Sunday, March 29, 2009


In Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome" the fabulous poem about brave Horatius and his defense of the Pons Sublicius - a bridge that was threatened in the early days of the Roman Republic.

This is really a stirring story, and the poem does it great justice. If the story is new to you, then here it is - one of the expelled Kings of Rome stirred up some of the Italian tribes (Campanians, etc) against the City and they attacked, so that the exiled King could again be placed on the throne, and the fledgling Republic would be done away with. The attack came against the Pons Sublicius bridge, and the defenders of the city needed time to destroy the bridge and keep the army out. Brave Horatius Cocles volunteered, with two companions (Lartius and Herminius), to defend the bridge against the 30,000 strong invading army. This they did, piling up the dead.

Eventually the bridge was about to collapse, and Horatius has his two companions jump to safety, while he prays to the god of the river Tiber to protect him, and in his armor, he dives into the river, and then heroically swims to safety, as the bridge is brought down behind him. The city is saved, and Horatius and his companions sail off into mythic History (just ask Livy). Here is an excerpt of the terrific poem, from 1842, by Thomas Babbington Macaulay . . .

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods,

"And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?

"Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?"

Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
A Ramnian proud was he:
"Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
And keep the bridge with thee."
And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
"I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee."

Stirring Stuff! It's worth anyone interested in Rome, Wargaming, or just Great Poetry to read the original.


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