Roman Heroes at Helm’s Deep?
Livy, Macaulay, and Tolkien on the Horatius Cocles Episode
Keywords:Livy, Horatius Cocles, Tolkien, Macaulay, Reception, Exemplarity
This article analyzes Tolkien’s narrative of the Battle of Helm’s Deep as a retelling of the Horatius Cocles episode from Livy’s AUC, which contains descriptions of the defenses and the bridge, a rally encouraged by Horatius, his bold stand both with his companions and alone, and the honors paid to him after the battle. Tolkien’s Battle of Helm’s Deep contains the same elements split across two narratives: the defense of the causeway leading to the gates of the Deep by Aragorn, Éomer, and Gimli; and, after the fall of the Deeping wall, Aragorn’s defiant stand alone on the stairway leading to the inner doors of the Hornburg. Aragorn’s double action demonstrates a fulfillment of Livy’s exemplary arc. Tolkien’s knowledge of Macaulay’s “Horatius” provides a possible intermediary that accounts for various additions to the story. However, the larger structure of Tolkien’s narrative as well as the imagery that resonates throughout the text distinctly evoke the vivid descriptions of Livy. While both sets of heroes make brave stands against their enemies, Tolkien’s warriors represent a civilizing force in their efforts to build and restore their defenses while Livy’s Roman heroes destroy the bridge to save their state.
Copyright (c) 2022 Charles W. Oughton
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with thersites agree to the following terms:
- Publishing in thersites is free of any charges.
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication.
- Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author, so long as the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes. The journal is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. More information about this license is available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).