HOW HORATIUS HELD THE BRIDGE


King Tarquin* and his son Lucius (for he only remained to him of the three) fled to Lars Porsenna, King of Clusium, and besought him that he would help them. "Suffer not," they said, "that we, who are Tuscans by birth, should remain any more in poverty and exile. And take heed also to thyself and thine own kingdom if thou permit this new fashion of driving forth kings to go unpunished. For surely there is [pg 283] that in freedom which men greatly desire, and if they that be kings defend not their dignity as stoutly as others seek to overthrow it, then shall the highest be made even as the lowest, and there shall be an end of kingship, than which there is nothing more honorable under heaven." With these words they persuaded King Porsenna, who judging it well for the Etrurians that there should be a king at Rome, and that king an Etrurian by birth, gathered together a great army and came up against Rome. But when men heard of his coming, so mighty a city was Clusium in those days, and so great the fame of King Porsenna, there was such fear as had never been before. Nevertheless they were steadfastly purposed to hold out. And first all that were in the country fled into the city, and round about the city they set guards to keep it, part thereof being defended by walls, and part, for so it seemed, being made safe by the river. But here a great peril had well-nigh over-taken the city; for there was a wooden bridge on the river by which the enemy had crossed but for the courage of a certain Horatius Cocles. The matter fell out in this wise.

There was a certain hill which men called Janiculum on the side of the river, and this hill King Porsenna took by a sudden attack. Which when Horatius saw (for he chanced to have been set to guard the bridge, and saw also how the enemy were running at full speed to the place, and how the Romans were fleeing in confusion and threw away their arms as they ran), he cried with a loud voice, "Men of Rome, it is to no purpose that ye thus leave your post and flee, for if ye leave this bridge behind you for men to pass over, ye shall soon find that ye have more enemies in your city than in Janiculum. Do ye therefore break it down with axe and fire as best ye can. In the meanwhile I, so far as one man may do, will stay the enemy." And as he spake he ran forward to the farther end of the bridge and made ready to keep the way against the enemy. Nevertheless there stood two with him, Lartius and Herminius by name, men of noble birth both of them and of great renown in arms. So these three for a while stayed the first onset of the enemy; and the men of Rome meanwhile brake down the bridge. And when there was but a small part remaining, [pg 284] and they that brake it down called to the three that they should come back, Horatius bade Lartius and Herminius return, but he himself remained on the farther side, turning his eyes full of wrath in threatening fashion on the princes of the Etrurians, and crying, "Dare ye now to fight with me? or why are ye thus come at the bidding of your master, King Porsenna, to rob others of the freedom that ye care not to have for yourselves?" For a while they delayed, looking each man to his neighbor, who should first deal with this champion of the Romans. Then, for very shame, they all ran forward, and raising a great shout, threw their javelins at him. These all he took upon his shield, nor stood the less firmly in his place on the bridge, from which when they would have thrust him by force, of a sudden the men of Rome raised a great shout, for the bridge was now altogether broken down, and fell with a great crash into the river. And as the enemy stayed a while for fear, Horatius turned him to the river and said, "O Father Tiber, I beseech thee this day with all reverence that thou kindly receive this soldier and his arms." And as he spake he leapt with all his arms into the river and swam across to his own people, and though many javelins of the enemy fell about him, he was not one whit hurt. Nor did such valor fail to receive due honor from the city. For the citizens set up a statue of Horatius in the market-place; and they gave him of the public land so much as he could plow about in one day. Also there was this honor paid him, that each citizen took somewhat of his own store and gave it to him, for food was scarce in the city by reason of the siege.


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