Lays of Ancient Rome
Thomas Babbington Macaulay
Part 2 out of 2
The Roman exiles gathered close
Around the ancient king.
Though white as Mount Soracte,
When winter nights are long,
His beard flowed down o'er mail and belt,
His heart and hand were strong:
Under his hoary eyebrows
Still flashed forth quenchless rage:
And, if the lance shook in his gripe,
'Twas more with hate than age.
Close at his side was Titus
On an Apulian steed,
Titus, the youngest Tarquin,
Too good for such a breed.
Now on each side the leaders
Gave signal for the charge;
And on each side the footmen
Strode on with lance and targe;
And on each side the horsemen
Struck their spurs deep in gore,
And front to front the armies
Met with a mighty roar:
And under that great battle
The earth with blood was red;
And, like the Pomptine fog at morn,
The dust hung overhead;
And louder still and louder
Rose from the darkened field
The braying of the war-horns,
The clang of sword and shield,
The rush of squadrons sweeping
Like whirlwinds o'er the plain,
The shouting of the slayers,
And screeching of the slain.
False Sextus rode out foremost,
His look was high and bold;
His corslet was of bison's hide,
Plated with steel and gold.
As glares the famished eagle
From the Digentian rock
On a choice lamb that bounds alone
Before Bandusia's flock,
Herminius glared on Sextus,
And came with eagle speed,
Herminius on black Auster,
Brave champion on brave steed;
In his right hand the broadsword
That kept the bridge so well,
And on his helm the crown he won
When proud Fidenæ fell.
Woe to the maid whose lover
Shall cross his path to-day!
False Sextus saw, and trembled,
And turned, and fled away.
As turns, as flies, the woodman
In the Calabrian brake,
When through the reeds gleams the round eye
Of that fell speckled snake;
So turned, so fled, false Sextus,
And hid him in the rear,
Behind the dark Lavinian ranks,
Bristling with crest and spear.
But far to the north Æbutius,
The Master of the Knights,
Gave Tubero of Norba
To feed the Porcian kites.
Next under those red horse-hoofs
Flaccus of Setia lay;
Better had he been pruning
Among his elms that day.
Mamilus saw the slaughter,
And tossed his golden crest,
And towards the Master of the Knights
Through the thick battle pressed.
Æbutius smote Mamilius
So fiercely on the shield
That the great lord of Tusculum
Well-nigh rolled on the field.
Mamilius smote Æbutius,
With a good aim and true,
Just where the next and shoulder join,
And pierced him through and through;
And brave Æbutius Elva
Fell swooning to the ground:
But a thick wall of bucklers
Encompassed him around.
His clients from the battle
Bare him some little space,
And filled a helm from the dark lake,
And bathed his brow and face;
And when at last he opened
His swimming eyes to light,
Men say, the earliest words he spake
Was, ``Friends, how goes the fight?''.
But meanwhile in the centre
Great deeds of arms were wrought;
There Aulus the Dictator
And there Valerius fought.
Aulus with his good broadsword
A bloody passage cleared
To where, amidst the thickest foes,
He saw the long white beard.
Flat lighted that good broadsword
Upon proud Tarquin's head.
He dropped the lance: he dropped the reins:
He fell as fall the dead.
Down Aulus springs to slay him,
With eyes like coals of fire;
But faster Titus hath sprung down,
And hath bestrode his sire.
Latian captains, Roman knights,
Fast down to earth they spring,
And hand to hand they fight on foot
Around the ancient king.
First Titus gave tall Cæso
A death wound in the face;
Tall Cæso was the bravest man
Of the brave Fabian race:
Aulus slew Rex of Gabii,
The priest of Juno's shrine;
Valerius smote down Julius,
Of Rome's great Julian line;
Julius, who left his mansion,
High on the Velian hill,
And through all turns of weal and woe
Followed proud Tarquin still.
Now right across proud Tarquin
A corpse was Julius laid;
And Titus groaned with rage and grief,
And at Valerius made.
Valerius struck at Titus,
And lopped off half his crest;
But Titus stabbed Valerius
A span deep in the breast.
Like a mast snapped by the tempest,
Valerius reeled and fell.
Ah! woe is me for the good house
That loves the people well!
Then shouted loud the Latines;
And with one rush they bore
The struggling Romans backward
Three lances' length and more:
And up they took proud Tarquin,
And laid him on a shield,
And four strong yeomen bare him,
Still senseless, from the field.
But fiercer grew the fighting
Around Valerius dead;
For Titus dragged him by the foot
And Aulus by the head.
``On, Latines, on!'' quoth Titus,
``See how the rebels fly!''
``Romans, stand firm!'' quoth Aulus,
``And win this fight or die!
They must not give Valerius
To raven and to kite;
For aye Valerius loathed the wrong,
And aye upheld the right:
And for your wives and babies
In the front rank he fell.
Now play the men for the good house
That loves the people well!.''
Then tenfold round the body
The roar of battle rose,
Like the roar of a burning forest,
When a strong north wind blows,
Now backward, and now forward,
Rocked furiously the fray,
Till none could see Valerius,
And none wist where he lay.
For shivered arms and ensigns
Were heaped there in a mound,
And corpses stiff, and dying men
That writhed and gnawed the ground;
And wounded horses kicking,
And snorting purple foam:
Right well did such a couch befit
A Consular of Rome.
But north looked the Dictator;
North looked he long and hard,
And spake to Caius Cossus,
The Captain of his Guard;
``Caius, of all the Romans
Thou hast the keenest sight,
Say, what through yonder storm of dust
Comes from the Latian right;''
Then answered Caius Cossus:
``I see an evil sight;
The banner of proud Tusculum
Comes from the Latian right;
I see the pluméd horsemen;
And far before the rest
I see the dark-gray charger,
I see the purple vest;
I see the golden helmet
That shines far off like flame;
So ever rides Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name.''
``Now hearken, Caius Cossus:
Spring on thy horse's back;
Ride as the wolves of Apennine
Were all upon thy track;
Haste to our southward battle:
And never draw thy rein
Until thou find Herminius,
And bid hime come amain.''
So Aulus spake, and turned him
Again to that fierce strife;
And Caius Cossus mounted,
And rode for death and life.
Loud clanged beneath his horse-hoofs
The helmets of the dead,
And many a curdling pool of blood
Splashed him heel to head.
So came he far to southward,
Where fought the Roman host,
Against the banners of the marsh
And banners of the coast.
Like corn before the sickle
The stout Laninians fell,
Beneath the edge of the true sword
That kept the bridge so well.
``Herminius! Aulus greets thee;
He bids thee come with speed,
To help our central bettle,
For sore is there our need;
There wars the youngest Tarquin,
And there the Crest of Flame,
The Tusculan Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name.
Valerius hath fallen fighting
In front of our array;
And Aulus of the seventy fields
Alone upholds the day.''
Herminius beat his bosom:
But never a word he spake.
He clapped his hand on Auster's mane,
He gave the reins a shake.
Away, away, went Auster,
Like an arrow from the bow:
Black Auster was the fleetest steed
From Aufidus to Po.
Right glad were all the Romans
Who, in that hour of dread,
Against great odds bare up the war
Around Valerius dead,
When from the south the cheering
Rose with a mighty swell;
``Herminius comes, Herminius,
Who kept the bridge so well!''
Mamilius spied Herminius,
And dashed across the way.
``Herminius! I have sought thee
Through many a bloody day.
One of us two, Herminius,
Shall never more go home.
I will lay on for Tusculum,
And lay thou on for Rome!
All round them paused the battle,
While met in mortal fray
The Roman and the Tusculan,
The horses black and gray.
Herminius smote Mamilius
Through breast-plate and through breast,
And fast flowed out the purple blood
Over the purple vest.
Mamilius smote Herminius
Through head-piece and through head,
And side by side those chiefs of pride,
Together fell down dead.
Down fell they dead together
In a great lake of gore;
And still stood all who saw them fall
While men might count a score.
Fast, fast, with heels wild spurning,
The dark-gray charger fled:
He burst through ranks of fighting men,
He sprang o'er heaps of dead.
His bridle far out-streming,
His flanks all blood and foam,
He sought the southern mountains,
The mountains of his home.
The pass was steep and rugged,
The wolves they howled and whined;
But he ran like a whirlwind up the pass,
And he left the wolves behind.
Through many a startled hamlet
Thundered his flying feet;
He rushed through the gate of Tusculum,
He rushed up the long white street;
He rushed by tower and temple,
And paused not from his race
Till he stood before his master's door
In the stately market-place.
And straightway round him gathered
A pale and trembling crowd,
And when they knew him, cries of rage
Brake forth, and wailing loud:
And women rent their tresses
For their great prince's fall;
And old men girt on their old swords,
And went to man the wall.
But, like a graven image,
Black Auster kept his place,
And ever wistfully he looked
Into his master's face.
The raven-mane that daily,
With pats and fond caresses,
The young Herminia washed and combed,
And twined in even tresses,
And decked with colored ribbons
From her own gay attire,
Hung sadly o'er her father's corpse
In carnage and in mire.
Forth with a shout sprang Titus,
And seized black Auster's rein.
Then Aulus sware a fearful oath,
And ran at him amain.
``The furies of thy brother
With me and mine abide,
If one of your accursed house
Upon black Auster ride!''
As on a Alpine watch-tower
From heaven comes down the flame,
Full on the neck of Titus
The blade of Aulus came:
And out the red blood spouted,
In a wide arch and tall,
As spouts a fountain in the court
Of some rich Capuan's hall.
The knees of all the Latines
Were loosened with dismay,
When dead, on dead Herminius,
The bravest Tarquin lay.
And Aulus the Dictator
Stroked Auster's raven mane,
With heed he looked unto the girths,
With heed unto the rein.
``Now bear me well, black Auster,
Into yon thick array;
And thou and I will have revenge
For thy good lord this day.''
So spake he; and was buckling
Tighter black Auster's band,
When he was aware of a princely pair
That rode at his right hand.
So like they were, no mortal
Might one from other know:
White as snow their armor was:
Their steeds were white as snow.
Never on earthly anvil
Did such rare armor gleam;
And never did such gallant steeds
Drink of an earthly stream.
And all who saw them trembled,
And pale grew every cheek;
And Aulus the Dictator
Scarce gathered voice to speak.
``Say by what name men call you?
What city is your home?
And wherefore ride ye in such guise
Before the ranks of Rome?''
``By many names men call us;
In many lands we dwell:
Well Samothracia knows us;
Cyrene knows us well.
Our house in gay Tarentum
Is hung each morn with flowers:
High o'er the masts of Syracuse
Our marble portal towers;
But by the proud Eurotas
Is our dear native home;
And for the right we come to fight
Before the ranks of Rome.''
So answered those strange horsemen,
And each couched low his spear;
And forthwith all the ranks of Rome
Were bold, and of good cheer:
And on the thirty armies
Came wonder and affright,
And Ardea wavered on the left,
And Cora on the right.
``Rome to the charge!'' cried Aulus;
``The foe begins to yield!
Charge for the hearth of Vesta!
Charge for the Golden Shield!
Let no man stop to plunder,
But slay, and slay, and slay;
The gods who live forever
Are on our side to-day.''
Then the fierce trumpet-flourish
From earth to heaven arose,
The kites know well the long stern swell
That bids the Romans close.
Then the good sword of Aulus
Was lifted up to slay;
Then, like a crag down Apennine,
Rushed Auster through the fray.
But under those strange horsemen
Still thicker lay the slain;
And after those strange horses
Black Auster toiled in vain.
Behind them Rome's long battle
Came rolling on the foe,
Ensigns dancing wild above,
Blades all in line below.
So comes the Po in flood-time
Upon the Celtic plain;
So comes the squall, blacker than night,
Upon the Adrian main.
Now, by our Sire Quirinus,
It was a goodly sight
To see the thirty standards
Swept down the tide of flight.
So flies the spray of Adria
When the black squall doth blow
So corn-sheaves in the flood-time
Spin down the whirling Po.
False Sextus to the mountains
Turned first his horse's head;
And fast fled Ferentinum,
And fast Lanuvium fled.
The horsemen of Nomentus
Spurred hard out of the fray;
The footmen of Velitræ
Threw shield and spear away.
And underfoot was trampled,
Amidst the mud and gore,
The banner of proud Tusculum,
That never stooped before:
And down went Flavius Faustus,
Who led his stately ranks
From where the apple blossoms wave
On Anio's echoing banks,
And Tullus of Arpinum,
Chief of the Volscian aids,
And Metius with the long fair curls,
The love of Anxur's maids,
And the white head of Vulso,
The great Arician seer,
And Nepos of Laurentum
The hunter of the deer;
And in the back false Sextus
Felt the good Roman steel,
And wriggling in the dust he died,
Like a worm beneath the wheel:
And fliers and pursuers
Were mingled in a mass;
And far away the battle
Went roaring through the pass.
Sat in the Eastern Gate,
Beside him were three Fathers,
Each in his chair of state;
Fabius, whose nine stout grandsons
That day were in the field,
And Manlius, eldest of the Twelve
Who keep the Golden Shield;
And Sergius, the High Pontiff,
For wisdom far renowned;
In all Etruria's colleges
Was no such Pontiff found.
And all around the portal,
And high above the wall,
Stood a great throng of people,
But sad and silent all;
Young lads and stooping elders
That might not bear the mail,
Matrons with lips that quivered,
And maids with faces pale.
Since the first gleam of daylight,
Sempronius had not ceased
To listen for the rushing
Of horse-hoofs from the east.
The mist of eve was rising,
The sun was hastening down,
When he was aware of a princely pair
Fast pricking towards the town.
So like they were, man never
Saw twins so like before;
Red with gore their armor was,
Their steeds were red with gore.
``Hail to the great Asylum!
Hail to the hill-tops seven!
Hail to the fire that burns for aye,
And the shield that fell from heaven!
This day, by Lake Regillus,
Under the Porcian height,
All in the lands of Tusculum
Was fought a glorious fight.
Tomorrow your Dictator
Shall bring in triumph home
The spoils of thirty cities
To deck the shrines of Rome!''
Then burst from that great concourse
A shout that shook the towers,
And some ran north, and some ran south,
Crying,``The day is ours!''
But on rode these strange horsemen,
With slow and lordly pace;
And none who saw their bearing
Durst ask their name or race.
On rode they to the Forum,
While laurel-boughs and flowers,
From house-tops and from windows,
Fell on their crests in showers.
When they drew nigh to Vesta,
They vaulted down amain,
And washed their horses in the well
That springs by Vesta's fane.
And straight again they mounted,
And rode to Vesta's door;
Then, like a blast, away they passed,
And no man saw them more.
And all the people trembled,
And pale grew every cheek;
And Sergius the High Pontiff
Alone found voice to speak:
``The gods who live forever
Have fought for Rome to-day!
These be the Great Twin Brethren
To whom the Dorians pray.
Back comes the chief in triumph,
Who, in the hour of fight,
Hath seen the Great Twin Brethren
In harness on his right.
Safe comes the ship to haven,
Through billows and through gales,
If once the Great Twin Brethren
Sit shining on the sails.
Wherefore they washed their horses
In Vesta's holy well,
Wherefore they rode to Vesta's door,
I know, but may not tell.
Here, hard by Vesta's temple,
Build we a stately dome
Unto the Great Twin Brethren
Who fought so well for Rome.
And when the months returning
Bring back this day of fight,
The proud Ides of Quintilis,
Marked evermore with white,
Unto the Great Twin Brethren
Let all the people throng,
With chaplets and with offerings,
With music and with song;
And let the doors and windows
Be hung with garlands all,
And let the knights be summoned
To Mars without the wall:
Thence let them ride in purple
With joyous trumpet-sound,
Each mounted on his war-horse,
And each with olive crowned;
And pass in solemn order
Before the sacred dome,
Where dwell the Great Twin Brethren
Who fought so well for Rome.''
A collection consisting exclusively of war-songs would give an
imperfect, or rather an erroneous, notion of the spirit of the
old Latin ballads. The Patricians, during more than a century
after the expulsion of the Kings, held all the high military
commands. A Plebeian, even though, like Lucius Siccius, he were
distinguished by his valor and knowledge of war, could serve only
in subordinate posts. A minstrel, therefore, who wished to
celebrate the early triumphs of his country, could hardly take
any but Patricians for his heroes. The warriors who are mentioned
in the two preceding lays, Horatius, Lartius, Herminius, Aulus
Posthumius, Æbutius Elva, Sempronius Atratinus, Valerius
Poplicola, were all members of the dominant order; and a poet who
was singing their praises, whatever his own political opinions
might be, would naturally abstain from insulting the class to
which they belonged, and from reflecting on the system which had
placed such men at the head of the legions of the Commonwealth.
But there was a class of compositions in which the great families
were by no means so courteously treated. No parts of early Roman
history are richer with poetical coloring than those which relate
to the long contest between the privileged houses and the
commonality. The population of Rome was, from a very early
period, divided into hereditary castes, which, indeed, readily
united to repel foreign enemies, but which regarded each other,
during many years, with bitter animosity. Between those castes
there was a barrier hardly less strong than that which, at
Venice, parted the members of the Great Council from their
countrymen. In some respects, indeed, the line which separated an
Icilius or a Duilius from a Posthumius or a Fabius was even more
deeply marked than that which separated the rower of gondola from
a Contarini or a Morosini. At Venice the distinction was merely
civil. At Rome it was both civil and religious. Among the
grievances under which the Plebeians suffered, three were felt as
peculiarly severe. They were excluded from the highest
magistracies; they were excluded from all share in the public
lands; and they were ground down to the dust by partial and
barbarous legislation touching pecuniary contracts. The ruling
class in Rome was a moneyed class; and it made and administered
the laws with a view solely to its own interest. Thus the
relation between lender and borrower was mixed up with the
relation between sovereign and subject. The great men held a
large portion of the community in dependence by means of advances
at enormous usury. The law of debt, framed by creditors, and for
the protection of creditors, was the host horrible that has ever
been known among men. The liberty and even the life of the
insolvent were at the mercy of the Patrician money-lenders.
Children often became slaves in consequence of the misfortunes of
their parents. The debtor was imprisoned, not in a public jail
under the care of impartial public functionaries, but in a
private workhouse belonging to the creditor. Frightful stories
were told respecting these dungeons. It was said that torture and
brutal violation were common; that tight stocks, heavy chains,
scanty measures of food, were used to punish wretches guilty of
nothing but poverty; and that brave soldiers, whose breasts were
covered with honorable scars, were often marked still more deeply
on the back by the scourges of high-born usurers.
The Plebeians were, however, not wholly without constitutional
rights. From an early period they had been admitted to some share
of political power. They were enrolled each in his century, and
were allowed a share, considerable though not proportioned to
their numerical strength, in the disposal of those high dignities
from which they were themselves excluded. Thus their position
bore some resemblance to that of the Irish Catholics during the
interval between the year 1792 and the year 1829. The Plebeians
had also the privilege of annually appointing officers, named
Tribunes, who had no active share in the government of the
commonwealth, but who, by degree, acquired a power formidable
even to the ablest and most resolute Consuls and Dictators. The
person of the Tribune was inviolable; and, though he could
directly effect little, he could obstruct everything.
During more than a century after the institution of the
Tribuneship, the Commons struggled manfully for the removal of
the grievances under which they labored; and, in spite of many
checks and reverses, succeeded in wringing concession after
concession from the stubborn aristocracy. At length in the year
of the city 378, both parties mustered their whole strength for
their last and most desperate conflict. The popular and active
Tribune, Caius Licinius, proposed the three memorable laws which
are called by his name, and which were intended to redress the
three great evils of which the Plebeians complained. He was
supported, with eminent ability and firmness, by his colleague,
Lucius Sextius. The struggle appears to have been the fiercest
that every in any community terminated without an appeal to arms.
If such a contest had raged in any Greek city, the streets would
have run with blood. But, even in the paroxysms of faction, the
Roman retained his gravity, his respect for law, and his
tenderness for the lives of his fellow citizens. Year after year
Licinius and Sextius were reëlected Tribunes. Year after year, if
the narrative which has come down to us is to be trusted, they
continued to exert, to the full extent, their power of stopping
the whole machine of government. No curule magistrates could be
chosen; no military muster could be held. We know too little of
the state of Rome in those days to be able to conjecture how,
during that long anarchy, the peace was kept, and ordinary
justice administered between man and man. The animosity of both
parties rose to the greatest height. The excitement, we may well
suppose, would have been peculiarly intense at the annual
election of Tribunes. On such occasions there can be little doubt
that the great families did all that could be done, by threats
and caresses, to break the union of the Plebeians. That union,
however, proved indissoluble. At length the good cause triumphed.
The Licinian laws were carried. Lucius Sextius was the first
Plebeian Consul, Caius Licinius the third.
The results of this great change were singularly happy and
glorious. Two centuries of prosperity, harmony, and victory
followed the reconciliation of the orders. Men who remembered
Rome engaged in waging petty wars almost within sight of the
Capitol lived to see her the mistress of Italy. While the
disabilities of the Plebeians continued, she was scarcely able to
maintain her ground against the Volscians and Hernicans. When
those disabilities were removed, she rapidly became more than a
match for Carthage and Macedon.
During the great Licinian contest the Plebeian poets were,
doubtless, not silent. Even in modern times songs have been by no
means without influence on public affairs; and we may therefore
infer that, in a society where printing was unknown and where
books were rare, a pathetic or humorous party-ballad must have
produced effects such as we can but faintly conceive. It is
certain that satirical poems were common at Rome from a very
early period. The rustics, who lived at a distance from the seat
of government, and took little part in the strife of factions,
gave vent to their petty local animosities in coarse Fescennine
verse. The lampoons of the city were doubtless of a higher order;
and their sting was early felt by the nobility. For in the Twelve
Tables, long before the time of the Licinian laws, a severe
punishment was denounced against the citizen who should compose
or recite verses reflecting on another. Satire is, indeed, the
only sort of composition in which the Latin poets, whose works
have come down to us, were not mere imitators of foreign models;
and it is therefore the only sort of composition in which they
have never been rivalled. It was not, like their tragedy, their
comedy, their epic and lyric poetry, a hothouse plant which, in
return for assiduous and skilful culture, gave only scanty and
sickly fruits. It was hardy and full of sap; and in all the
various juices which it yielded might be distinguished the flavor
of the Ausonian soil. ``Satire,'' said Quinctilian, with just
pride, ``is all our own.'' Satire sprang, in truth, naturally
from the constitution of the Roman government and from the spirit
of the Roman people; and, though at length subjected to metrical
rules derived from Greece, retained to the last an essentially
Roman character. Lucilius was the earliest satirist whose works
were held in esteem under the Caesars. But many years before
Lucilius was born, Nævius had been flung into a dungeon, and
guarded there with circumstances of unusual rigor, on account of
the bitter lines in which he had attacked the great Caecilian
family. The genius and spirit of the Roman satirists survived the
liberty of their country, and were not extinguished by the cruel
despotism of the Julian and Flavian Emperors. The great poet who
told the story of Domitian's turbot was the legitimate successor
of those forgotten minstrels whose songs animated the factions of
the infant Republic.
Those minstrels, as Niebuhr has remarked, appear to have
generally taken the popular side. We can hardly be mistaken in
supposing that, at the great crisis of the civil conflict, they
employed themselves in versifying all the most powerful and
virulent speeches of the Tribunes, and in heaping abuse on the
leaders of the aristocracy. Every personal defect, every domestic
scandal, every tradition dishonorable to a noble house, would be
sought out, brought into notice, and exaggerated. The illustrious
head of the aristocratical party, Marcus Furius Camillus, might
perhaps be, in some measure, protected by his venerable age and
by the memory of his great services to the state. But Appius
Claudius Crassus enjoyed no such immunity. He was descended from
a long line of ancestors distinguished by their haughty demeanor,
and by the inflexibility with which they had withstood all the
demands of the Plebeian order. While the political conduct and
the deportment of the Claudian nobles drew upon them the fiercest
public hatred, they were accused of wanting, if any credit is due
to the early history of Rome, a class of qualities which, in a
military commonwealth, is sufficient to cover a multitude of
offences. The chiefs of the family appear to have been eloquent,
versed in civil business, and learned after the fashion of their
age; but in war they were not distinguished by skill or valor.
Some of them, as if conscious where their weakness lay, had, when
filling the highest magistracies, taken internal administration
as their department of public business, and left the military
command to their colleagues. One of them had been entrusted with
an army, and had failed ignominiously. None of them had been
honored with a triumph. None of them had achieved any martial
exploit, such as those by which Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus,
Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, Aulus Cornelius Cossus, and, above
all, the great Camillus, had extorted the reluctant esteem of the
multitude. During the Licinian conflict, Appius Claudius Crassus
signalized himself by the ability and severity with which he
harangued against the two great agitators. He would naturally,
therefore, be the favorite mark of the Plebeian satirists; nor
would they have been at a loss to find a point on which he was
open to attack.
His grandfather, called, like himself, Appius Claudius, had left
a name as much detested as that Sextus Tarquinius. This elder
Appius had been Consul more than seventy years before the
introduction of the Licinian laws. By availing himself of a
singular crisis in public feeling, he had obtained the consent of
the Commons to the abolition of the Tribuneship, and had been the
chief of that Council of Ten to which the whole direction of the
state had been committed. In a new months his administration had
become universally odious. It had been swept away by an
irresistible outbreak of popular fury; and its memory was still
held in abhorrence by the whole city. The immediate cause of the
downfall of this execrable government was said to have been an
attempt made by Appius Claudius upon the chastity of a beautiful
young girl of humble birth. The story ran that the Decemvir,
unable to succeed by bribes and solicitations, resorted to an
outrageous act of tyranny. A vile dependent of the Claudian house
laid claim to the damsel as his slave. The cause was brought
before the tribunal of Appius. The wicked magistrate, in defiance
of the clearest proofs, gave judgment for the claimant. But the
girl's father, a brave soldier, saved her from servitude and
dishonor by stabbing her to the heart in the sight of the whole
Forum. That blow was the signal for a general explosion. Camp and
city rose at once; the Ten were pulled down; the Tribuneship was
reëstablished; and Appius escaped the hands of the executioner
only by a voluntary death.
It can hardly be doubted that a story so admirably adapted to the
purposes both of the poet and of the demagogue would be eagerly
seized upon by minstrels burning with hatred against the
Patrician order, against the Claudian house, and especially
against the grandson and namesake of the infamous Decemvir.
In order that the reader may judge fairly of these fragments of
the lay of Virginia, he must imagine himself a Plebeian who has
just voted for the reëlection of Sextius and Licinius. All the
power of the Patricians has been exerted to throw out the two
great champions of the Commons. Every Posthumius, Æmilius, and
Cornelius has used his influence to the utmost. Debtors have been
let out of the workhouses on condition of voting against the men
of the people; clients have been posted to hiss and interrupt the
favorite candidates; Appius Claudius Crassus has spoken with more
than his usual eloquence and asperity: all has been in vain,
Licinius and Sextius have a fifth time carried all the tribes:
work is suspended; the booths are closed; the Plebeians bear on
their shoulders the two champions of liberty through the Forum.
Just at this moment it is announced that a great poet, a zealous
adherent of the Tribunes, has made a new song which will cut the
Claudian nobles to the heart. The crowd gathers round him, and
calls on him to recite it. He takes his stand on the spot where,
according to tradition, Virginia, more than seventy years ago,
was seized by the pandar of Appius, and he begins his story.
Fragments of a Lay Sung in the Forum on the Day Whereon Lucius
Sextius Sextinus Lateranus and Caius Licinius Calvus Stolo Were
Elected Tribunes of the Commons the Fifth Time, in the Year of
the City CCCLXXXII
Ye good men of the Commons, with loving hearts and true,
Who stand by the bold Tribunes that still have stood by you,
Come, make a circle round me, and mark my tale with care,
A tale of what Rome once hath borne, of what Rome yet may bear.
This is no Grecian fable, of fountains running wine,
Of maids with snaky tresses, or sailors turned to swine.
Here, in this very Forum, under the noonday sun,
In sight of all the people, the bloody deed was done.
Old men still creep among us who saw that fearful day,
Just seventy years and seven ago, when the wicked Ten bare sway.
Of all the wicked Ten still the names are held accursed,
And of all the wicked Ten Appius Claudius was the worst.
He stalked along the Forum like King Tarquin in his pride:
Twelve axes waited on him, six marching on a side;
The townsmen shrank to right and left, and eyed askance with fear
His lowering brow, his curling mouth which always seemed to
That brow of hate, that mouth of scorn, marks all the kindred
For never was there Claudius yet but wished the Commons ill;
Nor lacks he fit attendance; for close behind his heels,
With outstretched chin and crouching pace, the client Marcus
His loins girt up to run with speed, be the errand what it may,
And the smile flickering on his cheek, for aught his lord may
Such varlets pimp and jest for hire among the lying Greeks:
Such varlets still are paid to hoot when brave Licinius speaks.
Where'er ye shed the honey, the buzzing flies will crowd;
Where'er ye fling the carrion, the raven's croak is loud;
Where'er down Tiber garbage floats, the greedy pike ye see;
And wheresoe'er such lord is found, such client still will be.
Just then, as through one cloudless chink in a black stormy
Shines out the dewy morning-star, a fair young girl came by.
With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm,
Home she went bounding from the school, nor dreamed of shame or
And past those dreaded axes she innocently ran,
With bright frank brow that had not learned to blush at gaze of
And up the Sacred Street she turned, and, as she danced along,
She warbled gayly to herself lines of the good old song,
How for a sport the princes came spurring from the camp,
And found Lucrece, combing the fleece, under the midnight lamp.
The maiden sang as sings the lark, when up he darts his flight,
From his nest in the green April corn, to meet the morning light;
And Appius heard her sweet young voice, and saw her sweet young
And loved her with the accursed love of his accursed race,
And all along the Forum, and up the Sacred Street,
His vulture eye pursued the trip of those small glancing feet.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Over the Alban mountains the light of morning broke;
From all the roofs of the Seven Hills curled the thin wreaths of
The city-gates were opened; the Forum all alive
With buyers and with sellers was humming like a hive:
Blithely on brass and timber the craftsman's stroke was ringing,
And blithely o'er her panniers the market-girl was singing,
And blithely young Virginia came smiling from her home:
Ah! woe for young Virginia, the sweetest maid in Rome!
With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm,
Forth she went bounding to the school, nor dreamed of shame or
She crossed the Forum shining with stalls in alleys gay,
And just had reached the very spot whereon I stand this day,
When up the varlet Marcus came; not such as when erewhile
He crouched behind his patron's heels with the true client smile:
He came with lowering forehead, swollen features, and clenched
And strode across Virginia's path, and caught her by the wrist.
Hard strove the frightened maiden, and screamed with look aghast;
And at her scream from right and left the folk came running fast;
The money-changer Crispus, with his thin silver hairs,
And Hanno from the stately booth glittering with Punic wares,
And the strong smith Muræna, grasping a half-forged brand,
And Volero the flesher, his cleaver in his hand.
All came in wrath and wonder, for all knew that fair child;
And, as she passed them twice a day, all kissed their hands and
And the strong smith Muræna gave Marcus such a blow,
The caitiff reeled three paces back, and let the maiden go.
Yet glared he fiercely round him, and growled in harsh, fell
``She's mine, and I will have her, I seek but for mine own:
She is my slave, born in my house, and stolen away and sold,
The year of the sore sickness, ere she was twelve hours old.
'Twas in the sad September, the month of wail and fright,
Two augers were borne forth that morn; the Consul died ere night.
I wait on Appius Claudius, I waited on his sire:
Let him who works the client wrong beware the patron's ire.''
So spake the varlet Marcus; and dread and silence came
On all the people at the sound of the great Claudian name.
For then there was no Tribune to speak the word of might,
Which makes the rich man tremble, and guards the poor man's
There was no brave Licinius, no honest Sixtius then;
But all the city, in great fear, obeyed the wicked Ten.
Yet ere the varlet Marcus again might seize the maid,
Who clung tight to Muræna's skirt, and sobbed, and shrieked for
Forth through the throng of gazers the young Icilius pressed,
And stamped his foot, and rent his gown, and smote upon his
And sprang upon that column, by many a minstrel sung,
Whereon three mouldering helmets, three rusting swords, are hung,
And beckoned to the people, and in bold voice and clear
Poured thick and fast the burning words which tyrants quake to
``Now, by your children's cradles, now by your fathers'
Be men to-day, Quirites, or be forever slaves!
For this did Servius give us laws? For this did Lucrece bleed?
For this was the great vengeance wrought on Tarquin's evil seed?
For this did those false sons make red the axes of their sire?
For this did Scævola's right hand hiss in the Tuscan fire?
Shall the vile fox-earth awe the race that stormed the lion's
Shall we, who could not brook one lord, crouch to the wicked Ten?
Oh, for that ancient spirit which curbed the Senate's will!
Oh, for the tents which in old time whitened the Sacred Hill!
In those brave days our fathers stood firmly side by side;
They faced the Marcian fury; they tamed the Fabian pride:
They drove the fiercest Quinctius an outcast forth from Rome;
They sent the haughtiest Claudius with shivered fasces home.
But what their care bequeathed us our madness flung away:
All the ripe fruit of threescore years was blighted in a day.
Exult, ye proud Patricians! The hard-fought fight is o'er.
We strove for honors--'twas in vain; for freedom--'tis no more.
No crier to the polling summons the eager throng;
No Tribune breathes the word of might that guards the weak from
Our very hearts, that were so high, sink down beneath your will.
Riches, and lands, and power, and state--ye have them:--keep them
Still keep the holy fillets; still keep the purple gown,
The axes, and the curule chair, the car, and laurel crown:
Still press us for your cohorts, and, when the fight is done,
Still fill your garners from the soil which our good swords have
Still, like a spreading ulcer, which leech-craft may not cure,
Let your foul usance eat away the substance of the poor.
Still let your haggard debtors bear all their fathers bore;
Still let your dens of torment be noisome as of yore;
No fire when Tiber freezes; no air in dog-star heat;
And store of rods for free-born backs, and holes for free-born
Heap heavier still the fetters; bar closer still the grate;
Patient as sheep we yield us up unto your cruel hate.
But, by the Shades beneath us, and by the gods above,
Add not unto your cruel hate your yet more cruel love!
Have ye not graceful ladies, whose spotless lineage springs
From Consuls, and High Pontiffs, and ancient Alban kings?
Ladies, who deign not on our paths to set their tender feet,
Who from their cars look down with scorn upon the wondering
Who in Corinthian mirrors their own proud smiles behold,
And breathe the Capuan odors, and shine with Spanish gold?
Then leave the poor Plebeian his single tie to life--
The sweet, sweet love of daugther, of sister, and of wife,
The gentle speech, the balm for all that his vexed soul endures,
The kiss, in which he half forgets even such a yoke as yours.
Still let the maiden's beauty swell the father's breast with
Still let the bridegroom's arms infold an unpolluted bride.
Spare us the inexpiable wrong, the unutterable shame,
That turns the coward's heart to steel, the sluggard's blood to
Lest, when our latest hope is fled, ye taste of our despair,
And learn by proof, in some wild hour, how much the wretched
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Straightway Virginius led the maid a little space aside,
To where the reeking shambles stood, piled up with horn and hide,
Close to yon low dark archway, where, in a crimson flood,
Leaps down to the great sewer the gurgling stream of blood.
Hard by, a flesher on a block had laid his whittle down:
Virginius caught the whittle up, and hid it in his gown.
And then his eyes grew very dim, and his throat began to swell,
And in a hoarse, changed voice he spake, ``Farewell, sweet child!
Oh! how I loved my darling! Though stern I sometimes be,
To thee, thou know'st, I was not so. Who could be so to thee?
And how my darling loved me! How glad she was to hear
My footstep on the threshold when I came back last year!
And how she danced with pleasure to see my civic crown,
And took my sword, and hung it up, and brought me forth my gown!
Now, all those things are over--yes, all thy pretty ways,
Thy needlework, thy prattle, thy snatches of old lays;
And none will grieve when I go forth, or smile when I return,
Or watch beside the old man's bed, or weep upon his urn.
The house that was the happiest within the Roman walls,
The house that envied not the wealth of Capua's marble halls,
Now, for the brightness of thy smile, must have eternal gloom,
And for the music of thy voice, the silence of the tomb.
The time is come. See how he points his eager hand this way!
See how his eyes gloat on thy grief, like a kite's upon the prey!
With all his wit, he little deems, that, spurned, betrayed,
Thy father hath in his despair one fearful refuge left.
He little deems that in this hand I clutch what still can save
Thy gentle youth from taunts and blows, the portion of the slave;
Yea, and from nameless evil, that passeth taunt and blow--
Foul outrage which thou knowest not, which thou shalt never know.
Then clasp me round the neck once more, and give me one more
And now mine own dear little girl, there is no way but this.''
With that he lifted high the steel, and smote her in the side,
And in her blood she sank to earth, and with one sob she died.
Then, for a little moment, all people held their breath;
And through the crowded Forum was stillness as of death;
And in another moment brake forth from one and all
A cry as if the Volscians were coming o'er the wall.
Some with averted faces shrieking fled home amain;
Some ran to call a leech; and some ran to lift the slain;
Some felt her lips and little wrist, if life might there be
And some tore up their garments fast, and strove to stanch the
In vain they ran, and felt, and stanched; for never truer blow
That good right arm had dealt in fight agains a Volscian foe.
When Appius Claudius saw that deed, he shuddered and sank
And hid his face some little space with the corner of his gown,
Till, with white lips and bloodshot eyes, Virginius tottered
And stood before the judgment-seat, and held the knife on high.
``Oh! dwellers in the nether gloom, avengers of the slain,
By this dear blood I cry to you, do right between us twain;
And even as Appius Claudius hath dealt by me and mine,
Deal you by Appius Claudius and all the Claudian line!''
So spake the slayer of his child, and turned, and went his way;
But first he cast one haggard glance to where the body lay,
And writhed, and groaned a fearful groan, an then, with steadfast
Strode right across the market-place unto the Sacred Street.
Then up sprang Appius Claudius: ``Stop him; alive or dead!
Ten thousand pounds of copper to the man who brings his head.''
He looked upon his clients; but none would work his will.
He looked upon his lictors, but they trembled, and stood still.
And, as Virginius through the press his way in silence cleft,
Ever the mighty multitude fell back to right and left.
And he hath passed in safety unto his woeful home,
And there ta'en horse to tell the camp what deeds are done in
By this the flood of people was swollen from every side,
And streets and porches round were filled with that o'erflowing
And close around the body gathered a little train
Of them that were the nearest and dearest to the slain.
They brought a bier, and hung it with many a cypress crown,
And gently they uplifted her, and gently laid her down.
The face of Appius Claudius wore the Claudian scowl and sneer,
And in the Claudian note he cried, ``What doth this rabble here?
Have they no crafts to mind at home, that hitherward they stray?
Ho! lictors, clear the market-place, and fetch the corpse away!''
The voice of grief and fury till then had not been loud;
But a deep sullen murmur wandered among the crowd,
Like the moaning noise that goes before the whirlwind on the
Or the growl of a fierce watch-dog but half aroused from sleep.
But when the lictors at that word, tall yeomen all and strong,
Each with his axe and sheaf of twigs, went down into the throng,
Those old men say, who saw that day of sorrow and of sin,
That in the Roman Forum was never such a din.
The wailing, hooting, cursing, the howls of grief and hate,
Were heard beyond the Pincian Hill, beyond the Latin Gate.
But close around the body, where stood the little train
Of them that were the nearest and dearest to the slain,
No cries were there, but teeth set fast, low whispers and black
And breaking up of benches, and girding up of gowns.
'Twas well the lictors might not pierce to where the maiden lay,
Else surely had they been all twelve torn limb from limb that
Right glad they were to struggle back, blood streaming from their
With axes all in splinters, and raiment all in shreads.
Then Appius Claudius gnawed his lip, and the blood left his
And thrice he beckoned with his hand, and thrice he strove to
And thrice the tossing Forum set up a frightful yell:
``See, see, thou dog! what thou hast done; and hide thy shame in
Thou that wouldst make our maidens slaves must first make slaves
Tribunes! Hurrah for Trubunes! Down with the wicked Ten!''
And straightway, thick as hailstones, came whizzing through the
Pebbles, and bricks, and potsherds, all round the curule chair:
And upon Appius Claudius great fear and trembling came,
For never was a Claudius yet brave against aught but shame.
Though the great houses love us not, we own, to do them right,
That the great houses, all save one, have borne them well in
Still Caius of Corioli, his triumphs and his wrongs,
His vengeance and his mercy, live in our camp-fire songs.
Beneath the yoke of Furius oft have Gaul and Tuscan bowed:
And Rome may bear the pride of him of whom herself is proud.
But evermore a Claudius shrinks from a stricken field,
And changes color like a maid at sight of sword and shield.
The Claudian triumphs all were won within the city towers;
The Claudian yoke was never pressed on any necks but ours.
A Cossus, like a wild cat, springs ever at the face;
A Fabius rushes like a boar against the shouting chase;
But the vile Claudian litter, raging with currish spite,
Still yelps and snaps at those who run, still runs from those who
So now 'twas seen of Appius. When stones began to fly,
He shook, and crouched, and wrung his hands, and smote upon his
``Kind clients, honest lictors, stand by me in this fray!
Must I be torn in pieces? Home, home the nearest way!''
While yet he spake, and looked around with a bewildered stare,
Four sturdy lictors put their necks beneath the curule chair;
And fourscore clients on the left, and fourscore on the right,
Arrayed themselves with swords and staves, and loins girt up to
But, though without or staff or sword, so furious was the throng,
That scarce the train with might and main could bring their lord
Twelve times the crowd made at him; five times they seized his
Small chance was his to rise again, if once they got him down:
And sharper came the pelting; and evermore the yell,--
``Tribunes! we will have Tribunes!''-- rose with a louder swell:
And the chair tossed as tosses a bark with tattered sail
When raves the Adriatic beneath an eastern gale,
When Calabrian sea-marks are lost in clouds of spume,
And the great Thunder-Cape has donned his veil of inky gloom.
One stone hit Appius in the mouth, and one beneath the ear;
And ere he reached Mount Palatine, he swooned with pain and fear.
His cursed head, that he was wont to hold so high with pride,
Now, like a drunken man's, hung down, and swayed from side to
And when his stout retainers had brought him to his door,
His face and neck were all one cake of filth and clotted gore.
As Appius Claudius was that day, so may his grandson be!
God send Rome one such other sight, and send me there to see!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Prophecy of Capys
It can hardly be necessary to remind any reader that according to
the popular tradition, Romulus, after he had slain his granduncle
Amulius, and restored his grandfather Numitor, determined to quit
Alba, the hereditary domain of the Sylvian princes, and to found
a new city. The gods, it was added, vouchsafed the clearest signs
of the favor with which they regarded the enterprise, and of the
high destinies reserved for the young colony.
This event was likely to be a favorite theme of the old Latin
minstrels. They would naturally attribute the project of Romulus
to some divine intimation of the power and prosperity which it
was decreed that his city should attain. They would probably
introduce seers foretelling the victories of unborn Consuls and
Dictators, and the last great victory would generally occupy the
most conspicuous place in the prediction. There is nothing
strange in the supposition that the poet who was employed to
celebrate the first great triumph of the Romans over the Greeks
might throw his song of exultation into this form.
The occasion was one likely to excite the strongest feelings of
national pride. A great outrage had been followed by a great
retribution. Seven years before this time, Lucius Posthumius
Megellus, who sprang from one of the noblest houses of Rome, and
had been thrice Consul, was sent ambassador to Tarentum, with
charge to demand reparation for grievous injuries. The Tarentines
gave him audience in their theatre, where he addressed them in
such Greek as he could command, which, we may well believe, was
not exactly such as Cineas would have spoken. An exquisite sense
of the ridiculous belonged to the Greek character; and closely
connected with this faculty was a strong propensity to flippancy
and impertinence. When Posthumius placed an accent wrong, his
hearers burst into a laugh. When he remonstrated, they hooted
him, and called him barbarian; and at length hissed him off the
stage as if he had been a bad actor. As the grave Roman retired,
a buffoon, who, from his constant drunkenness, was nicknamed the
Pint-pot, came up with gestures of the grossest indecency, and
bespattered the senatorial gown with filth. Posthumius turned
round to the multitude, and held up the gown, as if appealing to
the universal law of nations. The sight only increased the
insolence of the Tarentines. They clapped their hands, and set up
a shout of laughter which shook the theatre. ``Men of Tarentum,''
said Posthumius, ``it will take not a little blood to wash this
Rome, in consequence of this insult, declared war against the
Tarentines. The Tarentines sought for allies beyond the Ionian
Sea. Phyrrhus, king of Epirus, came to their help with a large
army; and, for the first time, the two great nations of antiquity
were fairly matched against each other.
The fame of Greece in arms, as well as in arts, was then at the
height. Half a century earlier, the career of Alexander had
excited the admiration and terror of all nations from the Ganges
to the Pillars of Hercules. Royal houses, founded by Macedonian
captains, still reigned at Antioch and Alexandria. That barbarian
warriors, led by barbarian chiefs, should win a pitched battle
against Greek valor guided by Greek science, seemed as incredible
as it would now seem that the Burmese or the Siamese should, in
the open plain, put to flight an equal number of the best English
troops. The Tarentines were convinced that their countrymen were
irresistible in war; and this conviction had emboldened them to
treat with the grossest indignity one whom they regarded as the
representative of an inferior race. Of the Greek generals then
living Pyrrhus was indisputably the first. Among the troops who
were trained in the Greek discipline his Epirotes ranked high.
His expedition to Italy was a turning-point in the history of the
world. He found there a people who, far inferior to the Athenians
and Corinthians in the fine arts, in the speculative sciences,
and in all the refinements of life, were the best soldiers on the
face of the earth. Their arms, their gradations of rank, their
order of battle, their method of intrenchment, were all of Latin
origin, and had all been gradually brought near to perfection,
not by the study of foreign models, but by the genius and
experience of many generations of great native commanders. The
first words which broke from the king, when his practised eye had
surveyed the Roman encampment, were full of meaning: ``These
barbarians,'' he said, ``have nothing barbarous in their military
arrangements.'' He was at first victorious; for his own talents
were superior to those of the captains who were opposed to him;
and the Romans were not prepared for the onset of the elephants
of the East, which were then for the first time seen in
Italy--moving mountains, with long snakes for hands. But the
victories of the Epirotes were fiercely disputed, dearly
purchased, and altogether unprofitable. At length, Manius Curius
Dentatus, who had in his first Consulship won two triumphs, was
again placed at the head of the Roman Commonwealth, and sent to
conquer the invaders. A great battle was fought near Beneventum.
Pyrrhus was completely defeated. He repassed the sea; and the
world learned, with amazement, that a people had been discovered
who, in fair fighting, were superior to the best troops that had
been drilled on the system of Parmenio and Antigonus.
The conquerors had a good right to exult in their success; for
their glory was all their own. They had not learned from their
enemy how to conquer him. It was with their own national arms,
and in their own national battle array, that they had overcome
weapons and tactics long believed to be invincible. The pilum and
the broadsword had vanquished the Macedonian spear. The legion
had broken the Macedonian phalanx. Even the elephants, when the
surprise produced by their first appearance was over, could cause
no disorder in the steady yet flexible battalions of Rome.
It is said by Florus, and may easily be believed, that the
triumph far surpassed in magnificence any that Rome had
previously seen. The only spoils which Papirius Cursor and Fabius
Maximus could exhibit were flocks and herds, wagons of rude
structure, and heaps of spears and helmets. But now, for the
first time, the riches of Asia and the arts of Greece adorned a
Roman pageant. Plate, fine stuffs, costly furniture, rare
animals, exquisite paintings and sculptures, formed part of the
procession. At the banquet would be assembled a crowd of warriors
and statesmen, among whom Manius Curius Dentatus would take the
highest room. Caius Fabricius Luscinus, then, after two
Consulships and two triumphs, Censor of the Commonwealth, would
doubtless occupy a place of honor at the board. In situations
less conspicuous probably lay some of those who were, a few years
later, the terror of Carthage: Caius Duilius, the founder of the
maritime greatness of his country; Marcus Atilius Regulus, who
owed to defeat a renown far higher than that which he had derived
from his victories; and Caius Lutatius Catalus, who, while
suffering from a grievous wound, fought the great battle of the
Æates, and brought the First Punic War to a triumphant close. It
is impossible to recount the names of these eminent citizens,
without reflecting that they were, without exception, Plebeians,
and would, but for the ever memorable struggle maintained by
Caius Licinius and Lucius Sextius, have been doomed to hide in
obscurity, or to waste in civil broils, the capacity and energy
which prevailed against Pyrrhus and Hamilcar.
On such a day we may suppose that the patriotic enthusiasm of a
Latin poet would vent itself in reiterated shouts of ``Io
triumphe,'' such as were uttered by Horace on a far less exciting
occasion, and in boasts resembling those which Virgil put into
the mouth of Anchises. The superiority of some foreign nations,
and especially of the Greeks, in the lazy arts of peace, would be
admitted with disdainful candor; but preëminence in all the
qualities which fit a people to subdue and govern mankind would
be claimed for the Romans.
The following lay belongs to the latest age of Latin
ballad-poetry. Nævis and Livius Andronicus were probably among
the children whose mothers held them up to see the chariot of
Curius go by. The minstrel who sang on that day might possibly
have lived to read the first hexameters of Ennius, and to see the
first comedies of Plautus. His poem, as might be expected, shows
a much wider acquaintance with the geography, manners, and
productions of remote nations, than would have been found in
compositions of the age of Camillus. But he troubles himself
little about dates, and having heard travellers talk with
admiration of the Colossus of Rhodes, and of the structures and
gardens with which the Macedonian king of Syria had embellished
their residence on the banks of the Orontes, he has never thought
of inquiring whether these things existed in the age of Romulus.
The Prophecy of Capys
A Lay Sung at the Banquet in the Capitol, on the Day Whereon
Manius Curius Dentatus, a Second Time Consul, Triumphed Over King
Pyrrhus and the Tarentines, in the Year of the City CCCCLXXIX
Now slain is King Amulius,
Of the great Sylvian line,
Who reigned in Alba Longa,
On the throne of Aventine.
Slain is the Ponfiff Camers,
Who spake the words of doom:
``The children to the Tiber,
The mother to the tomb.''
In Alba's lake no fisher
His net to-day is flinging;
On the dark rind of Alba's oaks
To-day no axe is ringing;
The yoke hangs o'er the manger;
The scythe lies in the hay:
Through all the Alban villages
No work is done to-day.
And every Alban burgher
Hath donned his whitest gown;
And every head in Alba
Weareth a poplar crown;
And every Alban door-post
With boughs and flowers is gay,
For to-day the dead are living,
The lost are found to-day.
They were doomed by a bloody king,
They were doomed by a lying priest,
They were cast on the raging flood,
They were tracked by the raging beast;
Raging beast and raging flood
Alike have spared the prey;
And to-day the dead are living,
The lost are found to-day.
The troubled river knew them,
And smoothed his yellow foam,
And gently rocked the cradle
That bore the fate of Rome.
The ravening she-wolf knew them,
And licked them o'er and o'er,
And gave them of her own fierce milk,
Rich with raw flesh and gore.
Twenty winters, twenty springs,
Since then have rolled away;
And to-day the dead are living:
The lost are found to-day.
Blithe it was to see the twins,
Right goodly youths and tall,
Marching from Alba Longa
To their old grandsire's hall.
Along their path fresh garlands
Are hung from tree to tree:
Before them stride the pipers,
Piping a note of glee.
On the right goes Romulus,
With arms to the elbows red,
And in his hand a broadsword,
And on the blade a head--
A head in an iron helmet,
With horse-hair hanging down,
A shaggy head, a swarthy head,
Fixed in a ghastly frown--
The head of King Amulius
Of the great Sylvian line,
Who reigned in Alba Longa,
On the throne of Aventine.
On the left side goes Remus,
With wrists and fingers red,
And in his hand a boar-spear,
And on the point a head--
A wrinkled head and aged,
With silver beard and hair,
And holy fillets round it,
Such as the pontiffs wear--
The head of ancient Camers,
Who spake the words of doom:
``The children to the Tiber;
The mother to the tomb.''
Two and two behind the twins
Their trusty comrades go,
Four and forty valiant men,
With club, and axe, and bow.
On each side every hamlet
Pours forth its joyous crowd,
Shouting lads and baying dogs,
And children laughing loud,
And old men weeping fondly
As Rhea's boys go by,
And maids who shriek to see the heads,
Yet, shrieking, press more nigh.
So marched they along the lake;
They marched by fold and stall,
By cornfield and by vineyard,
Unto the old man's hall.
In the hall-gate sat Capys,
Capys, the sightless seer;
From head to foot he trembled
As Romulus drew near.
And up stood stiff his thin white hair,
And his blind eyes flashed fire:
``Hail! foster child of the wondrous nurse!
Hail! son of the wondrous sire!''
``But thou--what dost thou here
In the old man's peaceful hall?
What doth the eagle in the coop,
The bison in the stall?
Our corn fills many a garner;
Our vines clasp many a tree;
Our flocks are white on many a hill:
But these are not for thee.
``For thee no treasure ripens
In the Tartessian mine;
For thee no ship brings precious bales
Across the Libyan brine;
Thou shalt not drink from amber;
Thou shalt not rest on down;
Arabia shall not steep thy locks,
Nor Sidon tinge thy gown.
``Leave gold and myrrh and jewels,
Rich table and soft bed,
To them who of man's seed are born,
Whom woman's milk have fed.
Thou wast not made for lucre,
For pleasure, nor for rest;
Thou, that art sprung from the War-god's loins,
And hast tugged at the she-wolf's breast.
``From sunrise unto sunset
All earth shall hear thy fame:
A glorious city thou shalt build,
And name it by thy name:
And there, unquenched through ages,
Like Vesta's sacred fire,
Shall live the spirit of thy nurse,
The spirit of thy sire.
``The ox toils through the furrow,
Obedient to the goad;
The patient ass, up flinty paths,
Plods with his weary load:
With whine and bound the spaniel
His master's whistle hears;
And the sheep yields her patiently
To the loud-clashing shears.
``But thy nurse will hear no master,
Thy nurse will bear no load;
And woe to them that shear her,
And woe to them that goad!
When all the pack, loud baying,
Her bloody lair surrounds,
She dies in silence, biting hard,
Amidst the dying hounds.
Pomona loves the orchard;
And Liber loves the vine;
And Pales loves the straw-built shed
Warm with the breath of kine;
And Venus loves the whispers
Of plighted youth and maid,
In April's ivory moonlight
Beneath the chestnut shade.
``But thy father loves the clashing
Of broadsword and of shield:
He loves to drink the steam that reeks
From the fresh battlefield:
He smiles a smile more dreadful
Than his own dreadful frown,
When he sees the thick black cloud of smoke
Go up from the conquered town.
``And such as is the War-god,
The author of thy line,
And such as she who suckled thee,
Even such be thou and thine.
Leave to the soft Campanian
His baths and his perfumes;
Leave to the sordid race of Tyre
Their dyeing-vats and looms;
Leave to the sons of Carthage
The rudder and the oar;
Leave to the Greek his marble Nymphs
And scrolls of wordy lore.
``Thine, Roman, is the pilum:
Roman, the sword is thine,
The even trench, the bristling mound,
The legion's ordered line;
And thine the wheels of triumph,
Which with their laurelled train
Move slowly up the shouting streets
To Jove's eternal flame.
Beneath thy yoke the Volscian
Shall vail his lofty brow;
Soft Capua's curled revellers
Before thy chairs shall bow:
The Lucumoes of Arnus
Shall quake thy rods to see;
And the proud Samnite's heart of steel
Shall yield to only thee.
``The Gaul shall come against thee
From the land of snow and night;
Thou shalt give his fair-haired armies
To the raven and the kite.
``The Greek shall come against thee,
The conqueror of the East.
Beside him stalks to battle
The huge earth-shaking beast,
The beast on whom the castle
With all its guards doth stand,
The beast who hath between his eyes
The serpent for a hand.
First march the bold Epirotes,
Wedged close with shield and spear
And the ranks of false Tarentum
Are glittering in the rear.
The ranks of false Tarentum
Like hunted sheep shall fly:
In vain the bold Epirotes
Shall round their standards die:
And Apennine's gray vultures
Shall have a noble feast
On the fat and the eyes
Of the the huge earth-shaking beast.
``Hurrah! for the good weapons
That keep the War-god's land.
Hurrah! for Rome's stout pilum
In a stout Roman hand.
Hurrah! for Rome's short broadsword
That through the thick array
Of levelled spears and serried shields
Hews deep its gory way.
``Hurrah! for the great triumph
That stretches many a mile.
Hurrah! for the wan captives
That pass in endless file.
Ho! bold Epirotes, whither
Hath the Red King taken flight?
Ho! dogs of false Tarentum,
Is not the gown washed white?
``Hurrah! for the great triumph
That stretches many a mile.
Hurrah! for the rich dye of Tyre,
And the fine web of Nile,
The helmets gay with plumage
Torn from the pheasant's wings,
The belts set thick with starry gem
That shone on Indian kings,
The urns of massy silver,
The goblets rough with gold,
The many-colored tablets bright
With loves and wars of old,
The stone that breathes and struggles,
The brass that seems to speak;--
Such cunning they who dwell on high
Have given unto the Greek.
``Hurrah! for Manius Curius,
The bravest son of Rome,
Thrice in utmost need sent forth,
Thrice drawn in triumph home.
Weave, weave, for Manius Curius
The third embroidered gown:
Make ready the third lofty car,
And twine the third green crown;
And yoke the steeds of Rosea
With necks like a bended bow,
And deck the bull, Mevania's bull,
The bull as white as snow.
``Blest and thrice blest the Roman
Who sees Rome's brightest day,
Who sees that long victorious pomp
Wind down the Sacred Way,
And through the bellowing Forum,
And round the Suppliant's Grove,
Up to the everlasting gates
Of Capitolian Jove.
``Then where, o'er two bright havens,
The towers of Corinth frown;
Where the gigantic King of Day
On his own Rhodes looks down;
Where oft Orontes murmurs
Beneath the laurel shades;
Where Nile reflects the endless length
Of dark red colonnades;
Where in the still deep water,
Sheltered from waves and blasts,
Bristles the dusky forest
Of Byrsa's thousand masts;
Where fur-clad hunters wander
Amidst the northern ice;
Where through the sand of morning-land
The camel bears the spice;
Where Atlas flings his shadow
Far o'er the western foam,
Shall be great fear on all who hear
The might name of Rome.''
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