Kipling and the Classical World

by Susan Treggiari

I am especially grateful to the compilers of the Index to the Kipling Journal and of this New Readers’ Guide, to Professor Pinney for his edition of Kipling’s correspondence and its excellent index and to Charles Carrington and Roger Lancelyn Green, with whom I used to discuss Kipling. This essay is dedicated to my late friend and colleague Colin M. Wells, a lover of Horace, Virgil and Kipling. Page references to Kipling’s works are to the Macmillan Uniform edition, unless otherwise noted.        [S.T.]

Rudyard Kipling and the Classics

Once his formal classical education, with its rote learning and construing was well behind him, Kipling drew inspiration from the civilisation, ideas and literature of the Greeks and Romans, especially the Romans, whose widespread multicultural empire was acknowledged as a paradigm and exemplar — and warning — for the British Empire. In Rome he found a literature which was the foundation of much of our own; the physical traces of an organisation which brought planned towns, roads, piped water and drains to the population, a developed system of law; a moral code; a delight in nature, life and people and a sense of humour which appealed to him. In his voracious reading and close interest in a diversity of creatures, the Romans and especially the poet Horace had a particular, though not unique, place.

Schooling and later exposure to the Graeco-Roman world

Kipling had four years of classical education at United Services College at Westward Ho in Devon (1878-82). His Latin masters were F. W. C. Haslam (1848-1924) for the first two years (until he left to teach at university level in New Zealand) and then W. C. Crofts (1846-1912). (2)

George Beresford (‘Turkey’), who shared a study with Kipling and Dunsterville (‘Stalky’), reports Kipling as bad at Latin and with no Greek. He was expected to read and translate in class a good deal of Latin literature, presumably met other authors in passages set for unseen translation, and translated portions of English literature into Latin verse and prose. Boys were often set ‘lines’ from Latin poets to transcribe as punishments (‘impositions’). This seems to have been how Kipling met Ovid’s work on the religious calendar.

When I was about fourteen I had an impot set me – to write out a certain piece of Ovid’s verses about ten times. The first lines began:-

Idibus agrestis fumant altaria Fauni
Hic ubi discretas insula rumpit aquas.

which means, roughly, that on certain days in the year the altar to the god Faunus smoked with sacrifice where the island broke the waters…. (4)

For some absurd reason or other those lines always stuck in my head – perhaps because I was so jolly sick of writing ’em – but it never occurred to me till I went to the island in the Tiber and realized that in Ovid’s time the temple to the god Faunus stood on that very island which broke the whirling waters of Tiber just as the prow of a ship breaks the waves.

A little of his education stuck. His reputation at school was of someone who was imprecise about scansion, long or short syllables and syntax, and who made wild and funny guesses at the sense.

At the same time, the classical tongues and dead languages were dead to him. He perused only English and French. Latin did not come at all kindly to him; Greek was a closed book….

In the classics, that is Latin, he was no more than an ordinary
boy, but he gave the impression that if he thought it essential for
his literary ambitions, he would tackle it to good purpose. But
somehow he did not so think, and he made no effort to acquire
a vocabulary or memorise Latin words—consequently, his
construes were sometimes a succession of errs and hums waiting
and hoping for the form-master kindly to supply the missing
translation. (5)

Kipling too claimed that ‘every Latin quantity was an arbitrary mystery’ to him (6) , that his teacher Crofts ‘loathed me as to Latin’ (7) and that he had construed the beginning of the Cleopatra Ode (1.37) very badly on one occasion. (8) It was M’Turk/Beresford who composed the Latin elegiacs translating Gray’s Elegy which Stalky and Beetle needed to prepare. (9)

In “The Propagation of Knowledge” (Debits and Credits 278) M’Turk takes the other two boys through an ode they have to prepare:

‘Look here, I’ve found out something——’ Beetle began. ‘Listen——’

‘No, you don’t—till afterwards. It’s Turkey’s prep.’

This meant it was a Horace Ode through which Turkey would take them for a literal translation, and all possible pitfalls. Stalky gave his businesslike attention, but Beetle’s eye was glazed and his mind adrift throughout, and he asked for things to be repeated. So, when Turkey closed the Horace, justice began to be executed:

‘I’m all right,’ he protested. ‘I swear I heard a lot what Turkey said. Shut up! Oh, shut up! Do shut up, you putrid asses.’ Beetle was speaking from the fender, his head between Turkey’s knees, and Stalky largely over the rest of him.

‘What’s the metre of the beastly thing?’ McTurk waved his Horace. ‘Look it up, Stalky. Twelfth of the Third.’

Ionicum a minore,’ Stalky reported, closing his book in turn. ‘Don’t let him forget it’; and Turkey’s Horace marked the metre on Beetle’s skull, with special attention to elisions. It hurt:

‘Miserar’ est neq’ amori dare ludum neque dulci
Mala vino laver’ aut ex——

Got it? You liar! You’ve no ear at all! Chorus, Stalky! ‘

Both Horaces strove to impart the measure, which was altogether different from its accompaniment.

(The Latin rhythm would be:

di di dum dum/ di di dum dum // di di dum dum/ di di dum dum
di di dum dum/ di di dum dum –.

That is, an Ionic foot repeated ten times in a stanza. This is the only time the metre is used in the Odes.)

The poem is a humorous lament from a lovelorn young woman for the restrictions imposed by society and her uncle (and guardian): “the lot of wretched girls is not to indulge in love nor to wash away their troubles with sweet wine –.”

If this scene in the study is based on a real incident, Kipling had cause to remember this poem. Later in life, he would write some amusing macaronics in the margin of his copy:

Misera’ [miserar’] est neq’ [nequ’] amori — it’s the old pathetic story.
Dare ludum neque dulci — pining makes a maiden sulky.

And so on (corrections mine). He alludes to the poem in “The Church that was at Antioch” 89. The spoof sequel which Charles Graves would eventually provide for The Fifth Book of Horace’s Odes is put in the uncle’s mouth and begins:

How unhappy (though unmarried) is an uncle who, bereft
Of the solace of the wine-cup, is continually left
At the mercy of an energetic niece.

Perhaps Kipling gave Graves the idea.

The Stalky stories portray M’Turk as a better classicist than Beetle/Kipling. But memories change over time and one must wonder how much Kipling’s recollections might have been altered by his friends’ accounts, or Beresford’s by the published tales, and how much Kipling had embroidered reality in the stories. In any case, in his last winter term in 1882, Kipling came fifth in the first Latin set. Crofts in his report wrote:

On the whole he has improved this term, but is still very inaccurate, translation much better than composition. (10)
(‘Composition’ means translation from English into Latin prose or verse.)

The amount of Latin Kipling was supposed to have read was impressive by modern standards. He had also some Greek, enough to read some of the New Testament and later to puzzle out some authors with the help of a Bohn translation. (11)

I have no Greek. (12) Mine stopped at a little Greek Testament on Monday morning by gaslight before breakfast, and I depend for the rest of my knowledge on Bohn’s cribs. But I got the ordinary allowance of Latin, ending with Virgil and Horace – specially Horace. I don’t pretend that I liked it, any more than I should have liked anything else that purported to be education, but looking back at it now, it strikes me as valuable. I believe in the importance of a man getting some classics ground into him in his youth, even though, as far as his elders can see (but I don’t think one’s elders are quite the judges) there is no visible result. Men … say that you could teach a child of twelve in a couple of terms as much Latin as the average public schoolboy carries away at the end of seven years… [He explores this argument in favour of other subjects at some length.]
… Here is my defence of this alleged wicked waste of time. The reason why one has to parse and construe and grind at the dead tongues in which certain ideas are expressed is … because only in that tongue is that idea expressed with absolute perfection…. by a painful and laborious acquaintance with the mechanism of that particular tongue; by being made to take it to pieces and put it together again, and by that means only, we can arrive at a state of mind in which … we can realise and feel and absorb the idea. (13)

Because this is addressed to boys, Kipling may be exaggerating his boyish attitude. It is clear he put a high value on Greek. He writes to John on October 3 1910:

… I want you to go on with your Greek. … from any point of view a knowledge of Greek is worth gold and diamonds….a man who has acquaintance with that tongue has the key that unlocks half the real wisdom of the world. (14)

Kipling read a good deal of classical literature in the handy Bohn translations. (15) It seems that with the help of his cribs he could make out what the Greek said. Later the Loeb Greek Anthology (the series, still standard, has the original and English on facing pages) was ‘the heifers that I ploughed with’ when making the prose epigraphs which precede the speeches in A Book of Words (1928). (16) He may also have possessed a selection of poems in the original and translation (including epitaphs for soldiers and others) made by his cousin’s husband Mackail, a Fellow of Balliol. (17) ‘The poems are accompanied by neat prose translations and the notes treat them as living expressions of vital experience.’ (18) He claims he cribbed something from Theocritus (a favourite with Crofts) in one of the Jungle Books and that ‘in the Book of Words I “manufactured” epigrams out of the Greek Anthology which was great fun’. (19)

On the war epitaphs Kipling says that some ‘are naked cribs from the Greek anthologies’. (20) He asked C[harles] R. L. Fletcher how a couple of his prose drafts would go into Greek. (21)

Kipling went back to his Latin later in life and here he could deal better with the original. He writes to Andrew McPhail in 1909:

I’m specially glad that blind instinct has brought me to stick to the classical side. Lord he knows my Latinity would make all old Rome howl: but (and I remark it advisedly) every last thing I got out of the schools, came to me after — years after – the enforced study of two out of date authors one called Virgil and t’other Horace. I didn’t understand ‘em at the time. I firmly believed they constructed their sentences, same as Euclid did his problems, to annoy and defeat the likes of me: but I got the good of them, as I say, afterwards. (22)

Although Kipling had read prose authors – Cicero and Sallust are mentioned in the Stalky tales (23) – it was Virgil (24) and Horace who mattered to him as an adult, as “Regulus” (A Diversity of Creatures) demonstrates. Kipling saw the story as a defence of the Classics against the Sciences. (25)

C[rofts] taught me to loathe Horace for two years; to forget him for twenty, and then to love him for the rest of my days and through many sleepless nights. (26)

This confession should be taken with a grain of salt. Kipling’s appreciation of Horace can already be seen in ‘Donec gratus eram’. (27) In 1888, he quotes the Plancus ode to Edmonia Hill, a line he uses again in 1908 to Macphail. (28) In 1892, he recalled Odes 2.3.1-2 in describing his reactions to an earthquake in Japan. (29) “The ‘Song of the Banjo” (1894) drew on Horace Odes 1.10, ‘They change their skies above them, / but not their hearts that roam!’ in “The
(1894) neatly renders Horace’s ‘caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt’ (Epistles 1.11.27). And so on. He did not really forget his Horace.

But he went back to him increasingly in the Bateman’s years (from 1902). (30) To see how much Horace was a part of him we need only look at the Letters. He quotes Horace to Col. Feilden when asking for news of Burwash: ille [terrarum mihi] praeter omnes / Angulus ridet, ‘that corner [of the earth] above all others smiles [for me]’. (31) He sends McPhail his ‘potted’ version of Odes 1.22, in return for McPhail’s formal translation. (32) In 1916 he suggested a quotation from the Epistles as a motto to Lord Beaverbrook. (33) He cites Horace to Lady Milner to illuminate Shakespeare’s Sonnet 107. (34) He gave Courtauld an unbeatable quotation, ‘the Best as done by the Greatest’ for a sundial: Damna tamen celeres reparent caelestia lunae. / Nos. (35) Similarly, he gave Sir Percy Bates a suggestion for a medal commemorating the launching of the Queen Mary: me regina commisit pelago, ‘I was entrusted to the sea by the Queen’ .

The last two words are Horatian. (36) This sentence did not meet with the approval of the Civil Service:

All right! If your three Latinists think they can improve on Horace (Bk. I: Ode 3: line 11) don’t try to stop ’em. I couldn’t. So I stole. (37)

Kipling recognised that Horace was untranslatable. For example, he wrote to Courtauld to thank him for a copy of the third edition of The Odes and Epodes of Horace: metrical translations … selected by S. A. Courtauld.

All selected translations are of the most real value if only to show that He was untranslateable. The thought cheers me when at odd times I try my hand on him – and fail damnably. (38)

Kipling still made mistakes in Latinity and perhaps used Conington’s translation as a crib, but he certainly used Wickham’s commentary, a good guide. He claims late in life that he always travelled with Horace,

the soundest Platitudinarian that ever was and the things he says about going slow are worth re-reading. And having but a few shreds of Latin I have to worry after his nuances which diverts one from thinking. (39)

He liked to learn odes by heart : ‘I can say ten of ’em now as the children say.’ (40)

Throughout his life he peppered his work with classical allusions. Letters to John and appropriate men friends contain humorous bits of dog Latin and tags. (41) For instance, there is a ghastly pun in his last letter to Cormell Price, on John’s return to school by car rather than train:

‘The luxurious young dog whisks over in a motor –‘Quantum motortus ab illo “half third single to Bideford please”.’

This recalls Virgil’s ‘quantum mutatus ab illo’ (Aeneid 2.274), where Aeneas in a dream sees Hector after he has been dragged round the walls of Troy, ‘how changed from that Hector’ who had earlier triumphed in battle. (42) He sent Price a howler he had heard, ‘a mistranslation that beats even anything of Kipling’s for a guess’. (43) He uses Virgilian tags to McPhail. (44) He remembered the famous opening of Cicero’s attack in the Senate on Catiline: ‘How far O Catiline’ and applies it to the fall of the rupee. (45) He also knew at least some of Cicero’s attack on the judicial savagery of the governor Verres, who had had citizens executed in spite of their protests that they were citizens: ‘Civis Romanus sum’, (‘I am a Roman citizen’). (46) He had some acquaintance with the epigrammatist Martial and the technical writer Frontinus’ work on aqueducts. (47) Of the Greeks he mentions Alciphron, who wrote amusing fictitious letters from courtesans and fishermen (48), Aristophanes’ Knights (49), whether details in Euripides were realistic (50) , the lucid style of Herodotus. (51) He read Murray’s translation of the Electra of Euripides. (52) Kipling’s quotations from the classics in his published works have been listed and explored by various authors. (52)

Kipling read voraciously and his reading must have included books on the ancient world. There are occasionally references to Roman history in the correspondence. (54) He had some sympathy with what Roman citizens might have felt when provincials came in and often settled in Rome: ‘Wonder how the old Civis Romanus sum felt when Greece, Gaul, Libya and Ethiopia poured in to Rome and took the front seats in the arena.’ (55) This had been a worry in the second century BC, when a bill had been brought in to extend citizenship to Latins and Kipling would have picked up what Juvenal had said about ‘the hungry Greekling’ (Graeculus esuriens) and the Syrian Orontes flowing into the Tiber. (56) The stories contain references to the emergency powers of consuls, ‘Senatorial Hegemony’ and such things. (57)

Classical literature was part of the common experience of educated men in his day. His friends and family included Gilbert Murray, (58) J. W. Mackail, C[harles] R. L. Fletcher. He had apparently met A. W. Verrall (59) and enjoyed the company of R. Y. Tyrrell of Dublin (60) , the great Ciceronian scholar, ‘with … a profound knowledge of Greek and Shakespeare’ when they both took honorary degrees at Durham (60) . In 1918 he met T. E. Lawrence and by 1919 was writing to him, but not on classical topics. (61) Especially during and after the War, he enjoyed academic contacts in both Oxford (where he had been an Hon. DLitt. since 1907 and was a Rhodes Trustee [1917-25]) and Cambridge (Hon. DLitt. 1908).

There was also direct exposure to the physical remains of classical antiquity. Kipling took a particular interest in Roman engineering works such as roads and aqueducts, in landscape (which had not changed very much) and in farming methods (which again had not changed very much in France and Italy). Kipling had seen something of the Mediterranean in youthful travels to and from India and had visited Paris as a boy in 1878. (62) But it was after the family gave up spending winters in South Africa that he had the opportunity to explore France and Italy. In 1909 he and Carrie (with Elsie) had a memorable first visit to Rome, vigorously described in letters to John. (63)

We saw the day break over Lake Thrasymene [Trasimene] — “reedy Thrasymene” (64) —and we saw Clusium (65) and the restaurant Porsenna – named in honour of Lars Porsenna – and we saw huge oxen and high lean pigs, and the outlines of Soracte – a mountain you will come to know about. (66) But the most beautiful thing was the towns on top of the hills – each hill had a town or each town had a hill whichever way you like to put it and everything was new and wonderful. We saw Father Tiber in full flood shaking his “yellow mane” ….

(He goes on to mention the Dome of St Peter’s, spring flowers and an artillery battery.) (67) They drove through the Campagna, where Kipling observed ‘bits of ruins’, sheep, sheep-dogs and reed huts, to Tivoli [Horace’s Tibur], where the cascades were in full force and the landscape with olives and cypresses impressed them, and to Hadrian’s huge villa (Kipling does not mean ‘Tomb’ – that is Castel Sant’Angelo, which he cannot have avoided seeing) on the flat ground below. He liked the environs even better than the city itself and promised to bring John to see ‘all the wonders’ (68) . Later, they went to the place where Horatius kept the bridge (the later stone bridge is in ruins), admired the muddy and rushing river, saw the Janiculum, went to see the island, where Kipling remembered Ovid’s description. Not surprisingly, since the embankment is made to look like a ship, he thought of a prow breaking the waves. (69)

Kipling returned to Rome alone in May 1917, during the Great War, when Italy was allied with Britain and France against the Germans and Austrians. This time he did not comment on the antiquities, though he noticed the landscape from his train. (70) There is also precise description of Italian surroundings seen on his visit to the front and he thinks the Italian troops ‘carry themselves with the swing of Roman legionaries’:

I’ve seen the Exercitus Romanus [Roman army], reborn, all alive, same as it was under the Republic and the Caesars at their best and, if you’ll credit it, the same identical heads of generals – wide-browed, bull necked devils, lean narrow hook-nosed Romans – the whole original gallery with a new spirit behind it. (71)

The ancient Roman parallel is toned down in the report originally published in the Daily Telegraph:

The faces of the generals, chiselled out by war to the very cameos of their ancestors under the Roman eagles. (72)

He also admired the King, who among many other topics, discussed classic literature with him. (73)

On the Kiplings’ cruise in 1928 which took them to Naples (which he had visited in 1890) (74) and Palermo, they saw Solfatara near Puteoli/Pozzuoli, the objects from Pompeii in the Naples Museum, the Greek temple at Segesta, Girgenti/Agrigento ‘nominally to see more temples, but actually to get a cross-section of the agriculture’, and Taormina, where they must have seen the Greek theatre. (75)

Kipling loved France and explored various routes and areas, always noting geology, landscape, flora, agriculture and livestock They probably saw more of the Roman remains than are documented in the surviving accounts. On the four spring car-trips through France in 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914 they visited a number of Roman cities, though the letters do not specify what they saw. (76) The Kiplings took the opportunity after staying at Vernet in March 1910 to visit Les Baux and think of the Roman soldiers climbing the steep Roman road. (77) In 1913 he and his wife enjoyed their third visit to the Pont du Gard. ‘It was still as beautiful as ever.’ (78) They were there again the following spring. (79)

In 1921, after a month in Algiers, (80) they were at Hyères and Cannes with Elsie and Lorna. (81) They came back via Brignoles, Avignon, and so on to Rheims and Dieppe. (82) In 1922, it was Spain and Paris, with Elsie, using trains, but nothing very Roman. (83) There was more touring in 1923 after stays at Cannes and Monte Carlo. (84) They returned to Spain and drove back through France in 1924. (85) Next year they landed at Le Havre and drove through Normandy, visiting churches and war graves and then south, visiting museums and churches and prehistoric paintings, to Biarritz and back via Tours and Paris. (86) In the early spring of 1926 they stayed at Roquebrune, near Augustus’ victory monument at La Turbie, and motored back via Vernet, Limoges and Tours. (87) In 1929, after Egypt and the Holy Land, it was France again. (88) Their last motoring trip in France was in 1931, after another visit to Egypt. It included a night at Aix-en-Provence. (89) It is typical that Kipling took a particular interest in things which were of practical use, such as roads and aqueducts.

Recreating the Graeco-Roman world

… the whole background of life, in law, civil administration, conduct of life, the terms of justice, then terms of science, the value of government, are the everlasting ramparts of Greece and Rome – the father and mother of civilisation…. Greece and Rome … still exist….

A certain knowledge of the classics is worth having, because it makes you realise that all the world is not like ourselves in all respects, and yet in matters that really touch the inside life of a man, neither the standards nor the game have changed. (90)

This statement puts in a nutshell what Kipling achieved and meant to achieve in his historical stories, which include half a dozen set in the Graeco-Roman world.

‘The Finest Story in the World’


“The Finest Story in the World” describes the narrator’s interaction with a young bank-clerk with literary ambitions who can recall at least two previous lives in ships, one as a rower on a galley which appears to be Greek (100-101, 103-4) and one as a rower on a Viking ship which gets to Vinland (114-8, 131-2). The ship on which he remembers rowing on the upper deck and being drowned in a fight (109-12) appears to be a second Greek galley. We can be pretty sure the first ship is Greek, because the protagonist scratches a few words on his oar which the narrator is assured by an authority at the British Museum are Greek (104-6). (92)

The ship has three levels of rowers, with solid decks between them. On the lowest level there are four rowers to an oar, on the middle level three, on the top level two. Now on a trireme, it is clear from modern scholarship and tests (93) , there was one man to each oar (94) and they were not separated from each other by solid decks. Though space was constricted, it was not quite as uncomfortable as Kipling says. Three feet above the top bank of rowers (the thranites) the Athenians put a complete deck to accommodate marines and to protect the oarsmen from missiles. (95) The rowers in the lowest bank, the thalamites, could not see out of the ports, since, because the oars were near the waterline, the holes were protected by leather bags (96) . The rowers in the Greek fleets were free men, valued for their skill, not slaves or convicts, so they would not have been chained or flogged. Kipling has been misled by the common assumption that galleys would be manned by convicts or prisoners, a system which only began, in France, in the fifteenth century (97) . The Greek galleys were normally beached at night, so the crews could find water, make fires, eat and sleep.

The vivid imagining of what it would be like in a galley makes up for any misconception. ‘“Can’t you imagine the sunlight just squeezing through between the handle and the hole and wobbling about as the ship moves? ”’ says Charlie Mears (100). The sea-fight when Charlie’s galley is disabled and sunk is a sustained piece of exact description (110-12).
Puck of Pook’s Hill (98) .
Inspiration and preparation

In the three Roman stories about Parnesius Kipling treats an ill-documented period, towards the end of Roman rule in Britain. Before he decided on this, he certainly drafted a story about the fifth century AD and apparently thought also about the heyday of the Roman empire (the prosperous third century or earlier). In the end he chose the 380s, covering Magnus Maximus’ seizure of imperial power (99) and invasion of Gaul and Spain, followed by his abortive invasion of Italy and defeat and execution at Aquileia in 388.

The Puck stories were written (1904-10) with Elsie and John as the primary audience. Una and Dan explore the near and further countryside of Bateman’s. Kipling wanted to inspire children with a love of history. (100) He had

a scheme … for trying to give children not a notion of history but a notion of the time sense which is at the bottom of all knowledge of history and history rightly understanded means love of one’s fellow men and the lands one lives in. (101)

The stories grew out of the Bateman’s estate, where Kipling had found ‘the bronze cheek of a Roman horse-bit’ twenty-five feet down when he was making a new well and where the Romans were supposed (wrongly) to have worked iron. The story gave the countryside new associations too: Major C. S. Jarvis described walks with Kipling when:

The poet pointed out the copse in which the Roman Centurion was hiding when he was hit by a stone from Una’s catapult and a dozen other corners where dwelt the creatures of fancy devised for Una and Dan. (102)

Specific ideas came in other ways too. There was a suggestion by Ambrose Poynter that Kipling should write of an old centurion reminiscing to his children. Poynter also suggested the un-Roman name Parnesius. (103) Sir Edward Burne-Jones had, in 1897, suggested sources on the ‘Dark Ages’ and a modern authority:

The last volume of Mr Mommsen, a German gentleman, has about the state of Britain and other countries at the time of the withdrawing of the legions. The legionary system, Sir, had broke down some time before, in Constantine’s time, but though short it is a very good account…. (104)

This refers to The provinces of the Roman Empire from Caesar to Diocletian, translated by William Purdie Dickson (1894) and regarded as the final part of Mommsen’s History of Rome. (105) There is a chapter on Britain, sketchy by modern standards and stopping short at Diocletian (emperor AD 284-303), well before the withdrawal. Mommsen notes the raids by Picti (from Scotland) and Scotti (from Ireland) in the third century. There is nothing on the fourth century and the end of Roman rule, except for one remark which might have interested Kipling, about the loyalty of the province: ‘It was not Britain that gave up Rome, but Rome that gave up Britain.’ (106)

Kipling was well launched on his researches by the time he consulted his old acquaintance Gilbert Murray in August 1902. (Murray, being a distinguished scholar of Greek literature, was not the most obvious authority on whether there had been a Numidian legion in southern England, but he had been staying at Rottingdean and they had seen a good deal of each other. (107) ) Later Kipling consulted him on Mithras. (108) It was Lockwood Kipling who told his son he would have to look up his references more carefully than usual. (109) He did, he says, hunt up references and cross-references. (110) He read a good deal of archaeologcal accounts of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages and concluded sensibly that they overlapped. (111) Carrington, no doubt from Carrie’s diaries, knew that he consulted the Sussex Archaeological Journal. (112) He naturally read Gibbon, who deals with Count Theodosius’s campaign and thought highly of the younger Theodosius and his rise to imperial power:

‘the whole period of the history of the world will not perhaps afford a similar example of an elevation, at the same time so pure and so honourable’. (113)

Gibbon is full on Maximus taking men to Gaul and his verdict on the man is highly unfavourable. In his view Maximus was ‘destitute of military skill or personal courage’. (114) A more balanced account is given by Matthews.

Kipling relied on accounts of earlier times for the organisation of the Roman army and this led him into inaccuracy, since the fourth century army was very different from that of earlier times, but he realised that for children he needed to keep things simple and familiar:

I got into such a muddle (incommunicable to a child of course) regarding tribunes and legates and prefects of cohorts etc. that I bethought me of the Bible which all children should know and of the centurion who was a man of authority etc. For children you could hardly write of a Roman officer who was not a centurion … and you will observe in the work (which I am now correcting) that Parnesius says he has been a centurion – inferring that he moved up, which we know he did. (115)

He goes on to admit that ‘fearing the voice of archaeological research’ he hedged. He cautiously described Pertinax as ‘an officer’. He believed that ‘in the century of the dissolution of Rome discipline, precedent and form of all kinds was hideously relaxed’. This letter is apparently in response to helpful criticisms from Edward Lucas White (1866-1934), who was a teacher of Greek and Latin in Baltimore and with whom Kipling corresponded from at least 1893 until 1914. (116) White also wrote imaginatively on classical themes. (117) A later letter from White was also welcome:

As to your last letter not only was I pleased thereat but I took my pen and sat down and answered you seriatim historically chronologically and at length. When I’d done I said:– ‘Why afflict him with excerpts from Mommsen which he probably knows a heap better than I do. This is my vanity and will be his vexation of spirit.’ So I hove it away into the W.P.B. (118)

Most importantly, Kipling soaked himself in Latin literature. Medcalf suggests:

he went to the Roman poets whom he had read at school, Virgil and Horace, to prepare for Parnesius. (120)

He finds the Puck stories Virgilian. (119) The theme of duty recalls Aeneas, the country setting the Georgics. For instance, Hobden has something to do with Virgil’s old Cilician (presumably a retired pirate) who gardened and kept bees near Tarentum. (120)

Historical fact

The historical context of the Roman tales, around AD 383, has been expertly detailed by Carrington (121) . In his summary:

About the year 380, Britannia was officially Christian and Maximus was a rather fanatical Christian. The Roman Army no longer consisted of disciplined legionaries, but mostly of irregular corps of barbarians serving under their own tribal chiefs. The cities were decayed, half-empty, or even abandoned, and civilised life persisted mainly in the great country houses, like the Parnesius family home in the Isle of Wight, where old-fashioned aristocrats clung to their pagan religion in a world that had passed them by. Except for that, Kipling is describing Roman Britain as it had been, two centuries before the time of Maximus and Theodosius.

Further ‘pedantic’ criticisms and comments are authoritatively listed by Professor Rivet. Parnesius’ home in Vectis (the Isle of Wight) is convincingly identified with the villa at Brading, which Kipling could have visited. The Abulci inspected by Maximus at Pevensey (Anderidos, according to Talbert, not, as Kipling has it, Anderida) are indeed attested as being there. Kipling is right to think the Romans used arrows. (122) But ‘Little Forge’ was not Roman, nor is it likely that troops would have marched that way from Pevensey. (123) Kipling’s brilliant picture of the wall, thirty feet high and wide enough for three soldiers to walk abreast (174) is exaggerated. Collingwood Bruce estimated the total height as 18 feet (124) , Mommsen as at least sixteen feet high and eight feet broad. (125) Modern estimates give 13 1/2 feet high and 10 feet wide for the stone Broad Wall on the eastern sector. (126) Nor was there a snake-line line of civilian settlements alongside the Wall (134). But Kipling is right to think that civilian settlements grew up alongside forts (173), though these may have been nearly all evacuated in the ‘Picts’ War’ of AD 367. (127) These canabae or vici housed the soldiers’ women and children and provided shops, taverns and the type of entertainment Parnesius mentions. (128) Raiders from the sea at this date are called Saxons and no-one is known to have used winged helmets. (129)

Kipling in “On the Great Wall’” and “The Winged Hats” writes often of catapults (e.g. 198-201, 202). The reader then remembers how interested Parnesius had been in the modern descendant Una had wielded against him in ‘A Centurion of the Thirtieth’ (143-4). The word catapulta or scorpio is originally used of the torsion machines which shot bolts or arrows, while the stone-throwing machine was the two-armed ballista. In the fourth century, the ballista shot arrows, while the catapulta, scorpio (so-called from its profile) or onager (forerunner of the mediaeval mangonel) shot stones. It is highly unlikely that one-armed stone-throwing onagers were employed on the Wall. They were introduced around Parnesius’ period and Kipling may well have read about them in the written sources. (130) Ammianus (c. AD 330-95) tells us that the name was new: it comes from the habit of wild asses, when hunted, of kicking stones behind them with such violence that they hit their pursuers in the chest or head, with dire results. The machines need to be placed on a pile of turves or bricks: stone walls would be knocked down (by the concussion, not by the weight). Vegetius (writing after AD 383 and before 450) says they were useful against enemy machines, as well as against men and horses. Archaeological evidence and scholarship on artillery has advanced a great deal since Kipling’s time. (131)

Later archaeology sometimes confirmed and sometimes demolished Kipling’s picture. Parnesius finds a blocked gate where ‘the Great North Road’ (Dere Street) had crossed the line of the Wall at Portgate (175). Later a north gate at the nearby milecastle (265 yards away) turned out to have in fact been blocked in antiquity. It was not needed because people could use the gate on Dere Street. (132) But that is not quite the same thing. The fort at Onnum (Kipling’s Hunno), which had fallen into ruin, was re-occupied in the revival of AD 369.
Kipling made Maximus appoint Parnesius centurion in the Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth Legion. (This gave him three steps up, since the Tenth Cohort was the usual starting point.) But the Thirtieth, as far as we know, was never stationed in Britain. (133) Kipling’s decision to keep the Thirtieth had been criticised by Sir Charles Oman. (134)

An inscription from Corbridge, a slab used to record the building work of a unit, discovered in 1912, seemed to attest the presence of the seventh cohort of the Thirtieth Legion in the neighbourhood. The stone reads:

This would means ‘Legionis XXX Ulpiae Victricis cohors VII ’, ‘the Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth Legion Ulpia Victrix (built this)’. But there is no evidence that this legion or detachments of it were ever in Britain. It was based at Vetera from c. AD 120 and in AD 359 was on the eastern frontier. (135)

Kipling was rightly wary:

Years after the tale was told a digging-party on the Wall sent me some heavy four-sided, Roman-made, ‘ killing’ arrows found in situ, and most marvellously — a rubbing of a memorial tablet to the Seventh Cohort of the
Thirtieth Legion. Having been brought up in a suspicious school, I sus-
pected a ‘leg-pull’ here, but was assured that the rubbing was perfectly
genuine. (136)

The inscription was duly published in local archaeological reports and appears in the standard collection, with a drawing, bibliography and comments. (137) It is clear that the first X is a later addition. The ‘primary’ inscription read ‘Legionis XX V(aleriae) V(ictricis) coh(ors) VII ’, ‘the Seventh Cohort of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix (built this)’. The editors comment ‘The first x is a later insertion in Roman times’. In his revised edition of the volume, R. S. Tomlin adds the following:

This stone was found six years after Kipling published Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906), with its centurion of the Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth Legion. The suspicion that the ‘secondary’ inscription (the inserted X) is modern has been discussed by A. L. F. Rivet in his inaugural lecture, Rudyard Kipling’s Roman Britain: Fact and Fiction (University of Keele, 1976), but he reluctantly accepts it as coincidence. Haverfield and R. P. W. [Wright] both thought the insertion was ancient. (138)

Haverfield, in his cautious summing-up concludes:

Probabilities seem to suggest, not that a vexillation of the 30th was in Britain, but that the stone was set up by the 20th and afterwards some traveller or soldier from Germany, perhaps a stray man from the 30th, added the third X for auld lang syne. (139)

There is an interesting report in the Journal:

Sir John Medley (140) in 1911 was a member of a party excavating a section of the Roman Wall in Northumberland. (141) When Puck of Pook’s Hill was published, a member of Sir John’s party wrote to Kipling pointing out one or two small errors in the Roman Wall stories. In particular, the hero was named Parnesius—a centurion of the 7th cohort of the 30th Legion. Now, says Sir John Medley, the 30th Legion never came to Britain. It was usually stationed on the Rhine. The 2nd, 14th and 20th were the British legions. Kipling, however, took the correction very huffily and indicated in his reply that these academic pundits could run away and play with such minutiae so far as he was concerned. ‘And that was that,’ as Sir John wrote. But that was not the end of the story.

Sir John Medley goes on : ‘That year we were digging at the walls of a storehouse of no very special interest to anybody. But in it was discovered a small stone with an inscription that stated that repairs had been carried out in 280 A.D. by a party in charge of a centurion of the 7th cohort of the 30th legion. I wrote to Kipling. He sent me a telegram asking me to come and see him in Sussex, which in due course I did. He was quite irrationally pleased at having scored over his critic, but, after allowing himself to exult, he put me through a ferocious interrogatory designed to make quite certain that we were not merely “pulling his leg.”

Once satisfied, he delightfully showed me the notes from which he had written the story, and it was clear that he had not bothered to look anything up but had just put down the first numbers that came into his head. We decided, I remember, that the unfortunate centurion had probably over-indulged in the fleshpots of Strasbourg and had been seconded to the outer darkness of the Wall for a period to expiate his misdemeanours.’ (142)

So it would seem that an alteration in antiquity fortuitously backed up Kipling’s choice of legion and cohort. But Carrington, usually an exact witness, was informed that the alteration was a twentieth-century hoax perpetrated by the future Sir John Medley and others. (143) So some mystery remains. Did Medley tell the truth in his published account or is Carrington right? It is intriguing, but in fact it does not matter very much that Kipling apparently picked Parnesius’ legion at random nor that the Wall was not manned by legionaries.(He could have understood Parnesius to have been seconded; he imagined him to have been promoted.)

But there are major misconceptions in Kipling’s picture. (144) The Wall (built c. AD 122-6) was designed to mark the frontier of the Roman province. It enabled the army to control and supervise people, livestock and goods coming in and out and levy customs duty. It was also a springboard for attack to the north, from the forts. Although it marks a line on the map, the Roman conception of a frontier was fluid: it did not preclude Roman power and influence beyond the line. The Wall was not expected nor intended to halt invasion. It was ‘to control movement, not to prevent it’ and it was not a fighting platform. (145)

By the late fourth century AD, after the damaging war of 367 against the barbarians (including Picti and Scotti) and the reconstruction of the province in 369 by Count Theodosius, the Wall had gone through various changes and Roman strength there was much reduced, but the threat of attack seems to have been low. Kipling is also wrong to imply that his Thirtieth Legion was on the Wall, since, although three legions had built it, it was never garrisoned by legionaries, but by auxiliaries. Allen cites Eric Birley, in his day the major authority on the archaeology of the Wall, (147) who pointed out that Kipling:

‘had not made a study of the changes in the Roman world’s organisation in the third and fourth centuries, so that his detail is almost always at fault (even though his general picture is living and in the main convincing).’ (148)

The army he describes, with its legions divided into cohorts and its centurions, could be that of the late Republic and Early Empire, (149) not of the fourth century, after reforms by Diocletian and Constantine I . (150) But Kipling was aware that this whole topic was a can of worms and was right to eschew it. Maximus, it now seems, did not evacuate the Wall, though he took men from elsewhere in the British provinces. In 401 we see troops being recalled by the emperor Honorius and in 407 taken abroad by the usurper Constantine III. (151) On these three occasions when troops were taken from Britain Breeze and Dobson comment:

These armies may have included soldiers from the Wall but it is certainly clear that the Wall was not abandoned as a result of any of these possible withdrawals, though it used to be considered that Magnus Maximus milked the Wall of all its troops for his ill-fated expedition in 383. (152)

So there is nothing wrong with Kipling’s account there.

In the fifth century Roman control finally ‘lapsed’. Pay and supplies stopped coming from the imperial government. Britain in 410 looked to its own defence and Honorius retrospectively authorised the inhabitants to do so. (153)

The religious background to the stories is also wrong. Christianity was no longer a minority religion, as Parnesius’ odd ‘wandering philosopher’ (169-70) suggests. (154) Constantine had become a convert and on making himself emperor recognised it as licit (AD 313) and encouraged it (e.g. by building churches). The army was expected to toe the new line, but probably did not: ‘the army remained in the fourth century predominantly pagan’. (155) Pagan belief and worship persisted among some of the aristocracy and in the countryside (pagani are country-dwellers) and Julian’s short-lived attempt (AD 361-3) to make the empire pagan again shows that they continued. Under the next few emperors (Jovian AD 363-4, then in the West Valentinian I 364-75, his son Gratian 367-83), who were Christian, pagan worship was tolerated, although Gratian in 382 removed the Altar of Victory from the Senate-house and removed the subsidies for pagan cults. In 391 Theodosius the Great (c. 346-95, emperor 379-95) banned pagan worship and closed the temples. (156)

Mithraism, which will recur in later stories (157) was popular in multicultural Rome itself and in the port of Ostia and among soldiers on the Rhine-Danube frontier from about AD 100. It was a cult for men only. There were seven grades. (158) The second was that of ‘Numphos’ or Nymphus (male bride). A bridal veil marked this initiate. (159) This grade is, according to one piece of evidence, associated with kruphios or kryphios (‘the hidden one’ – we can probably link this with the veil). (160) This Greek word was wrongly turned into Grypus in Latin, which gives Kipling his ‘Griphon’ (178). (161) Initiates belonged to small groups or cells. They celebrated their communal meals of wine and meat (which had probably been sold from public sacrifices) and initiations and sang hymns in cramped semi-subterranean buildings, ‘caves’, usually holding between twelve and thirty people. Worshippers were expected to protect their fellow-initiates, as Parnesius did Amal.

To Rivet’s mind, the ‘most damaging aspect of the whole story’ was ‘Kipling’s inability to appreciate the real meaning of the word “Roman”’. The misconceptions are partly caused by the state of scholarship at the time he was writing, partly by the focus of his Latin training on classical literature – nothing later than the early second century AD — , partly by his own preconceptions. (162) So he wants to make Parnesius, though born in Britain, come from a family who has held land there since the days of Agricola (governor probably AD 77-83) (147), of the ‘Old Stock’ (152), whom Rivet takes to be Roman citizens who have come in to colonise the country. But it is much more likely that, like most villa-owners, such a family would be descended from the pre-Roman inhabitants of the island, who, being rich, adopted Roman ways and obtained the Roman citizenship.

In my view, the message he wants to put across in the book has also distorted matters. Those who contribute to the shaping of England: Roman, Norse, German, Norman and others must be racially distinct before they combine to form a new breed and culture. But if Kipling had read in Virgil’s Aeneid on the legendary union of Trojans and Latins and Italians (as he must have done) or Livy Book 1 on the fusion of Romans and Sabines and fugitives from all over Italy under the founder of the City, Romulus, he must have known that being Roman depended on holding the citizenship and (at least to some extent) participating in a shared culture, not on ethnicity. Both these authors come from an area of Italy (north of the Po) only recently enfranchised. Kipling’s favourite poet, Horace, was the son of an ex-slave (whose ethnic origin we do not know) and it would be hard to think of anyone more ‘Roman’. Kipling knew all about St Paul, a Jew, Greek of Tarsus and Roman, whose Roman citizenship enabled him to appeal to the emperor. It is the need to make Parnesius and Pertinax (from Gaul: there is no Divio in Talbert’s Atlas) into champions of the Empire against the barbarians (like Horatius and his two friends against the Etruscans in the Lays of Ancient Rome) which misleads Kipling.

By the late Republic, the citizen body was ethnically diverse, thanks to enfranchisement of whole Italian communities, of individuals from Italy and elsewhere and of slaves legally freed by owners who held the Roman citizenship. Generals mostly recruited legions from citizens outside the cosmopolitan city of Rome. By the first century AD, legionary service had become unattractive to Romans of Italy and, although legionaries were required to be citizens, auxiliaries (like the troops stationed on the Wall) were recruited from non-citizens, who received citizenship on discharge. (163) Enfranchisement continued as before in the first two centuries AD. Then in 212, Caracalla gave citizenship to all the free inhabitants of the Empire. So in Parnesius’ world, barring more recent immigrants and all slaves, almost everyone counted as Roman.

It is a commonplace that Kipling’s young Roman officers, Parnesius, Pertinax and, later, Valens, are like subalterns in the Indian army. Kipling both admitted and defended this. Major C. S. Jarvis wrote:

I remember commenting on the life-like picture he had drawn of the two Roman Centurions on the Great Wall, and he said, ‘ Oh, that was quite easy. I merely took the subalterns who serve on the North-West Frontier of India as my characters. The type has not changed in any detail.’ (164)

Maurois, finding the type eternal in various cultures, including France, also gives Kipling himself as authority:

I once asked Kipling himself, because I had just read one of his stories about the Roman Wall in Scotland (sic), how he managed to describe Roman officers and soldiers, and make them so true and alive. Was it not an extraordinary feat of literary skill? He replied: ‘No, it’s very easy, I simply listened to the conversations of British officers in India, and gave them as the conversations of Roman officers and that did the trick. (165)

(Joyce Tompkins pinpoints it further when she suggests that the Roman-British officers in their attitude to the City of Rome in Puck are actually more like Australians in theirs to Britain.) (166)

There are also small niggles, such as the fact that triumphs only took place in Rome and and were held only by emperors from Augustus onwards. Parnesius and Pertinax could surely have received some signal honour. It is nowadays agreed (but was not when Kipling wrote) that ‘thumbs down’ was not the signal for a gladiator’s death and that ‘We, about to die, salute you’ was a formula only used on one occasion, not routinely.

Kipling ‘researched’ and remembered what he had read, but then the material was shaped by his imagination:

I do not doubt that Kipling verified his references, but having done so I think he ignored them when it suited him. (167)


Kipling made two shots at stories which he considered failures, one about a Baltic pirate who came to Pevensey and had passed ‘the Roman fleet abandoning Britain to her doom’ (168) and another featuring Defoe. It is this second draft to which Lancelyn Green refers (wrongly calling it the first):

Kipling took this [his father’s hint] very much to heart and looked up his references so thoroughly that he was forced to destroy his first attempt as ‘a painstaking and meritorious piece of work, overloaded with verified references, with about as much feeling to it as a walking-stick’ (169)

Then there was a third, about Dr Johnson. Although all these sound like good ideas, ‘my Daemon would not function’.

Therefore … I turned my back on the whole thing and walked the other way. Therefore, the whole thing set and linked itself. I fell first upon Normans and Saxons. Parnesius came later, directly out of a little wood above the Phoenician forge; and the rest of the tales … followed in order. (170)

Other writers of historical stories have found that too much research is counter-productive. They need to use enough period detail to convey an impression of realism. Rosemary Sutcliff gives an insider’s view:

Kipling was, I believe, as careful as it was in his creative nature to be; it is obvious that a great deal of investigation has gone to provide him with the detail that makes his stories stand up so solidly, but one does not need to be a professional historian to find doubtful patches in them…. When a creative artist uses historical material, he cannot for long, however hard he tries, approach it like a historian – unless, maybe, he has been trained as one in youth. (171)

Another practitioner, Lancelyn Green, should have the last word on Puck as history:

What Kipling seems to have done in the end was to arrive at the perfect compromise: To have soaked himself in the history of the period with which he wished to deal, memorised or jotted down a few of the ‘given points’ which he found so helpful, and then to have thrown aside the history books and let the Daemon take charge – even when the dictates of artistic creation demanded plain guess-work or a calculated departure from historical ‘fact’. (172)

Whatever the ‘mistakes’ and misconceptions, the reader is left with a vivid and convincing picture of the basic realities of life in the Roman period. Parnesius’ helmet is as precisely described as Hector’s in Iliad 6.466-73 which frightens the baby: Una ‘could hear the long hairs rasp on his shimmery shoulder plates’ (143).

The description of a Roman salute (157) or of what missile to use against ships’ sails (202-3) makes one think, ‘of course, that is how it must have been’. The narrative of the march north is even more evocative of weather, landscape and a soldier’s experience than ‘The Roman centurion’s song’ (169-173). (173) Small touches make us aware of an exact context. The father reminds his children he had patria potestas (paternal power, which theoretically included the right to kill): this privilege, almost unique to Roman citizens, lasted down to the sixth century (148). Parnesius’ ‘I am in good health’ (151) evokes the common polite expression ‘valeo’, just as ‘Greeting and Good-bye’ in Maximus’ letter (214) is ‘Ave atque Vale’. Parnesius and Puck share a moment of empathy when Parnesius sacrifices to Faun or his Greek equivalent Pan (178). (174) A temporary altar will be built of turves (190). (175) The water-mill is a new invention (169). Animals are caught to be taken to the arena (170). ‘A British-Roman song (A.D. 406)’ is given a significant date, the year of Britain’s revolt against Honorius and 1500 years before the publication of Puck, and recalls by the shape of its stanzas a Horatian ode. The marching rhythm of the Lalage song (176) reminds one of the attested ribald songs sung at Caesar’s triumph and elsewhere:

Urbani, servat’ uxores: moechum calv’ adduximus.

One of Kipling’s main concerns was to show the decline of an empire, the end of rule by an emperor in Rome. (178) This is shown clearly in the verses he wrote on the flyleaf of Oman’s copy in June 1907, ‘The Coin Speaks’:

… Not an Empire dazed and old,
Smitten blind and stricken cold,
Bartering her sons for gold;

…Not the legions they disband,
Not the oarless ships unmanned,
Not the ruin of the land,
These I know and understand. (179)

For Britain it was the end of a period dominated by Roman citizens. But thousands of Romans, whose ancestors came from all over the empire, must have remained in what would be England, to amalgamate with new incomers such as the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings. Some Roman culture (villas, roads, Latin) hung on for a time, though cities and engineering works decayed (180) , and some deeper patterns in farming contributed to the way of life. Though for Kipling the fall of Rome was a warning of what might happen to the British Empire, the tale of Parnesius and Pertinax was a paradigm of duty and self-sacrifice even in a losing cause. Something would last.

“The Church that was at Antioch” (181)

Kipling tells Elsie at the end of 1927 that he has already used her Christmas present of a blotter for this story, and that he was writing two or three tales at once. (182)

Historical fact

The only source for the activities of Peter and Paul is the New Testament, which I shall cite, as Kipling does, in the Authorised Version. I summarise the salient points about the career and character of Peter and Paul, as they are relevant to the story.

Peter is the major leader among the disciples in the early days after the crucifixion of Jesus. He preaches, with surprising erudition and force, and performs miracles. He occasionally left Jerusalem to preach the gospel elsewhere: we hear of him (with John) in Samaria. (183) Later he visits Lydda and Joppa, both in Judaea. At Joppa he has his vision about a container let down from heaven, with animals, birds and reptiles, all of which God tells him he should regard as ‘clean’ (although many would have been unclean according to Jewish dietary laws). He is then summoned to the Romanised port of Caesarea in Samaria to meet a proselytising Roman centurion, Cornelius, who has also been inspired by a vision. (184) Entering the house (which a devout Jew should not have done), Peter says ‘God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean’ and ‘I perceive that God is no respecter of persons’. Peter and the Jews present realise that the Holy Ghost has fallen on Cornelius and ‘they of the circumcision … were astonished … because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost’. So Peter says ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’ (185)

Back in Jerusalem, he met criticism for his behaviour to Gentiles and succeeded in justifying it, by his vision and by the perceived fact that Cornelius and his people had been baptised by the Holy Ghost. (186)

Immediately after this comes the spreading of the gospel out of Palestine and into Syria. The church at Antioch on the Orontes in Northern Syria, one of the old Seleucid capitals and now capital of the province of Syria, where there were many Jews, began with followers of Stephen, who preached to the Jews, and then with men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who preached to the Greeks. Then the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, who preached effectively and went to Tarsus to fetch Saul to help. They remained a year. ‘And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.’ (187) Paul and Barnabas went back there after visiting Jerusalem, and before going off on another mission to Cyprus, Pisidia, Lycaonia and Pamphylia. Back in Antioch, they stayed ‘long time with the disciples’. (188) They had decided to concentrate on the Gentiles. (189) Other preachers then arrived from Judaea, insisting on circumcision (190) as essential for salvation, so Paul and Barnabas went back to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with ‘the apostles and elders’. Some Pharisees who had converted to Christianity argued that Christians must keep the whole law of Moses. But Peter argued strongly that since God had earlier ordered him to preach to the Gentiles and they had received the Holy Ghost, no new requirements should be put upon them. ‘Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?’ James won the assembly around to the more lenient approach, so that it was decided to send Judas and Silas with a letter urging the Gentile converts ‘That ye abstain from meats offered to idols and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication’. Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch too and stayed there until Barnabas went off on a further journey with John Mark and Paul with Silas, to revisit the cities they had been to before, while Judas returned to Jerusalem. (191) Although Acts does not mention it, Peter had gone to Antioch too.‘But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.’ Peter, according to Paul, had begun by eating with Gentiles and then desisted. (192)

In Lycaonia after the decision in Jerusalem, Paul nevertheless ‘because of the Jews’ circumcised a convert, Timotheus, whose mother was Jewish and father Greek, in order to be able to take him as an assistant. (193) On Paul’s next journey, which was extended to Macedonia and Achaea and included a year and a half at Corinth, he was flogged at Philippi at the orders of the local magistrates and had his celebrated interview with the Roman governor, Gallio (the brother of Nero’s minister Seneca). (194) He called in at Antioch again. (195) Another long trip round Asia, Macedonia and Greece included a long stay at Ephesus. (196) Returning to Jerusalem, he was criticised for teaching Jews who lived among the Gentiles to desert the law and stop practising circumcision. Paul rebutted this several times by publicly protesting his own adherence to Jewish rules. (197) The elders maintained their position on leniency to Gentile converts. (198) It is following disturbances in Jerusalem that Claudius Lysias the Roman commandant sends Paul under guard to Felix, (199) the procurator of Judaea, who holds him for two years until (Porcius) Festus takes over the province (? AD 60-62) and Paul appeals to Caesar. (200)


Scholars have pointed out some minor errors in Kipling’s tale. Mithras was not believed to have risen from the dead (101). (201) Kipling invents a good deal about Mithraic beliefs (which are still subject of scholarly controversy). Laesa majestatis (104) ought to be laesa majestas (‘injured majesty’, treason). The usual criticism of Kipling’s historical sense recurs: ‘Kipling has shamelessly and anachronistically, as always, recreated the Roman empire in the image of the British.’ (202) Others, however, defend him on this point. Kipling’s memories of disturbances between Muslims and Hindus and his knowledge of the beliefs about cows and pigs which had triggered the Mutiny, as Lancelyn Green long ago pointed out, inform the picture of the relations between Jews and Christians. (203) Valens’ clever use of the mounted police to break up a crowd recalls the premeditated violence in “On the City Wall” and the tactics used, first by a mounted twenty-year-old Assistant District Supervisor of Police with thirty men, and then by 500 mounted troops and infantry to break up the crowds (50,000!) in the narrow streets. There is also a Deputy Commissioner, whose tone is like that of Serga. (204)

There are many touches which make the Roman context real. Serga constantly alludes to Horace, what Valens regards as ‘out-of-date Roman society verses’ (94). (205) ‘ “I’m not the uncle with the rough tongue” ’ (89) comes from the complaints put in the mouth of a young woman about the wretched lot of girls who cannot enjoy a love affair or drown their sorrows in wine without fainting for fear of the lashes of an uncle’s tongue. (206) This is an uncle on the father’s side, reputed to be severe and often appointed guardian. Sergius behaves like a maternal uncle, expected to be affectionate, though he is brother of Valens’ dead father (113). ‘Then the tables are broken up, but not by laughter’ is from a satire. (207) ‘Apella’ (94) is Horace’s generic name for a Jew: ‘let the Jew Apella believe that’. (28) ‘Mass without mind always comes a cropper’ translates in a humorous way Horace’s vis consili expers mole ruit sua, a description of what happened to the giants when they fought against the gods, which, like Regulus, comes in one of the patriotic ‘Roman odes’ at the beinning of Book 3. (209) ‘There’s no lying about in secluded parks for us’ (98) is a reminiscence of Horace’s outdoor drinking sessions. (210) ‘That’ll be something of a flood — worse than live fish in trees’ (103) alludes to Horace’s portrayal of a disastrous Tiber flood, when the world feared a return to Deucalion’s flood when fish clung to the top of the elm tree. (211) Serga’s words about the centurion Cornelius, ‘Prime companion, we drank the long, long Eastern day out together’ (103) is expanded from part of the ode addressed to Pompeius, who had been in Brutus’ army (in the East) with Horace. (212) ‘My tumid liver’ (104) is one of the symptoms of Horace’s jealous love. (213) ‘ “Let Night also have her well-earned hymn,” as Uncle ‘ud say’ (109-10) is the ending of an invitation to a girl to come to a drinking and singing party to celebrate Neptune’s feast day. (214) The Sabine boar (105) does not seem to figure in Horace, though he will have eaten them at his Sabine farm. (215) ‘ “Dearest of lives” ’ (113) might perhaps render tam carum caput, ‘so dear a head’, the words Horace uses to describe his dead friend Quintilius. (216) Most of these allusions are to the Odes, especially poems of love, friendship and wine.

‘I have it’ (111) is good Roman to mean ‘I have got my death-wound’. People would use it of a gladiator: ‘habet!’, ‘he’s got it!’. (217)

Kipling also invents idioms which convey a Roman flavour. ‘Off the trident and into the net!’ (91) and ‘this lion would be his to tackle’ (95) (both from the arena) and ‘as friendly as a Christian’ (95) are clever expressions. ‘Then we’ll call it even-throws’ (97) and ‘it was fair-throws’ (98) come from ever- popular dicing. ‘Divide and rule’ (91), if not a Roman phrase, renders Roman practice.

Little details add verisimilitude. I select a few. Widowed mothers (89, 90, 91) tended to have a strong influence over sons. The mothers of Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus and Julius Agricola are familiar examples. Sexual relations and even love were commonplace between master and slave. It was usual to visit the baths before dinner (89). Syria, an important military province for the reasons Kipling mentions, was under the emperor (90). This meant the governor was a lieutenant of the emperor, a Legate (cf. 105). The ‘home-worships’ (the hearth, the Genius and Juno of the owners, the Lares and Penates) (218) were important to the household, while the mistress of the house would attend public sacrifices to the Capitoline Triad (90). ‘Gaius Julius Paulus’ (93) is a good guess for Paul’s Roman name: the ancestor who was first awarded the citizenship would have taken his name from Julius Caesar (or, less probably, Augustus). Both Paul and Valens pride theselves on their tough marches (90, 93, 99): Paul had made an interesting decision to go on foot from Alexandria Troas to Assos, letting the ship pick him up later. (219) The ‘Supper’ (91) was the main feature of Mithraic meetings. Valens is a Roman of Rome, or at least Italy, it would seem, and so it is correct this time for Kipling to make Sergius say he is ‘of the old stock’ (92). The Romans had collegia, religious and trade associations, so it is natural for them to talk of a Christian college (94): Kipling mentions a tripe-sellers’ burial club (96). Sergius mixes the rough wine with water (105). ‘Hawkers offered cooked suppers’ (110), the prostitutes laughing from windows (111), the shuttered shop-fronts (111) are realistic touches.

Kipling also uses his imagination to create convincing background, such as the offering of incense to the gods by the cavalrymen (110).

As Sergeant says:

‘Kipling’s careful detailing nails the story into a particular time and place, but he is also concerned to make it an eternal story in the most forceful sense: one that is somehow taking place in all times and all places.’

As in Rewards and Fairies, the story is told ‘in three or four overlaid tints and textures, which might or might not reveal themselves according to the shifting light of sex, youth and experience ‘. (221) The different preconceptions of Romans and Christian Jews are sensitively explored, as are the contrasting characters of Peter and Paul. Despite their differences, the apostles and Serga and his nephew can come together in sympathy and fellowship.

“The Manner of Men” (222)

Kipling was writing this story in August-September 1929 and we have a fascinating series of letters to Sir Percy Bates about the careful thinking Kipling put into details of both Baeticus’ ship and the Eirene and the characters of the speakers. (223)

Historical fact

The source for the second story is again the New Testament. The last two chapters of Acts, 27 and 28, have the narrative of Paul’s journey to Rome. Kipling has made good use of the information given about Paul’s route.

From Acts and from classical sources, we know that the grain ships importing Egyptian wheat from Alexandria had to make their way to Italy against prevailing north-westerly winds. There were two routes. The northerly one took them by Cyprus, Myra, Rhodes or Cnidos, along the south coast of Crete, by Malta and Messina. The southerly went along the coast of north Africa by Cyrene. Both were over 1400 nautical miles. Ships normally docked at Puteoli/Pozzuoli. Ships which had wintered in Alexandria could leave in April. The journey could take a month or two. After unloading, ships could return to Alexandria much more quickly, in two to three weeks. Then they might reload and return to Italy. It is these ships which risked being caught by the onset of winter en route, as were the two ships on which Paul travelled. (224) The normal sailing season was late May to early September, though some would sail as early as early March and as late as early November.

According to Acts, Paul had been in Caesarea and, with other prisoners, was handed over to a centurion named Julius. They sailed first on a ship of Adramyttium as far as Myra in Lycia. There the centurion transferred them into an Alexandrian ship which was going to Italy and was no doubt bigger and more comfortable. They made slow progress to Cnidus (in south-western Asia Minor) and then sailed along the southern shore of Crete and reached the Fair Havens (Kaloi Limenes) near Lasea (Lasaia, south of Gortyn). Because the approach of winter now made sailing dangerous, Paul pointed out that to go on meant risking ship, cargo and passengers. But the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship (the kubernetes [Latin gubernator] and naukleros [navicularius]), who wanted to make Phenice (Phoinix in western Crete: George Engle in NRG puts it near modern Sfacia/Sphakia), which offered a safer anchorage for winter. A south wind encouraged them. But then a ‘tempestuous’ NE wind called Euroclydon (225) arose and drove them past an island called Clauda (Kaudos, now Gavdos/Gaudos, in the Libyan Sea). They resorted to undergirding, lightened the ship, threw the tackle overboard. Paul told them of a vision in which an angel assured him that he would see Caesar and everyone on the ship would be saved, though the vessel would be lost. On the fourteenth night, the crew thought they were near land and took soundings and ‘cast four anchors out of the stern’. Some men wanted to escape in the boat, but Paul said they all had to stay in the ship, so the soldiers cut the boat’s ropes and let her ‘fall off’. Paul made all the 276 people eat. Then they threw the wheat overboard. When day broke, they could see a creek with a shore and decide to try ‘to thrust in the ship’. They took up the anchors and:

loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made towards shore. And falling into a place two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.

The soldiers thought they should kill prisoners to stop them escaping, but the centurion, who wanted to save Paul, took over and ordered those who could swim to jump overboard and get to land and the others floated ashore on bits of wood. The barbarian natives lit a fire, because it was cold and raining, and treated them kindly. Paul gathered sticks to put on the fire and was bitten by a viper but not injured. He and his companions were then hospitably entertained by the chief man of the island, Publius, for three days. Three months later, they sailed for Puteoli in another Alexandrian ship, called Castor and Pollux, which had wintered in Malta, and reached Rome.


Kipling’s story of St Paul’s journey to Rome is framed by a conversation between three men. A Spanish wheat ship comes into Marseille on its way to ‘Port of Rome’ (Ostia) and an ‘elderly hook-nosed Inspector’ comes on board. He calls in another seaman to advise the captain on undergirding. The captain entertains them to wine, water and fruit in the shade and they get talking. The captain is a young Spaniard, Baeticus, a name attested nine times in Latin inscriptions, chiefly from the Spains, including Baetica (the south) and in Ostia (as the name of a public slave). The inspector is a ‘Red Sidonian’, a master mariner, Quabil. The third man, Sulinor, a Dacian from the Danube, of whom Baeticus had heard as being ‘in the flesh-traffic’ and ‘a Free Trader’ (228) is an ex-pirate who had dealt in slaves. He had had five voyages as second in command with Quabil, carrying wheat. He is now in the Roman fleet. Baeticus’ uncle had called him ‘Mango’, ‘slave-trader’ (228). Sulinor and Quabil are not Roman names, though at first mention Sulinor’s name is latinised to Sulinus, which fits with the point, not made until the very end of the tale, that he has gained Roman citizenship by serving in the fleet. It is Quabil who tells the tale, with additional comments or interruptions from Sulinor (both are keen to get their points across), of their last voyage together, when they carried Egyptian wheat and had a passenger who wanted to see Caesar (the proper way of referring to the emperor). The emperor by now was Nero (ruled AD 54-68).

The interaction starts with the quick-fire repartee between Quabil and Baeticus. Baeticus is brash enough to throw a misjudged insult at the Semitic Quabil. He has taken risks with his cargo and ship. He has shipped African leathers on his own account (226) (quite legitimately according to Roman thinking). Quabil is a master mariner, ‘ “ bosun-captain, and not ashamed of it” ’ (240), respected by his peers and proud of his skill, standing on his dignity (‘he did not like nicknames so early’ [229]) and ironic about his present job of controlling captains (227). Predictably, he is proud of his skill in driving his ship ashore (243) so as to save life. Sulinor’s character emerges more gradually: he should be grateful not to see Caesar (230); he has been hunted by Lycian racers and now commands one (231); he twice nervously rubs his wrists (233, 236) (George Engle in NRG thinks because he remembers how tired his arms were after taking the helm, which indeed fits well with what he says in the same context about the ship being ‘hard-mouthed’ like a pulling horse (233) and the fact that he took his turn with five others at the helm during the storm (237, cf. 236), but I am inclined to think also because Kipling imagines him as having been chained to an oar by his wrist at some point in his varied career); he is grateful not to be rowing in a galley (235) – here Kipling wrongly imagines slave or convict oarsmen under the overseer’s whip; he recurs obsessively to the Beasts (e.g. 234, 236, 244, 249); he worried about his citizenship being in order, because he was wanted for piracy (246-7), and Paul, in bidding him to serve Caesar in the fleet, told him he could at last be free of his fear of being condemned to death in the arena (248).

Quabil dislikes Paul and his manner of ‘taking the tone and colour of whoever he talked to’ (being all things to all men) (232, cf. e.g. 238, 240, 241, 244, 247), (226) a trait which is picked up in the main theme of the verses at the end of the story. (It was also seen by others as a characteristic of Kipling). (227) But Sulinor has paid attention to what Paul said and has seen his naked back when he washed, with the scars of scourgings by the lictors’ rods and by Jews and of stabs and bites from the Beasts (234). (228) He and Paul had talked of ‘Kings and Cities and Gods and Caesar’ (238).

Sulinor dreaded above all things being thrown to the beasts. This was a form of capital punishment which the Romans used against slaves, non-citizens and low-status citizens convicted of serious offences, including, from the time of Nero onwards, Christians. (229) The importance of the theme of facing the beasts in the arena – not only lions and other carnivores but possibly herbivores such as elephants and bulls – is shown by the epigraph:

‘If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus.’—I Cor. xv. 32 (230)

‘After the manner of men’ occurs several times in the Authorised Version. It translates three different Greek phrases. The only text which exactly parallels the one in the epigraph is Galatians 3.15. both have ‘kata anthropon’. The preposition kata can mean ‘corresponding with, after the fashion of’. So we get the sense, ‘as far as a human being can’.

We have no other evidence that Paul was condemned to ‘fight beasts’ in the arena. This might perhaps mean he was condemned to work as a bestiarius or venator, who would be armed and might survive. Criminals condemned to death were either unarmed (and often tied to a post) or had derisory weapons. Chances that such a man would survive to show his scars were slight. The words Paul uses for the first part of the quotation are ei kata anthropon etheriomachesa en Epheso. The verb theriomachein (‘to fight with wild animals’) does not seem to be used metaphorically of a struggle with human opponents (for example the worshippers of Diana of the Ephesians, with whom Paul is known to have clashed) as has been argued. It is not used of helpless convicts being thrown to the lions or other wild animals, but of armed hunters pursuing exotic animals (lions, panthers, leopards, elephants, even crocodiles, rhinoceroses and hippopotami) in the circus or amphitheatre. The hunters, (theriomachoi or theriomachai; in Latin venatores or bestiarii) were usually professional. But the Greek word could be used of prisoners of war sent to die in the arena: remnants of an army of revolting slaves in Sicily in the late first century BC are said to have evaded this kind of death at a Roman show by killing each other. (231) We must take Paul’s words literally as Kipling did. He has perhaps provided his explanation when he makes Sulinor say, ‘they set the sheep-dogs on Paul at some place or other once’ (249). Paul spent a couple of years at Ephesus, (232) so there was plenty of time for him to face a crisis there, though it is surprising no such incident occurs in Acts. This was, then, for Kipling not a judicial punishment, but a foretaste of what might happen if Paul were condemned by the Roman authorities.

Kipling, to draw the reader into the story, plays the same trick in his first sentence as he had in ‘The Church that was at Antioch’. ‘Her’ is the first word and we do not find out that she is ‘a Spanish wheat-boat’ for a moment. (In the earlier tale, we have ‘His mother … his uncle’ and a much longer wait until we get to Valens.) Then follows the brilliant description of the quiet arrival of the ship, from the viewpoint of the watchers in the harbour, who presumably include the Inspector.

Kipling has caught the cosmopolitan flavour of the merchant fleet, manned by provincials (228, 229). (233) It might include slaves, who often acted as important agents in the import/export business. The ship-owner or charterer, the navicularius, might act as captain, or there might be a hired captain, the gubernator (helmsman) or magister navis (shipmaster). Ships carried at least 68 tons of grain; in the second century the standard ship was carrying 340 tons. The ships could accommodate passengers. Even King Herod Agrippa, en route to Syria, was recommended by the emperor Gaius to wait for the etesians and take passage on a grain ship on the return leg from Pozzuoli to Alexandria, because the captains ‘drive them like racehorses’. (234) The cargo might belong to several owners, some of whom might travel as passengers. Grain might be carried loose in the hold, in bins (as in the tale [226]) or perhaps in the sacks in which it was moved on and off the ships. (219)

Kipling, as is clear from George Engle’s detailed notes in NRG, worked up the text of Acts to give a rich account of the difficulties of the voyage from the professional sailors who had been responsible, talking shop to another captain. His own interaction with the officers of liners and with naval officers in the Great War, which is apparent in his many other sea stories and in his reports of life in the fleet, helped him make the conversation convincing. Like army officers, Kipling might say, sailors do not change their fundamental problems or the characteristics which enable them to survive. But the three speakers are individualised. Their invented slang, idioms, proverbial expressions, jokes and insults have a convincing flavour of the ancient world.

Plenty of small touches again create a thick description. Roman citizens in Rome were entitled to an allowance of grain (‘dole-bread’, 226) and an emperor would have trouble if grain were not available. (236) The trio pour a libation to the gods before drinking (229).There is a thumbnail summary of a funny story involving an official going on unofficial business to Forum Iulii (Fréjus) (229). The ship is called the Eirene, ‘Peace’ (230). Dates and olives accompany the wine (231). There is also a cork available, for Romans sealed their wine-jars with corks and pitch (232; cf. Horace Odes 3.8.10). Paul is a ‘philosopher’ (230, 231, 237, 244, 249). The Rhodian sea law (232) (still influential in the twenty-first century) and Roman legal rules (which Kipling does not mention) laid down regulations about jettisoning cargo to save the ship or other cargo or human lives. (237)

Caesar had encouraged ship-owners to bring the wheat-boats to Italy even in the winter (230, 245): Claudius (emperor AD 41-54) had indeed done this, guaranteeing them against loss by storm. (238) It was Claudius too who built the harbour at Ostia, with two curving breakwaters and a mole or island between them (245). (239) The conversation is interrupted by a charming interlude when a war trireme, just remasted, is ‘sung out’ by a boatload of Arlesian women. The song they sing is modelled on a famous line from Greek and Roman literature ‘Ah, would swift ships had never been’ (234-5). (240) The surf hammers like a Cyclops (242 with NRG’s explanation). Marseilles (Massilia, a Greek foundation) had lost status when the Romans founded Narbonne (Narbo Martius) (245). Sulinor and Baeticus shoot their fingers at each other (246) like boys playing (the verb is micare).

Other details are imaginative inventions. Sulinor salutes the bust of Caesar on the poop (228). There are some nice idiomatic phrases, for example ‘Mad as a magician on market-day’ (239).
‘Mistakes’ are trivial. Melita does not mean ‘mash’ or ‘wheat gruel’ in classical Latin : I cannot guess where Kipling got this from (241).

“The Pleasure Cruise””

As a coda to this survey of prose fiction, a short piece which appeared in The Morning Post on Armistice Day 1933 (and was followed by “The Bonfires” on 13 November) deserves comment. “The Pleasure Cruise (with apologies to Lucian)”’is a short satirical dialogue which successfully imitates Lucian’s style, brevity and matter. It is a parody, but the intention is not to amuse, but to wake Britain to a realisation of the danger from Nazi Germany. (240a)

Lucian (who did not form part of school syllabi, though his comparatively simple Greek made some passages suitable for unseen translation) was writing in the heyday of the Roman Empire in the mid-second century AD. Among his many works are thirty short Dialogues of the Dead (240b), which Kipling must have read attentively. Hermes (the guide of dead souls)and Charon (the ferryman who took them to Hades) figure in the fourth and tenth dialogue. The other characters are Pluto (and his wife Persephone), the dog Cerberus and a number of male human figures, both mythological heroes and historical characters (such as Alexander, Hannibal and Scipio Africanus) and philosophers (such as Menippus the Cynic).

In the fourth dialogue, Hermes is dunning Charon for a debt:

Her. That’s all; unless I have forgotten anything. When will you pay it?
Ch. I can’t just now, Hermes; we shall have a war or a plague presently, and then the passengers will come shoaling in, and I shall be able to make a little by jobbing the fares.

Her. So for the present I have nothing to do but sit down, and pray for the worst, as my only chance of getting paid?
Ch. There is nothing else for it;– very little business doing just now, as you see, owing to the peace.
Her. That is just as well, though it does keep me waiting for my money. After all, though, Charon, in old days men were men; you remember the state they used to come down in,– all blood and wounds generally. Nowadays, a man is poisoned by his slave or his wife; or gets dropsy from overfeeding; a pale, spiritless lot, nothing like the men of old. Most of them seem to meet their end in some plot that has money for its object.
Ch. Ah; money is in great request.
Her. Yes; you can’t blame me if I am somewhat urgent for payment.

Kipling, who had revelled in Landor’s Imaginary Conversations as a schoolboy (240c) and would have found there a dialogue in which Lucian is a speaker, must have enjoyed the genre. No doubt he had explored other similar books, such as Dialogues des morts by Fontenelle (1683) and by Fénelon (1712-40) or Lord Lyttelton’s Dialogues of the Dead (1760). Contemporaries had offered works in a similar vein like Maurice Baring’s Lost Diaries (1913) and Lost Lectures (1932) and A.D. Godley’s spoof newspaper reports of the Trojan War and of the reign of Nero. (240d)

In Kipling’s dialogue, Charon and Hermes allow some dead Englishmen to return to London for a brief visit, after which they will return to the bar on Charon’s modern boat to drink the water of Lethe, which will allow them to forget. Many of the men want to see their children, wives and sweethearts. Hermes (who is dressed as a Platoon-Sergeant) gives them a rendevous at the Statue of Achilles and chats to the rest as they walk along. Now it emerges that all the men died in the Great War. Damasius is a footballer who fell because the ground was uneven; Chrysippus a cricket-player who could not see an enemy not clad in white. Damasius’ name may come from the athlete Damasias in Lucian (Dialogue 10); “Chrysippus” (“gold” plus “horse”) is a good aristocratic-sounding name, borne by a Stoic philosopher among others. Although mistakenly trained for games, not war, both men showed courage. Akteinos (Tommy Atkins: see NRG) had charged the wire three times after an ineffective bombardment. Then there are a man who died of drinking filthy water in Mesopotamia (240e) , raw recruits who ran away, their officer who shot himself. The harshest satire is reserved for the Philosopher, who did not fight. When they reach the statue, they get reports from the others about the living, who have forgotten them and think war can never happen again. “How can we, even in death, forbear to grieve when we see the land bared of both armed men and catapults?” Power is in the hands of the people, which means of (recently enfranchised) women. Hermes promises the dead a strong draught of Lethe.

The dialogue is effective political satire, which repeats the message given in “The islanders” in 1902 that Britain should not be distracted by professional games and sports such as pheasant-shooting from the urgent need to train and arm men for a war which Kipling rightly foresaw. It plays skilfully with Lucianic motifs and, like Lucian, Kipling uses the formula to comment on current affairs. The fact that Kipling unerringly chose Lucian rather than one of his more familiar Latin writers suggests that his knowledge of Greek literature was more catholic and perceptive than he claimed.

Kipling and classical literature: his verse

Kipling in his verse had a liking for taking a character from the ancient world and putting words into his mouth. We have not only the song of the fictitious centurion who does not want to leave Britain, or the marching song of the legionaries about a girl with some resemblance to Horace’s Lalage, but speeches from men who actually lived. “Gallio’s song” in Actions and Reactions (1909) derives from a few words in Acts:

If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you. But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. (241)

L. Junius Gallio Annaeanus was around AD 52 governor (proconsul) of Achaea and became consul 55 or 56. By birth he was brother of L. Annaeus Seneca, the philosopher who was tutor to the future emperor Nero and who took on a large share of the work of government in the early years of the reign. His insistence on keeping the peace and standing aside from religious controversy is well caught by the poem. It recalls “The Pro-consuls” where Kipling had meditated on Lord Milner’s self-sacrificing and thankless work in building South Africa. Then we have Paul’s prayer, “At his Execution”.

Then there is imitation of the manner of classical verse. Horace was admired for his curiosa felicitas, the happy way he put words together to make what Tennyson called ‘jewels five words long’. (242) Kipling concentrates the sense similarly. There is a good handful of poems in the manner of the Odes:

both humorous:

and serious

“Samuel Pepys” was published in 1933, after Kipling had become an Honorary Fellow of Pepys’ old college, Magdalene, in 1932. (249) In “The Storm Cone” and ‘Samuel Pepys”, part of the inspiration comes from Horace’s famous address to the ‘Ship of State’, ‘O navis’ (Odes 1.14) though he did not invent the image.

The poems are full of classic allusions; the construction is sometimes Latinate; the tightness of sentence structure, metre and rhyme and the movement of the thought are Horatian. The only poem which is set in the Roman period is ‘The Last Ode’, a moving poem about friendship supposedly written by Horace as he meditates on the prophetic death-bed words of Virgil (19 BC) and faces his own death, which he knows will come that day (27 November 8 BC). He will be buried near Maecenas (died earlier in 8 BC) as he had promised (Odes 2.17). Several of the others present English writers in a Horatian manner: Shakespeare, Pepys and Jane Austen.

But before he published “The Craftsman” and “A Recantation” in The Years between or the four odes of Debits and Credits, he had turned to Horace for recreation in the dark days of war:
The Fifth Book of Horace’s Odes: Q. Horati Flacci Carminum Liber Quintus a Rudyardo Kipling et Carolo Graves Anglice Redditus (250)

The spoof book of late Horace (it refers to contemporary politicians such as Lloyd George, gas masks, land girls, daylight saving, spiritualism, canteens and so on) which came out in 1920, was inspired by a long tradition in English literature and by Kipling’s early imitation odes and Charles Graves’s Hawarden Horace (1894) and More Hawarden Horace (1896, with a delightful introduction by T. E. Page), where felicitous modernising English versions of the Odes (and an Epode) are put in the mouth of Gladstone (251) . A[lfred] D[enis] Godley, for one, had often imagined Greek and Roman authors as still alive and commenting on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Oxford and England. (252) Kipling delighted in humorous verse. In 1917 he had enjoyed Maurice Baring’s Translations (found in a commonplace book) (253) .

The gestation of Odes V is explored by Medcalf, who worked with unpublished letters from Fletcher and Graves and Kipling’s copies of Horace at the University of Sussex. (254) In the published letters, Kipling writes to C. R. L. Fletcher to send him A Diversity of Creatures and ask him to supply :

… the original of that Horatian Ode which I have so inadequately translated. As a matter of fact I only came across the second (Urbino’s) copy of the missing Fifth Book in the Library of the Vatican a few years ago quite by chance and transcribed the Third Ode, in haste, by very indifferent light, in the crypt of the Dogali Gallery. There is another copy of the Fifth Book at Upsala as you of course know but it is in a bad condition and the marginal notes of Claresius add nothing to its value.

The third copy – if Sir James Urquhart’s statement to the Spanish Ambassador can be trusted – should be in the Bodleian and – again we have to depend on Urquhart – the text is reputed to be by far the least corrupt.

However this may be, I should be deeply in your debt if you would look it up and let me have your transcription, as I am doubtful whether I have given the precise shade of meaning implied by the words “clients of our body.”

My excuse for troubling you is that I have already been attacked, in a private letter, by a so-called scholar who asserts that no such book as the Fifth ever existed: and I wish to confute him. (255)

‘Claresius and the rest were simply to “lend verisimilitude etc.”’ Kipling also wanted to write a story about the fifth book. He thought he had come across a reference to a fifth book ‘ascribed to Horace – or deliberately forged by the Middle-Agers’. (256) But Fletcher demolished this hope, so Kipling gave up the idea of the story. (257) Late that year, Kipling was working on a new ode, ‘Lollius’:

But if it’s Horace you’re after, there’s an ode in the Fifth Book which might have been prompted by Selborne’s speeches on the sale of honours, and which (what a vile and useful phrase that is!) I shall be very happy to send you if you’d care to put it before your boys for retranslation. (258)

Fletcher was teaching at Eton and had a Latin class. He duly sent Kipling a version, which Kipling found felicitous. (259) The ode was to be the only new poem by Kipling to appear in the spoof book (Ode 13). The suggestion for a whole book came from Fletcher in his reply. Kipling took the idea up with enthusiasm as ‘something to keep one’s mind in play sometimes’ and thought that both ‘Lollius’ and ‘the one about Stinks’ and some new ones he had ideas for and “Carmen Circulare” (which was published in 1919 but did not appear in the Odes V) could go in it. Fletcher was to do the translation into Latin. (260) On 11 March 1918, Kipling wrote “A Recantation 1917 (to Lyde of the music halls)” , addressed to a singer (now identified with Harry Lauder, who had lost a son) loved by John Kipling. This was rejected by Fletcher and Graves, on the inadequate grounds that ‘he, of whom bereft / I suffer vacant days’ and the other lines which show that the poet is talking of a son were inappropriate to the childless Horace. This ‘censorship’ stopped Kipling writing any more odes for the collaborators. (261) It is a pity that we do not have the ‘original’ of Kipling/Horace’s clever stanza on the gramophone and of his heartfelt tribute to a fellow-craftsman, who used ‘the Word’ to strengthen the young.

Fletcher does not appear in the published spoof. Instead, the main contributor of English verses was Charles Graves. He gave the credit for the idea to Kipling:

The genesis of Horace Odes, Book V was in the brains of Kipling. It occurred to him about the blackest time of the last war, end of
1917 and early months of 1918, as a means of keeping up one’s spirits and distracting our thoughts from present troubles, and he wrote to me outlining his plan and making many admirable suggestions for subjects of the sham odes. (262)

Graves wrote for The Spectator and for Punch and his comic histories must have been to Kipling’s taste. He collaborated with E. V. Lucas, also a Punch journalist, with whom Kipling had corresponded at least since 1906. (263)‘He was the most exhilarating of companions, radiating vitality, goodwill and interest in the other man and his concerns’. (264)

By February, a Latin translation of “The Pro-consuls” had been produced by Fletcher’s Eton colleague A. B. Ramsay. (265) Kipling was about to write to Graves ‘and see if he’ll play’. (266) The ‘editor’ of the Latin text was the clever versifier A. D. Godley of Oxford. (267) He contributed graceful acknowledgements (268) and a hilarious preface about the (fictitious) manuscripts, which parodies the standard praefatio of an Oxford Classical Text (brown-covered in those days like the spoof). (269) There is a learned apparatus criticus about disputed or variant ms. readings. He did the Latin poems, together with his Oxford colleagues and friends John Powell (270) and Ronald Knox (271) and the Etonian and former Cambridge undergraduate A. B. Ramsay. (272) There is an appendix of alternative Latin versions which the translators obviously could not bear to waste. Kipling contributed a schoolboyish prose version of ‘The Pro-consuls’: ‘the sixth ode, as it seems, rendered into English prose by a scholiast of uncertain period’, which starts:

Weapons too faithful offer them using all things mixed with blood and he who loudly brings false charges exhausts the unique hour capable of preserving works.

This, though now ascribed to a pedant rather than a boy, is clearly what Kipling had mentioned to Fletcher earlier:

… I’ve got a new Fifth Booker whereof Hankinson Ma. is preparing the translation. It came out in the Times ever so long ago [1905] under the title The Pro-Consuls but I perceive now that Horace wrote it. Rather a big effort for him and on a higher plane than usual – unless he’d been deliberately flattering some friend in Government. I’ll send it along.

When the book came out, it fooled the Scotsman. Kipling regretted only the facetious names of some universities, professors etc. in Godley’s preface: if they had been serious, others too would have thought the collection authentic. (274) The game continued. When acknowledging a royalties cheque from Godley, Kipling sent him a copy (apparently a draft) of ‘The survival’, which was to appear in Debits and Credits (1926) alongside “The Janeites”. Godley then composed an original, ‘Secura tellus cum foret hostium’, which Fletcher in 1925, after his death, found among his papers. Unfortunately he did not publish it in Godley’s Reliquiae. Kipling explains ‘Secura tellus’:

At the same time, Horace (in Hades) sent in an amplification of “Exegi monumentum” expressing his gratification that, in the stress of war, … men took comfort from his songs, some of which he specifies. Their survival, when Roman and the Caesars have perished, makes him wonder at Fate which not only has decreed their immortality, but has caused the Britons … to make echoes and shadows … of these same songs, and to sell them for money and to divide that money among themselves (£6.3.4 my share).

The poem was, Kipling pretends, rendered by the conscientious Hankinson. The original which Horace had dictated was lost, but Godley has reconstructed it quite well: ‘Godley extracted a ripping good ode out of Hankinson’. Kipling offers some criticisms of the Latin and puts in two stanzas of his own poem, which he claims renders the sense. He quotes two of Godley’s lines about the healing power of poetry for sick minds, which do not precisely fit anything in the published version of ‘The survival’. (275)
Kipling’s Horace (276)

Kipling’s last word on Horace, though the individual ‘epigrams’ (277) cannot usually be dated, comes in the personal marginalia he put in his elegant edition of Horace, acquired c. 1914. Many of these are witty précis:

Lucy, do not look ahead: We shall be a long time dead.
Take whatever you can see: and, incidentally, take me.

Some of the epigrams are simply humorous and recall Odes V. So the philosophical Iccius (41 on 1.29) fights in the War:

Icci was an Oxford don
Far removed from bows and spears…
Where has Mr Icci gone?…
Ask his men at Armentiers….

Perhaps a tribute in part to Col. Godley, OBE, though he commanded the Oxfordshire Volunteers. There are some rollicking macaronic verses in the margin of Odes 3.12 (59), to which there is an amusing sequel in Odes V. He gently teases Horace for his need to make a living (23 on 1.20 and 2.2; 25 on 3.29) and for the vanity and little weaknesses of all writers (47 on 3.1; 37 on 3.19; 33 on 3.25; 89 on 4.9). But he underlines the importance of Horace’s work and its enduring quality (73 on 3.13; 83 on 3.17; 39 on 3.21; 77 on 3.27; 95 on 3.30; 91 on 4.6; 75 on 4.7; 93 on 4.8).

Most of the love-poems to fictitious courtesans and addresses to great men evoke a cynical response. Religious poems leave him cold (13 on 3.22). He even accuses Horace of using stale themes:

… men will say
(As I do, of this thrice-faked lay)
Whatever made him write that way? (279)

But a precise description of nature or felicitous language and sound may make him feel Horace was inspired:

… and here the Power shines,
In those last four clear-cut lines. (280)

Predictably, he finds the description of the Bandusian spring (73 on 3.13), the list of winter pleasures in 3.17 (83, including the leaves strewn on the ground and the seaweed on the shore which appear in ‘The Survival’) and the poem on the seasons and the briefness of human life (75 on 4.7) (281) immortal. Horace’s Daemon means that even an attack on a woman which begins spitefully can turn to mediation on the human condition (67 on 4.13). Kipling is attracted by poems of longing for lovers (77 on 3.27) or friends (53 on 1.24). Kipling thought well enough of his glosses to send thirteen of them off to Magdalene for the college magazine immediately after his election to an Honorary Fellowship.

The most important feature of the marginalia for us is that they show Kipling in a sustained conversation with Horace, as if he had indeed survived into the twentieth century. Kipling could treat him as a friend and imagine talking to him over his wine, sympathising with his amorous adventures, enjoying his keen eye for natural beauty and finding inspiration, not so much in his moralising, but in his humanity and love of friends. At moments, Kipling can also identify himself with Horace, or at least don his mask (persona).


Kipling’s debt to Horace in more serious mood is explained in his speech to the boys at Wellington:

I attach a certain amount of importance to the spirit of a few old Latin tags and quotations. Some of them, not more than three lines long, give one the very essence of what a man ought to try to do. Others, equally short, let you understand once and for all, the things that a man should not do – under any circumstances. There are others – bits of odes from Horace, they happen to be in my case – that make one realise in later life as no other words in any other tongue can – the brotherhood of mankind in time of sorrow or affliction….

A certain knowledge of the classics is worth having, because it makes you realise that all the world is not like ourselves in all respects, and yet in matters that really touch the inside life of a man, neither the standards nor the game have changed. (282)

Kipling’s interpretation of Roman ideals is conditioned by his education and upbringing. It may not appeal to the post-Wilfred Owen generations. But Kipling did not turn against the ‘Roman Odes’ (Odes 3.1-6) which include the Regulus ode (3.5) and ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (3.2.13). He makes the sound point that the Greeks and Romans are different from us, but still like enough to have much to teach us and for us to understand them. Kipling’s understanding of the Greeks and Romans is of his time and incomplete, but his conviction that the classics were alive and adapted to our own concerns makes his recreation of ancient history vivid and engaging.

Kipling believed in the continuity of human experience and for him the Greeks and Romans, like and unlike ourselves, could teach us: ‘the classics, which, though craftily hidden in the decent obscurity of dead tongues, are in essence somewhat more advanced than all the morning papers.’ (283) . He believed with Thucydides that, although history did not repeat itself, it could teach us to interpret the events we observed. (284)

Human nature was in its essentials unchanging. When he wrote of the young officers of the Alpini doing their gruelling work in the mountains, he found them quiet, laconic, efficient and ready to have fun, much like Englishmen and not at all the ‘excitable Latin’ of enemy propaganda. (285) Any success was an excuse for celebration: ‘Youth is always immortally the same’. (286) (In the Great War, the Italians, as we have seen, represent the Romans, the Austrians, inevitably, the barbarians who assault them.) (287)

The past had effects in the present. In particular, we needed to learn from the fall of the Roman Empire. Kipling knew well that “Cities and Thrones and Powers” pass away. But his imagination was caught by the collapse of Rome and the decay and change and then renewal that it brought:

After the sack of the City, when Rome was sunk to a name,
In the years that the lights were darkened, or ever St Wilfrid came…

And he thought he could see some reasons why that happened. One, as Parnesius’ father thought, was the collapse of the old classical values. One, no doubt, was the selfish ambition of men like Maximus. One was Roman treatment of the provincials:

It is a hard law but an old one – Rome died learning it, as our western civilisation may die – that if you give any man anything that he has not painfully earned for himself, you infallibly make him or his descendants your devoted enemies. (289)

Then, of course, there were the attacks of barbarians in the West: Picts, Scots, Germans and Huns.

But while Rome flourished she imposed law and order inside the empire. Dis te minorem quod geris imperas. (290) Despite oppression, injustice and corruption, despite the horrors of the penal code, Rome allowed civil society to develop. Paulus could use the privileges of citizenship and travel on mostly safe roads and sea routes.

The keynote of Kipling’s Roman characters is duty. ‘Our duty is to the Empire’ (291) Quabil and Sulinor find satisfaction in doing a job. So do his heroes – Parnesius, Pertinax, Valens, even Sergius — who suffer for it. But they achieve something: Stalky and Co. learn to be like Regulus so they can do an often lonely job. ‘ “I see,” said Maximus. “Like everything else in the world, it is one man’s work”.’ (292)

The historian G. M. Trevelyan, who loved Puck, found that Kipling had ‘a marvellous historical sense’ and told him so. He praised his realism and ‘a hint of the uncanny spiritual powers working below’:

The language and the psychology of the Romans, Saxons and Normans is frankly modern – ‘subalterns again’if you like – but as no-one knows how the people of those far-off ages thought or spoke, there is no good using ‘tushery’, and Kipling’s way of making them talk is as good as another.

But we know a good deal about the historic social surroundings in which they moved and these Kipling has carefully studied and reproduced. (293)

Kipling’s aim and technique in evoking the past are, by implication, described in a letter to Edward Lucas White, thanking him for the gift of his new novel, Andivius Hedulio. Adventures of a Roman nobleman in the days of Empire:

I read it in a couple of evenings from cover to cover and then I read it again. It marched with a distinctness and a fascination that delighted me … and it never once to my knowledge strayed outside the moral limits of its epoch. That last impressed me most. There didn’t seem to be any evidence of research that stuck out of the picture; the only hint that way beng the dissertation on Commodus’ record in the arena. The characters talked as you’d expect ‘em to and I rejoiced in the little explanation of mechanical details etc. thrown in…. the jump and the verve and the brio of the whole tale made me very happy….

He thought White was wrong to put in an afterword which explained his sources. It would give ‘the archaeologists’ a chance to criticise. (294) So Kipling wanted to make his characters seem Roman. To do this he soaked himself in Latin literature. His remarks on Rewards and Fairies apply to all the Roman tales:

… I worked the material in three or four overlaid tints and textures, which might or might not reveal themselves according to the shifting light of sex, youth, and experience. It was like working lacquer and mother-o’-pearl, a natural combination, into the same scheme as niello and grisaille, and trying not to let the joins show.
So I loaded the book up with allegories and allusions …. (295)

The Greeks and Romans had taught people how to think about human life. In Rome, in particular, Kipling found many-sidedness and nuances, humanity and inhumanity, justice and oppression, law and public works, service, friendship, delight in life and realisation of mortality, humour, wit and literary craftsmanship.


Susan Treggiari []

©Susan Treggiari 2012 All rights reserved