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Ghostly Warriors

So strong a resemblance exists between a battle-scene of a mediaeval Spanish poet and the culminating incidents of Lord Macaulay's Battle of the Lake Regillus, as to justify somewhat extended citations. Of the Spanish writer,  Professor Longfellow says, in his note upon the extract from the Vida de San Millan given in the Poets and Poetry of Europe, "Gonzalo de Berceo, the oldest of the Castilian poets whose name has reached us, was born in 1198. He was a monk in the monastery of Saint Millan, in Calahorra, and wrote poems on sacred subjects in Castilian Alexandrines." According to the poem, the Spaniards, while combating the Moors, were overcome by "a terror of their foes," since "these were a numerous army, a little handful those."

And whilst the Christian people stood in this uncertainty,

Upward toward heaven they turned their eyes and fixed their thoughts on high;

And there two persons they beheld, all beautiful and bright,—

Even than the pure new-fallen snow their garments were more white.

They rode upon two horses more white than crystal sheen,

And arms they bore such as before no mortal man had seen.

Their faces were angelical, celestial forms had they,—

And downward through the fields of air they urged their rapid way;

They looked upon the Moorish host with fierce and angry look,

And in their hands, with dire portent, their naked sabres shook.

The Christian host, beholding this, straightway take heart again;

They fall upon their bended knees, all resting on the plain,

And each one with his clenched fist to smite his breast begins,

And promises to God on high he will forsake his sins.

And when the heavenly knights drew near unto the battle-ground,

They dashed among the Moors and dealt unerring blows around;

Such deadly havoc there they made the foremost ranks among,

A panic terror spread unto the hindmost of the throng.

Together with these two good knights, the champions of the sky,

The Christians rallied and began to smite full sore and high.

Down went the misbelievers; fast sped the bloody fight;

Some ghastly and dismembered lay, and some half-dead with fright:

Full sorely they repented that to the field they came,

For they saw that from the battle they should retreat with shame.

Now he that bore the crosier, and the papal crown had on,

Was the glorified Apostle, the brother of Saint John;

And he that held the crucifix, and wore the monkish hood,

Was the holy San Millan of Cogolla's neighborhood.

Turn now to the Battle of the Lake Regillus. In a series of desperate hand-to-hand conflicts the Romans have on the whole been worsted by the allied Thirty Cities, armed to reinstate the Tarquins upon their lost throne. Their most vaunted champion, Herminius—"who kept the bridge so well"—has been slain, and his war-horse, black Auster, has barely been rescued by the dictator Aulus from the hands of Titus, the youngest of the Tarquins.

And Aulus the Dictator

Stroked Auster's raven mane;

With heed he looked unto the girths,

With heed unto the rein.

"Now bear me well, black Auster,

Into yon thick array;

And thou and I will have revenge

For thy good lord this day."

So spake he; and was buckling

Tighter black Auster's band,

When he was aware of a princely pair

That rode at his right hand.

So like they were, no mortal

Might one from other know:

White as snow their armor was:

Their steeds were white as snow.

Never on earthly anvil

Did such rare armor gleam;

And never did such gallant steeds

Drink of an earthly stream.

So answered those strange horsemen,

And each couched low his spear;

And forthwith all the ranks of Rome

Were bold and of good cheer:

And on the thirty armies

Came wonder and affright,

And Ardea wavered on the left,

And Cora on the right.

"Rome to the charge!" cried Aulus;

"The foe begins to yield!

Charge for the hearth of Vesta!

Charge for the Golden Shield!

Let no man stop to plunder,

But slay, and slay, and slay;

The gods who live for ever

Are on our side to-day."

Then the fierce trumpet-flourish

From earth to heaven arose;

The kites know well the long stern swell

That bids the Romans close.

And fliers and pursuers

Were mingled in a mass:

And far away the battle

Went roaring through the pass.

The scene of the following stanza is at Rome, where the watchers at the gates have learned from the Great Twin Brethren the issue of the day:

And all the people trembled,

And pale grew every cheek;

And Sergius, the High Pontiff,

Alone found voice to speak:

"The gods who live for ever

Have fought for Rome to-day!

These be the Great Twin Brethren

To whom the Dorians pray!"

Of course, we are not to be understood as intimating that Macaulay was consciously or otherwise guilty of a plagiarism. Indeed, he was at the pains, in his preface to the poem in question, to point out how certain of its features were designedly taken, and others might fairly be conceived to have been taken, from ballads of an age long before Livy, whom he cites in the matter of the Great Twin Brethren. He has even detailed a circumstance, in reference to the legendary appearance of the divine warriors, curiously relevant to the resemblance just pointed out. "In modern times," he wrote, "a very similar story actually found credence among a people much more civilized than the Romans of the fifth century before Christ. A chaplain of Cortez, writing about thirty years after the conquest of Mexico,...had the face to assert that, in an engagement against the Indians, Saint James had appeared on a gray horse at the head of the Castilian adventurers. Many of those adventurers were living when this lie was printed. One of them, honest Bernal Diaz, wrote an account of the expedition.... He says that he was in the battle, and that he saw a gray horse with a man on his back, but that the man was, to his thinking, Francesco de Morla, and not the ever-blessed apostle Saint James. 'Nevertheless,' Bernal adds, 'it may be that the person on the gray horse was the glorious apostle Saint James, and that I, sinner that I am, was unworthy to see him.'" Other striking instances of identity between classical, Castilian and Saxon legends are detailed by Lord Macaulay in the learned and interesting general preface to his Lays of Ancient Rome. But the reappearance of this particular story in such remote times and places, and with such marked similarities and variations, would entitle it to a place among the indestructible popular legends collated by Mr. Baring-Gould in his Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.