Horatius at the Bridge

Horatius at the Bridge

by Cheryl Lowe
Publisher: Memoria Press
2nd Edition, ©2021, ISBN: 9781547703555
Saddle-stitched, 57 pages
Price: $8.50

Includes the classic poem and a textbook on one of Rome's greatest champions.

The Lays of Ancient Rome are five ballads written by the Englishman, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and published in 1842. These ballads (lays) celebrate events and heroes in ancient Roman history, and Horatius at the Bridge is the most famous of Macaulay's ballads. Ballads are narratives that are composed and sung orally. In more primitive societies, before the development of writing, they were an essential means of remembering and celebrating the past.

There are, however, no existing ballads from the ancient Romans. Macaulay thought these ballads must have existed and probably served as a primary source for Roman historians, such as Livy. And so Macaulay wrote The Lays of Ancient Rome, ballads that celebrate famous events in Roman history, written in a style and meter that would be appropriate for the ancient Romans. The Lays carry messages about values, patriotism, courage, and sacrifice that Macaulay considered relevant to his own time. Horatius at the Bridge is the ballad that "might have been," had it not been lost in time. Macaulay published his Lays in 1842 and considered them a trifle. His trifle was a publishing phenomenon and since its first release, has never been out of print.

Horatius at the Bridge has been a favorite of school children and a staple of classical education for over a century. Two authors who refer to the poem as a memorable part of their education are Winston Churchill, who reports having memorized the whole poem at Harrow, and V.M. Hillyer, the first headmaster of Calvert School, who declares in his art history series for children that it is his favorite poem of all time. I always tell our students that it is one of my favorite poems, too.

At Highlands Latin School, our sixth graders study Horatius at the Bridge in the Winter Term and are challenged to memorize the whole poem (70 stanzas). Students who accomplish this remarkable feat receive the coveted "Winston Churchill Award" at the Closing School Ceremony. — Cheryl Lowe, Founder, Highlands Latin School

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