The cities of Rome and Alba are at war, although they were united by ties of patriotism and blood, for Alba is the birthplace of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Sabine, the wife of Horace, is divided in her loyalties between the city of her birth, where her brothers still live, and the city of her famous warrior-husband. The victor is to be decided by armed combat between three heroes from each side. Sabine draws little comfort from that resolution, for it means the defeat either of her kinsman or of her husband. Camille, the betrothed of Curiace, the Alban warrior-brother of Sabine, feels her loyalties divided between her beloved and her brother Horace. Even though the oracles have been favorable toward her coming marriage, she envisions the imminent horror in her dreams.
Before the battle takes place, Curiace visits Camille at the home of her father, Old Horace. He declares his abiding love for her, though as an Alban patriot he remains loyal to his city. They comment on the oracles and wish for a lasting peace. When the two warriors meet, however, Horace is insistent on the outcome of the trial by combat. Curiace, who stresses the need for peaceful understanding, is dismayed to hear that his prospective brothers-in-law are to represent the Romans. He is even more oppressed in spirit when a messenger announces that he and his two brothers are to defend the honor of Alba. Horace wants no sympathy from Curiace, though he bears him no personal ill will, but Curiace sees love of wife and family as superior to Horace’s kind of patriotism.
Horace allows the lovers a moment together before the battle. Camille, mindful of the fact that she is the daughter and sister of famous warriors, denounces the patriotism that makes her choose between love of family and of her future husband. She begs Curiace to avoid a battle that can only end in tragedy. His first duty, however, is to his country, as he tells her brutally. Sabine and Camille then beg for the cause of love of home and family, while Horace and Curiace defend honor and patriotism. The women are unsuccessful in their suit, and as the young men go off to prepare for the combat, Old Horace comforts them. Young Horace, loving to his sister and kind to his aged parent, seeks glory in battle; Curiace, no less patriotic, feels that he has lost wife, brothers, and brothers-in-law by a grim turn of fate.
Sabine, given at first to confusion and later to bitterness, laments her sad position as the sister of the Alban warriors and the wife of their adversary. When she inquires of her friend Julie whether her husband or her brothers are vanquished, she is told that no resolution has been reached; the king has only just arranged the combatants and charged them to fight to the death, that the fate of the two principalities might be determined. Camille, wearied by her solitary wonderings and fears, joins the discussion. She renounces the deceptive oracle, and neither the wife nor the prospective bride can find solace for her anxiety and grief. Sabine declares that a wife is the most bereaved, to which Camille replies that her sister-in-law has never been in love. For the moment the controversy is resolved by Old Horace, who declares that Rome suffers most; all else is in the hands of the gods.
Julie brings word that the Alban brothers are victorious, that two of Old Horace’s sons are dead, and that Horace has fled the battlefield. The old man is appalled that his son could see his brothers die without drawing new courage from such defeat and either go down to death or glory. Camille feels some relief that both her lover and her brother are for the moment spared, and Sabine is content that her husband is alive. Old Horace can share in none of these...
(The entire section is 1,015 words.)