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Virginia - Lays of Ancient Rome

by Thomas Babbington Macaulay

A collection consisting exclusively of war-songs would give an imperfect, or rather an erroneous, notion of the spirit of the old Latin ballads. The Patricians, during more than a century after the expulsion of the Kings, held all the high military commands. A Plebeian, even though, like Lucius Siccius, he were distinguished by his valor and knowledge of war, could serve only in subordinate posts. A minstrel, therefore, who wished to celebrate the early triumphs of his country, could hardly take any but Patricians for his heroes. The warriors who are mentioned in the two preceding lays, Horatius, Lartius, Herminius, Aulus Posthumius, Æbutius Elva, Sempronius Atratinus, Valerius Poplicola, were all members of the dominant order; and a poet who was singing their praises, whatever his own political opinions might be, would naturally abstain from insulting the class to which they belonged, and from reflecting on the system which had placed such men at the head of the legions of the Commonwealth.

But there was a class of compositions in which the great families were by no means so courteously treated. No parts of early Roman history are richer with poetical coloring than those which relate to the long contest between the privileged houses and the commonality. The population of Rome was, from a very early period, divided into hereditary castes, which, indeed, readily united to repel foreign enemies, but which regarded each other, during many years, with bitter animosity. Between those castes there was a barrier hardly less strong than that which, at Venice, parted the members of the Great Council from their countrymen. In some respects, indeed, the line which separated an Icilius or a Duilius from a Posthumius or a Fabius was even more deeply marked than that which separated the rower of gondola from a Contarini or a Morosini. At Venice the distinction was merely civil. At Rome it was both civil and religious. Among the grievances under which the Plebeians suffered, three were felt as peculiarly severe. They were excluded from the highest magistracies; they were excluded from all share in the public lands; and they were ground down to the dust by partial and barbarous legislation touching pecuniary contracts. The ruling class in Rome was a moneyed class; and it made and administered the laws with a view solely to its own interest. Thus the relation between lender and borrower was mixed up with the relation between sovereign and subject. The great men held a large portion of the community in dependence by means of advances at enormous usury. The law of debt, framed by creditors, and for the protection of creditors, was the host horrible that has ever been known among men. The liberty and even the life of the insolvent were at the mercy of the Patrician money-lenders. Children often became slaves in consequence of the misfortunes of their parents. The debtor was imprisoned, not in a public jail under the care of impartial public functionaries, but in a private workhouse belonging to the creditor. Frightful stories were told respecting these dungeons. It was said that torture and brutal violation were common; that tight stocks, heavy chains, scanty measures of food, were used to punish wretches guilty of nothing but poverty; and that brave soldiers, whose breasts were covered with honorable scars, were often marked still more deeply on the back by the scourges of high-born usurers.

The Plebeians were, however, not wholly without constitutional rights. From an early period they had been admitted to some share of political power. They were enrolled each in his century, and were allowed a share, considerable though not proportioned to their numerical strength, in the disposal of those high dignities from which they were themselves excluded. Thus their position bore some resemblance to that of the Irish Catholics during the interval between the year 1792 and the year 1829. The Plebeians had also the privilege of annually appointing officers, named Tribunes, who had no active share in the government of the commonwealth, but who, by degree, acquired a power formidable even to the ablest and most resolute Consuls and Dictators. The person of the Tribune was inviolable; and, though he could directly effect little, he could obstruct everything.

During more than a century after the institution of the Tribuneship, the Commons struggled manfully for the removal of the grievances under which they labored; and, in spite of many checks and reverses, succeeded in wringing concession after concession from the stubborn aristocracy. At length in the year of the city 378, both parties mustered their whole strength for their last and most desperate conflict. The popular and active Tribune, Caius Licinius, proposed the three memorable laws which are called by his name, and which were intended to redress the three great evils of which the Plebeians complained. He was supported, with eminent ability and firmness, by his colleague, Lucius Sextius. The struggle appears to have been the fiercest that every in any community terminated without an appeal to arms. If such a contest had raged in any Greek city, the streets would have run with blood. But, even in the paroxysms of faction, the Roman retained his gravity, his respect for law, and his tenderness for the lives of his fellow citizens. Year after year Licinius and Sextius were reëlected Tribunes. Year after year, if the narrative which has come down to us is to be trusted, they continued to exert, to the full extent, their power of stopping the whole machine of government. No curule magistrates could be chosen; no military muster could be held. We know too little of the state of Rome in those days to be able to conjecture how, during that long anarchy, the peace was kept, and ordinary justice administered between man and man. The animosity of both parties rose to the greatest height. The excitement, we may well suppose, would have been peculiarly intense at the annual election of Tribunes. On such occasions there can be little doubt that the great families did all that could be done, by threats and caresses, to break the union of the Plebeians. That union, however, proved indissoluble. At length the good cause triumphed. The Licinian laws were carried. Lucius Sextius was the first Plebeian Consul, Caius Licinius the third.

The results of this great change were singularly happy and glorious. Two centuries of prosperity, harmony, and victory followed the reconciliation of the orders. Men who remembered Rome engaged in waging petty wars almost within sight of the Capitol lived to see her the mistress of Italy. While the disabilities of the Plebeians continued, she was scarcely able to maintain her ground against the Volscians and Hernicans. When those disabilities were removed, she rapidly became more than a match for Carthage and Macedon.

During the great Licinian contest the Plebeian poets were, doubtless, not silent. Even in modern times songs have been by no means without influence on public affairs; and we may therefore infer that, in a society where printing was unknown and where books were rare, a pathetic or humorous party-ballad must have produced effects such as we can but faintly conceive. It is certain that satirical poems were common at Rome from a very early period. The rustics, who lived at a distance from the seat of government, and took little part in the strife of factions, gave vent to their petty local animosities in coarse Fescennine verse. The lampoons of the city were doubtless of a higher order; and their sting was early felt by the nobility. For in the Twelve Tables, long before the time of the Licinian laws, a severe punishment was denounced against the citizen who should compose or recite verses reflecting on another. Satire is, indeed, the only sort of composition in which the Latin poets, whose works have come down to us, were not mere imitators of foreign models; and it is therefore the only sort of composition in which they have never been rivalled. It was not, like their tragedy, their comedy, their epic and lyric poetry, a hothouse plant which, in return for assiduous and skilful culture, gave only scanty and sickly fruits. It was hardy and full of sap; and in all the various juices which it yielded might be distinguished the flavor of the Ausonian soil. "Satire," said Quinctilian, with just pride, "is all our own." Satire sprang, in truth, naturally from the constitution of the Roman government and from the spirit of the Roman people; and, though at length subjected to metrical rules derived from Greece, retained to the last an essentially Roman character. Lucilius was the earliest satirist whose works were held in esteem under the Caesars. But many years before Lucilius was born, Nævius had been flung into a dungeon, and guarded there with circumstances of unusual rigor, on account of the bitter lines in which he had attacked the great Caecilian family. The genius and spirit of the Roman satirists survived the liberty of their country, and were not extinguished by the cruel despotism of the Julian and Flavian Emperors. The great poet who told the story of Domitian's turbot was the legitimate successor of those forgotten minstrels whose songs animated the factions of the infant Republic.

Those minstrels, as Niebuhr has remarked, appear to have generally taken the popular side. We can hardly be mistaken in supposing that, at the great crisis of the civil conflict, they employed themselves in versifying all the most powerful and virulent speeches of the Tribunes, and in heaping abuse on the leaders of the aristocracy. Every personal defect, every domestic scandal, every tradition dishonorable to a noble house, would be sought out, brought into notice, and exaggerated. The illustrious head of the aristocratical party, Marcus Furius Camillus, might perhaps be, in some measure, protected by his venerable age and by the memory of his great services to the state. But Appius Claudius Crassus enjoyed no such immunity. He was descended from a long line of ancestors distinguished by their haughty demeanor, and by the inflexibility with which they had withstood all the demands of the Plebeian order. While the political conduct and the deportment of the Claudian nobles drew upon them the fiercest public hatred, they were accused of wanting, if any credit is due to the early history of Rome, a class of qualities which, in a military commonwealth, is sufficient to cover a multitude of offences. The chiefs of the family appear to have been eloquent, versed in civil business, and learned after the fashion of their age; but in war they were not distinguished by skill or valor. Some of them, as if conscious where their weakness lay, had, when filling the highest magistracies, taken internal administration as their department of public business, and left the military command to their colleagues. One of them had been entrusted with an army, and had failed ignominiously. None of them had been honored with a triumph. None of them had achieved any martial exploit, such as those by which Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, Aulus Cornelius Cossus, and, above all, the great Camillus, had extorted the reluctant esteem of the multitude. During the Licinian conflict, Appius Claudius Crassus signalized himself by the ability and severity with which he harangued against the two great agitators. He would naturally, therefore, be the favorite mark of the Plebeian satirists; nor would they have been at a loss to find a point on which he was open to attack.

His grandfather, called, like himself, Appius Claudius, had left a name as much detested as that Sextus Tarquinius. This elder Appius had been Consul more than seventy years before the introduction of the Licinian laws. By availing himself of a singular crisis in public feeling, he had obtained the consent of the Commons to the abolition of the Tribuneship, and had been the chief of that Council of Ten to which the whole direction of the state had been committed. In a new months his administration had become universally odious. It had been swept away by an irresistible outbreak of popular fury; and its memory was still held in abhorrence by the whole city. The immediate cause of the downfall of this execrable government was said to have been an attempt made by Appius Claudius upon the chastity of a beautiful young girl of humble birth. The story ran that the Decemvir, unable to succeed by bribes and solicitations, resorted to an outrageous act of tyranny. A vile dependent of the Claudian house laid claim to the damsel as his slave. The cause was brought before the tribunal of Appius. The wicked magistrate, in defiance of the clearest proofs, gave judgment for the claimant. But the girl's father, a brave soldier, saved her from servitude and dishonor by stabbing her to the heart in the sight of the whole Forum. That blow was the signal for a general explosion. Camp and city rose at once; the Ten were pulled down; the Tribuneship was reëstablished; and Appius escaped the hands of the executioner only by a voluntary death.

It can hardly be doubted that a story so admirably adapted to the purposes both of the poet and of the demagogue would be eagerly seized upon by minstrels burning with hatred against the Patrician order, against the Claudian house, and especially against the grandson and namesake of the infamous Decemvir.

In order that the reader may judge fairly of these fragments of the lay of Virginia, he must imagine himself a Plebeian who has just voted for the reëlection of Sextius and Licinius. All the power of the Patricians has been exerted to throw out the two great champions of the Commons. Every Posthumius, Æmilius, and Cornelius has used his influence to the utmost. Debtors have been let out of the workhouses on condition of voting against the men of the people; clients have been posted to hiss and interrupt the favorite candidates; Appius Claudius Crassus has spoken with more than his usual eloquence and asperity: all has been in vain, Licinius and Sextius have a fifth time carried all the tribes: work is suspended; the booths are closed; the Plebeians bear on their shoulders the two champions of liberty through the Forum. Just at this moment it is announced that a great poet, a zealous adherent of the Tribunes, has made a new song which will cut the Claudian nobles to the heart. The crowd gathers round him, and calls on him to recite it. He takes his stand on the spot where, according to tradition, Virginia, more than seventy years ago, was seized by the pandar of Appius, and he begins his story.

Fragments of a Lay Sung in the Forum on the Day Whereon Lucius
Sextius Sextinus Lateranus and Caius Licinius Calvus Stolo Were
Elected Tribunes of the Commons the Fifth Time, in the Year of
        Ye good men of the Commons, with loving hearts and true,
   Who stand by the bold Tribunes that still have stood by you,
   Come, make a circle round me, and mark my tale with care,
   A tale of what Rome once hath borne, of what Rome yet may bear.
   This is no Grecian fable, of fountains running wine,
   Of maids with snaky tresses, or sailors turned to swine.
   Here, in this very Forum, under the noonday sun,
   In sight of all the people, the bloody deed was done.
   Old men still creep among us who saw that fearful day,
   Just seventy years and seven ago, when the wicked Ten bare sway.
        Of all the wicked Ten still the names are held accursed,
   And of all the wicked Ten Appius Claudius was the worst.
   He stalked along the Forum like King Tarquin in his pride:
   Twelve axes waited on him, six marching on a side;
   The townsmen shrank to right and left, and eyed askance with fear
   His lowering brow, his curling mouth which always seemed to
   That brow of hate, that mouth of scorn, marks all the kindred
   For never was there Claudius yet but wished the Commons ill;
   Nor lacks he fit attendance; for close behind his heels,
   With outstretched chin and crouching pace, the client Marcus
   His loins girt up to run with speed, be the errand what it may,
   And the smile flickering on his cheek, for aught his lord may
   Such varlets pimp and jest for hire among the lying Greeks:
   Such varlets still are paid to hoot when brave Licinius speaks.
   Where'er ye shed the honey, the buzzing flies will crowd;
   Where'er ye fling the carrion, the raven's croak is loud;
   Where'er down Tiber garbage floats, the greedy pike ye see;
   And wheresoe'er such lord is found, such client still will be.
      Just then, as through one cloudless chink in a black stormy
   Shines out the dewy morning-star, a fair young girl came by.
   With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm,
   Home she went bounding from the school, nor dreamed of shame or
   And past those dreaded axes she innocently ran,
   With bright frank brow that had not learned to blush at gaze of
   And up the Sacred Street she turned, and, as she danced along,
   She warbled gayly to herself lines of the good old song,
   How for a sport the princes came spurring from the camp,
   And found Lucrece, combing the fleece, under the midnight lamp.
   The maiden sang as sings the lark, when up he darts his flight,
   From his nest in the green April corn, to meet the morning light;
   And Appius heard her sweet young voice, and saw her sweet young
   And loved her with the accursed love of his accursed race,
   And all along the Forum, and up the Sacred Street,
   His vulture eye pursued the trip of those small glancing feet.
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      Over the Alban mountains the light of morning broke;
   From all the roofs of the Seven Hills curled the thin wreaths of
   The city-gates were opened; the Forum all alive
   With buyers and with sellers was humming like a hive:
   Blithely on brass and timber the craftsman's stroke was ringing,
   And blithely o'er her panniers the market-girl was singing,
   And blithely young Virginia came smiling from her home:
   Ah! woe for young Virginia, the sweetest maid in Rome!
   With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm,
   Forth she went bounding to the school, nor dreamed of shame or
   She crossed the Forum shining with stalls in alleys gay,
   And just had reached the very spot whereon I stand this day,
   When up the varlet Marcus came; not such as when erewhile
   He crouched behind his patron's heels with the true client smile:
   He came with lowering forehead, swollen features, and clenched
   And strode across Virginia's path, and caught her by the wrist.
   Hard strove the frightened maiden, and screamed with look aghast;
   And at her scream from right and left the folk came running fast;
   The money-changer Crispus, with his thin silver hairs,
   And Hanno from the stately booth glittering with Punic wares,
   And the strong smith Muræna, grasping a half-forged brand,
   And Volero the flesher, his cleaver in his hand.
   All came in wrath and wonder, for all knew that fair child;
   And, as she passed them twice a day, all kissed their hands and
   And the strong smith Muræna gave Marcus such a blow,
   The caitiff reeled three paces back, and let the maiden go.
   Yet glared he fiercely round him, and growled in harsh, fell
   "She's mine, and I will have her, I seek but for mine own:
   She is my slave, born in my house, and stolen away and sold,
   The year of the sore sickness, ere she was twelve hours old.
   'Twas in the sad September, the month of wail and fright,
   Two augers were borne forth that morn; the Consul died ere night.
   I wait on Appius Claudius, I waited on his sire:
   Let him who works the client wrong beware the patron's ire."
      So spake the varlet Marcus; and dread and silence came
   On all the people at the sound of the great Claudian name.
   For then there was no Tribune to speak the word of might,
   Which makes the rich man tremble, and guards the poor man's
   There was no brave Licinius, no honest Sixtius then;
   But all the city, in great fear, obeyed the wicked Ten.
   Yet ere the varlet Marcus again might seize the maid,
   Who clung tight to Muræna's skirt, and sobbed, and shrieked for
   Forth through the throng of gazers the young Icilius pressed,
   And stamped his foot, and rent his gown, and smote upon his
   And sprang upon that column, by many a minstrel sung,
   Whereon three mouldering helmets, three rusting swords, are hung,
   And beckoned to the people, and in bold voice and clear
   Poured thick and fast the burning words which tyrants quake to
      "Now, by your children's cradles, now by your fathers'
   Be men to-day, Quirites, or be forever slaves!
   For this did Servius give us laws? For this did Lucrece bleed?
   For this was the great vengeance wrought on Tarquin's evil seed?
   For this did those false sons make red the axes of their sire?
   For this did Scævola's right hand hiss in the Tuscan fire?
   Shall the vile fox-earth awe the race that stormed the lion's
   Shall we, who could not brook one lord, crouch to the wicked Ten?
   Oh, for that ancient spirit which curbed the Senate's will!
   Oh, for the tents which in old time whitened the Sacred Hill!
   In those brave days our fathers stood firmly side by side;
   They faced the Marcian fury; they tamed the Fabian pride:
   They drove the fiercest Quinctius an outcast forth from Rome;
   They sent the haughtiest Claudius with shivered fasces home.
   But what their care bequeathed us our madness flung away:
   All the ripe fruit of threescore years was blighted in a day.
   Exult, ye proud Patricians! The hard-fought fight is o'er.
   We strove for honors—'twas in vain; for freedom—'tis no more.
   No crier to the polling summons the eager throng;
   No Tribune breathes the word of might that guards the weak from
   Our very hearts, that were so high, sink down beneath your will.
   Riches, and lands, and power, and state—ye have them:—keep them
   Still keep the holy fillets; still keep the purple gown,
   The axes, and the curule chair, the car, and laurel crown:
   Still press us for your cohorts, and, when the fight is done,
   Still fill your garners from the soil which our good swords have
   Still, like a spreading ulcer, which leech-craft may not cure,
   Let your foul usance eat away the substance of the poor.
   Still let your haggard debtors bear all their fathers bore;
   Still let your dens of torment be noisome as of yore;
   No fire when Tiber freezes; no air in dog-star heat;
   And store of rods for free-born backs, and holes for free-born
   Heap heavier still the fetters; bar closer still the grate;
   Patient as sheep we yield us up unto your cruel hate.
   But, by the Shades beneath us, and by the gods above,
   Add not unto your cruel hate your yet more cruel love!
   Have ye not graceful ladies, whose spotless lineage springs
   From Consuls, and High Pontiffs, and ancient Alban kings?
   Ladies, who deign not on our paths to set their tender feet,
   Who from their cars look down with scorn upon the wondering
   Who in Corinthian mirrors their own proud smiles behold,
   And breathe the Capuan odors, and shine with Spanish gold?
   Then leave the poor Plebeian his single tie to life—
   The sweet, sweet love of daughter, of sister, and of wife,
   The gentle speech, the balm for all that his vexed soul endures,
   The kiss, in which he half forgets even such a yoke as yours.
   Still let the maiden's beauty swell the father's breast with
   Still let the bridegroom's arms infold an unpolluted bride.
   Spare us the inexpiable wrong, the unutterable shame,
   That turns the coward's heart to steel, the sluggard's blood to
   Lest, when our latest hope is fled, ye taste of our despair,
   And learn by proof, in some wild hour, how much the wretched
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
      Straightway Virginius led the maid a little space aside,
   To where the reeking shambles stood, piled up with horn and hide,
   Close to yon low dark archway, where, in a crimson flood,
   Leaps down to the great sewer the gurgling stream of blood.
   Hard by, a flesher on a block had laid his whittle down:
   Virginius caught the whittle up, and hid it in his gown.
   And then his eyes grew very dim, and his throat began to swell,
   And in a hoarse, changed voice he spake, "Farewell, sweet child!
   Oh! how I loved my darling! Though stern I sometimes be,
   To thee, thou know'st, I was not so. Who could be so to thee?
   And how my darling loved me! How glad she was to hear
   My footstep on the threshold when I came back last year!
   And how she danced with pleasure to see my civic crown,
   And took my sword, and hung it up, and brought me forth my gown!
   Now, all those things are over—yes, all thy pretty ways,
   Thy needlework, thy prattle, thy snatches of old lays;
   And none will grieve when I go forth, or smile when I return,
   Or watch beside the old man's bed, or weep upon his urn.
   The house that was the happiest within the Roman walls,
   The house that envied not the wealth of Capua's marble halls,
   Now, for the brightness of thy smile, must have eternal gloom,
   And for the music of thy voice, the silence of the tomb.
   The time is come. See how he points his eager hand this way!
   See how his eyes gloat on thy grief, like a kite's upon the prey!
   With all his wit, he little deems, that, spurned, betrayed,
   Thy father hath in his despair one fearful refuge left.
   He little deems that in this hand I clutch what still can save
   Thy gentle youth from taunts and blows, the portion of the slave;
   Yea, and from nameless evil, that passeth taunt and blow—
   Foul outrage which thou knowest not, which thou shalt never know.
   Then clasp me round the neck once more, and give me one more
   And now mine own dear little girl, there is no way but this."
   With that he lifted high the steel, and smote her in the side,
   And in her blood she sank to earth, and with one sob she died.
      Then, for a little moment, all people held their breath;
   And through the crowded Forum was stillness as of death;
   And in another moment brake forth from one and all
   A cry as if the Volscians were coming o'er the wall.
   Some with averted faces shrieking fled home amain;
   Some ran to call a leech; and some ran to lift the slain;
   Some felt her lips and little wrist, if life might there be
   And some tore up their garments fast, and strove to stanch the
   In vain they ran, and felt, and stanched; for never truer blow
   That good right arm had dealt in fight agains a Volscian foe.
      When Appius Claudius saw that deed, he shuddered and sank
   And hid his face some little space with the corner of his gown,
   Till, with white lips and bloodshot eyes, Virginius tottered
   And stood before the judgment-seat, and held the knife on high.
   "Oh! dwellers in the nether gloom, avengers of the slain,
   By this dear blood I cry to you, do right between us twain;
   And even as Appius Claudius hath dealt by me and mine,
   Deal you by Appius Claudius and all the Claudian line!"
   So spake the slayer of his child, and turned, and went his way;
   But first he cast one haggard glance to where the body lay,
   And writhed, and groaned a fearful groan, an then, with steadfast
   Strode right across the market-place unto the Sacred Street.
      Then up sprang Appius Claudius: "Stop him; alive or dead!
   Ten thousand pounds of copper to the man who brings his head."
   He looked upon his clients; but none would work his will.
   He looked upon his lictors, but they trembled, and stood still.
   And, as Virginius through the press his way in silence cleft,
   Ever the mighty multitude fell back to right and left.
   And he hath passed in safety unto his woeful home,
   And there ta'en horse to tell the camp what deeds are done in
      By this the flood of people was swollen from every side,
   And streets and porches round were filled with that o'erflowing
   And close around the body gathered a little train
   Of them that were the nearest and dearest to the slain.
   They brought a bier, and hung it with many a cypress crown,
   And gently they uplifted her, and gently laid her down.
   The face of Appius Claudius wore the Claudian scowl and sneer,
   And in the Claudian note he cried, "What doth this rabble here?
   Have they no crafts to mind at home, that hitherward they stray?
   Ho! lictors, clear the market-place, and fetch the corpse away!"
   The voice of grief and fury till then had not been loud;
   But a deep sullen murmur wandered among the crowd,
   Like the moaning noise that goes before the whirlwind on the
   Or the growl of a fierce watch-dog but half aroused from sleep.
   But when the lictors at that word, tall yeomen all and strong,
   Each with his axe and sheaf of twigs, went down into the throng,
   Those old men say, who saw that day of sorrow and of sin,
   That in the Roman Forum was never such a din.
   The wailing, hooting, cursing, the howls of grief and hate,
   Were heard beyond the Pincian Hill, beyond the Latin Gate.
   But close around the body, where stood the little train
   Of them that were the nearest and dearest to the slain,
   No cries were there, but teeth set fast, low whispers and black
   And breaking up of benches, and girding up of gowns.
   'Twas well the lictors might not pierce to where the maiden lay,
   Else surely had they been all twelve torn limb from limb that
   Right glad they were to struggle back, blood streaming from their
   With axes all in splinters, and raiment all in shreads.
   Then Appius Claudius gnawed his lip, and the blood left his
   And thrice he beckoned with his hand, and thrice he strove to
   And thrice the tossing Forum set up a frightful yell:
   "See, see, thou dog! what thou hast done; and hide thy shame in
   Thou that wouldst make our maidens slaves must first make slaves
   of men.
   Tribunes! Hurrah for Trubunes! Down with the wicked Ten!"
   And straightway, thick as hailstones, came whizzing through the
   Pebbles, and bricks, and potsherds, all round the curule chair:
   And upon Appius Claudius great fear and trembling came,
   For never was a Claudius yet brave against aught but shame.
   Though the great houses love us not, we own, to do them right,
   That the great houses, all save one, have borne them well in
   Still Caius of Corioli, his triumphs and his wrongs,
   His vengeance and his mercy, live in our camp-fire songs.
   Beneath the yoke of Furius oft have Gaul and Tuscan bowed:
   And Rome may bear the pride of him of whom herself is proud.
   But evermore a Claudius shrinks from a stricken field,
   And changes color like a maid at sight of sword and shield.
   The Claudian triumphs all were won within the city towers;
   The Claudian yoke was never pressed on any necks but ours.
   A Cossus, like a wild cat, springs ever at the face;
   A Fabius rushes like a boar against the shouting chase;
   But the vile Claudian litter, raging with currish spite,
   Still yelps and snaps at those who run, still runs from those who
   So now 'twas seen of Appius. When stones began to fly,
   He shook, and crouched, and wrung his hands, and smote upon his
   "Kind clients, honest lictors, stand by me in this fray!
   Must I be torn in pieces? Home, home the nearest way!"
   While yet he spake, and looked around with a bewildered stare,
   Four sturdy lictors put their necks beneath the curule chair;
   And fourscore clients on the left, and fourscore on the right,
   Arrayed themselves with swords and staves, and loins girt up to
   But, though without or staff or sword, so furious was the throng,
   That scarce the train with might and main could bring their lord
   Twelve times the crowd made at him; five times they seized his
   Small chance was his to rise again, if once they got him down:
   And sharper came the pelting; and evermore the yell,—
   "Tribunes! we will have Tribunes!"— rose with a louder swell:
   And the chair tossed as tosses a bark with tattered sail
   When raves the Adriatic beneath an eastern gale,
   When Calabrian sea-marks are lost in clouds of spume,
   And the great Thunder-Cape has donned his veil of inky gloom.
   One stone hit Appius in the mouth, and one beneath the ear;
   And ere he reached Mount Palatine, he swooned with pain and fear.
   His cursed head, that he was wont to hold so high with pride,
   Now, like a drunken man's, hung down, and swayed from side to
   And when his stout retainers had brought him to his door,
   His face and neck were all one cake of filth and clotted gore.
   As Appius Claudius was that day, so may his grandson be!
   God send Rome one such other sight, and send me there to see!
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