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GEOFFREY VINSAUF Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land

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Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land
page 79

unable to resist, but moved forward with patience under their wounds, returning not even a word for the blows which fell upon them, and advancing on their way, because they were not able to bear the weight of the contest. Then they pressed on for safety upon the centre of the army which was in front of them, to avoid the fury of the enemy, who harassed them in the rear. Was it wonderful that no one could withstand so continuous an attack, when he could not even return one blow to the numbers who pressed on him? The strength of all Paganism had gathered together from Damascus and Persia, from the Mediterranean to the East; there was not left in the uttermost recesses of the earth one man of fame or power, one nation of valour, or one bold soldier, whom the Sultan had not summoned to his aid, either by entreaty, by money, or by authority, to crush the Christian race; for he presumed to hope he could blot them from the face of the earth; but his hopes were vain, for their numbers were sufficient, through the assistance of God, to effect their purpose. The flower of the chosen youth and soldiers of Christendom had indeed assembled together and were united in one body, like ears of corn on their stalks, from every region of the earth; and if they had been utterly crushed and destroyed, there is no doubt that there were none left to make resistance.

Chapter XIX. - The battle continued, and the wonderful victory of the Christians.

A cloud of dust obscured the air as our men marched on and, in addition to the beat, they had an enemy pressing them in the rear, insolent, and rendered obstinate by the instigation of the devil. Still the Christians proved good men, and, secure in their unconquerable spirit, kept constantly advancing, while the Turks threatened them without ceasing in the rear; but their blows fell harmless upon the defensive armour, and this caused the Turks to slacken in courage at the failure of their attempts, and they began to murmur in whispers of disappointment, crying out in their rage, "that our people were of iron, and would yield to no blow." Then the Turks, about twenty thousand strong, rushed again upon our men pell mell, annoying them in every possible manner; when, as if almost overcome by their savage fury, brother Garnier de Napes, one of the Hospitallers, suddenly exclaimed, with a loud voice, "O excellent St. George! will you leave us to be thus put to confusion? The whole of Christendom is now on the point of perishing, because it fears to return a blow against this impious race." Upon this, the master of the Hospitallers went to the king, and said to him, "My lord the king, we are violently pressed by the enemy, and are in danger of eternal infamy, as if we did not dare to return their blows; we are each of us losing our horses one after another, and why should we bear with them any further?" To whom the king replied, "Good master, it is you who must sustain their attack; no one can be everywhere at once." On the master returning, the Turks again made a fierce attack on them from the rear, and there was not a prince or count amongst them but blushed with shame, and they said to each other, "Why do we not charge them at full gallop? Alas! alas! we shall forever deserve to be called cowards, a thing which never happened to us before, for never has such a disgrace befallen so great an army even from the unbelievers. Unless we defend ourselves by immediately charging the enemy, we shall gain everlasting scandal, and so much the greater the longer we delay to fight." O, how blind is human fate! On what slippery points it stands! Alas, on how uncertain wheels doth it advance, and with what ambiguous success doth it unfold the course of human things! A countless multitude of the Turks would have perished, if the aforesaid attempt had been orderly conducted; but to punish us for our sins, as it is believed, the potter’s wheel produces a paltry vessel instead of the grand design which he had conceived.(18) For while they were treating of this point, and had come to the same decision about charging the enemy, two knights, who were impatient of delay, put every thing in confusion. It had been resolved by common consent that the sounding of six trumpets in three different parts of the army should be a signal for a charge, viz., two in front, two in the rear, and two in the middle, to distinguish the sounds from those of the Saracens, and to mark the distance of each. If these orders had been attended to, the Turks would have been utterly discomfited; but from the too great haste of the aforesaid knights, the success of the affair was marred. They rushed at full gallop upon the Turks, and each of them prostrated his man by piercing him with his lance. One of them was the marshal of the Hospitallers, the other was Baldwin de Carreo, a good and brave man, and the companion of King Richard, who had brought him in his retinue. When the other Christians observed these two rushing forward, and heard them calling, with a clear voice, on St. George for aid, they charged the Turks in a body with all their strength; then the

(18)The author here quotes Horace - "currente rota cur urceus exit."

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