Sir, It seems that any archaeological claim can make headlines these days, no matter how implausible.
I refer, of course, to last year’s published discovery of the Lupercal on the Palatine in Rome. My incredulity came not at the existence of such a place — the fabled nursery of Romulus and Remus, suckled by a wolf — but at the evidence presented by Carandini’s team in support of the publication. I was not the only one to doubt.
Last month a topography expert, Professor Coarelli, dismissed the archaeologists’ findings in an article printed in La Repubblica, offering instead the mundane opinion that the cave is a fountain or nymphaeum. While this satisfied my frustration at Carandini’s loopy call, it did not, to my mind, provide an adequate enough alternative.
In order to settle this matter once and for all, then, might I propose my own opinion, at once less mundane than Coarelli’s and more enlightening than Carandini’s?
On discussing the stranger habits of the late Emperor Augustus in his Twelve Caesars, Suetonius, a Roman historian, exposes a chink in the aegis of this otherwise great ruler. He tells us that the Emperor was so terrified by thunder and lightning that he had a storm bunker built beneath his palace, to protect him from the gods.
This fear, extreme as it sounds, is understandable when we hear (ibid 29) that, during a campaign abroad earlier on in his career, he very narrowly escaped a direct hit from Jupiter, witnessing the torch-bearer right in front of him incinerated on the spot.
The fact, then, not only that the grotto was discovered during excavations of Augustus’s palace but was then found to be decorated with a material (shells) pertaining to Neptune (the god of sea storms), and iconography (an eagle) pertaining to Jupiter (the god of sky storms), indicates that Carandini’s team has indeed found something special.
Teacher of classics, Godolphin and Latymer School
Here's what Suetonius says (via the Latin Library):
Circa religiones talem accepimus. Tonitrua et fulgura paulo infirmius expavescebat, ut semper et ubique pellem vituli marini circumferret pro remedio, atque ad omnem maioris tempestatis suspicionem in abditum et concamaratum locum se reciperet, consternatus olim per nocturnum iter transcursu fulguris, ut praediximus.
Mister Ford might be on to something ...