Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Emily Beesly

The Story of Titus Manlius

T HE Romans were taught from their childhood that they ought to love their country more than any other thing. They were also taught that it was their duty to obey their father, and that he might do anything he pleased with them. Even if a Roman father were cruel or unkind, his son would have been thought very bad if he had not been obedient and dutiful to him. To show you how real and strong this feeling was, I will tell you the story of Titus Manlius.

There lived in Rome a man of noble family called Lucius Manlius, who, because of his proud and stern temper was surnamed "The Imperious." He was made dictator, and raised troops in Rome to fight against a neighbouring people called the Hernicans.

Lucius Manlius had one son, whose name was Titus. This young man was not clever, and stammered when he spoke; his father treated him unkindly, for he would not let Titus live in Rome, but sent him away into a country village, where he lived with the rough peasants, and had no chance of being able to learn and improve himself.

The Romans did not like the proud Manlius, and when his time of being dictator was over one of the tribunes of the people, called Marcus Pomponius, brought a complaint against him. Pomponius said that Manlius had been very cruel and severe in his way of raising the troops.

"He has," said the tribune, "taken a great deal of money from the people, and has imprisoned them and had them beaten. Besides all this, he has kept his own son, who has done no wrong, away from the city and his home, putting him to hard and rough work; and treating the young man like a slave instead of like the son of the greatest man in Rome. And why has Manlius done all this? Because the poor young man could not speak well, but stammered in his talk. Ought he not rather, if he had been a kind father, to have been more tender to his son, instead of punishing him for what was not a fault but a misfortune?"

When Titus Manlius heard that his father had been accused of cruelty to him, he was very angry, for he was an obedient son, and he thought that he ought to do and bear whatever his father wished. He was so unhappy that his father should be brought into trouble on his account, that he set off at once for Rome. He arrived there very early in the morning, and went straight to the house of the tribune Pomponius.

When Titus asked to see the tribune, the servants told him that he was still in bed; but they went and told their master that the son of Manlius had come, and wanted to speak to him. The tribune hoped that Titus had some complaint to make against his father, and sent for him to come in.

When they had saluted each other, Titus spoke.

"I must see you alone, Pomponius," he said, "for I have a secret which none must hear but you."

The servants left them, and as soon as they were alone Titus drew a dagger from his belt, and standing over the tribune—

"Swear to me," he cried, "that you will never call the people together to judge my father, or I will stab you at once!"

The tribune was dreadfully frightened when he saw the dagger glitter before his eyes. He was alone and unarmed; the young man was strong and active, and really meant to do as he had said. So Pomponius was obliged to swear that he would go no further in his accusation against the elder Manlius.

The people were very sorry that they could not punish this stern and cruel man, for the tribune was obliged to keep his word; but they could not help admiring the love and duty of Titus, who was so good a son to so unkind a father. And in that same year they chose him to be one of the chief officers of the army.

Not long after this a war broke out between the Romans and the Gauls. The Roman army, commanded by the dictator, Titus Quintius Pennus, marched out to meet the Gauls, who had encamped about three miles from Rome, near a bridge over the river Anio. Quintius pitched his camp on the other side of the river, nearer to Rome; so the bridge was between the two armies. Both tried hard to get possession of it, and there was a good deal of fighting; but neither party could keep the bridge, and at last the armies went back each to its own side of the river.

Then a gigantic Gaul came forward all alone upon the empty bridge, and waving his sword in the air, shouted aloud—

"Let the bravest man among the Romans come out and fight with me, that we may see if the Gauls or the Romans are the best warriors."

The bravest of the Roman youths stood silent for a while, ashamed to refuse to fight, yet not liking the danger of meeting so fierce an enemy. At last Titus Manlius came forward to the dictator.

"General," he said, "I should never have dared to step out of the ranks to fight without your orders,—no, not if I had been sure that I should win the victory. But, if you will give me leave, I will show this great hulking brute, who is strutting and bragging in front of the Gaulish standards, that I am come of the same race as that Manlius who threw the Gauls down the Tarpeian Rock."

"Well said, brave Manlius!" answered the dictator, "you show that your love for your country is as great as your love for your father. Go on, and by the help of the gods let these Gauls see that Rome is not to be conquered."

Then the young man's friends helped him to put on his armour. He took the shield of a foot soldier, and girt himself with a good Spanish sword. So they led him forth against the Gaul, who, as the savage custom of his people was, showed his joy at meeting his enemy by shouting out his war song, and making mocking faces at the Roman. Then the rest returned to their places, and the champions were left between the armies, who stood to watch the fight with the greatest eagerness. It was more like seeing a play acted than looking at a real combat, so different did the two warriors appear, and so unequal did they seem.

The Gaul was of gigantic size and great strength; he was clad in a garment checked with many colours, his painted armour glittered with gold, and round his neck he wore a twisted collar of gold. He carried a shield and a long and heavy broadsword. The Roman, though much smaller, was strong and active. His dress was not half so gay, and his armour was more useful than splendid. He came forward quietly, without useless shouts or wavings of his weapons, but keeping all his strength for the hard work of the battle. Thus they stood between the two armies; and the Gaul, who towered above the Roman, holding his shield before his body with his left hand, struck at Manlius with his long broadsword. So great a stroke was it that the noise of it could be heard far away as Manlius caught it on his shield, and so remained unhurt. Then, before the Gaul had time to strike again, Manlius ran close to him, and knocking up the giant's shield with his own, he plunged his short double-edged sword again and again into the body of his enemy. Down fell the Gaul, and his gigantic body lay stretched out covering a great space of ground. Manlius stooped down, and unfastening from the throat of the dead man the golden collar he wore, clasped it round his own neck, and returned to his friends. The army of the Gauls was struck with surprise and fear, but the Romans with shouts of joy and triumph led their brave young champion to the dictator. And from that day Manlius was called Torquatus, from the Latin word (torquis) which means a collar, because he had won the golden collar from the gigantic Gaul.

The end of the story of Titus Manlius is a sad one, but it is interesting. You will hear how he who gave such full obedience to his own father, and also to his general, expected the same obedience and duty from his son, and you will hear too how sternly he punished that son for the want of it.

Many years after the fight between Manlius and the Gaul there was a war between the Romans and the Latins. Manlius was then one of the consuls, and he and his fellow consul led the Roman army out and encamped before the town of Capua. The Latins were of the same race as the Romans, their manners, customs, and language were the same; and as they had been allies, many of the Romans had friends in the Latin army. The consuls, because of this, agreed together that the soldiers must be kept very strictly and severely. And they sent a crier through the camp to say that no man was to fight with the enemy out of his rank, or without the command of the consuls.

Now it happened that among the leaders of the horsemen who were sent out from the Roman camp to find out what the Latins were doing was a son of the consul Manlius, who was called Titus, as his father was. Young Manlius was very brave and full of spirit, and was eager to make his name famous by some brave deed as his father had done. One day, when he was riding out with his troop, he met a party of the enemy's horsemen, whose leader was a young man of noble family and great courage, named Geminus Mettius. Mettius knew the consul's son, and called out to him:

"What," said he, "do you Romans mean to fight the Latins with one troop of horse? What has become of your two consuls and your great army?"

"You will see what has become of them soon enough," answered Manlius. "At the battle of Lake Regillus you had as much fighting with us as you wanted; but you shall have plenty more of it before we have done with you."

Mettius laughed.

"Before that dreadful day comes," said he, "when you mean to do such wonderful things, will you dare to fight with me, that all the world may see how much braver a Latin knight is than a Roman."

Manlius was very angry at the mocking words of Mettius, and forgetting his father's commands and the decree of the consuls, he said he was ready to fight. The rest of the horsemen stood aside so as to give the two young men plenty of room for the battle, and they set spurs to their horses, and charged one another fiercely with their sharply-pointed spears. The lance of Manlius just grazed the helmet of the Latin, while Mettius slightly wounded the neck of the Roman's horse. Then turning their horses they charged again. Manlius raised himself in his saddle and pierced his enemy's horse between the ears. The horse, frightened by the pain of the wound, reared and plunged, and threw Mettius; and while he was trying to get on his feet again, Manlius ran his spear into his throat, and so killed him. Then, dismounting, he seized the arms of the Latin, carried them to his companions, and rode back in triumph with them to the Roman camp. He hastened to his father's tent, little thinking of what was going to happen.

"Father," said he, when he stood before the consul, "to show you that I am worthy to be your son, I bring you here the spoils of a Latin knight who defied and challenged me, and whom I have slain fairly in single combat."

When the consul had heard his son's words, he answered him nothing, but turned away his face. Presently he ordered the soldiers to be called together by the sound of a trumpet, and then, in the presence of all, he spoke to his son in these words:

"Titus Manlius, you have forgotten the obedience a soldier owes his general, and the respect a son should show to his father's commands, and you have dared to fight the enemy against our orders. If you were not to be punished for doing this, the Roman soldiers, who, till now, have been careful in their duty and obedient to their leaders, might grow careless, and so the army of Rome would become weak and useless. Now, therefore, I must choose whether I will do my duty to Rome and punish my son, or whether my love for my son shall make me forget my duty to Rome. I choose that you and I shall pay for our rashness and folly, but that Rome shall not be the worse.

"As for me, the love that all fathers feel for their children, and the proofs of your courage that you have just shown me, grieve me deeply; but since you must die for having disobeyed the consuls, show me that you are worthy to be my son by submitting cheerfully to the punishment."

Then he bade the lictors bind his son, which they did, and then cut off his head.

The army was greatly surprised by the severity of the consul, and very sorry for the brave young Manlius, and a splendid funeral was made for him. But the fear of being treated in the same way made the soldiers more obedient, and the guards and sentinels more watchful. This did much good in the war that followed, which ended in the victory of the Romans.