Lays Of Ancient Rome "How Can Man Die Better Than Facing Fearful Odds?"

Thomas Babington Macaulay

"How Can Man Die Better Than Facing Fearful Odds?"

Context: When school children used to be required to learn poetry to recite on Friday afternoon before their classmates, one of the most popular sources was the swinging stanzas of Macaulay's poems, such as "Horatius at the Bridge," that begins:

Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
Publius Horatius Cocles is a legendary hero who, aided by two comrades, defended the Sublician bridge over the Tiber River at Rome about 508 B.C., holding back the Etruscan invaders until his countrymen could demolish the bridge. At the last moment, his companions fled to safety, but according to one Latin legend, the wounded Horatius perished in the river. Macaulay provides a happier ending. Skeptical scholars, however, declare the story an invented explanation for the discovery of a battered statue of Vulcan near the bridge. Nevertheless, when great national dangers require self-sacrifice, this patriotic poem is still appropriate, especially the twenty-seventh stanza:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temple of his gods . . .