26 Jun 2007

Horatius’ Commendation: Military Humor

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Nicolò dell’Abbate, Horatius Cocles défendant un pont
16th century, lithograph, 39.8 x 55.5 cm. (15.7 x 21.9″), Louvre

Horatius Cocles’s gallant defense of the Sublican Bridge was mentioned in despatches by Livy, and sung of in the poem by Thomas Babbington Macauley


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?

‘Hew 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 Titan blood was he:
‘I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee.’

‘Horatius,’ quoth the Consul,
‘As thou sayest, so let it be.’
And straight against that great array
Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome’s quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
In the brave days of old.

Then none was for a party;
Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;
Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.

More recently, Colonel W. C. Hall had some fun imagining what Horatius’ citation would read like in our modern era (printed in the British Army Journal, January 1953).

One Feedback on "Horatius’ Commendation: Military Humor"

Mark Zanger

This fellow Macauley, very militant sounding in this poem, but rather a professional Whig. I’ve read certain essays of his which might easily pass for…gasp…Liberal! One on the toleration of the Jews, written in perhaps the 1830s or 1840s, most errantly starts us down the slippery slope of multi-culturalism.


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