chapter  II
18 Pages


Such brave and patriotic moments fill the stanzas of these once-famous Lays of Ancient Rome, conjuring up the images of old Roman virtue and the sounds of old Roman minstrelsy. The images are in fact borrowed from Livy, but the sounds belong only to Sir Walter Scott. Macaulay’s m onum ent to Victorian sentim ent could not draw directly on the bardic tradition it was seeking to evoke because no such bardic tradi­ tion survived from antiquity. The historian B. G. N iebuhr had certainly claimed one for the Romans: its existence helped him account for the poetic colouring of so much early Roman history. Macaulay, himself a keen adm irer of folk poetry, naturally found this a congenial notion, and the introductory essay to his ‘collection’ o f lays remains the best argum ent in English for N iebuhr’s theory. Why should the Romans not have had a bardic tradition, and why would it not have vanished since they lacked a Scott or a Bishop Percy to collect and preserve its songs? The case has obvious appeal, but it is short on evidence to support it.