Horrible weapons . . . increasing day by day the terror of war.
They even tested bulls in the thick of battle
And drove wild boars against the enemy.

— Lucretius, On the Nature of Things


The wild boars may not have known their Latin
but they had other talents. They didn’t care what flag
they followed. They gored
equally their masters’ foes and their masters,
who had presumed to think
that the guided missiles they’d launched, their latest leap
forward in military science, wouldn’t dream
of veering off course and heading straight back
for the very masterminds who’d unleashed them,
the hogs proving the new technology already
obsolete, slicing the hamstrings
of their masters. Horses fell like towers toppling. No face was left
unmauled, no throat unslashed. It wasn’t enough
that the men died; they had to be punished
further, breasts ripped out, testicles
devoured. Lucretius spares no one
the details; he takes his time, just as the lion did
drinking from the opened chest of the lion-tamer,
still another case of the experiment
getting revenge on the experimenter.
Had some general thought to tame nature so utterly
that he’d persuade leopards into choosing sides, throw reins
over ocelots, talk lynxes into enlisting?
They might have made it out of boot camp,
but in the battlefield blood
was blood, and so they did their own recruiting.
If the light artillery backfired,
so did the heavy: elephants, walking nuclear bombs,
moving forts, grew weary
of being nothing but huge
moments in history and wandered off, dragging
bodies behind them like footnotes.
The bulls got it into their thick heads that they deserved better
than being weapons and, whipped into battle,
threw off their riders, trampled them so thoroughly
the men turned into slurry under the beasts’ hooves.
One of the bloody scenes that a boy can’t help
remembering from Latin IV and that makes the long hours
translating a dead language worthwhile.