Lays Of Ancient Rome "The Priest Who Slew The Slayer, And Shall Himself Be Slain"

Thomas Babington Macaulay

"The Priest Who Slew The Slayer, And Shall Himself Be Slain"

Context: Macaulay early became interested in poetry. By the age of eight, he had written a three-canto romance using Scott as his model. While studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, he won the 1819 and 1821 poetry prizes. With his classical background, he composed a volume of four Lays of Ancient Rome, for which he provided a scholarly Preface. Best known of the Lays is the first, "Horatius." The second Lay is "The Battle of Lake Regillus," dealing with the 499 B.C. struggle in which Rome won control of Latium, defeating the Thirty Cities, supposedly with the assistance of the equestrian Twin Gods, Castor and Pollux. This ballad is imagined to have been composed in 451 for a celebration before their temple in the Forum. It shows Macaulay's indebtedness to the Iliad, for this is a Homeric battle with cavalry replacing chariots. In the first two of its 40 stanzas, the celebration in the Forum is described. Then the poet talks of the present peaceful aspect of what was once a bloody field of battle. Aricia is an ancient town 16 miles from Rome, the site of a grove dedicated to the worship of Diana Aricina. Her priest was always a runaway slave who won his office by killing his predecessor in single combat. The poet describes the dawn, and the date. The Ides of Quintilis was July 15. Having mentioned the standards of the Thirty Cities, Macaulay reports that the warriors came from all parts of Latium, hoping to defeat Rome.

Up rose the golden morning
Over the Porcian height,
The proud Ides of Quintilis
Marked evermore with white.
Not without secret trouble
Our bravest saw the foes;
For girt by threescore thousand spears
The thirty standards rose.
. . .
From the still glassy lake that sleeps
Beneath Aricia's trees,–
Those trees in whose dim shadow
The ghastly priest doth reign,
The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain;
. . .