Childe Harold's Pilgrimage "Butchered To Make A Roman Holiday"

Lord George Gordon Byron

"Butchered To Make A Roman Holiday"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In Canto IV of Byron's long poem, Childe Harold (Byron) visits Venice, Florence, and Rome. His pilgrimage ends at Rome, the goal toward which all his journeying has tended. The title "Childe" is one which candidates for knighthood bore, in the days of chivalry, until their pilgrimage was done and knighthood was conferred upon them. The poem's title thus symbolizes Byron's wanderings over Europe, seeking an escape from himself and from the world that wearies him. His love and admiration for Rome, the eternal city, "lone mother of dead empires," is such that he declares it his country. Saddened by the ruins of its former glory and conscious of its past greatness, he calls the roll of famous men who made the city what it was. Some of them were tyrants; Byron considers the nature of tyranny and despairs of the achievement of true freedom by mortal men. Byron's passionate devotion to freedom is not merely rhetorical: at the age of thirty-six he will die of a fever contracted while fighting in the name of Greek liberty. Now he visits ancient tombs, wondering about the lives of those who were buried there. In the ruins he sees "the moral of all human tales" retraced: "First Freedom and then Glory–when that fails, / Wealth, vice, corruption,–barbarism at last." Byron ponders the sequence as Rome experienced it: the greatness which passed into softness, indulgence and orgy–until, too fat and corrupt to resist, the great empire fell before hordes of barbarians. Contemplating the vastness of the Colosseum, Byron envisages the bloody spectacles that were staged there for the excitement and entertainment of bored and sated crowds–part of that degeneracy which led to the nation's fall:

I see before me the Gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand–his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his dropp'd head sinks gradually low–
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
The arena swims around him–he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hail'd the wretch who won.
He heard it, but he heeded not–his eyes
Were with his heart and that was far away;
He reck'd not of the life he lost nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
There were his young barbarians all at play,
There was their Dacian mother–he, their sire,
Butcher'd to make a Roman holiday–
All this rush'd with his blood.–Shall he expire
And unavenged?–Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire!