Supposed Speech of Regulus
Fifth Reader speech memorized by Mary Ingalls, and recited during the Hard Winter.
“Now,” she said, “let’s see how much you can repeat from memory. You first, Mary. What shall it be?” -The Long Winter, Chapter 22, “Cold and Dark”
In The Long Winter (Chapter 22, “Cold and Dark”), Mary Ingalls recites the following speech from the Independent Fifth Reader, translated by Rev. Elijah Kellogg, a Boston Clergyman. The piece is found on pages 288-291 of the Reader.
Regulus was a Roman general, who, after gaining victories over the Carthaginians, was defeated and taken prisoner by their general, Xanthippus, a Spartan. After five years’ captivity, he was sent to Rome with an embassy to solicit peace, or an exchange of prisoners, on condition that he would return if unsuccessful. By his persuasion, however, the Roman senate refused to make peace, and he returned to Carthage, where he was put to a most cruel death, about 250 B.C. [-Fifth Reader]
Supposed Speech of Regulus. “Ye doubtless thought– for ye judge of Roman virtue by your own– that I would break my plighted oath, rather than, returning, brook your vengeance. I might give reasons for this, in Punic comprehension, most foolish act of mine. I might speak of those eternal principles which make death for one’s country a pleasure, not a pain. But, by great Jupiter! methinks I should debase myself to talk of such high things to you; to you, expert in womanly inventions; to you, well-skilled to drive a treacherous trade with simple Africans for ivory and gold!
“If the bright blood that fills my veins, transmitted free from godlike ancestry, were like that slimy ooze which stagnates in your arteries, I had remained at home, and broke my plighted oath to save my life. I am a Roman citizen; therefore have I returned, that ye might work your will upon this mass of flesh and bones, that I esteem no higher than the rags that cover them.
“Here, in your capital, do I defy you. Have I not conquered your armies, fired your towns, and dragged your generals at my chariot wheels, since first my youthful arms could wield a spear? And do you think to see me crouch and cower before a tamed and shattered senate? The tearing of flesh and rending of sinews is but pastime compared with the mental agony that heaves my frame.
“The moon has scarce yet waned since the proudest of Rome’s proud matrons, the mother upon whose breast I slept, and whose fair brow so oft had bent over me before the noise of battle had stirred my blood, or the fierce toil of war nerved my sinews, did, with fondest memory of bygone hours, entreat me to remain. I have seen her, who, when my country called me to the field, did buckle on my harness with trembling hands, while the tears fell thick and fast down the hard corselet scales,– I have seen her tear her gray locks and beat her aged breast, as on her knees she begged me not to return to Carthage; and all the assembled senate of Rome, grave and reverend men, proffered the same request. The puny torments which ye have in store to welcome me withal, shall be, to what I have endured, even as the murmur of a summer’s brook to the fierce roar of angry surges on a rocky beach.
“Last night, as I lay fettered in my dungeon, I heard a strange, ominous sound: it seemed like the distant march of some vast army, their harness clanging as they marched, when suddenly there stood by me Xanthippus, the Spartan general, by whose aid you conquered me, and, with a voice low as when the solemn wind moans through the leafless forest, he thus addressed me:–
“‘Roman, I come to bid thee curse, with thy dying breath, this fated city: know that in an evil moment, the Carthaginian generals, furious with rage that I had conquered thee, their conqueror, did basely murder me. And then they thought to stain my brightest honor. But, for this foul deed, the wrath of Jove shall rest upon them here and hereafter.’ And then he vanished.
“And now, go bring your sharpest torments. The woes I see impending over this guilty realm shall be enough to sweeten death, though every nerve and artery were a shooting pang. I die! but my death shall prove a proud triumph; and, for every drop of blood ye from my veins do draw, your own shall flow in rivers.
“Woe to thee, Carthage! Woe to the proud city of the waters! I see thy nobles wailing at the feet of Roman senators! thy citizens in terror! thy ships in flames! I hear the victorious shouts of Rome! I see her eagles glittering on thy ramparts. Proud city, thou art doomed! The curse of God is on thee, –a clinging, wasting curse. It shall not leave thy gates till hungry flames shall lick the fretted gold from off thy proud palaces, and every brook runs crimson to the sea.”
“Speech of Regulus” (TLW 22)