Preface to Horatiusfrom The Lays of Ancient Rome
by Thomas Babington Macaulay
These discrepancies are easily explained. Our own literature, indeed, will furnish an exact parallel to what may have taken place at Rome. It is highly probably that the memory of the war of Porsena was preserved by compositions much resembling the two ballads which stand first in the Relics of Ancient English Poetry. In both those ballads the English, commanded by the Percy, fight with the Scots, commanded by the Douglas. In one of the ballads the Douglas is killed by a nameless English archer, and the Percy by a Scottish spearman; in the other, the Percy slays the Douglas in single combat, and is himself made prisoner. In the former, Sir Hugh Montgomery is shot through the heart by a Northumbrian bowman; in the latter he is taken and exchanged for the Percy. Yet both the ballads relate to the same event, and that event which probably took place within the memory of persons who were alive when both the ballads were made. One of the Minstrels says:--
``Old men that knowen the grounde well yenoughe
The other poet sums up the event in the following lines:
``Thys fraye bygan at Otterborne
It is by no means unlikely that there were two old Roman lays about the defence of the bridge; and that, while the story which Livy has transmitted to us was preferred by the multitude, the other, which ascribed the whole glory to Horatius alone, may have been the favorite with the Horatian house.
The following ballad is supposed to have been made about a hundred and twenty years after the war which it celebrates, and just before the taking of Rome by the Gauls. The author seems to have been an honest citizen, proud of the military glory of his country , sick of the disputes of factions, and much given to pining after good old times which had never really existed. The allusion, however, to the partial manner in which the public lands were allotted could proceed only from a plebeian; and the allusion to the fraudulent sale of spoils marks the date of the poem, and shows that the poet shared in the general discontent with which the proceedings of Camullus, after the taking of Veii, were regarded.
The penultimate syllable of the name Porsena has been shortened in spite
of the authority of Niebuhr, who pronounces, without assigning any
ground for his opinion, that Martial was guilty of a decided blunder in
Niebuhr's supposition that each of the three defenders of the bridge was the representative of one of the three patrician tribes is both ingenious and probable, and has been adopted in the following poem.
Bob Blair, Editor.
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