Some parts seemed secured by the walls, others by the interposition of the Tiber. The Sublician bridge well nigh afforded a passage to the enemy, had there not been one man, Horatius Cocles, (that defence the
fortune of Rome had on that day,) who, happening to be posted on guard at the bridge, when he saw the Janiculum taken by a sudden assault, and that the enemy were pouring down from
thence in full speed, and that his own party, in terror and confusion, were abandoning their arms and ranks, laying hold of them one by one, standing in their way, and appealing to the faith of gods and men, he declared, “That their flight would avail them nothing if they deserted their post;
if they passed the bridge and left it behind them, there would soon be more of the enemy in the Palatium and Capitol than in the Janiculum; for that reason he advised and charged them to demolish the bridge, by their sword, by fire, or by any means whatever; that he would stand the shock of the enemy as far as could be done by one man.”
He then advances to the first entrance of the bridge, and being easily distinguished among those who showed their backs in retreating from the fight, facing about to engage the foe hand to hand, by his surprising bravery he terrified the enemy.
Two indeed a sense of shame kept with him, Sp. Lartius and T. Herminius, men eminent for their birth, and renowned for their gallant exploits.
With them he for a short time stood the first storm of the danger, and the severest brunt of the battle. But as they who demolished the bridge called upon them to retire, he obliged them also to withdraw to a place of safety on a small portion of the bridge still left.
Then casting his stern eyes round all the officers of the Etrurians in a threatening manner, he sometimes challenged them singly, sometimes reproached them all; “the slaves of haughty tyrants, who, regardless of their own freedom, came to oppress the liberty of others.”
They hesitated for a considerable time, looking round one at the other, to commence the fight; shame then put the army in motion, and a shout being raised, they hurl their weapons from all sides on their single adversary;
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the shield held before him, and he with no less obstinacy kept possession of the bridge with firm step, they now endeavoured to thrust him down from it by one push, when at once the crash of the falling bridge, at the same time a shout of the Romans raised for joy at having completed their purpose, checked their ardour with sudden panic.
Then Cocles says, “Holy father Tiberinus, I pray that thou wouldst receive these arms, and this thy soldier, in thy propitious stream.” Armed as he was, he leaped into the Tiber, and amid showers of darts hurled on him, swam across safe to his party, having dared an act which is likely to obtain more fame than credit with posterity.
The state was grateful towards such valour; a statue was erected to him in the comitium, and as much land was given to him as he ploughed around in one day.
The zeal of private individuals also was conspicuous among the public honours. For, amid the great scarcity, each person contributed something to him according to his supply at home, depriving himself of his own support.