LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME
THOMAS B. MACAULAY
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 the destruction of the records. It is certain, therefore, that
the great Latin writers of a later period did not possess those materials
without which a trustworthy account of the infancy of the republic could not
possibly be framed. They 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 those 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 son of
Mars, and the husband of Egeria, as mere mythological personages, of the same
class with Perseus and Ixion. As he draws nearer and 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.
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 words
fashioned on Greek models. The Latin meters, 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 comedies are free translations from Demophilus, Menander,
and Apollodorus. 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 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.
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 hon 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 reliques 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
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 a line.
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 until
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 ascendancy that they stooped to
pass under the intellectual yoke. It was precisely at the time at which the
scepter 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 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 Apennines, as active as the
search which Sir Walter Scott made among the descendants 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 theaters 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 an occasion, 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 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.
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 a Roman citizen, born three or
four 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 it 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
It would have been obviously improper to mimic the manner of any particular
age or country. Something has been borrowed, however, from our own 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.
There can be little doubt that among those parts of early Roman history
which had a poetical origin was the legend of Horatius Codes. 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 praetor 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 Dionysus
followed, Horatius had two companions, swam safe to shore, and was loaded with
honors and rewards.
It is by no means unlikely that there were two old Roman lays about the
defense 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 Camillus, after the taking
of Veii, were regarded.
[The legendary history makes an Etruscan dynasty of three kings, Tarquinius
Priscus, Servius Tullius, and Tarquinius Superbus, to have ruled Rome
successively; but the tyranny of the house became so hateful that the
Tarquinian family was banished, and a republic, governed by two magistrates
called consuls, chosen annually, was set up 509 B. C., or in the year 244 from
the foundation of Rome. Tarquin attempted, first by intrigue and then by open
war, to recover his throne; it was then that he sought the alliance of Porsena,
who ruled over Etruria, and the ballad that follows narrates the exploit of
Horatius when the city was defending itself.]
A LAY MADE ABOUT THE YEAR OF THE CITY CCCLX
LARS PORSENA of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
5 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.
- Lars in the Etruscan tongue signified chieftain. Clusium is the modern
- The Romans had a tradition that there were nine great Etruscan gods.
10 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
15 Who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium
Is on the march for Rome.
The horsemen and the footmen
Are pouring in amain
20 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
25 Of purple Apennine;
From lordly Volaterrae,
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For godlike kings of old;
30 From seagirt Populonia,
Whose sentinels descry
Sardinia's snowy mountain-tops
Fringing the southern sky;
26. Volaterrrae, modern Volterra.
27. "The situation of the Etruscan towns is one of the most striking
characteristics of Tuscan scenery. Many of them occupy surfaces of tableland
surrounded by a series of gullies not visible from a distance. The traveller
thus may be a whole day reaching a place which in the morning may have seemed
to him but a little way off." - Dennis, Cities and Cemetaries of Etruria.
From the proud mart of Pisae,
35 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;
40 From where Cortona lifts to heaven
Her diadem of towers.
34. Pisae, now Pisa.
36. Massilia, the ancient Marseilles, which originally was a Greek colony
and a great commercial center.
37. The fair-haired slaves were doubtless slaves from Gaul, bought and sold
by the Greek merchants.
39. Clanis, the modern la Chicana.
Tall are the oaks whose acorns
Drop in dark Auser's rill;
Fat are the stags that champ the boughs
45 Of the Ciminian hill;
Beyond all streams Clitumnus
Is to the herdsman dear;
Best of all pools the fowler loves
The great Volsinian mere.
43 The Auser was a tributary stream of the river Arno. 46. Clitumnus,
Clituno in modern times.
49. Volsinian mere, now known as Lago di Bolsena.
50 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
55 Grazes the milk-white steer;
Unharmed the waterfowl may dipIn the Volsinian mere.
The harvests of Arretium,
This year, old men shall reap,
60 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
65 Whose sires have marched to Rome.
58. Arretium, now Arezzo.
60. Umbro, the river Ombrone. All this region was occupied by the Etruscans,
and since the men had gone to fight Rome, only the old and very young would be
left to carry on the work of the country.
There be thirty chosen prophets,
The wisest of the land,
Who alway by Lars Porsena
Both morn and evening stand:
70 Evening and morn the Thirty
Have turned the verses o'er,
Traced from the right on linen white
By mighty seers of yore.
66. The Etruscan religion was one of sorcery, and their prophets were augnrs
who sought to know the will of the gods by various outward signs; such as the
flight of birds, the direction of lightning, and the mystic writings of the
prophets before them.
72. The Etruscan writing was from right to left.
And with one voice the Thirty
75 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;
80 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,
85 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.
83. Tale of men. Compare Milton's lines in L'Allegro, -"And every
shepherd tells his tale Under the hawthorn, in the dale" The tally which
we keep is a kindred word.
86. Sutrium is Sutri today.
90 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
95 To join the muster came
The Tusculan Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name,
But by the yellow Tiber
Was tumult and affright:
100 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
105 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,
110 And sick men borne in litters
High on the necks of slaves,
And troops of sunburnt husbandmen
With reaping-hooks and staves,
And droves of mules and asses
115 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
120 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
125 Red in the midnight sky.
The Fathers of the City,
They sat all night and day,
For every hour some horseman came
With tidings of dismay.
122. The Tarpeian rock waa a cliff on the steepest side of the Capitoline
Hill in Rome, and overhung the Tiber.
123. Burghers. Macaulay usen a very modern word to descrihe the men of Rome.
126 The Fathers of the City, otherwise the Senators of Rome.
130 To eastward and to westward
Have spread the Tuscan bands;
Nor house nor fence nor dovecote
In Crustumerium stands.
Verbenna down to Ostia
135 Hath wasted all the plain;
Astur bath stormed Janiculum,
And the stout guards are slain.
134. Ostia, at tile month of the Tiber, was the port of Rome.
136. The Janiculan hill was on the right bank of the Tiber.
Iwis, in all the Senate,
There was no heart so bold,
140 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,
145 And hied them to the wall.
138 Iuis compare Lowell'a lines in Credidimus Jovem regnere: "God
vanished long ago, Iwis, A mere subjective synthesis."Its meaning is
They held a council standing
Before the River-Gate;
Short time was there, ye well may guess,
For musing or debate.
150 Out spake the Consul roundly:
"The bridge must straight go down;
For, since Janiculum is lost,
Naught else can save the town."
151. The bridge was the Sublician bridge, said to have been thrown across
the Tiber by Ancus Martius in the year 114 of the city.
Just then a scout came flying,
155 All wild with haste and fear;
"To arms! to arms! Sir Consul:
Lars Porsena is here."
On the low hills to westward
The Consul 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,
165 From nunderneath 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,
170 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
175 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,
180 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,
185 Each warlike Lucumo.
There Cilmus of Arretium
On his fleet roan was seen;
And Astur of the fourfold shield,
Girt with the brand none else may wield,
190 Tolumnius with the belt of gold,
And dark Verbenna from the hold
By reedy Thrasymene.
184. By port and vest, i. e., by the way he carried himself and by his
dress. Vest, an abbreviation of vesture.
185. Lucumo was the name given by the Latin writers to the Etruscan chiefs.
192. Thrasymene or Trasimenus is Lago di. Perugio, and was famous in Roman
history as the scene of a victory by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, over
the Roman forces.
Fast by the royal standard,
O'erlooking all the war,
195 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,
200 That wrought the deed of shame.
197. Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum married the daughter of Tarquinius.
199. Sextus, a son of Tarquinins, and the one whose wickedness was the
immediate cause of the expulsion of the Tarquins.
But when the face of Sextus
Was seen among the foes,
A yell that rent the firmament
From all the town arose.
200 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,
210 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;
215 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
220 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,
225 "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
230 Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?
229.The Vestal virgins were bound by vows of celibacy, and kept burning the
sacred fire of Vesta. The order survived till near the close of the fourth
century of our era. For a very interesting account of tho House of the Vestal
Virgins, see Lanciani, Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries.
"Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
235 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,
240 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."
245 And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
"I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee."
242. The Ramnes were one of the three tribes who comprised the Roman
Patricians,, or noble class.
246 The Tities were another of these three tribes.
"Horatius," quoth the Consul,
250 " 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,
255 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,
260 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.
265 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,
270 In battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought
In the brave days of old.
267. The Tribunes were officers who represented the tribes of the common
people or Plebs of Rome. In the time when the ballad is supposed to be written,
there were two strong parties, the Fathers or Patricians (Patres), the Common
People or Plebs.
Now while the Three were tightening
Their harness on their backs,
275 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,
280 And loosed the props below.
277 Commons. Macaulay, on English Whig, used a political word very dear to
him, as representing the rise of English parliamentary government. 280. The
props held up the bridge from below. The Latin word for props was sublicae;
hence the Sublician bridge.
Meanwhile the Tuscan army,
Right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright
285 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,
290 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
295 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
300 To win the narrow way;
Aunus from green Tifernum,
Lord of the Hill of Vines;
And Seius, whose eight hundred slaves
Sicken in Ilva's mines;
305 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
310 O'er the pale waves of Nar.
301. Tiernum was on the west side of the Apennines, near the source of the
Tiber. It is now Citta di Castello.
304.Ilvo is the modern Elba, renowned as the Island to which Napoleon was
309. Nequinum, afterward Narnia and now Narni on the banks of the Nar.
Stout Lartius hurled down Aunus
Into the stream beneath:
Herminius struck at Seius,
And clove him to the teeth:
315 At Picus brave Horatius
Darted one fiery thrust;
And the proud Umbrian's gilded arms
Clashed in the bloody dust.
Then Ocnus of Falerii
320 Rushed on the Roman Three;
And Lausulus of Urgo,
The rover of the sea;
And Aruns of Volsinium,
Who slew the great wild boar,
325 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.
322. The Etruscans were pirates as well as merchants.
Herminius smote down Aruns:
330 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,
335 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."
340 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
345 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;
350 And the great Lord of Luna
Comes with his stately stride.
Upon his ample shoulders
Clangs loud the fourfold shield,
And in his hand he shakes the brand
355 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.
360 Quoth he, "The she-wolf's litter
Stand savagely at bay:
But will ye dare to follow,
If Astur clears the way?"
360. The she-wolf's litter, The reference is to the story of the suckling of
Romulus and Remus by a she-wolf.
Then, whirling up his broadsword
365 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.
370 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
375 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,
380 The good sword stood a handbreadth out
Behind the Tuscan's head.
And the great Lord of Luna
Fell at that deadly stroke,
As falls on Mount Alvernus
385 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.
390 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,
395 Fair guests, that waits you here
What noble Lucumo comes next
To taste our Roman cheer?"
But at his haughty challenge
A sullen murmur ran,
400 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
405 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:
410 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
415 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 !"
420 And those before cried "Back!
And backward now and forward
Wavers the deep array;
And on the tossing sea of steel,
To and fro the standards reel;
425 And the victorious trumpet-peal
Dies fitfully away.
Yet one man for one moment
Stood out before the crowd;
Well known was he to all the Three,
430 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."
435 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,
440 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;
445 And now the bridge hangs tottering
Above the boiling tide.
"Come back, come back, Horatius!"
Loud cried the Fathers all.
"Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!
450 Back, ere the ruin fall!"
Back darted Spurius Lartius;
Herminius darted back:
And as they passed, beneath their feet
They felt the timbers crack.
455 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
460 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,
465 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,
470 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,
475 Rushed headlong to the sea.
Alone stood brave Horatius
But constant still in mind;
Thrice thirty thousand foes before,
And the broad flood behind.
480 "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, its not deigning
485 Those craven ranks to see;
Naught spake he to Lars Porsena,
To Sextus naught spake he;
But he saw on Palatinus
The white porch of his home;
490 And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the towers of Rome.
488. Mons Palantinus survives in the Palatine hill of modern Rome.
"O Tiber! father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
495 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.
500 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;
505 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.
510 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,
515 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,
520 Struggle through such a raging flood
Safe to the landing-place:
But his limbs were born up bravely
By the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber
525 Bore bravely up his chin.
525. Macaulay notes as passages in English literature which he had in mind
when he wrote this: "Our ladye bare upp her chinne." from Ballad of
Childe Waters -"Never heavier man and horse Stemmed a midnight torrent's
force" "Yet, though good heart and our Lady's grace, At length he
gained the landing-place." Lay of the Last Minstrel.
"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!"
530 "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;
535 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,
540 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
545 Could plough from morn till night;
And they made a molten image,
And set it up on high,
And there it stands unto this day
To witness if I lie.
550 It stands in the Comitium,
Plain for all folk to see;
Horatius in his harness,
Halting upon one knee:
And underneath is written,
555 In letters all of gold,
How valiantly he kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.
550. The Comitium was that part of the Forum which served as the meeting
place of the Roman patricians.
And still his name sounds stirring
Unto the men of Rome,
560 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
565 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;
570 When round the lonely cottage
Roars loud the tempest's din,
And the good logs of Algidus
Roar louder yet within;
573. The Romans brought some of their firewood from the hill of Algidus,
about a dozen miles to the southeast of the town.
When the oldest cask is opened,
575 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;
580 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
595 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.
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