1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Horatius Cocles

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HORATIUS COCLES, a legendary hero of ancient Rome. With two companions he defended the Sublician bridge against Lars Porsena and the whole army of the Etruscans, while the Romans cut down the bridge behind. Then Horatius threw himself into the Tiber and swam in safety to the shore. A statue was erected in his honour in the temple of Vulcan, and he received as much land as he could plough round in a single day. According to another version, Horatius alone defended the bridge, and was drowned in the Tiber.

There is an obvious resemblance between the legend of Horatius Cocles and that of the Horatii and Curiatii. In both cases three Romans come forward as the champions of Rome at a critical moment of her fortunes, and only one successfully holds his ground. In the one case, the locality is the land frontier, in the other, the boundary stream of Roman territory. E. Pais finds the origin of the story in the worship of Vulcan, and identifies Cocles (the "one-eyed") with one of the Cyclopes, who in mythology were connected with Hephaestus, and later with Vulcan. He concludes that the supposed statue of Cocles was really that of Vulcan, who, as one of the most ancient Roman divinities and, in fact, the protecting deity of the state, would naturally be confounded with the hero who saved it by holding the bridge against the invaders. He suggests that the legend arose from some religious ceremony, possibly the practice of throwing the stuffed figures called Argei into the Tiber from the Pons Sublicius on the ides of May. The conspicuous part played in Roman history by members of the Horatian family, who were connected with the worship of Jupiter Vulcanus, will explain the attribution of the name Horatius to Vulcan-Cocles.

See Livy ii. To; Dion. Halic. v. 23-25; Polybius vi. 55; Plutarch, Poplicola, 16. For a critical examination of the legend, see Schwegler, Romische Geschichte, bk. xxi. 18; W. Ihne, History of Rome, i.; E. Pais, Storia di Roma, i. ch. 4 (1898), and Ancient Legends of Roman History (Eng. trans., 1906).