Category Archives: Battle of Lepanto


Fernando De Herrera: “Ode On The Battle of Lepanto”

Excerpt, W. Herbert, “Translations from the Italian, Spanish, Portugal, etc.” London: 1806.

Fernando De Herrera was born in Seville about 1510. Little is known of the circumstances of his life. He appears to have been an ecclesiastic, but of what rank is not recorded. He is spoken of as an excellent scholar in Latin, and of having a moderate knowledge of Greek. He read the best authors in the modern languages, and studied profoundly the Castilian, of which he became a distinguished master.

Herrera was a vigorous and elegant prose writer as well as poet. Many of his works, however, are lost. His best productions are lyrical. The ode on the Battle of Lepanto, and that on the death of Sebastian of Portugal, are of remarkable excellence. He is praised by Cervantes, who says, “The ivy of his fame will cling to the walls of immortality.”

On 7 October 1571, Don John of Austria, son of the Emperor Charles V, commanding the navies of the Pope and the Emperor, together with the navies of Spain and Venice, defeated a much larger Turkish navy off the coast of Greece at a place now called Naupactos. To the men of his day this place was called by its Roman name: Lepanto!

Lepanto

Ode on the Battle of Lepanto

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The tyrants of the world from hell’s abysm

Summoned the demons of revenge and pride,

The countless hosts in whom they did confide, –

And gathering round the flag of despotism

The priest, the slave, and the liberticide, –

All who had bound men’s souls within their den, –

Tore down the loftiest cedar of the height,

The tree sublime; and, drunk with anger then,

Threatened in ghastly bands our few astonished men.

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The little ones, confounded, trembled then

At their appalling fury; and their brow

Against the Lord of Hosts these impious men

Uplifting, sought with Heaven-insulting vow,

The triumph of thy people’s overthrow, –

Their armed hands extending, and their crest

Moving omnipotent, because that thou

Wert as a tower of refuge, to invest

All whom man’s quenchless hope had prompted to resist.

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Thou said those insolent and scornful ones;

“Knows not this earth the vengeance of our wrath,

The strength of our illustrious fathers’ thrones?

Or did the Roman power avail? Or hath

Rebellious Greece, in her triumphant path,

Scattered the seeds of freedom on your land?

Italia!Austria!Who shall save you both?

Is it your God? – Ha ha!Shall he withstand

The glory of our might, our conquering right hand?

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“Our Rome, now tamed and humbled, into tears

And psalms converts her songs of freedom’s rights;

And for her sad and conquered children fears

The carnage of more Cannae’s fatal fights,

Now Asia with her discord disunites;

Spain threatens with her horrors to asail

All who still harbour Moorish proselytes;

Each nation’s throne a traitor crew doth veil;

And, though in concord joined, what could their might avail?

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“Earth’s haughtiest nations tremble and obey,

And to our yoke their necks in peace incline.

And peace, for their salvation, of us pray,

Cry, ‘Peace!’ but that means death, when monarchs sign.

Vain is their hope!Their lights obscurely shine!

Their valiant gone, their virgins in our powers,

Their glories to our sceptres they resign:

From Nile to Euphrates and Tiber’s towers.

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Whate’er the all-seeing sun looks down on, all is ours.”

“Thou, Lord! Who wilt not suffer that thy glory

They should usurp who in their might put trust,

Hearing the vauntings of these anarchs hoary,

These holy ones beheld, whose horrid lust

Of triumph did thy sacred altars crust

With blood; nor wouldst thou longer that the base

Should he permitted to oppress thy just,

Then, mocking, cry to Heaven, “Within what place

Abides the God of these? Where hideth he his face?”

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For the due glory of thy righteous name,

For the just vengeance of thy race oppressed,

For the deep woes the wretched loud proclaim,

In pieces hast thou dashed the dragon’s crest,

And clipped the wings of the destroying pest:

Back to his cave he draws his poisonous fold,

And trembling hisses; then in torpid breast

Buries his fear:for thou, to Babel sold

Captive, no more on earth thy Zion wilt behold.

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Portentous Egypt, now with discord riven,

The avenging fire and hostile spear affright;

And the smoke, mounting to the light of heaven,

O’erclouds her cities in its pall of night:

In tears and solitude she mourns the sight,

But thou, O Graecia! The fierce tyrant’s stay,

The glory of her excellence and might,

Dost thou lament, old Ocean Queen, thy prey,

Nor fearing God, dost seek thine own regenerate day?

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Wherefore, ingrate, didst thou adorn thy daughters

In foul adultery with an impious race?

Why thus confederate in the unholy slaughters

Of those whose burning hope is thy disgrace?

With mournful heart, yet hypocritic face,

Follow the life abhorred of that vile crew?

God’s sharpened sword thy beauty shall efface,

Falling in vengeance on thy neck.O, who,

Thou lost one his right hand in mercy shall subdue?

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But thou, O pride of ocean! Lofty Tyre!

Whoin thy ships so high and glorious stood,

O’ershadowing earth’s limits, and whose ire

With trembling filled this orb’s vast multitude;

How have ye ended, fierce and haughty brood?

What power hath marked your sins and slaveries foul,

Your neck until this cruel yoke subdued?

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God, to avenge us, clouds thy sunlike soul,

And causes on thy wise this blinding storm to roll.

Howl, ships of Tarsus, howl! For, lo! Destroyed

Lies your high hope.Oppressors of the free!

Lost is your strength, your glory is defied.

Thou tyrant-shielder, who shall pity thee?

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And thou, O Asia! Who didst bow the knee

To Baal, in vice immerged, who shall atone

For thy idolatries?For God doth see

Thine ancient crimes, who silent prayers have flown

For vengeance unto Heaven before his judgment throne.

Those who behold thy mighty arms when shattered,

And Ocean flowing naked of thy pines,

Over his weary waves triumphant scattered

So long, but now wreck-strewn, in awful signs,

Shall say, beholding thy deserted shrines,

“Who ‘gainst the fearful One hath daring striven?

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The Lord of our Salvation their designs

O’erturned, and, for the glory of his heaven,

To man’s devoted race this victory hath given.”

Victors_of_Lepanto

The Victors of Lepanto

Don Juan de Austria, Marcantonio Colonna, Sebastiano Venier)

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