THE CURTIAN GULF
 DURING three years—363 to 361 B.C.—Rome was ravaged by
the plague, which was so violent and fatal as to carry
off the citizens by hundreds. In its first year it
found a noble victim in Camillus, the conqueror of Veii
and the second founder of Rome, who four years before
had a second time defeated the Gauls. He was the last
of the old heroes of Rome, those whose glory belongs to
romance rather than history. The Gauls had destroyed
the records of old Rome, and left only legend and
romance. With the new Rome history fairly began.
But we have another romantic tale to tell before we bid
adieu to the story of early Rome. In the second year of
the pestilence a strange and portentous event occurred.
The Tiber rose to an unusual height, overflowed with
its waters the great circus (Circus Maximus), and put a
stop to the games then going on, which were intended to
propitiate the wrath of heaven, and induce the gods to
relieve man from the evil of the plague.
And now, in the midst of the Forum, there yawned open a
fearful gulf, so wide and deep that the superstitious
Romans viewed it with awe and affright. Whether it was
due to an earthquake or the wrath of the gods is not
for us to say. The Romans believed the latter; those
who prefer may believe the
 former. But, so we are told, it seemed bottomless.
Throw what they would in it, it stood unfilled, and the
feeling grew that no power of man could ever fill its
Man being powerless, the oracles of the gods were
consulted. Must this gaping wound always stand open in
the soil of Rome? or could it in any way be filled and
the offended deities who had caused it be propitiated?
From the oracle came the reply that it must stand open
till that which constituted the best and true strength
of the Roman commonwealth was cast as an offering into
the gulf. Then only would it close, and thereafter
forever would the state live and flourish.
The true strength of Rome! In what did this consist?
This question men asked each other anxiously and none
seemed able to answer. But there was one man in Rome
who interpreted rightly the meaning of the oracle. This
was a noble youth, M. Curtius by name, who had played
his part valiantly in war, and gained great fame by
brave and manly deeds. The true strength of Rome? he
said to the people. In what else could it lie but in
the arms and valor of her children? This was the
sacrifice the gods demanded.
RUINS OF THE ROMAN AQUEDUCTS.
Going home, he put on his armor and mounted his horse.
Riding to the brink of the gulf, he, before the eyes of
the trembling and awe-struck multitude, devoted himself
to death for the safety and glory of Rome, and plunged,
with his horse, headlong into the gaping void. The
people rushed after him to the brink, flung in their
offerings, and with a
 surge the lips of the gap came together, and the gulf
was forever closed. The place was afterwards known by
the name of the Curtian Lake, in honor of this
There are two other stories of this date worth
repeating, as giving rise to two great names in Rome.
T. Manlius, the future conqueror of the Latins, fought
with a gigantic Gaul on the bridge over the Anio on the
Salarian road. Slaying his enemy, he took from his neck
a chain of gold (torques), which he afterwards
wore upon his own. From this the soldiers called him
Torquatus, which name his descendants ever afterwards
In a later battle Marcus Valerius fought with a second
gigantic Gaul. During the combat a wonderful thing
happened. A crow perched on the helmet of the Roman,
and continued there as the combatants fought.
Occasionally it flew up into the air, and darted down
upon the Gaul, striking at his eyes with its beak and
claws. The Gaul, confounded by this attack, soon fell
by the sword of his foe, and then the crow flew up
again, and vanished towards the east. The name of
Corvus (crow) was added to that of Valerius, and
was long afterwards borne by his descendants.
These stories are rather to be enjoyed than believed.
They probably contain more poetry than history,
particularly that of Curtius and the gulf. Yet they
were accepted as history by the Romans, and are given
in all their detail in the fine old work of Livy, the
rarest and raciest of the story-tellers of Rome.
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