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To Rome men took their flight. A mile around the city,
The throng stopped up the ways; A fearful sight it was to see
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, 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
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 Of corn-sacks and of household goods,
Choked every roaring gate.
Now, from the rock Tarpeian9
Could the wan burghers spy The line of blazing villages
Red in the midnight sky.
9. A part of the Capitol ine. one of the seven hills on which Rome is built, was called the Tarpeian Rock, after Tarpeia, daughter of an early governor of the citadel on the Capitoline. According to the popular legend, when the Sabines came against Rome, Tarpeia promised to open the gate of the fortress to them if they would give her what they wore on their left arms. It was their jewelry which she coveted, but she was punished for her greed and treachery, for when the soldiers had entered the fortress they hurled their shields upon her, crushing her to death.
The Fathers of the City,10
They sat all night and day,
With tidings of dismay.
To eastward and to westward
Have spread the Tuscan bands; Nor house nor fence nor dovecote
In Crustumerium stands. Verbenna down to Ostia11
Hath wasted all the plain; Astur hath stormed Janiculum,12
And the stout guards are slain.
Iwis,13 in all the Senate,
There was no heart so bold, But sore it ached, and fast it beat,
When that ill news was told.
Uprose the Fathers all;
And hied them to the wall.
They held a council standing
Before the River-Gate; Short time was there, ye well may guess,
For musing or debate.
10. Fathers of the City was the name given to the members of the Roman Senate.
11. Ostia was the port of Rome, situated at the mouth of the Tiber.
12. Janiculum is a hill on the west bank of the Tiber at Rome. It was strongly fortified, and commanded the approach to Rome.
13. Iicis is an obsolete word meaning truly.
14. When the kings were banished from Rome the people vowed that never again should one man hold the supreme power. Two chief rulers were therefore chosen, and were given the name of consuls.
Out spake the Consul roundly:
"The bridge must straight go down;
For since Janiculum is lost,
Naught else can save the town."
Just then a scout came flying,
All wild with haste and fear;
Lars Porsena is here."
The Consul fixed his eye,
Rise fast along the sky.
And nearer fast and nearer
Doth the red whirlwind come; And louder still and still more loud, From underneath that rolling cloud, Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud,
The trampling, and the hum.
Now through the gloom appears,
The long array of spears.
And plainly, and more plainly
Above that glimmering line,
Of twelve fair cities shine;
Was highest of them all,
The terror of the Gaul.
Fast by the royal standard,
Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the right wheel rode Mamilius,
But when the face of Sextus
Was seen among the foes,
From all the town arose.
15. Sextus was the son of the last king of Rome. It was a shameful deed of his which finally roused the people against the Tarquin family.
On the house-tops was no woman
But spat toward him and hissed, No child but screamed put curses,
And shook its little fist.
But the Consul's brow was sad,
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; 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
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,16 To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?
16. In the temple of the goddess Vesta a sacred flame was kept burning constantly, and it was thought that the consequences to the city would be most dire if the fire were allowed to go out. The Vestal virgins, priestesses who tended the flame, were held in the highest honor.