Before they left the field Mettius asked, in pursuance of the compact, what Tullus commanded him to do, and the Roman ordered him to hold his young men under arms, saying that he should employ their services, if war broke out with the Veientes.
The armies then marched home. In the van of the Romans came Horatius, displaying his triple spoils. As he drew near the Porta Capena he was met by his unwedded sister, who had been promised in marriage to one of the Curiatii. When she recognized on her brother's shoulders the military cloak of her betrothed, which she herself had woven, she loosed her hair and, weeping, called on her dead lover's name.
It enraged the fiery youth to hear his sister's lamentations in the hour of his own victory and the nation's great rejoicing. And so, drawing his sword and at the same time angrily upbraiding her, he ran her through the body.
“Begone” he cried, “to your betrothed, with your ill-timed love, since you have forgot your brothers, both the dead and the living, and forgot your country!
So perish every Roman woman who mourns a foe!”
Horrid as this deed seemed to the Fathers and the people, his recent service was an off-set to it; nevertheless he was seized and brought before the king for trial. The king, that he might not take upon himself the responsibility for so stern and unpopular a judgement, and for the punishment which must follow [p. 93]
sentence, called together the council of the people1
and said: “In accordance with the law I appoint duumvirs to pass judgement upon Horatius for treason.”2
The dread formula of the law ran thus: “Let the duumvirs pronounce him guilty of treason; if he shall appeal from the duumvirs, let the appeal be tried; if the duumvirs win, let the lictor veil his head; let him bind him with a rope to a barren tree; let him scourge him either within or without the pomerium.”3
By the terms of this law duumvirs were appointed. They considered that they might not acquit, under that act, even one who was innocent, and having given a verdict of guilty, one of them pronounced the words, “Publius Horatius, I adjudge you a traitor; go, lictor, bind his hands.”
The lictor had approached and was about to fit the noose. Then Horatius, at the prompting of Tullus, who put a merciful construction upon the law, cried, “I appeal!”
And so the appeal was tried before the people. What influenced men most of all in that trial was the assertion of Publius Horatius, the father, that his daughter had been justly slain; otherwise he should have used a father's authority and have punished his son, himself. He then implored them not to make him childless whom they had beheld a little while before surrounded by a goodly offspring.
So saying, the old man embraced the youth, and pointing to the spoils of the Curiatii set up in the place which is now called “the Horatian Spears,”4
he exclaimed, “This man you saw but lately advancing [p. 95]
decked with spoils and triumphing in his victory;5
can you bear, Quirites, to see him bound beneath a fork and scourged and tortured? Hardly could Alban eyes endure so hideous a sight.
Go, lictor, bind the hands which but now, with sword and shield, brought imperial power to the Roman People! Go, veil the head of the liberator of this city! Bind him to a barren tree! Scourge him within the pomerium, if you will —so it be amidst yonder spears and trophies of our enemies —or outside the pomerium —so it be amongst the graves of the Curiatii! For whither can you lead this youth where his own honours will not vindicate him from so foul a punishment?”
The people could not withstand the father's tears, or the courage of Horatius himself, steadfast in every peril; and they acquitted him, more in admiration of his valour than from the justice of his cause. And so, that the flagrant murder might yet be cleansed away, by some kind of expiatory rite, the father was commanded to make atonement for his son at the public cost.
He therefore offered certain piacular sacrifices, which were thenceforward handed down in the Horatian family, and, erecting a beam across the street, to typify a yoke, he made his son pass under it, with covered head. It remains to this day, being restored from time to time at the state's expense, and is known as “the Sister's Beam.”
Horatia's tomb, of hewn stone, was built on the place where she had been struck down.