~ This Day in Ancient History
pridie kalendas septembres
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 7:34:39 AM
- 12 A.D. -- birth of the future emperor Gaius (Caligula) at Antium
- 40 A.D. -- Gaius (Caligula) celebrates an ovatio after his attempted military campaigns in Gaul and Britain
- 161 A.D. -- birth of the future emperor Commodus (and his twin, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus)
~ The Oath of the Horatii
Since it appears to be such a slow news day, we can spend some time noting yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of one of my all-time fave artists, Jacques-Louis David (born 1748). Amongst his more recognizable paintings (outside of that famous one of Napoleon) is The Oath of the Horatii:
Source (with background info)
And here's the story of the 'oath', taken from Livy 1.24-25:
[1.24]There happened to be in each of the armies a triplet of brothers, fairly matched in years and strength. It is generally agreed that they were called Horatii and Curiatii. Few incidents in antiquity have been more widely celebrated, yet in spite of its celebrity there is a discrepancy in the accounts as to which nation each belonged. There are authorities on both sides, but I find that the majority give the name of Horatii to the Romans, and my sympathies lead me to follow them. The kings suggested to them that they should each fight on behalf of their country, and where victory rested, there should be the sovereignty. They raised no objection; so the time and place were fixed. But before they engaged a treaty was concluded between the Romans and the Albans, providing that the nation whose representatives proved victorious should receive the peaceable submission of the other. This is the earliest treaty recorded, and as all treaties, however different the conditions they contain, are concluded with the same forms, I will describe the forms with which this one was concluded as handed down by tradition. The Fetial put the formal question to Tullus: "Do you, King, order me to make a treaty with the Pater Patratus of the Alban nation?" On the king replying in the affirmative, the Fetial said: "I demand of thee, King, some tufts of grass." The king replied: "Take those that are pure." The Fetial brought pure grass from the Citadel. Then he asked the king: "Do you constitute me the plenipotentiary of the People of Rome, the Quirites, sanctioning also my vessels and comrades?" To which the king replied: "So far as may be without hurt to myself and the People of Rome, the Quirites, I do." The Fetial was M. Valerius. He made Spurius Furius the Pater Patratus by touching his head and hair with the grass. Then the Pater Patratus, who is constituted for the purpose of giving the treaty the religious sanction of an oath, did so by a long formula in verse, which it is not worth while to quote. After reciting the conditions he said: "Hear, O Jupiter, hear! thou Pater Patratus of the people of Alba! Hear ye, too, people of Alba! As these conditions have been publicly rehearsed from first to last, from these tablets, in perfect good faith, and inasmuch as they have here and now been most clearly understood, so these conditions the People of Rome will not be the first to go back from. If they shall, in their national council, with false and malicious intent be the first to go back, then do thou, Jupiter, on that day, so smite the People of Rome, even as I here and now shall smite this swine, and smite them so much the more heavily, as thou art greater in power and might." With these words he struck the swine with a flint. In similar wise the Albans recited their oath and formularies through their own dictator and their priests.
[1.25]On the conclusion of the treaty the six combatants armed themselves. They were greeted with shouts of encouragement from their comrades, who reminded them that their fathers' gods, their fatherland, their fathers, every fellow-citizen, every fellow-soldier, were now watching their weapons and the hands that wielded them. Eager for the contest and inspired by the voices round them, they advanced into the open space between the opposing lines. The two armies were sitting in front of their respective camps, relieved from personal danger but not from anxiety, since upon the fortunes and courage of this little group hung the issue of dominion. Watchful and nervous, they gaze with feverish intensity on a spectacle by no means entertaining. The signal was given, and with uplifted swords the six youths charged like a battle-line with the courage of a mighty host. Not one of them thought of his own danger; their sole thought was for their country, whether it would be supreme or subject, their one anxiety that they were deciding its future fortunes. When, at the first encounter, the flashing swords rang on their opponents' shields, a deep shudder ran through the spectators; then a breathless silence followed, as neither side seemed to be gaining any advantage. Soon, however, they saw something more than the swift movements of limbs and the rapid play of sword and shield: blood became visible flowing from open wounds. Two of the Romans fell one on the other, breathing out their life, whilst all the three Albans were wounded. The fall of the Romans was welcomed with a burst of exultation from the Alban army; whilst the Roman legions, who had lost all hope, but not all anxiety, trembled for their solitary champion surrounded by the three Curiatii. It chanced that he was untouched, and though not a match for the three together, he was confident of victory against each separately. So, that he might encounter each singly, he took to flight, assuming that they would follow as well as their wounds would allow. He had run some distance from the spot where the combat began, when, on looking back, he saw them following at long intervals from each other, the foremost not far from him. He turned and made a desperate attack upon him, and whilst the Alban army were shouting to the other Curiatii to come to their brother's assistance, Horatius had already slain his foe and, flushed with victory, was awaiting the second encounter. Then the Romans cheered their champion with a shout such as men raise when hope succeeds to despair, and he hastened to bring the fight to a close. Before the third, who was not far away, could come up, he despatched the second Curiatius. The survivors were now equal in point of numbers, but far from equal in either confidence or strength. The one, unscathed after his double victory, was eager for the third contest; the other, dragging himself wearily along, exhausted by his wounds and by his running, vanquished already by the previous slaughter of his brothers, was an easy conquest to his victorious foe. There was, in fact, no fighting. The Roman cried exultingly: "Two have I sacrificed to appease my brothers' shades; the third I will offer for the issue of this fight, that the Roman may rule the Alban." He thrust his sword downward into the neck of his opponent, who could no longer lift his shield, and then despoiled him as he lay. Horatius was welcomed by the Romans with shouts of triumph, all the more joyous for the fears they had felt. Both sides turned their attention to burying their dead champions, but with very different feelings, the one rejoicing in wider dominion, the other deprived of their liberty and under alien rule. The tombs stand on the spots where each fell; those of the Romans close together, in the direction of Alba; the three Alban tombs, at intervals, in the direction of Rome.
The story doesn't end there, however. We still have to explain who the women in David's painting are and why they are so upset. The next section of Livy tells us the 'tragedy' of this episode:
[1.26]Before the armies separated, Mettius inquired what commands he was to receive in accordance with the terms of the treaty. Tullus ordered him to keep the Alban soldiery under arms, as he would require their services if there were war with the Veientines. Both armies then withdrew to their homes. Horatius was marching at the head of the Roman army, carrying in front of him his triple spoils. His sister, who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii, met him outside the Capene gate. She recognised on her brother's shoulders the cloak of her betrothed, which she had made with her own hands; and bursting into tears she tore her hair and called her dead lover by name. The triumphant soldier was so enraged by his sister's outburst of grief in the midst of his own triumph and the public rejoicing that he drew his sword and stabbed the girl. "Go," he cried, in bitter reproach, "go to your betrothed with your ill-timed love, forgetful as you are of your dead brothers, of the one who still lives, and of your country! So perish every Roman woman who mourns for an enemy!" The deed horrified patricians and plebeians alike; but his recent services were a set-off to it. He was brought before the king for trial. To avoid responsibility for passing a harsh sentence, which would be repugnant to the populace, and then carrying it into execution, the king summoned an assembly of the people, and said: "I appoint two duumvirs to judge the treason of Horatius according to law." The dreadful language of the law was: "The duumvirs shall judge cases of treason; if the accused appeal from the duumvirs, the appeal shall be heard; if their sentence be confirmed, the lictor shall hang him by a rope on the fatal tree, and shall scourge him either within or without the pomoerium." The duumvirs appointed under this law did not think that by its provisions they had the power to acquit even an innocent person. Accordingly they condemned him; then one of them said: "Publius Horatius, I pronounce you guilty of treason. Lictor, bind his hands." The lictor had approached and was fastening the cord, when Horatius, at the suggestion of Tullus, who placed a merciful interpretation on the law, said, "I appeal." The appeal was accordingly brought before the people.
Their decision was mainly influenced by Publius Horatius, the father, who declared that his daughter had been justly slain; had it not been so, he would have exerted his authority as a father in punishing his son. Then he implored them not to bereave of all his children the man whom they had so lately seen surrounded with such noble offspring. Whilst saying this he embraced his son, and then, pointing to the spoils of the Curiatii suspended on the spot now called the Pila Horatia, he said: "Can you bear, Quirites, to see bound, scourged, and tortured beneath the gallows the man whom you saw, lately, coming in triumph adorned with his foemen's spoils? Why, the Albans themselves could not bear the sight of such a hideous spectacle. Go, lictor, bind those hands which when armed but a little time ago won dominion for the Roman people. Go, cover the head of the liberator of this City! Hang him on the fatal tree, scourge him within the pomoerium, if only it be amongst the trophies of his foes, or without, if only it be amongst the tombs of the Curiatii! To what place can you take this youth where the monuments of his splendid exploits will not vindicate him from such a shameful punishment?" The father's tears and the young soldier's courage ready to meet every peril were too much for the people. They acquitted him because they admired his bravery rather than because they regarded his cause as a just one. But since a murder in broad daylight demanded some expiation, the father was commanded to make an atonement for his son at the cost of the State. After offering certain expiatory sacrifices he erected a beam across the street and made the young man pass under it, as under a yoke, with his head covered. This beam exists to-day, having always been kept in repair by the State: it is called "The Sister's Beam." A tomb of hewn stone was constructed for Horatia on the spot where she was murdered.
Sort of an anti-Antigone ...
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 7:30:32 AM
~ The Greeks Have a Word For It
A piece on bilingualism (of a different sort than Canadians are used to) from Athens News (with apologies for how Greek ends up when run through Radio):
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 6:46:43 AM
THERE is by now ample linguistic evidence that the use of words of Greek origin gives certain advantages to English speakers. Not just because it helps them study politics, history, philosophy and economics or define scientific concepts in the branches of electronics, cybernetic, entomology and crystallography but also to cope with tricky situations in everyday discourse.
Suppose for instance that you want to act out your aggression against someone without immediately incurring his wrath. You can call him oligophreniac (???G?F????S) rather than dim-witted. It sounds much less of an insult, almost a diagnosis. If you really want to show off you can call a beer lout thersitical which shows you are familiar with the Homeric anti-hero Thersites (T??S???S) the lame, bow-legged, round-shouldered, foul-mouthed ugliest man at Troy. [more]
~ Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews
Stuart Swiny, George (Rip) Rapp, Ellen Herscher (edd.), Sotira Kaminoudhia: an Early Bronze Age Site in Cyprus.
Aldo Brancacci (ed.), Antichi e moderni nella filosofia di eta imperiale.
Jeffrey A. Rydberg-Cox, Lysias: Selected Speeches 1, 2, 3, 4, and 24.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 6:24:43 AM