[On the election of the Roman Emperor Maximus, by the Senate, A.D.
238, a powerful army, headed by the Thracian giant Maximus, laid
siege to Aquileia. Though poorly prepared for war, the constancy of
her citizens rendered her impregnable. The women of Aquileia cut
off their hair to make ropes for the military engines. The small
body of troops was directed by Chrispinus, a Lieutenant of the
Senate. Apollo was the deity supposed to protect them. --Gibbon's
"The ropes, the ropes! Apollo send us ropes,"
Chrispinus cried, "or death attends our hopes."
Then panic reigned, and many a mournful sound
Hurt the cleft air; for where could ropes be found?
Up rose a Roman mother; tall was she
As her own son, a youth of noble height.
A little child was clinging to her knee -
She loosed his twining arms and put him down,
And her dark eyes flashed with a sudden light.
How like a queen she stood! her royal crown,
The rich dark masses of her splendid hair.
Just flecked with spots of sunshine here and there,
Twined round her brow; 'twas like a coronet,
Where gems of gold lie bedded deep in jet.
She loosed the comb that held the shining strands,
And threaded out the meshes with her hands.
The purple mass fell to her garment's hem.
A queen new clothed without her diadem
She stood before her subjects.
"Now," she cried,
"Give me thy sword, Julianus!" And her son
Unsheathed the blade (that had not left his side
Save when it sought a foeman's blood to shed),
Awed by her regal bearing, and obeyed.
With the white beauty of her firm fair hand
She clasped the hilt; then severed, one by one,
Her gold-flecked purple tresses. Strand on strand,
Free e'en as foes had fallen by that blade,
Robbed of its massive wealth of curl and coil,
Yet like some antique model, rose her head
In all its classic beauty.
"See!" she said,
And pointed to the shining mound of hair;
"Apollo makes swift answer to thy prayer,
Chrispinus. Quick! now, soldiers, to thy toil!"
Forth from a thousand throats what seemed one voice
Rose shrilly, filling all the air with cheer.
"Lo!" quoth the foe, "our enemies rejoice!"
Well might the Thracian giant quake with fear!
For while skilled hands caught up the gleaming threads
And bound them into cords, a hundred heads
Yielded their beauteous tresses to the sword,
And cast them down to swell the precious hoard.
Nor was the noble sacrifice in vain
Another day beheld the giant slain.