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Helene A. Guerber

Two Heroes of Rome

N OT very long after the departure of the Gauls, and the tragic end of Manlius Capitolinus, the Romans were terrified to see a great gap or chasm in the middle of the Forum. This hole was so deep that the bottom could not be seen; and although the Romans made great efforts to fill it up, all their work seemed to be in vain.

In their distress, the people went to consult their priests, as usual, and after many ceremonies, the augurs told them that the chasm would close only when the most precious thing in Rome had been cast into its depths.

The women now flung in their trinkets and jewels, but the chasm remained as wide as ever. Finally, a young man named Curtius said that Rome's most precious possession was her heroic men; and, for the good of the city, he prepared to sacrifice himself.

Clad in full armor, and mounted upon a fiery steed, he rode gallantly into the Forum. Then, in the presence of the assembled people, he drove the spurs deep into his horse's sides, and leaped into the chasm, which closed after him, swallowing him up forever.


Curtius leaping into the Chasm.

Now while it is hardly probable that this story is at all true, the Romans always told it to their children, and Curtius was always held up as an example of great patriotism. The place where he was said to have vanished was swampy for a while, and was named the Curtian Lake; and even after it had been drained, it still bore this name.

The same year that Curtius sacrificed himself for the good of the people, Camillus also died. He was regretted by all his fellow-citizens, who called him the second founder of Rome, because he had encouraged the people to rebuild the city after the Gauls had burned it to the ground.

Several great events are related by the Roman writers as having taken place at about this time, and among them is the fight between Valerius and a gigantic Gaul. It seems that this barbarian, who towered head and shoulders above everybody else, was in the habit of stepping out of the ranks and daily challenging the Romans to come and fight him.

Afraid of meeting a warrior so much taller and stronger than they, the soldiers held back. But one of them, named Valerius, was so annoyed by the Gaul's taunts that he finally took up the challenge, and bravely made ready to fight. Although much smaller than his opponent, Valerius had one advantage, because he was helped by a tame raven which he had trained to peck out an enemy's eyes.

The Gaul fancied that he would win an easy victory over the small Roman, and boasted very freely; but before he had time to strike a blow, Valerius and the raven both attacked him. In trying to avoid the bird's beak, the Gaul forgot to parry the blows of Valerius; and he soon fell to the ground dead.

In memory of this duel with the Gaul, and of the help which he had received from the tame bird, Valerius ever after bore the surname of Corvus, which is the Latin word for raven.