by invisible sailors.
Claudian. Against Rufinus. Loeb Classical Library, 1922. Via Lacus Cursus. URLs: Latin: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Claudian/In_Rufinum/1*.html