Is That a Dagger I See Before Me?
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Categories: Ancient, Modern

Is That a Dagger I See Before Me?

I certainly should like to see Peisander the demagogos learning to turn somersaults among the knives; for, as it is now, his inability to look spears in the face makes him shrink even from soldiering.

– Xenophon, Symposium, 2.14 (tr. Loeb, slightly edited)

Concerning the dagger, that which is to bee done therewith, it is to be noted, that for great advantage, it would be holden before with the arme streched forth & the point respecting the enemie, which although it be far from him, yet in that it hath a point, it giveth him occasion to bethink himself.

– Giacomo di Grassi, “On the Sword and Dagger,” in Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme (1570, tr. London 1594)

But all Etruria’s noblest felt their hearts sink to see
On the earth the bloody corpses; in their path the dauntless Three;
And, from the ghastly entrance where those bold Romans stood,
All shrank, like boys who unaware, ranging the woods to start a hare,
Come to the mouth of a dark lair where, growling low, a fierce old bear
Lies amidst bones and blood.
Was none who would be foremost to lead such dire attack?
But those behind cried “Forward!”, and those before cried “Back!”
And backward now and forward wavers the deep array;
And on the tossing sea of steel, to and fro the standards reel;
And the victorious trumpet-peal dies fitfully away.

– Thomas Babington Macaulay, Horatius at the Bridge (1842)

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