But here a great peril had well-nigh over-taken the city; for there was a wooden bridge on the river by which the enemy had crossed but for the courage of a certain Horatius Cocles. The matter fell out in this wise. There was a certain hill which men called Janiculum on the side of the river, and this hill King Porsenna took by a sudden attack.
If there were wars at the present day, such as the Etrurian for instance, when Porsenna took the Janiculum, such as the Gallic war lately, when, except the Capitol and citadel, all these places were in possession of the enemy; and should Lucius Sextius stand candidate for the consulate with Marcus Furius or any other of the patricians: could ye endure that Sextius should be consul without any risk; that Camillus should run the risk of a repulse?
And when there was but a small part remaining, and they that brake it down called to the three that they should come back, Horatius bade Lartius and Herminius return, but he himself remained on the further side, turning his eyes full of wrath in threatening fashion on the princes of the Etrurians, and crying, "Dare ye now to fight with me? or why are ye thus come at the bidding of your master, King Porsenna, to rob others of the freedom that ye care not to have for yourselves?"
Without the walls of Rome we find also the ruins of a temple, which was consecrated to the Fortune of women when Veturia stopped the progress of Coriolanus. Opposite Mount Aventine is Mount Janicula, on which Porsenna placed his army. It was opposite this Mount that Horatius Cocles caused the bridge leading to Rome to be cut away behind him.
He was a man endowed with every virtue, but most eminent in war; and, resolving to kill Porsenna, attired himself in the Tuscan habit, and, using the Tuscan language, came to the camp, and approaching the seat where the king sat amongst his nobles, but not certainly knowing the king, and fearful to inquire, drew out his sword, and stabbed one who he thought had most the appearance of king.
Every one knows the story of Scaevola, that having slipped into the enemy's camp to kill their general, and having missed his blow, to repair his fault, by a more strange invention and to deliver his country, he boldly confessed to Porsenna, who was the king he had a purpose to kill, not only his design, but moreover added that there were then in the camp a great number of Romans, his accomplices in the enterprise, as good men as he; and to show what a one he himself was, having caused a pan of burning coals to be brought, he saw and endured his arm to broil and roast, till the king himself, conceiving horror at the sight, commanded the pan to be taken away.
Upon these assurances, Porsenna ceased from all acts of hostility, and the young girls went down to the river to bathe, at that part where the winding of the bank formed a bay and made the waters stiller and quieter; and, seeing no guard, nor any one coming or going over, they were encouraged to swim over, notwithstanding the depth and violence of the stream.
The mixture of religion with civil polity, gave permanence and stability to the Roman institutions; notwithstanding all the changes and revolutions in the government the old forms were preserved; and thus, though the city was taken by Porsenna, and burned by the Gauls, the Roman constitution survived the ruin, and was again restored to its pristine vigour.
These two valleys the hearts of Lombardy and Etruria virtually contain the life of Italy. They are entirely different in character: Lombardy, essentially luxurious and worldly, at this time rude in art, but active; Etruria, religious, intensely imaginative, and inheriting refined forms of art from before the days of Porsenna.
"This must be King Porsenna," he said to himself, and he glided stealthily through the crowd until he came near by, when, drawing a concealed dagger from beneath his cloak, he sprang upon the man and stabbed him to the heart. But the bold assassin had made a sad mistake. The man he had slain was not the king, but his scribe, the king's chief officer.