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Lecture #2 (Sept. 18) - Mythical Foundations of Rome

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Rob Mc Cutcheon

Lecture #2 – Mythical Foundations Titus Livius Patavinus (Livy)  Has often come into disrepute for not being an accurate historian o He would take all the stories that he had heard about Roman history and synthesize them into one story – filled in gaps of chronology o He was a really bad translator (once translated an entire work about the Battle of ‘Doors’) o He doesn’t give any definitive accounts  Doesn’t make judgements – simply presents the information  At one point he tutored Augustus’ great grandson  His work remained popular because it revealed information on the Roman psyche – what is fundamental about being Roman o The stories he told revealed anxieties/ issues prevalent among Romans  Quintus Fabius Pictor wrote the earliest history – it was written in Greek o Would have been a response to Greek stories of Roman origin that would have reflected poorly on the Romans  Livy was writing some 400 years later – there was very little truth in Pictor’s work  Ancient history would have been documented by inscriptions, scriptures, and annals o These sources would have reflected what the Roman’s believed to be true, and would not have necessarily been factual  There were 3 necessities when writing a history: 1) Create continuity – patch over chronological gaps and incorporate multiple and competing versions 2) Make history more interesting for the average reader – adding more rhetorical flourishes than the previous historians did 3) Make it didactic – history would need to have a lesson concerning the interests of the readers (usually issues of what it meant to be Roman)  Preface of Livy: “There is this exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past, that you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you may select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its issues, you are to avoid.” o You must study the past in order to be able to return to the Golden Age of Rome o The Decline of Rome (following the Punic Wars)  The preface of Livy highlights the idea of exemplum – exemplary/exemplarity – guides your actions based on the past actions of others  Inscriptions on buildings would talk about men and their great accomplishments o Made with their spoils from war o Death masks would have kept their memory alive  Funerals would also celebrate the great deeds you did during your life  The idea of exemplum ties in with the concept of mos maiorum – the custom of the ancestors o Their ancestors lived a better life than they did therefore they must strive to be like their ancestors to return to a ‘golden age’  The Roman ancestors lived in a simple, idealistic age o They did not have the great wealth coming in from all the colonization and expansion and were therefore free from the greed, gluttony, jealously and competition that had quickly become a part of life  Mos Maiorum in Livy: o Looking back on Romulus and Remus – making kingship look good?  Exemplum – individual examples that together comprise mos maiorum  The Roman political system was based off of tradition  Mos maiorum argues for the status quo o The position and privileges of nobility  Book 1 of Livy has many examples of exemplum o Sometimes the meanings are very clear and straightforward, other times there is deeper meaning involved The Aeneas Legend  As told in Virgil’s Aeneid  Aeneas survived the destruction of Illium (Troy) by the Greeks, and fled. He eventually arrives in Latium, and names a city after his fiancé, Lavinia. o His son later goes on to found Alba Longa  This precedes the story of Romulus and Remus – Aeneas forms a settlement that will later become Rome  It is likely that this story was written in an effort in incorporate Roman and Greek history together  Probably developed as a response to Greek incursions into Italy  As Rome expanded into Southern Italy, there was a heavy Greek colonial influence (more pottery, etc.) o This story helps to explain why  The story of Aeneas creates an antagonistic connection with the Greeks – it highlights the tension between the two  Roman Psyche: 1) Gives Rome a place within the larger world, especially Greece 2) Even from the very beginning Rome has been an amalgamation of different cultures (not ‘purebloods’ like Greece) 3) Emphasizes the conflicted relationship with Greek culture  The Romans did not ‘come second’ to the Greeks – they played a primary part in the world from the very beginning Romulus and Remus  Their mother, Rhea Silva, was descended from Aeneas – she was a vestal virgin who was raped by Mars o Their dad ‘may or may not’ be Mars (god of war) according to Livy  After Rhea Silva gave birth to Romulus and Remus, their uncle took them from her with the intent of killing them  Their uncle throws them in the Tiber river, but they survive and are found by a she-wolf who suckles them o They are later found by shepherds who rear them  When they get older, they kill their uncle, and return the throne to their grandfather  Romulus went on to kill Remus and found a city which he named after himself (Rome)  The she-wolf may have been representative of a totem animal – the wolf would guide outcasts to safety o Around 100BCE, there was overpopulation in Rome so groups were sent out to found new cities  This foundation myth can easily be seen as anti-Roman propaganda – it all just depends on how you interpret the symbols o Romans are evil and have the heart of wolves o Fratricide – Romans can’t even trust their own families  There is a common belief that Remus was a late edition to the myth o Why would you want to include fratricide in the story?  Emphasized the theme of civil strife which was so prevalent in Roman history  Can also be seen as an analogy for the Struggle of Orders o Patricians vs. plebs – Romulus represents the plebs (he occupies the Aventine, as do the plebs), Remus, the patricians (Remus read the auspices on the Palatine hill, frequently associated with nobility)  Gaius Gracchus (the protector of the plebs) sought refuge from the senate on the Aventine  While they were reading the auspices, Remus saw 3 first, but Romulus later saw 6 birds o Rather than endure a lengthy debate about which was more important – seeing the birds first or seeing more birds – Romulus killed Remus and established the city himself  Conforms to mythological archetypes o Virgins and gods o Revelation of paternity  Indo-European motifs  Roman psyche: o Internal conflicts ending in death o Eternal strife o Constant war-state  Though Romans did not like the idea of kingship, Romulus was popular (he acted in favour of the state) – later kings became more tyrannical o Kings became ‘masters’, reducing the citizens to ‘slaves’  On the altar of Geno Augustus –
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