This story was first published in the Strand Magazine of July 1906, and McClure’s Magazine for the same month. It was collected in Puck of Pook’s Hill in 1906 and in numerous subsequent editions of that collection. It was accompanied by the poem “A Pict Song”.
There are numerous paperback editions of Puck of Pook’s Hill including the annotated Oxford World Classics edition. Also a Kindle edition available from Amazon.
Parnesius and Pertinax are Captains of the Wall. The Picts are quiet, but the ‘Winged Hats’, the Saxon sea-raiders, are mounting increasing attacks. They try to persuade Parnesius and Pertinax to make an alliance with them, but the Romans refuse. Their duty is to defend the Empire come what may.
Maximus, who has made himself Emperor of Gaul as well as Britain, still cannot send the reinforcements they need. But the young Captains rally their men and fight back ferociously against the invaders. They get a message from Maximus that he has decided to challenge Theodosius and make himself Emperor of Rome. They suspect that he will fail, and soon they hear of his defeat and execution.
Knowing of the death of Maximus, the Winged Hats make further overtures, but the young Captains reject them, and hold the invaders off until the victorious Emperor Theodosius sends them two strong legions. Parnesius and Pertinax are offered high command, but they refuse it. Their loyalty was to Maximus, but above all to Rome.
Notes on the text
[Page 198, line 16] They are the head and arms. You are the belly! cf. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, I. i. 94 f.
[Page 198, line 19] Ancestor’s Oracle An ‘oracle’ in the ancient world was a place where a supplicant could ask questions of the gods about the future. The most celebrated oracle was at Delphi in Greece. Traditionally the revelations of an oracle were cast in ambiguous language, which often led to misunderstandings and sometimes disaster. A Roman household would often have a shrine dedicated to the family ancestors, to which one could pray for oracular guidance, hence ‘Ancestors Oracle’.
[Page 201, line 13] We, about to die, salute you! formula chanted by the gladiators before combat in the arena.
[Page 202, line 20] Winged Hats The sea-raiders from the east are presented by Kipling as Vikings. Contemporary accounts always refer to them as Saxons, and neither they nor the Vikings wore winged helmets.
[Page 205, line 20] the necessary Word Kipling’s presentation of Mithraism carries strong overtones of Freemasonry. In a letter to a fellow-Mason, apropos of this story, he speaks of “the ancient mysteries of Mithraism which were, we believe, masonic in form. (Quoted in KJ 77/12 , Apr 1946)
[Page 207, line 8] who being a horse-dealer loved lies cf. Mahbub Ali in Kim.
[Page 210, line 1] Nicaea Roman city on the south coast of France, modern Nice (ORG).
[Page 210, line 28] Goth of an Eastern Legion after a treaty of AD 382 the Goths, a barbarian people who had inflicted a major defeat on the Roman army at Adrianople in AD 378, were settled within the Empire and provided numerous recruits for its eastern army.
[Page 214, line 4] barbarians To the Romans a barbarian was someone from outside the Empire who was not a Roman citizen.
[Page 217, line 28] Antipolis `the modern Antibes’ (ORG).
[Page 223, line 17] Aquileia Roman city in north-eastern Italy.
[Page 224, line 8] Triumph A public procession through the streets of Rome to honour a particularly successful feat of arms.
[Page 224, line 27] Mus’ Reynolds the name ‘Reynard’ for a fox goes back to medieval beast-epic cycles.
©Donald Mackenzie 2005 All rights reserved