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NPNF2-10. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters
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Chapter XL.

Courage in war was not wanting in our forefathers, as is shown by the example of the men of old, especially by the glorious deed of Eleazar.

205. But perhaps renown in war keeps some so bound to itself297297    Cic. de Off. I. 22. as to make them think that fortitude is to be found in battle alone, and that therefore I had gone aside to speak of these things, because that was wanting in us. But how brave was Joshua the son of Nun, who in one battle laid low five kings together with their people!298298    Josh. x. Again, when he fought against the Gibeonites and feared that night might stop him from gaining the victory, he called out with deep faith and high spirit:299299    Josh. x. 12. “Let the sun stand still;” and it stood still until the victory was complete. Gideon with three hundred men gained a triumph over a great nation and a cruel foe.300300    Judg. vii. Jonathan when a young man showed great courage in battle,301301    1 Sam. [1 Kings] xiv. 1. and what shall I say about the Maccabees?

206. First, I will speak of the people of our fathers. They were ready to fight for the temple of God and for their rights, and when attacked on the Sabbath day by the craft of the enemy, willingly allowed wounds to be inflicted on their unprotected bodies, rather than to join in the fight, so that they might not defile the Sabbath.302302    1 Macc. ii. 35 ff. They all gladly gave themselves up to death. But the Maccabees thinking that then all the nation would perish, on the Sabbath also, when they were challenged to fight, took vengeance for the death of their innocent brethren. And afterwards when he had been roused by this to fresh exertions, King Antiochus, having begun the war afresh under the leadership of his generals Lysias, Nicanor, and Georgias, was so utterly crushed, together with his Eastern and Assyrian forces, that he left 48,000 lying on the battle-field, slain by an army of but 3,000 men.

207. Mark the courage of the leader, Judas Maccabæus, as exemplified in the character of one of his soldiers. Eleazar,303303    1 Mac. vi. 43. meeting with an elephant higher than all the rest, and with all the royal trappings upon it, and thinking that the king was on it, ran hastily and threw himself into the midst of the legion; and, casting away his shield, with both hands he slew those opposed to him until he reached the beast.304304    The Latin text has: “utraque manu interficiebat, donec pervenit ad bestiam.” Cod. Dresd., ed. Med. have: “utraque manu interficiebat bestiam, atque intravit sab eam. Then he got beneath it, thrust in his sword and slew it. But the beast in falling crushed Eleazar and so killed him. What courage of mind was his then, first, in that he feared not death, next because, when surrounded by enemies, he was carried by it into the thickest of his foes and penetrated the very centre! Then, despising death, and casting away his shield, he ran beneath the huge beast, wounded it with both his hands, and let it fall upon him. He ran beneath it so as to give a more deadly blow. Enclosed by its fall, rather than crushed, he was buried in his own triumph.

208. Nor was he deceived in his intention though he was deceived by the royal ornaments. For the enemy, startled at such an exhibition of valour, dared not rush upon this single unarmed man, held fast though he was. They were so terrified after the mischance of the slaughter of the beast, that they considered themselves altogether unequal to the valour of one. Nay, King Antiochus, son of Lysias, terrified at the fortitude of one, asked for peace. He had come to the war with 120,000 armed men and with 32 elephants, which glittered and gleamed with the sheen of arms like a line of burning lamps, as the sun rose upon them, marching along one by one, like very mountains for size.305305    Ed. Bened. here has: “ita ut ab ortu solis per singulas bestias velut montes quidam splendor armorum corusco, tanquam lampadibus ardentibus.” Cod. Dresd. and Goth.: “ita ut…quidam armorum coruscorum…refulgerent.” Other ancient editions: “ita ut…quidam armorum corusco…refulgerent. Thus Eleazar left peace as the heir of his courage. These are the signs of triumphs.


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