Lays of Ancient Rome
Thomas Babbington Macaulay
Part 1 out of 2
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In some editions there are quite extensive footnotes.
Forthcoming editions will include those footnotes
Lays of Ancient Rome
By Thomas Babbington Macaulay
The Battle of the Lake Regillus
The Prophecy of Capys
That what is called the history of the Kings and early Consuls of
Rome is to a great extent fabulous, few scholars have, since the
time of Beaufort, ventured to deny. It is certain that, more than
three hundred and sixty years after the date ordinarily assigned
for the foundation of the city, the public records were, with
scarcely an exception, destroyed by the Gauls. It is certain that
the oldest annals of the commonwealth were compiled more than a
century and a half after this destruction of the records. It is
certain, therefore, that the great Latin writers of the Augustan
age did not possess those materials, without which a trustworthy
account of the infancy of the republic could not possibly be
framed. Those writers own, indeed, that the chronicles to which
they had access were filled with battles that were never fought,
and Consuls that were never inaugurated; and we have abundant
proof that, in these chronicles, events of the greatest
importance, such as the issue of the war with Porsena and the
issue of the war with Brennus, were grossly misrepresented. Under
these circumstances a wise man will look with great suspicion on
the legend which has come down to us. He will perhaps be inclined
to regard the princes who are said to have founded the civil and
religious institutions of Rome, the sons of Mars, and the husband
of Egeria, as mere mythological personages, of the same class
with Perseus and Ixion. As he draws nearer to the confines of
authentic history, he will become less and less hard of belief.
He will admit that the most important parts of the narrative have
some foundation in truth. But he will distrust almost all the
details, not only because they seldom rest on any solid evidence,
but also because he will constantly detect in them, even when
they are within the limits of physical possibility, that peculiar
character, more easily understood than defined, which
distinguishes the creations of the imagination from the realities
of the world in which we live.
The early history of Rome is indeed far more poetical than
anything else in Latin literature. The loves of the Vestal and
the God of War, the cradle laid among the reeds of Tiber, the
fig-tree, the she-wolf, the shepherd's cabin, the recognition,
the fratricide, the rape of the Sabines, the death of Tarpeia,
the fall of Hostus Hostilius, the struggle of Mettus Curtius
through the marsh, the women rushing with torn raiment and
dishevelled hair between their fathers and their husbands, the
nightly meetings of Numa and the Nymph by the well in the sacred
grove, the fight of the three Romans and the three Albans, the
purchase of the Sibylline books, the crime of Tullia, the
simulated madness of Brutus, the ambiguous reply of the Delphian
oracle to the Tarquins, the wrongs of Lucretia, the heroic
actions of Horatius Cocles, of Scaevola, and of Cloelia, the
battle of Regillus won by the aid of Castor and Pollux, the
defense of Cremera, the touching story of Coriolanus, the still
more touching story of Virginia, the wild legend about the
draining of the Alban lake, the combat between Valerius Corvus
and the gigantic Gaul, are among the many instances which will at
once suggest themselves to every reader.
In the narrative of Livy, who was a man of fine imagination,
these stories retain much of their genuine character. Nor could
even the tasteless Dionysius distort and mutilate them into mere
prose. The poetry shines, in spite of him, through the dreary
pedantry of his eleven books. It is discernible in the most
tedious and in the most superficial modern works on the early
times of Rome. It enlivens the dulness of the Universal History,
and gives a charm to the most meagre abridgements of Goldsmith.
Even in the age of Plutarch there were discerning men who
rejected the popular account of the foundation of Rome, because
that account appeared to them to have the air, not of a history,
but of a romance or a drama. Plutarch, who was displeased at
their incredulity, had nothing better to say in reply to their
arguments than that chance sometimes turns poet, and produces
trains of events not to be distinguished from the most elaborate
plots which are constructed by art. But though the existence of a
poetical element in the early history of the Great City was
detected so many ages ago, the first critic who distinctly saw
from what source that poetical element had been derived was James
Perizonius, one of the most acute and learned antiquaries of the
seventeenth century. His theory, which in his own days attracted
little or no notice, was revived in the present generation by
Niebuhr, a man who would have been the first writer of his time,
if his talent for communicating truths had borne any proportion
to his talent for investigating them. That theory has been
adopted by several eminent scholars of our own country,
particularly by the Bishop of St. David's, by Professor Malde,
and by the lamented Arnold. It appears to be now generally
received by men conversant with classical antiquity; and indeed
it rests on such strong proofs, both internal and external, that
it will not be easily subverted. A popular exposition of this
theory, and of the evidence by which it is supported, may not be
without interest even for readers who are unacquainted with the
The Latin literature which has come down to us is of later date
than the commencement of the Second Punic War, and consists
almost exclusively of works fashioned on Greek models. The Latin
metres, heroic, elegiac, lyric, and dramatic, are of Greek
origin. The best Latin epic poetry is the feeble echo of the
Iliad and Odyssey. The best Latin eclogues are imitations of
Theocritus. The plan of the most finished didactic poem in the
Latin tongue was taken from Hesiod. The Latin tragedies are bad
copies of the masterpieces of Sophocles and Euripides. The Latin
philosophy was borrowed, without alteration, from the Portico and
the Academy; and the great Latin orators constantly proposed to
themselves as patterns the speeches of Demosthenes and Lysias.
But there was an earlier Latin literature, a literature truly
Latin, which has wholly perished, which had, indeed almost wholly
perished long before those whom we are in the habit of regarding
as the greatest Latin writers were born. That literature abounded
with metrical romances, such as are found in every country where
there is much curiosity and intelligence, but little reading and
writing. All human beings, not utterly savage, long for some
information about past times, and are delighted by narratives
which present pictures to the eye of the mind. But it is only in
very enlightened communities that books are readily accessible.
Metrical composition, therefore, which, in a highly civilized
nation, is a mere luxury, is, in nations imperfectly civilized,
almost a necessary of life, and is valued less on account of the
pleasure which it gives to the ear, than on account of the help
which it gives to the memory. A man who can invent or embellish
an interesting story, and put it into a form which others may
easily retain in their recollection, will always be highly
esteemed by a people eager for amusement and information, but
destitute of libraries. Such is the origin of ballad-poetry, a
species of composition which scarcely ever fails to spring up and
flourish in every society, at a certain point in the progress
towards refinement. Tacitus informs us that songs were the only
memorials of the past which the ancient Germans possessed. We
learn from Lucan and from Ammianus Marcellinus that the brave
actions of the ancient Gauls were commemorated in the verses of
Bards. During many ages, and through many revolution, minstrelsy
retained its influence over both the Teutonic and the Celtic
race. The vengeance exacted by the spouse of Attila for the
murder of Siegfried was celebrated in rhymes, of which Germany is
still justly proud. The exploits of Athelstane were commemorated
by the Anglo-Saxons and those of Canute by the Danes, in rude
poems, of which a few fragments have come down to us. The chants
of the Welsh harpers preserved, through ages of darkness, a faint
and doubtful memory of Arthur. In the Highlands of Scotland may
still be gleaned some relics of the old songs about Cuthullin and
Fingal. The long struggle of the Servians against the Ottoman
power was recorded in lays full of martial spirit. We learn from
Herrera that, when a Peruvian Inca died, men of skill were
appointed to celebrate him in verses, which all the people
learned by heart, and sang in public on days of festival. The
feats of Kurroglou, the great freebooter of Turkistan, recounted
in ballads composed by himself, are known in every village of
northern Persia. Captain Beechey heard the bards of the Sandwich
Islands recite the heroic achievements of Tamehameha, the most
illustrious of their kings. Mungo Park found in the heart of
Africa a class of singing men, the only annalists of their rude
tribes, and heard them tell the story of the victory which Damel,
the negro prince of the Jaloffs, won over Abdulkader, the
Mussulman tyrant of Foota Torra. This species of poetry attained
a high degree of excellence among the Castilians, before they
began to copy Tuscan patterns. It attained a still higher degree
of excellence among the English and the Lowland Scotch, during
the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. But it
reached its full perfection in ancient Greece; for there can be
no doubt that the great Homeric poems are generically ballads,
though widely distinguished from all other ballads, and indeed
from almost all other human composition, by transcendent
sublimity and beauty.
As it is agreeable to general experience that, at a certain stage
in the progress of society, ballad-poetry should flourish, so is
it also agreeable to general experience that, at a subsequent
stage in the progress of society, ballad-poetry should be
undervalued and neglected. Knowledge advances; manners change;
great foreign models of composition are studied and imitated. The
phraseology of the old minstrels becomes obsolete. Their
versification, which, having received its laws only from the ear,
abounds in irregularities, seems licentious and uncouth. Their
simplicity appears beggarly when compared with the quaint forms
and gaudy coloring of such artists as Cowley and Gongora. The
ancient lays, unjustly despised by the learned and polite, linger
for a time in the memory of the vulgar, and are at length too
often irretrievably lost. We cannot wonder that the ballads of
Rome should have altogether disappeared, when we remember how
very narrowly, in spite of the invention of printing, those of
our own country and those of Spain escaped the same fate. There
is indeed little doubt that oblivion covers many English songs
equal to any that were published by Bishop Percy, and many
Spanish songs as good as the best of those which have been so
happily translated by Mr. Lockhart. Eighty years ago England
possessed only one tattered copy of Childe Waters and Sir
Cauline, and Spain only one tattered copy of the noble poem of
the Cid. The snuff of a candle, or a mischievous dog, might in a
moment have deprived the world forever of any of those fine
compositions. Sir Walter Scott, who united to the fire of a great
poet the minute curiosity and patient diligence of a great
antiquary, was but just in time to save the precious relics of
the Minstrelsy of the Border. In Germany, the lay of the
Nibelungs had been long utterly forgotten, when, in the
eighteenth century, it was, for the first time, printed from a
manuscript in the old library of a noble family. In truth, the
only people who, through their whole passage from simplicity to
the highest civilization, never for a moment ceased to love and
admire their old ballads, were the Greeks.
That the early Romans should have had ballad-poetry, and that
this poetry should have perished, is therefore not strange. It
would, on the contrary, have been strange if these things had not
come to pass; and we should be justified in pronouncing them
highly probable even if we had no direct evidence on the subject.
But we have direct evidence of unquestionable authority.
Ennius, who flourished in the time of the Second Punic War, was
regarded in the Augustan age as the father of Latin poetry. He
was, in truth, the father of the second school of Latin poetry,
the only school of which the works have descended to us. But from
Ennius himself we learn that there were poets who stood to him in
the same relation in which the author of the romance of Count
Alarcos stood to Garcilaso, or the author of the Lytell Geste of
Robyn Hode to Lord Surrey. Ennius speaks of verses which the
Fauns and the Bards were wont to chant in the old time, when none
had yet studied the graces of speech, when none had yet climbed
the peaks sacred to the Goddesses of Grecian song. ``Where,''
Cicero mournfully asks, ``are those old verses now?''
Contemporary with Ennius was Quintus Fabius Pactor, the earliest
of the Roman annalists. His account of the infancy and youth of
Romulus and Remus has been preserved by Dionysius, and contains a
very remarkable reference to the ancient Latin poetry. Fabius
says that, in his time, his countrymen were still in the habit of
singing ballads about the Twins. ``Even in the hut of
Faustulus,''--so these old lays appear to have run,--``the
children of Rhea and Mars were, in port and in spirit, not like
unto swineherds or cowherds, but such that men might well guess
them to be of the blood of kings and gods.''
Cato the Censor, who also lived in the days of he Second Punic
War, mentioned this lost literature in his lost work on the
antiquities of his country. Many ages, he said, before his time,
there were ballads in praise of illustrious men; and these
ballads it was the fashion for the guests at banquets to sing in
turn while the piper played. ``Would,'' exclaims Cicero, ``that
we still had the old ballads of which Cato speaks!''
Valerius Maximus gives us exactly similar information, without
mentioning his authority, and observes that the ancient Roman
ballads were probably of more benefit to the young than all the
lectures of the Athenian schools, and that to the influence of
the national poetry were to be ascribed the virtues of such men
as Camillus and Fabricus.
Varro, whose authority on all questions connected with the
antiquities of his country is entitled to the greatest respect,
tells us that at banquets it was once the fashion for boys to
sing, sometimes with and sometimes without instrumental music,
ancient ballads in praise of men of former times. These young
performers, he observes, were of unblemished character, a
circumstance which he probably mentioned because, among the
Greeks, and indeed, in his time among the Romans also, the morals
of singing boys were in no high repute.
The testimony of Horace, though given incidentally, confirms the
statements of Cato, Valerius Maximus, and Varro. The poet
predicts that, under the peaceful administration of Augustus, the
Romans will, over their full goblets, sing to the pipe, after the
fashion of their fathers, the deeds of brave captains, and the
ancient legends touching the origin of the city.
The proposition, then, that Rome had ballad-poetry is not merely
in itself highly probable, but is fully proved by direct evidence
of the greatest weight.
This proposition being established, it becomes easy to understand
why the early history of the city is unlike almost everything
else in Latin literature, native where almost everything else is
borrowed, imaginative where almost everything else is prosaic. We
can scarcely hesitate to pronounce that the magnificent,
pathetic, and truly national legends, which present so striking a
contrast to all that surrounds them, are broken and defaced
fragments of that early poetry which, even in the age of Cato the
Censor, had become antiquated, and of which Tully had never heard
That this poetry should have been suffered to perish will not
appear strange when we consider how complete was the triumph of
the Greek genius over the public mind of Italy. It is probable
that, at an early period, Homer and Herodotus furnished some
hints to the Latin Minstrels; but it was not till after the war
with Pyrrhus that the poetry of Rome began to put off its old
Ausonian character. The transformation was soon consummated. The
conquered, says Horace, led captive the conquerors. It was
precisely at the time at which the Roman people rose to
unrivalled political ascendency that they stooped to pass under
the intellectual yoke. It was precisely at the time at which the
sceptre departed from Greece that the empire of her language and
of her arts became universal and despotic. The revolution indeed
was not effected without a struggle. Naevius seems to have been
the last of the ancient line of poets. Ennius was the founder of
a new dynasty. Naevius celebrated the First Punic War in
Saturnian verse, the old national verse of Italy. Ennius sang the
Second Punic War in numbers borrowed from the Iliad. The elder
poet, in the epitaph which he wrote for himself, and which is a
fine specimen of the early Roman diction and versification,
plaintively boasted that the Latin language had died with him.
Thus what to Horace appeared to be the first faint dawn of Roman
literature appeared to Naevius to be its hopeless setting. In
truth, one literature was setting, and another dawning.
The victory of the foreign taste was decisive; and indeed we can
hardly blame the Romans for turning away with contempt from the
rude lays which had delighted their fathers, and giving their
whole admiration to the immortal productions of Greece. The
national romances, neglected by the great and the refined whose
education had been finished at Rhodes or Athens, continued, it
may be supposed, during some generations to delight the vulgar.
While Virgil, in hexameters of exquisite modulation, described
the sports of rustics, those rustics were still singing their
wild Saturnian ballads. It is not improbable that, at the time
when Cicero lamented the irreparable loss of the poems mentioned
by Cato, a search among the nooks of the Appenines, as active as
the search which Sir Walter Scott made among the descendents of
the mosstroopers of Liddesdale, might have brought to light many
fine remains of ancient minstrelsy. No such search was made. The
Latin ballads perished forever. Yet discerning critics have
thought that they could still perceive in the early history of
Rome numerous fragments of this lost poetry, as the traveller on
classic ground sometimes finds, built into the heavy wall of a
fort or convent, a pillar rich with acanthus leaves, or a frieze
where the Amazons and Bacchanals seem to live. The theatres and
temples of the Greek and the Roman were degraded into the
quarries of the Turk and the Goth. Even so did the ancient
Saturnian poetry become the quarry in which a crowd of orators
and annalists found the materials for their prose.
It is not difficult to trace the process by which the old songs
were transmuted into the form which they now wear. Funeral
panegyric and chronicle appear to have been the intermediate
links which connected the lost ballads with the histories now
extant. From a very early period it was the usage that an oration
should be pronounced over the remains of a noble Roman. The
orator, as we learn from Polybius, was expected, on such
occasions, to recapitulate all the services which the ancestors
of the deceased had, from the earliest time, rendered to the
commonwealth. There can be little doubt that the speaker on whom
this duty was imposed would make use of all the stories suited to
his purpose which were to be found in the popular lays. There can
be as little doubt that the family of an eminent man would
preserve a copy of the speech which had been pronounced over his
corpse. The compilers of the early chronicles would have recourse
to these speeches; and the great historians of a later period
would have recourse to the chronicles.
It may be worth while to select a particular story, and to trace
its probable progress through these stages. The description of
the migration of the Fabian house to Cremera is one of the finest
of the many fine passages which lie thick in the earlier books of
Livy. The Consul, clad in his military garb, stands in the
vestibule of his house, marshalling his clan, three hundred and
six fighting men, all of the same proud patrician blood, all
worthy to be attended by the fasces, and to command the legions.
A sad and anxious retinue of friends accompanies the adventurers
through the streets; but the voice of lamentation is drowned by
the shouts of admiring thousands. As the procession passes the
Capitol, prayers and vows are poured forth, but in vain. The
devoted band, leaving Janus on the right, marches to its doom,
through the Gate of Evil Luck. After achieving high deeds of
valor against overwhelming numbers, all perish save one child,
the stock from which the great Fabian race was destined again to
spring, for the safety and glory of the commonwealth. That this
fine romance, the details of which are so full of poetical truth,
and so utterly destitute of all show of historical truth, came
originally from some lay which had often been sung with great
applause at banquets is in the highest degree probable. Nor is it
difficult to imagine a mode in which the transmission might have
taken place. The celebrated Quintus Fabius Maximus, who died
about twenty years before the First Punic War, and more than
forty years before Ennius was born, is said to have been interred
with extraordinary pomp. In the eulogy pronounced over his body
all the great exploits of his ancestors were doubtless recounted
and exaggerated. If there were then extant songs which gave a
vivid and touching description of an event, the saddest and the
most glorious in the long history of the Fabian house, nothing
could be more natural than that the panegyrist should borrow from
such songs their finest touches, in order to adorn his speech. A
few generations later the songs would perhaps be forgotten, or
remembered only by shepherds and vinedressers. But the speech
would certainly be preserved in the archives of the Fabian
nobles. Fabius Pictor would be well acquainted with a document so
interesting to his personal feelings, and would insert large
extracts from it in his rude chronicle. That chronicle, as we
know, was the oldest to which Livy had access. Livy would at a
glance distinguish the bold strokes of the forgotten poet from
the dull and feeble narrative by which they were surrounded,
would retouch them with a delicate and powerful pencil, and would
make them immortal.
That this might happen at Rome can scarcely be doubted; for
something very like this has happened in several countries, and,
among others, in our own. Perhaps the theory of Perizonius cannot
be better illustrated than by showing that what he supposes to
have taken place in ancient times has, beyond all doubt, taken
place in modern times.
``History,'' says Hume with the utmost gravity, ``has preserved
some instances of Edgar's amours, from which, as from a specimen,
we may form a conjecture of the rest.'' He then tells very
agreeably the stories of Elfleda and Elfrida, two stories which
have a most suspicious air of romance, ad which, indeed, greatly
resemble, in their character, some of the legends of early Rome.
He cites, as his authority for these two tales, the chronicle of
William of Malmesbury, who lived in the time of King Stephen. The
great majority of readers suppose that the device by which
Elfleda was substituted for her young mistress, the artifice by
which Athelwold obtained the hand of Elfrida, the detection of
that artifice, the hunting party, and the vengeance of the
amorous king, are things about which there is no more doubt than
about the execution of Anne Boleyn, or the slitting of Sir John
Coventry's nose. But when we turn to William of Malmesbury, we
find that Hume, in his eagerness to relate these pleasant fables,
has overlooked one very important circumstance. William does
indeed tell both the stories; but he gives us distinct notice
that he does not warrant their truth, and that they rest on no
better authority than that of ballads.
Such is the way in which these two well-known tales have been
handed down. They originally appeared in a poetical form. They
found their way from ballads into an old chronicle. The ballads
perished; the chronicle remained. A great historian, some
centuries after the ballads had been altogether forgotten,
consulted the chronicle. He was struck by the lively coloring of
these ancient fictions: he transferred them to his pages; and
thus we find inserted, as unquestionable facts, in a narrative
which is likely to last as long as the English tongue, the
inventions of some minstrel whose works were probably never
committed to writing, whose name is buried in oblivion, and whose
dialect has become obsolete. It must, then, be admitted to be
possible, or rather highly probable, that the stories of Romulus
and Remus, and of the Horatii and Curiatti, may have had a
Castilian literature will furnish us with another parallel case.
Mariana, the classical historian of Spain, tells the story of the
ill-starred marriage which the King Don Alonso brought about
between the heirs of Carrion and the two daughters of the Cid.
The Cid bestowed a princely dower on the sons-in-law. But the
young men were base and proud, cowardly and cruel. They were
tried in danger, and found wanting. They fled before the Moors,
and once, when a lion broke out of his den, they ran and crouched
in an unseemly hiding-place. They knew that they were despised,
and took counsel how they might be avenged. They parted from
their father-in-law with many signs of love, and set forth on a
journey with Doña Elvira and Doña Sol. In a solitary place the
bridegrooms seized their brides, stripped them, scourged them,
and departed, leaving them for dead. But one of the House of
Bivar, suspecting foul play, had followed the travellers in
disguise. The ladies were brought back safe to the house of their
father. Complaint was made to the king. It was adjudged by the
Cortes that the dower given by the Cid should be returned, and
that the heirs of Carrion together with one of their kindred
should do battle against three knights of the party of the Cid.
The guilty youths would have declined the combat; but all their
shifts were in vain. They were vanquished in the lists, and
forever disgraced, while their injured wives were sought in
marriage by great princes.
Some Spanish writers have labored to show, by an examination of
dates and circumstances, that this story is untrue. Such
confutation was surely not needed; for the narrative is on the
face of it a romance. How it found its way into Mariana's history
is quite clear. He acknowledges his obligations to the ancient
chronicles; and had doubtless before him the Cronica del famoso
Cavallero Cid Ruy Diez Campeador, which had been printed as early
as the year 1552. He little suspected that all the most striking
passages in this chronicle were copied from a poem of the twelfth
century,--a poem of which the language and versification had long
been obsolete, but which glowed with no common portion of the
fire of the Iliad. Yet such is the fact. More than a century and
a half after the death of Mariana, this venerable ballad, of
which one imperfect copy on parchment, four hundred years old,
had been preserved at Bivar, was for the first time printed. Then
it was found that every interesting circumstance of the story of
the heirs of Carrion was derived by the eloquent Jesuit from a
song of which he had never heard, and which was composed by a
minstrel whose very name had been long forgotten.
Such, or nearly such, appears to have been the process by which
the lost ballad-poetry of Rome was transformed into history. To
reverse that process, to transform some portions of early Roman
history back into the poetry out of which they were made, is the
object of this work.
In the following poems the author speaks, not in his own person,
but in the persons of ancient minstrels who know only what Roman
citizen, born three or four hundred years before the Christian
era, may be supposed to have known, and who are in no wise above
the passions and prejudices of their age and nation. To these
imaginary poets must be ascribed some blunders which are so
obvious that is unnecessary to point them out. The real blunder
would have been to represent these old poets as deeply versed in
general history, and studious of chronological accuracy. To them
must also be attributed the illiberal sneers at the Greeks, the
furious party spirit, the contempt for the arts of peace, the
love of war for its own sake, the ungenerous exultation over the
vanquished, which the reader will sometimes observe. To portray a
Roman of the age of Camillus or Curius as superior to national
antipathies, as mourning over the devastation and slaughter by
which empire and triumphs were to be won, as looking on human
suffering with the sympathy of Howard, or as treating conquered
enemies with the delicacy of the Black Prince, would be to
violate all dramatic propriety. The old Romans had some great
virtues, fortitude, temperance, veracity, spirit to resist
oppression, respect for legitimate authority, fidelity in the
observing of contracts, disinterestedness, ardent patriotism; but
Christian charity and chivalrous generosity were alike unknown to
It would have been obviously improper to mimic the manner of any
particular age or country. Something has been borrowed, however,
from our own old ballads, and more from Sir Walter Scott, the
great restorer of our ballad-poetry. To the Iliad still greater
obligations are due; and those obligations have been contracted
with the less hesitation, because there is reason to believe that
some of the old Latin minstrels really had recourse to that
inexhaustible store of poetical images.
It would have been easy to swell this little volume to a very
considerable bulk, by appending notes filled with quotations; but
to a learned reader such notes are not necessary; for an
unlearned reader they would have little interest; and the
judgment passed both by the learned and by the unlearned on a
work of the imagination will always depend much more on the
general character and spirit of such a work than on minute
There can be little doubt that among those parts of early Roman
history which had a poetical origin was the legend of Horatius
Cocles. We have several versions of the story, and these versions
differ from each other in points of no small importance.
Polybius, there is reason to believe, heard the tale recited over
the remains of some Consul or Prætor descended from the old
Horatian patricians; for he introduces it as a specimen of the
narratives with which the Romans were in the habit of
embellishing their funeral oratory. It is remarkable that,
according to him, Horatius defended the bridge alone, and
perished in the waters. According to the chronicles which Livy
and Dionysius followed, Horatius had two companions, swam safe to
shore, and was loaded with honors and rewards.
These discrepancies are easily explained. Our own literature,
indeed, will furnish an exact parallel to what may have taken
place at Rome. It is highly probably that the memory of the war
of Porsena was preserved by compositions much resembling the two
ballads which stand first in the Relics of Ancient English
Poetry. In both those ballads the English, commanded by the
Percy, fight with the Scots, commanded by the Douglas. In one of
the ballads the Douglas is killed by a nameless English archer,
and the Percy by a Scottish spearman; in the other, the Percy
slays the Douglas in single combat, and is himself made prisoner.
In the former, Sir Hugh Montgomery is shot through the heart by a
Northumbrian bowman; in the latter he is taken and exchanged for
the Percy. Yet both the ballads relate to the same event, and
that event which probably took place within the memory of persons
who were alive when both the ballads were made. One of the
``Old men that knowen the grounde well yenoughe
Call it the battell of Otterburn:
At Otterburn began this spurne
Upon a monnyn day.
Ther was the dougghte Doglas slean:
The Perse never went away.''
The other poet sums up the event in the following lines:
``Thys fraye bygan at Otterborne
Bytwene the nyghte and the day:
Ther the Doglas lost hys lyfe,
And the Percy was lede away.''
It is by no means unlikely that there were two old Roman lays
about the defence of the bridge; and that, while the story which
Livy has transmitted to us was preferred by the multitude, the
other, which ascribed the whole glory to Horatius alone, may have
been the favorite with the Horatian house.
The following ballad is supposed to have been made about a
hundred and twenty years after the war which it celebrates, and
just before the taking of Rome by the Gauls. The author seems to
have been an honest citizen, proud of the military glory of his
country, sick of the disputes of factions, and much given to
pining after good old times which had never really existed. The
allusion, however, to the partial manner in which the public
lands were allotted could proceed only from a plebeian; and the
allusion to the fraudulent sale of spoils marks the date of the
poem, and shows that the poet shared in the general discontent
with which the proceedings of Camullus, after the taking of Veii,
The penultimate syllable of the name Porsena has been shortened
in spite of the authority of Niebuhr, who pronounces, without
assigning any ground for his opinion, that Martial was guilty of
a decided blunder in the line,
``Hanc spectare manum Porsena non potuit.''
It is not easy to understand how any modern scholar, whatever his
attainments may be,--and those of Niebuhr were undoubtedly
immense,--can venture to pronounce that Martial did not know the
quantity of a word which he must have uttered, and heard uttered,
a hundred times before he left school. Niebuhr seems also to have
forgotten that Martial has fellow culprits to keep him in
countenance. Horace has committed the same decided blunder; for
he give us, as a pure iambic line,--
``Minacis aut Etrusca Porsenæ dextram;''
Silius Italicus has repeatedly offended in the same way, as when
he ways,-- ``Clusinum vulgus, cum, Porsena magne, jubebas.'' A
modern writer may be content to err in such company.
Niebuhr's supposition that each of the three defenders of the
bridge was the representative of one of the three patrician
tribes is both ingenious and probable, and has been adopted in
the following poem.
A Lay Made About the Year Of The City CCCLX
Lars Porsena of Closium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it,
And named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and west and south and north,
To summon his array.
East and west and south and north
The messengers ride fast,
And tower and town and cottage
Have heard the trumpet's blast.
Shame on the false Etruscan
Who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium
Is on the march for Rome.
The horsemen and the footmen
Are pouring in amain
From many a stately market-place,
From many a fruitful plain,
From many a lonely hamlet,
Which, hid by beech and pine,
Like an eagle's nest, hangs on the crest
Of purple Apennine;
From lordly Volaterræ,
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For godlike kings of old;
From seagirt Populonia,
Whose sentinels descry
Sardinia's snowy mountain-tops
Fringing the southern sky;
From the proud mart of Pisæ,
Queen of the western waves,
Where ride Massilia's triremes
Heavy with fair-haired slaves;
From where sweet Clanis wanders
Through corn and vines and flowers;
From where Cortona lifts to heaven
Her diadem of towers.
Tall are the oaks whose acorns
Drop in dark Auser's rill;
Fat are the stags that champ the boughs
Of the Ciminian hill;
Beyond all streams Clitumnus
Is to the herdsman dear;
Best of all pools the fowler loves
The great Volsinian mere.
But now no stroke of woodman
Is heard by Auser's rill;
No hunter tracks the stag's green path
Up the Ciminian hill;
Unwatched along Clitumnus
Grazes the milk-white steer;
Unharmed the water fowl may dip
In the Volsminian mere.
The harvests of Arretium,
This year, old men shall reap;
This year, young boys in Umbro
Shall plunge the struggling sheep;
And in the vats of Luna,
This year, the must shall foam
Round the white feet of laughing girls
Whose sires have marched to Rome.
There be thirty chosen prophets,
The wisest of the land,
Who alway by Lars Porsena
Both morn and evening stand:
Evening and morn the Thirty
Have turned the verses o'er,
Traced from the right on linen white
By mighty seers of yore.
And with one voice the Thirty
Have their glad answer given:
``Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena;
Go forth, beloved of Heaven;
Go, and return in glory
To Clusium's royal dome;
And hang round Nurscia's altars
The golden shields of Rome.''
And now hath every city
Sent up her tale of men;
The foot are fourscore thousand,
The horse are thousands ten.
Before the gates of Sutrium
Is met the great array.
A proud man was Lars Porsena
Upon the trysting day.
For all the Etruscan armies
Were ranged beneath his eye,
And many a banished Roman,
And many a stout ally;
And with a mighty following
To join the muster came
The Tusculan Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name.
But by the yellow Tiber
Was tumult and affright:
From all the spacious champaign
To Rome men took their flight.
A mile around the city,
The throng stopped up the ways;
A fearful sight it was to see
Through two long nights and days.
For aged folks on crutches,
And women great with child,
And mothers sobbing over babes
That clung to them and smiled,
And sick men borne in litters
High on the necks of slaves,
And troops of sun-burned husbandmen
With reaping-hooks and staves,
And droves of mules and asses
Laden with skins of wine,
And endless flocks of goats and sheep,
And endless herds of kine,
And endless trains of wagons
That creaked beneath the weight
Of corn-sacks and of household goods,
Choked every roaring gate.
Now, from the rock Tarpeian,
Could the wan burghers spy
The line of blazing villages
Red in the midnight sky.
The Fathers of the City,
They sat all night and day,
For every hour some horseman come
With tidings of dismay.
To eastward and to westward
Have spread the Tuscan bands;
Nor house, nor fence, nor dovecote
In Crustumerium stands.
Verbenna down to Ostia
Hath wasted all the plain;
Astur hath stormed Janiculum,
And the stout guards are slain.
I wis, in all the Senate,
There was no heart so bold,
But sore it ached, and fast it beat,
When that ill news was told.
Forthwith up rose the Consul,
Up rose the Fathers all;
In haste they girded up their gowns,
And hied them to the wall.
They held a council standing,
Before the River-Gate;
Short time was there, ye well may guess,
For musing or debate.
Out spake the Consul roundly:
``The bridge must straight go down;
For, since Janiculum is lost,
Nought else can save the town.''
Just then a scout came flying,
All wild with haste and fear:
``To arms! to arms! Sir Consul:
Lars Porsena is here.''
On the low hills to westward
The Consol fixed his eye,
And saw the swarthy storm of dust
Rise fast along the sky.
And nearer fast and nearer
Doth the red whirlwind come;
And louder still and still more loud,
From underneath that rolling cloud,
Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud,
The trampling, and the hum.
And plainly and more plainly
Now through the gloom appears,
Far to left and far to right,
In broken gleams of dark-blue light,
The long array of helmets bright,
The long array of spears.
And plainly and more plainly,
Above that glimmering line,
Now might ye see the banners
Of twelve fair cities shine;
But the banner of proud Clusium
Was highest of them all,
The terror of the Umbrian,
The terror of the Gaul.
And plainly and more plainly
Now might the burghers know,
By port and vest, by horse and crest,
Each warlike Lucumo.
There Cilnius of Arretium
On his fleet roan was seen;
And Astur of the four-fold shield,
Girt with the brand none else may wield,
Tolumnius with the belt of gold,
And dark Verbenna from the hold
By reedy Thrasymene.
Fast by the royal standard,
O'erlooking all the war,
Lars Porsena of Clusium
Sat in his ivory car.
By the right wheel rode Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name;
And by the left false Sextus,
That wrought the deed of shame.
But when the face of Sextus
Was seen among the foes,
A yell that rent the firmament
From all the town arose.
On the house-tops was no woman
But spat towards him and hissed,
No child but screamed out curses,
And shook its little fist.
But the Consul's brow was sad,
And the Consul's speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall,
And darkly at the foe.
``Their van will be upon us
Before the bridge goes down;
And if they once may win the bridge,
What hope to save the town?''
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
``To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods,
``And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?
``Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?''
Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
A Ramnian proud was he:
``Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
And keep the bridge with thee.''
And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
``I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee.''
``Horatius,'' quoth the Consul,
``As thou sayest, so let it be.''
And straight against that great array
Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome's quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
In the brave days of old.
Then none was for a party;
Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;
Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.
Now Roman is to Roman
More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high,
And the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction,
In battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought
In the brave days of old.
Now while the Three were tightening
Their harness on their backs,
The Consul was the foremost man
To take in hand an axe:
And Fathers mixed with Commons
Seized hatchet, bar, and crow,
And smote upon the planks above,
And loosed the props below.
Meanwhile the Tuscan army,
Right glorious to behold,
Come flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright
Of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded
A peal of warlike glee,
As that great host, with measured tread,
And spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge's head,
Where stood the dauntless Three.
The Three stood calm and silent,
And looked upon the foes,
And a great shout of laughter
From all the vanguard rose:
And forth three chiefs came spurring
Before that deep array;
To earth they sprang, their swords they drew,
And lifted high their shields, and flew
To win the narrrow way;
Aunus from green Tifernum,
Lord of the Hill of Vines;
And Seius, whose eight hundred slaves
Sicken in Ilva's mines;
And Picus, long to Clusium
Vassal in peace and war,
Who led to fight his Umbrian powers
From that gray crag where, girt with towers,
The fortress of Nequinum lowers
O'er the pale waves of Nar.
Stout Lartius hurled down Aunus
Into the stream beneath;
Herminius struck at Seius,
And clove him to the teeth;
At Picus brave Horatius
Darted one fiery thrust;
And the proud Umbrian's gilded arms
Clashed in the bloody dust.
Then Ocnus of Falerii
Rushed on the Roman Three;
And Lausulus of Urgo,
The rover of the sea;
And Aruns of Volsinium,
Who slew the great wild boar,
The great wild boar that had his den
Amidst the reeds of Cosa's fen,
And wasted fields, and slaughtered men,
Along Albinia's shore.
Herminius smote down Aruns:
Lartius laid Ocnus low:
Right to the heart of Lausulus
Horatius sent a blow.
``Lie there,'' he cried, ``fell pirate!
No more, aghast and pale,
From Ostia's walls the crowd shall mark
The track of thy destroying bark.
No more Campania's hinds shall fly
To woods and caverns when they spy
Thy thrice accursed sail.''
But now no sound of laughter
Was heard among the foes.
A wild and wrathful clamor
From all the vanguard rose.
Six spears' lengths from the entrance
Halted that deep array,
And for a space no man came forth
To win the narrow way.
But hark! the cry is Astur:
And lo! the ranks divide;
And the great Lord of Luna
Comes with his stately stride.
Upon his ample shoulders
Clangs loud the four-fold shield,
And in his hand he shakes the brand
Which none but he can wield.
He smiled on those bold Romans
A smile serene and high;
He eyed the flinching Tuscans,
And scorn was in his eye.
Quoth he, ``The she-wolf's litter
Stand savagely at bay:
But will ye dare to follow,
If Astur clears the way?''
Then, whirling up his broadsword
With both hands to the height,
He rushed against Horatius,
And smote with all his might.
With shield and blade Horatius
Right deftly turned the blow.
The blow, though turned, came yet too nigh;
It missed his helm, but gashed his thigh:
The Tuscans raised a joyful cry
To see the red blood flow.
He reeled, and on Herminius
He leaned one breathing-space;
Then, like a wild cat mad with wounds,
Sprang right at Astur's face.
Through teeth, and skull, and helmet
So fierce a thrust he sped,
The good sword stood a hand-breadth out
Behind the Tuscan's head.
And the great Lord of Luna
Fell at that deadly stroke,
As falls on Mount Alvernus
A thunder smitten oak:
Far o'er the crashing forest
The giant arms lie spread;
And the pale augurs, muttering low,
Gaze on the blasted head.
On Astur's throat Horatius
Right firmly pressed his heel,
And thrice and four times tugged amain,
Ere he wrenched out the steel.
``And see,'' he cried, ``the welcome,
Fair guests, that waits you here!
What noble Lucomo comes next
To taste our Roman cheer?''
But at his haughty challange
A sullen murmur ran,
Mingled of wrath, and shame, and dread,
Along that glittering van.
There lacked not men of prowess,
Nor men of lordly race;
For all Etruria's noblest
Were round the fatal place.
But all Etruria's noblest
Felt their hearts sink to see
On the earth the bloody corpses,
In the path the dauntless Three:
And, from the ghastly entrance
Where those bold Romans stood,
All shrank, like boys who unaware,
Ranging the woods to start a hare,
Come to the mouth of the dark lair
Where, growling low, a fierce old bear
Lies amidst bones and blood.
Was none who would be foremost
To lead such dire attack;
But those behind cried, ``Forward!''
And those before cried, ``Back!''
And backward now and forward
Wavers the deep array;
And on the tossing sea of steel
To and frow the standards reel;
And the victorious trumpet-peal
Dies fitfully away.
Yet one man for one moment
Strode out before the crowd;
Well known was he to all the Three,
And they gave him greeting loud.
``Now welcome, welcome, Sextus!
Now welcome to thy home!
Why dost thou stay, and turn away?
Here lies the road to Rome.''
Thrice looked he at the city;
Thrice looked he at the dead;
And thrice came on in fury,
And thrice turned back in dread:
And, white with fear and hatred,
Scowled at the narrow way
Where, wallowing in a pool of blood,
The bravest Tuscans lay.
But meanwhile axe and lever
Have manfully been plied;
And now the bridge hangs tottering
Above the boiling tide.
``Come back, come back, Horatius!''
Loud cried the Fathers all.
``Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!
Back, ere the ruin fall!''
Back darted Spurius Lartius;
Herminius darted back:
And, as they passed, beneath their feet
They felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces,
And on the farther shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone,
They would have crossed once more.
But with a crash like thunder
Fell every loosened beam,
And, like a dam, the mighty wreck
Lay right athwart the stream:
And a long shout of triumph
Rose from the walls of Rome,
As to the highest turret-tops
Was splashed the yellow foam.
And, like a horse unbroken
When first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard,
And tossed his tawny mane,
And burst the curb and bounded,
Rejoicing to be free,
And whirling down, in fierce career,
Battlement, and plank, and pier,
Rushed headlong to the sea.
Alone stood brave Horatius,
But constant still in mind;
Thrice thirty thousand foes before,
And the broad flood behind.
``Down with him!'' cried false Sextus,
With a smile on his pale face.
``Now yield thee,'' cried Lars Porsena,
``Now yield thee to our grace.''
Round turned he, as not deigning
Those craven ranks to see;
Nought spake he to Lars Porsena,
To Sextus nought spake he;
But he saw on Palatinus
The white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the towers of Rome.
``Oh, Tiber! Father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
Take thou in charge this day!''
So he spake, and speaking sheathed
The good sword by his side,
And with his harness on his back,
Plunged headlong in the tide.
No sound of joy or sorrow
Was heard from either bank;
But friends and foes in dumb surprise,
With parted lips and straining eyes,
Stood gazing where he sank;
And when above the surges,
They saw his crest appear,
All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,
And even the ranks of Tuscany
Could scarce forbear to cheer.
But fiercely ran the current,
Swollen high by months of rain:
And fast his blood was flowing;
And he was sore in pain,
And heavy with his armor,
And spent with changing blows:
And oft they thought him sinking,
But still again he rose.
Never, I ween, did swimmer,
In such an evil case,
Struggle through such a raging flood
Safe to the landing place:
But his limbs were borne up bravely
By the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber
Bare bravely up his chin.
``Curse on him!'' quoth false Sextus;
``Will not the villain drown?
But for this stay, ere close of day
We should have sacked the town!''
``Heaven help him!'' quoth Lars Porsena
``And bring him safe to shore;
For such a gallant feat of arms
Was never seen before.''
And now he feels the bottom;
Now on dry earth he stands;
Now round him throng the Fathers;
To press his gory hands;
And now, with shouts and clapping,
And noise of weeping loud,
He enters through the River-Gate
Borne by the joyous crowd.
They gave him of the corn-land,
That was of public right,
As much as two strong oxen
Could plough from morn till night;
And they made a molten image,
And set it up on high,
And there is stands unto this day
To witness if I lie.
It stands in the Comitium
Plain for all folk to see;
Horatius in his harness,
Halting upon one knee:
And underneath is written,
In letters all of gold,
How valiantly he kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.
And still his name sounds stirring
Unto the men of Rome,
As the trumpet-blast that cries to them
To charge the Volscian home;
And wives still pray to Juno
For boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well
In the brave days of old.
And in the nights of winter,
When the cold north winds blow,
And the long howling of the wolves
Is heard amidst the snow;
When round the lonely cottage
Roars loud the tempest's din,
And the good logs of Algidus
Roar louder yet within;
When the oldest cask is opened,
And the largest lamp is lit;
When the chestnuts glow in the embers,
And the kid turns on the spit;
When young and old in circle
Around the firebrands close;
When the girls are weaving baskets,
And the lads are shaping bows;
When the goodman mends his armor,
And trims his helmet's plume;
When the goodwife's shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.
The Battle of the Lake Regillus
The following poem is supposed to have been produced about ninety
years after the lay of Horatius. Some persons mentioned in the
lay of Horatius make their appearance again, and some
appellations and epithets used in the lay of Horatius have been
purposely repeated: for, in an age of ballad-poetry, it scarcely
ever fails to happen, that certain phrases come to be
appropriated to certain men and things, and are regularly applied
to those men and things by every minstrel. Thus we find, both in
the Homeric poems and in Hesiod, [several examples of common
phrases, in Greek]. Thus, too, in our own national songs, Douglas
is almost always the doughty Douglas; England is merry England;
all the gold is red; and all the ladies are gay.
The principal distinction between the lay of Horatius and the lay
of the Lake Regillus is that the former is meant to be purely
Roman, while the latter, though national in its general spirit,
has a slight tincture of Greek learning and of Greek
superstition. The story of the Tarquins, as it has come down to
us, appears to have been compiled from the works of several
popular poets; and one, at least, of those poets appears to have
visited the Greek colonies in Italy, if not Greece itself, and to
have had some acquaintance with the works of Homer and Herodotus.
Many of the most striking adventures of the House of Tarquin,
before Lucretia makes her appearance, have a Greek character. The
Tarquins themselves are represented as Corinthian nobles of the
great House of the Bacchiadæ, driven from their country by the
tyranny of that Cypselus, the tale of whose strange escape
Herodotus has related with incomparable simplicity and
liveliness. Livy and Dionysius tell us that, when Tarquin the
Proud was asked what was the best mode of governing a conquered
city, he replied only by beating down with his staff all the
tallest poppies in his garden. This is exactly what Herodotus, in
the passage to which reference has already been made, relates of
the counsel given to Periander, the son of Cypselus. The
stratagem by which the town of Gabii is brought under the power
of the Tarquins is, again, obviously copied from Herodotus. The
embassy of the young Tarquins to the oracle at Delphi is just
such a story as would be told by a poet whose head was full of
the Greek mythology; and the ambiguous answer returned by Apollo
is in the exact style of the prophecies which, according to
Herodotus, lured Croesus to destruction. Then the character of
the narrative changes. From the first mention of Lucretia to the
retreat of Porsena nothing seems to be borrowed from foreign
sources. The villainy of Sextus, the suicide of his victim, the
revolution, the death of the sons of Brutus, the defence of the
bridge, Musius burning his hand, Cloelia swimming through Tiber,
seem to be all strictly Roman. But when we have done with the
Tuscan wars, and enter upon the war with the Latines, we are
again struck by the Greek air of the story. The Battle of the
Lake Regillus is in all respects a Homeric battle, except that
the combatants ride astride on their horses, instead of driving
chariots. The mass of fighting men is hardly mentioned. The
leaders single each other out, and engage hand to hand. The great
object of the warriors on both sides is, as in the Iliad, to
obtain possession of the spoils and bodies of the slain; and
several circumstances are related which forcibly remind us of the
great slaughter round the corpses of Sarpedon and Patroclus.
But there is one circumstance which deserves especial notice.
Both the war of Troy and the war of Regillus were caused by the
licentious passions of young princes, who were therefore
peculiarly bound not to be sparing of their own persons on the
day of battle. Now the conduct of Sextus at Regillus, as
described by Livy, so exactly resembles that of Paris, as
described at the beginning of the third book of the Iliad, that
it is difficult to believe the resemblance accidental. Paris
appears before the Trojan ranks, defying the bravest Greek to
3 lines from the Iliad, in Greek, probably those
translated by Pope as:
... to the van, before the sons of fame
Whom Troy sent forth, the beauteous Paris came:
Livy introduces Sextus in a similar manner: ``Ferocem juvenem
Tarquinium, ostentantem se in prima exsulum acie.'' Menelaus
rushes to meet Paris. A Roman noble, eager for vengeance, spurs
his horse towards Sextus. Both the guilty princes are instantly
3 more lines in Greek, Pope's translation being:
...[Menelaus] approaching near,
The beauteous champion views with marks of fear,
Smit with a conscious sense, retires behind,
And shuns the fate he well deserv'd to find.
``Tarquinius,'' says Livy, ``retro in agmen suorum infenso cessit
hosti.'' If this be a fortuitous coincidence, it is also one of
the most extraordinary in literature.
In the following poem, therefore, images and incidents have been
borrowed, not merely without scruple, but on principle, from the
incomparable battle-pieces of Homer.
The popular belief at Rome, from an early period, seems to have
been that the event of the great day of Regillus was decided by
supernatural agency. Castor and Pollux, it was said, had fought
armed and mounted, at the head of the legions of the
commonwealth, and had afterwards carried the news of the victory
with incredible speed to the city. The well in the Forum at which
they had alighted was pointed out. Near the well rose their
ancient temple. A great festival was kept to their honor on the
Ides of Quintilis, supposed to be the anniversary of the battle;
and on that day sumptuous sacrifices were offered to them at the
public charge. One spot on the margin of Lake Regillus was
regarded during many ages with superstitious awe. A mark,
resembling in shape a horse's hoof, was discernible in the
volcanic rock; and this mark was believed to have been made by
one of the celestial chargers.
How the legend originated cannot now be ascertained; but we may
easily imagine several ways in which it might have originated;
nor is it at all necessary to suppose, with Julius Frontinus,
that two young men were dressed up by the Dictator to personate
the sons of Leda. It is probable that Livy is correct when he
says that the Roman general, in the hour of peril, vowed a temple
to Castor. If so, nothing could be more natural than that the
multitude should ascribe the victory to the favor of the Twin
Gods. When such was the prevailing sentiment, any man who chose
to declare that, in the midst of the confusion and slaughter, he
had seen two godlike forms on white horses scattering the
Latines, would find ready credence. We know, indeed, that in
modern times a very similar story actually found credence among a
people much more civilized than the Romans of the fifth century
before Christ. A chaplain of Cortes, writing about thirty years
after the conquest of Mexico, in an age of printing presses,
libraries, universities, scholars, logicians, jurists, and
statesmen, had the face to assert that, in one engagement against
the Indians, St. James had appeared on a gray horse at the head
of the Castilian adventurers. Many of those adventurers were
living when this lie was printed. One of them, honest Bernal
Diaz, wrote an account of the expedition. He had the evidence of
his own senses against the legend; but he seems to have
distrusted even the evidence of his own senses. He says that he
was in the battle, and that he saw a gray horse with a man on his
back, but that the man was, to his thinking, Francesco de Morla,
and not the ever-blessed apostle St. James. ``Nevertheless,''
Bernal adds, ``it may be that the person on the gray horse was
the glorious apostle St. James, and that I, sinner that I am, was
unworthy to see him.'' The Romans of the age of Cincinatus were
probably quite as credulous as the Spanish subjects of Charles
the Fifth. It is therefore conceivable that the appearance of
Castor and Pollux may be become an article of faith before the
generation which had fought at Regillus had passed away. Nor
could anything be more natural than that the poets of the next
age should embellish this story, and make the celestial horsemen
bear the tidings of victory to Rome.
Many years after the temple of the Twin Gods had been built in
the Forum, an important addition was made to the ceremonial by
which the state annually testified its gratitude for their
protection. Quintus Fabius and Publius Decius were elected
Censors at a momentous crisis. It had become absolutely necessary
that the classification of the citizens should be revised. On
that classification depended the distribution of political power.
Party spirit ran high; and the republic seemed to be in danger of
falling under the dominion either of a narrow oligarchy or of an
ignorant and headstrong rabble. Under such circumstances, the
most illustrious patrician and the most illustrious plebeian of
the age were entrusted with the office of arbitrating between the
angry factions; and they performed their arduous task to the
satisfaction of all honest and reasonable men.
One of their reforms was the remodelling of the equestrian order;
and, having effected this reform, they determined to give to
their work a sanction derived from religion. In the chivalrous
societies of modern times,--societies which have much more than
may at first sight appear in common with with the equestrian
order of Rome,--it has been usual to invoke the special
protection of some Saint, and to observe his day with peculiar
solemnity. Thus the Companions of the Garter wear the image of
St. George depending from their collars, and meet, on great
occasions, in St. George's Chapel. Thus, when Louis the
Fourteenth instituted a new order of chivalry for the rewarding
of military merit, he commended it to the favor of his own
glorified ancestor and patron, and decreed that all the members
of the fraternity should meet at the royal palace on the feast of
St. Louis, should attend the king to chapel, should hear mass,
and should subsequently hold their great annual assembley. There
is a considerable resemblance between this rule of the order of
St. Louis and the rule which Fabius and Decius made respecting
the Roman knights. It was ordained that a grand muster and
inspection of the equestrian body should be part of the
ceremonial performed, on the anniversary of the battle of
Regillus, in honor of Castor and Pollux, the two equestrian gods.
All the knights, clad in purple and crowned with olive, were to
meet at a temple of Mars in the suburbs. Thence they were to ride
in state to the Forum, where the temple of the Twins stood. This
pageant was, during several centuries, considered as one of the
most splendid sights of Rome. In the time of Dionysius the
cavalcade sometimes consisted of five thousand horsemen, all
persons of fair repute and easy fortune.
There can be no doubt that the Censors who instituted this august
ceremony acted in concert with the Pontiffs to whom, by the
constitution of Rome, the superintendence of the public worship
belonged; and it is probable that those high religious
functionaries were, as usual, fortunate enough to find in their
books or traditions some warrant for the innovation.
The following poem is supposed to have been made for this great
occasion. Songs, we know, were chanted at religious festivals of
Rome from an early period, indeed from so early a period that
some of the sacred verses were popularly ascribed to Numa, and
were utterly unintelligible in the age of Augustus. In the Second
Punic War a great feast was held in honor of Juno, and a song was
sung in her praise. This song was extant when Livy wrote; and,
though exceedingly rugged and uncouth, seemed to him not wholly
destitute of merit. A song, as we learn from Horace, was part of
the established ritual at the great Secular Jubilee. It is
therefore likely that the Censors and Pontiffs, when they had
resolved to add a grand procession of knights to the other
solemnities annually performed on the Ides of Quintilis, would
call in the aid of a poet. Such a poet would naturally take for
his subject the battle of Regillus, the appearance of the Twin
Gods, and the institution of their festival. He would find
abundant materials in the ballads of his predecessors; and he
would make free use of the scanty stock of Greek learning which
he had himself acquired. He would probably introduce some wise
and holy Pontiff enjoining the magnificent ceremonial which,
after a long interval, had at length been adopted. If the poem
succeeded, many persons would commit it to memory. Parts of it
would be sung to the pipe at banquets. It would be peculiarly
interesting to the great Posthumian House, which numbered among
its many images that of the Dictator Aulus, the hero of Regillus.
The orator who, in the following generation, pronounced the
funeral panegyric over the remains of Lucius Posthumius Megellus,
thrice Consul, would borrow largely from the lay; and thus some
passages, much disfigured, would probably find their way into the
chronicles which were afterwards in the hands of Dionysius and
Antiquaries differ widely as to the situation of the field of
battle. The opinion of those who suppose that the armies met near
Cornufelle, between Frascati and the Monte Porzio, is at least
plausible, and has been followed in the poem.
As to the details of the battle, it has not been thought
desirable to adhere minutely to the accounts which have come down
to us. Those accounts, indeed, differ widely from each other,
and, in all probability, differ as widely from the ancient poem
from which they were originally derived.
It is unnecessary to point out the obvious imitations of the
Iliad, which have been purposely introduced.
The Battle of the Lake Regillus
A Lay Sung at the Feast of Castor and Pollux on the Ides of
Quintilis in the year of the City CCCCLI
Ho, trumpets, sound a war-note!
Ho, lictors, clear the way!
The Knights will ride, in all their pride,
Along the streets to-day.
To-day the doors and windows
Are hung with garlands all,
From Castor in the Forum,
To Mars without the wall.
Each Knight is robed in purple,
With olive each is crowned;
A gallant war-horse under each
Paws haughtily the ground.
While flows the Yellow River,
While stands the Sacred Hill,
The proud Ides of Quintilis
Shall have such honor still.
Gay are the Martian Kalends,
December's Nones are gay,
But the proud Ides, when the squadron rides,
Shall be Rome's whitest day.
Unto the Great Twin Brethren
We keep this solemn feast.
Swift, swift, the Great Twin Brethren
Came spurring from the east.
They came o'er wild Parthenius
Tossing in waves of pine,
O'er Cirrha's dome, o'er Adria's foam,
O'er purple Apennine,
From where with flutes and dances
Their ancient mansion rings,
In lordly Lacedæmon,
The City of two kings,
To where, by Lake Regillus,
Under the Porcian height,
All in the lands of Tusculum,
Was fought the glorious fight.
Now on the place of slaughter
Are cots and sheepfolds seen,
And rows of vines, and fields of wheat,
And apple-orchards green;
The swine crush the big acorns
That fall from Corne's oaks.
Upon the turf by the Fair Fount
The reaper's pottage smokes.
The fisher baits his angle;
The hunter twangs his bow;
Little they think on those strong limbs
That moulder deep below.
Little they think how sternly
That day the trumpets pealed;
How in the slippery swamp of blood
Warrior and war-horse reeled;
How wolves came with fierce gallops,
And crows on eager wings,
To tear the flesh of captains,
And peck the eyes of kings;
How thick the dead lay scattered
Under the Porcian height;
How through the gates of Tusculum
Raved the wild stream of flight;
And how the Lake Regillus
Bubbled with crimson foam,
What time the Thirty Cities
Came forth to war with Rome.
But Roman, when thou standest
Upon that holy ground,
Look thou with heed on the dark rock
That girds the dark lake round.
So shalt thou see a hoof-mark
Stamped deep into the flint:
It was not hoof of mortal steed
That made so strange a dint:
There to the Great Twin Brethren
Vow thou thy vows, and pray
That they, in tempest and in flight,
Will keep thy head alway.
Since last the Great Twin Brethren
Of mortal eyes were seen,
Have years gone by an hundred
And fourscore and thirteen.
That summer a Virginius
Was Consul first in place;
The second was stout Aulus,
Of the Posthumian race.
The Herald of the Latines
From Gabii came in state:
The Herald of the Latines
Passed through Rome's Eastern Gate:
The Herald of the Latines
Did in our Forum stand;
And there he did his office,
A sceptre in his hand.
``Hear, Senators and people
Of the good town of Rome,
The Thirty Cities charge you
To bring the Tarquins home:
And if ye still be stubborn
To work the Tarquins wrong,
The Thirty Cities warn you,
Look your walls be strong.''
Then spake the Consul Aulus,
He spake a bitter jest:
``Once the jays sent a message
Unto the eagle's nest:--
Now yield thou up thine eyrie
Unto the carrion-kite,
Or come forth valiantly, and face
The jays in deadly fight.--
Forth looked in wrath the eagle;
And carrion-kite and jay,
Soon as they saw his beak and claw,
Fled screaming far away.''
The Herald of the Latines
Hath hied him back in state:
The Fathers of the City
Are met in high debate.
Then spake the elder Consul,
And ancient man and wise:
``Now harken, Conscript Fathers,
To that which I advise.
In seasons of great peril
'Tis good that one bear sway;
Then choose we a Dictator,
Whom all men shall obey.
Camerium knows how deeply
The sword of Aulus bites,
And all our city calls him
The man of seventy fights.
Then let him be Dictator
For six months and no more,
And have a Master of the Knights,
And axes twenty-four.''
So Aulus was Dictator,
The man of seventy fights;
He made Æbutius Elva
His Master of the Knights.
On the third morn thereafter,
At downing of the day,
Did Aulus and Æbutius
Set forth with their array.
Was left in charge at home
With boys, and with gray-headed men,
To keep the walls of Rome.
Hard by the Lake Regillus
Our camp was pitched at night:
Eastward a mile the Latines lay,
Under the Porcian height.
Far over hill and valley
Their mighty host was spread;
And with their thousand watch-fires
The midnight sky was red.
Up rose the golden morning
Over the Porcian height,
The proud Ides of Quintilis
Marked evermore in white.
Not without secret trouble
Our bravest saw the foe;
For girt by threescore thousand spears,
The thirty standards rose.
From every warlike city
That boasts the Latian name,
Fordoomed to dogs and vultures,
That gallant army came;
From Setia's purple vineyards,
From Norba's ancient wall,
From the white streets of Tusculum,
The proudust town of all;
From where the Witch's Fortress
O'er hangs the dark-blue seas;
From the still glassy lake that sleeps
Beneath Aricia's trees--
Those trees in whose dim shadow
The ghastly priest doth reign,
The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain;
From the drear banks of Ufens,
Where flights of marsh-fowl play,
And buffaloes lie wallowing
Through the hot summer's day;
From the gigantic watch-towers,
No work of earthly men,
Whence Cora's sentinels o'erlook
The never-ending fen;
From the Laurentian jungle,
The wild hog's reedy home;
From the green steeps whence Anio leaps
In floods of snow-white foam.
Aricia, Cora, Norba,
Velitræ, with the might
Of Setia and of Tusculum,
Were marshalled on the right:
The leader was Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name;
Upon his head a helmet
Of red gold shone like flame:
High on a gallant charger
Of dark-gray hue he rode;
Over his gilded armor
A vest of purple flowed,
Woven in the land of sunrise
By Syria's dark-browed daughters,
And by the sails of Carthage brought
Far o'er the southern waters.
Lavinium and Laurentum
Had on the left their post,
With all the banners of the marsh,
And banners of the coast.
Their leader was false Sextus,
That wrought the deed of shame:
With restless pace and haggard face
To his last field he came.
Men said he saw strange visions
Which none beside might see;
And that strange sounds were in his ears
Which none might hear but he.
A woman fair and stately,
But pale as are the dead,
Oft through the watches of the night
Sat spinning by his bed.
And as she plied the distaff,
In a sweet voice and low,
She sang of great old houses,
And fights fought long ago.
So spun she, and so sang she,
Until the east was gray.
Then pointed to her bleeding breast,
And shrieked, and fled away.
But in the centre thickest
Were ranged the shields of foes,
And from the centre loudest
The cry of batle rose.
There Tibur marched and Pedum
Beneath proud Tarquin's rule,
And Ferentinum of the rock,
And Gabii of the pool.
There rode the Volscian succors:
There, in the dark stern ring,
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