Horatius was never my hero. Give me Lars Porsena any day. Low exposure to Roman history as a child might’ve been to blame. I was too busy with Zulu wars, Shaka, Dingaan and the battle of Isandlwana. Roman history only emerged years later when I was studying Latin.

I loved the idea of Lars Porsena so much that I can still quote the opening verses without stumbling. It wasn’t who or what he was that appealed, it was the sheer joy of invoking Macaulay’s words… shame on the false Etruscan who lingers in his home when Porsena of Clusium is on the march fro Rome. What was an Etruscan? And who or what was Tarquin? And where was Clusium? I absolutely didn’t care. Magical too were Ocnus of Falerii, Lausulus of Urgo, Aruns of Volsinium and Lord of Luna… never mind that they all died. They were my invocation of power. I shouted the words at the ceiling from my bed, in front of the mirror, brandished them at the trees with my stick-sword whipping through the air and whispered them into the grass until my sisters were sick of me.

Last week I went to see the play, Jerusalem, with the mesmeric award-winning performance by Mark Rylance playing Johnny (Rooster) Byron, a drug-dealing hell-raiser who lives in a forest in Wiltshire. There are a few more weeks left of its run at the Apollo, London, so I won’t spoil it by saying too much. But he tells a story of meeting a giant on the motorway when staggering home one night and relates it with such conviction, even his doubting listeners are reluctant to bang the drum that he says will awaken the giants and bring them from the four corners of the earth. I think it was The Guardian newspaper that said: he tells stories with the touch of an enchanter… someone who sees everyone but seems to be looking only at you. Life is conjured so vividly that wafts of wild garlic seem real.
At the end with only him and his young son who has crept back on stage, he invokes his brothers, every Byron who has ever lived, and all the giants of this earth, Magog, Og, Anak, Havelock, Beowulf, Goram… (I wish I could remember the litany) He shouts their names and drums incessantly louder and louder… a giant of a man infusing his son with bravery. (Brave too the young boy actor who has to witness such an invocation!) I couldn’t move. I was totally gripped… spellbound.


It made me think about my own struggle with words in telling a story and whether the words we choose to give children are invocations? In our stories are we daring children to be brave? Are our words rousing up their inner giants? Do we stir up giants like Macaulay did with me with Lars Porsena… not just by action but by the sheer enchantment and power of the words


Posted by Dianne Hofmeyr at 09:03


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