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
Upward toward heaven they turned their eyes and
fixed their thoughts on high;
And there two persons they beheld, all beautiful
Even than the pure new-fallen snow their garments
were more white.
They rode upon two horses more white than crystal
And arms they bore such as before no mortal man had
Their faces were angelical, celestial forms had
And downward through the fields of air they urged
their rapid way;
They looked upon the Moorish host with fierce and
And in their hands, with dire portent, their naked
The Christian host, beholding this, straightway
take heart again;
They fall upon their bended knees, all resting on
And each one with his clenched fist to smite his
And promises to God on high he will forsake his
And when the heavenly knights drew near unto the
They dashed among the Moors and dealt unerring
Such deadly havoc there they made the foremost
A panic terror spread unto the hindmost of the
Together with these two good knights, the champions
of the sky,
The Christians rallied and began to smite full sore
Down went the misbelievers; fast sped the bloody
Some ghastly and dismembered lay, and some
half-dead with fright:
Full sorely they repented that to the field they
For they saw that from the battle they should
retreat with shame.
Now he that bore the crosier, and the papal crown
Was the glorified Apostle, the brother of Saint
And he that held the crucifix, and wore the monkish
Was the holy San Millan of Cogolla's
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
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.