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Ancient & modern

An ancient excerpt and two modern posted without comment, except to say that they are roughly datable in their content to AD 81, 1824 and 1879, respectively.

“Agricola had given protection to one of the chieftains of the Irish who had been driven out by internal conflict, and under the pretence of friendship was holding onto him in case an opportunity presented itself. I have on many occasions heard him say that Ireland could be conquered and held by a single legion and a moderate number of auxiliaries.” (Agricola expulsum seditione domestica unum ex regulis gentis exceperat ac specie amicitiae in occasionem retinebat. saepe ex eo audiui legione una et modicis auxiliis debellari obtinerique Hiberniam posse). Tacitus, Agricola 24.3

“If the British did not get their hands on Afghanistan first, [William Moorcroft] warned, then the Russians almost certainly would. And what better moment than the present, when two rival factions were vying for the Afghan throne? A single British regiment, Moorcroft argued, was all that would be needed to place a suitably compliant candidate on the throne.” Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, p. 99

“But if [Col. George Pomeroy] Colley [private secretary to the Viceroy of India] was an admirable theorist in the art of war, he did not give me the impression that he would be equally good in practice. He tried to convince me quite seriously that a British regiment 1,000 strong, and armed with Martini-Henry rifles, ought to be able to march through the length and breadth of Afghanistan, when once clear of the Khyber and Kuram Passes.” J. L. Vaughan, My Service in the Indian Army—And After, p. 182

Mascarpone

The joke in my Christmas cracker this year went something like, “What cheese is best for hiding a horse?” Answer: “Mascarpone”. This sets the standard for what follows.

As I may have mentioned once or twice, my time when not teaching or walking the dog this academic year is taken up editing and annotating translations of the Latin newspaper Alaudae, published by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in the last years of his life from 1889 to 1895. I’ve just finished a primary edit of Issue X (out of a total of XXXIII), January 1890, translated by Phillip Dupesovski, and a selection of its contents might be: discussion of the motto of the House of Savoy, FERT, as found on the edges of nineteenth-century Italian coins; an encounter between a Goliardic poet and an Archbishop based on a twelfth-century poem attributed to the Anglo-Welsh priest/courtier/writer Walter Map; a love poem which makes poignant sense against a poem Ulrichs had written in German 40 years before; and acknowledgement of receipt of a book from Max Müller, proving there was an avid and eminent reader of Alaudae at 7 Norham Gardens, Oxford.

At the end of Issue X there is a poem on coffee, presented with a translation below, and I need some help with it. Cafea is written in hendecasyllables, Catullus’ trademark metre (so a playful form), albeit not consistently respecting Classical rules of versification; or more accurately, following a nudge from Antigone, always a source of illumination, the Catullan hendecasyllables are alternated, pretty much at random, with sapphic hendecasyllables—the latter of which Ulrichs used a lot in his Latin poetry. The poem begins by describing Ulrichs’ morning ritual of brewing coffee over a spirit burner. (Ulrichs spent his final years in very straitened circumstances.) Then the figure MINITANTE appears, sharing Ulrichs’ addiction to coffee to a comic degree, and at the end he asks us to identify her.

I say “her” because that is clearly the gender of Minitante in the Latin. My best guess is that Ulrichs is punning, with a word that could be Latin but make no sense as such in situ, on German “meine Tante”, “my aunt”. The instruction to change a letter, but only one (if we’re understanding him correctly), I take to mean changing the first “i” of “minitante” to “eye”, but not the second, which unstressed could sound like the -e of “meine”. It would be nice to discover that “My aunt” is a regular feature of comic anecdotes, but I have no reason to believe that is true.

Anyhow, I’m inviting better theories, as well as any corrections of my (and Phillip’s) reading of the Latin. If we’ve got it all backwards, we’d be delighted to know!

28.12.2022. In addition to the suggestion in the comments below, two from Twitter. Eric Sheng points out that minutante in Italian can mean retailer or shopkeeper, and that might make better sense of the financial considerations towards the end. Meanwhile Charles Stewart, and independently my co-editor Michael Lombardi-Nash, have pointed out dialectal forms of “meine” that would bring the first syllable closer to “min-“. Editing Alaudae offers a great deal of intellectual fun!

The Song of the Allobroges

A Horace blog to mark, a little belatedly, the draft of Horace: A Very Short Introduction that I submitted to OUP at the start of the month. But the Horatian poem I’ll be talking about here came to my attention through an entirely different project, the text and translation (with light commentary) of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ late-nineteeth-century Latin-language newspaper Alaudae that will be my major preoccupation this year (cf. recent blogs, passim).

The poem I’m concerned with here is not by Horace but an imitation of Horace by J. P. Steele written in 1894 and published, perhaps surprisingly, in The Lancet on March 31st of that year. It is a twenty-stanza Latin ode in alcaics on the occasion of the Eleventh International Medical Congress in Rome in April 1894, and it honours Guido Baccelli (1830-1916), the President of the Congress, an eminent physician and Ministro della Pubblica Istruzione (Minister of Public Education) in the Italian government. It also celebrates the Policlinico Umberto I, a modern teaching hospital in Rome, the first of its kind, of which Baccelli was the prime mover and in which the Congress was held, though this huge undertaking was not finally completed for another decade.

The poem is presented below along with a rough-and-ready translation done on trains through France, corrections to which would be welcome. But in summary, the author proposes, with a healthy dose of Horatian irony, that Rome had owed its ancient greatness as much to its devotion to the god of medicine Aesculapius as to its martial abilities, and that the recent revival of Rome as capital of the new nation of Italy is reflected in the renewed concern for the study of medicine in the city that Baccelli and the Policlinico exemplify.

We are informed by The Lancet that the poem was written for The Lancet and presented to Baccelli in advance of the Congress. Some explanation of this lies in Baccelli’s own enthusiasm for Latin. In his obituary in the British Medical Journal, 15 January 1916, p. 115, we learn that he “could discourse in Latin of a Ciceronian quality”, and at the preceding meeting of the triennial International Medical Congress in Berlin in 1890 Baccelli had flouted the requirement that communication be restricted to German, French and English by addressing the conference in Latin. The poem picks up on the breadth of Baccelli’s interests, bonarum cultor et artium et/ scientiarum.

The author of the poem, James Peddie Steele (1836-1917), we’d know less about but for a long and affectionate obituary in Papers of the British School at Rome 9 (1920), 1-15, by John Sandys, Cambridge Classicist and Public Orator. From this it emerges that he was another doctor-Classicist, a Scot who was a long-time resident of Italy, and latterly Florence, and who had a passion for Horace, and “was himself particularly fond of writing Alcaic odes after the model of Horace” (Sandys in an earlier eulogy in the TLS August 2, 1917 p.369). Sandys records Steele’s gift of books and bookcases to the nascent British School at Rome, his generous and authentically Horatian style of hospitality, and the summers he spent with friends at a villa in Tivoli, Sant’ Antonio, which a sequence of British owners had identified as the site of one of Horace’s properties. In letters to Sandys he described the view from the villa in a couplet adapted from Epistles 1.10, one of Horace’s most appealing poetic letters: Prospiciens Anienis aquas, et Tiburis umbram,/ Excepto quod non simul esses, cetera laetus, “Looking out over the waters of the Anio and the shade of Tivoli,/ in all respects happy except that you are not with me” (cf. Epist. 1.10.50). This intense identification with Horace is a feature of his afterlife, really unlike any other ancient poet.

For me, the trickiest detail of Steele’s poem to interpret were the references to the Allobroges. I had assumed a very loose reference to “barbarians”–Alaric conquering Rome in 410. But that seemed weak and didn’t make much sense in context. Illumination struck at Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station as I fell down a very deep rabbit hole in pursuit of the Italian/French character of this part of the Côte d’Azur. Key to the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian reunification, had been Victor Emmanuel of the House of Savoy, king of Sardinia and then from 1861 king of Italy. It was his forces that in 1870 “completed” the reunification by capturing Rome, entering the city by the Porta Pia in the Aurelian Walls, not far from the later site of the Policlinico, itself named after Victor Emmanuel’s son Umberto. The Allobroges, an Alpine people, are best known as Cicero’s informants during the Catilinarian Conspiracy, but their territory coincided with Savoy, or at any rate sufficiently so for Savoyards to claim the Allobroges as ancestors. Le Chant des Allobroges is one product of this.

Steele knows his Horace and does a good pastiche. A speech by Hannibal is inspired by Odes 4.4, and there’s one direct quotation from elsewhere in the Odes and no doubt others I’ve missed. He has managed a Horatian combination of adventurous word order and clarity, and exploits the inherent dynamics of the alcaic stanza, for instance using the emphasis given anything placed in the middle of the third line to highlight Baccelli’s name. I’ve mentioned already the characteristically Horatian elusiveness of tone. This poem is light and serious simultaneously.

Finally, it’s probably worth observing that with hindsight some of the assimilation of ancient and modern Rome that Steele pursues in 1894 foreshadows fascist ideology a generation later. An editorial in the same issue of The Lancet also addresses the Congress, Baccelli and the Policlinico (Steele was close to the editor, and may have effectively written it), and quotes a stanza from Horace’s Carmen Saeculare, alme Sol! … possis nihil urbe Roma/uisere maius (11-12), which was later inscribed on the fascist Arch of the Philaeni in Italian Libya; it was a fascist motto, in effect. Studying the 1890s, as I have certainly said before, is an eerie exercise in dramatic irony, seeing all the ingredients of the ruinous Twentieth Century as its protagonists plough on regardless.

I’ve added some even rougher and readier explanatory notes below. For Daphne I should have directed the reader to Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.452-567, where she is transformed into a laurel tree. In any case, enjoy what seems to me a remarkable transposition of Horace to the scientific aspirations of the late nineteenth century.

  1. The Gauls expelled from the Capitol by Manlius (and the geese) in 390BC.
  2. Pyrrhus of Epirus, of “pyrrhic victory” fame, defeated by the Romans in 275BC.
  3. Hannibal. The Gallic capture of Rome and Pyrrhus’ and Hannibal’s campaigns in Italy could be considered the three most significant conflicts in Rome’s rise to prominence.
  4. Epidaurus in the Peloponnese was a cult centre of Asclepius/Aesculapius, the god of medicine. In response to a plague in 293BC, the Romans sent an embassy to Epidaurus to secure the god for Rome, encouraged either by the Sibylline Books or the oracle at Delphi (in either case a Sibyl), and the god expressed his willingness by boarding the Roman ship in the form of the snake wrapped around his staff. In the last book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses the poem finally reaches Rome on the ship bearing Asclepius.
  5. Asclepius, still in the form of a snake, chose the Tiber island as his new residence, and that was the location of his shrine in Rome, perhaps constructed to recall the ship that first brought him there.
  6. The wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus.
  7. A Muse, speciality history, her name suggesting fame.
  8. The kings of the Allobroges are the nineteenth-century House of Savoy: see above.
  9. In a gorgeous couple of lines (I seem to share Steele’s taste in Horatian verses) Horace had asked his long-exiled friend Pompeius, quis te redonavit Quiritem/ dis patriis Italoque caelo, “who has restored you as a Roman citizen to your ancestral gods and the Italian sky?” (Odes 2.7.3-4), the unspoken answer being Augustus.
  10. Staged hunts of wild animals and gladiatorial munera, fights between men with variations of weaponry and armour, were two forms of Roman public entertainment in the Colosseum.
  11. Machaon and Podalirius, sons of Asclepius, were both doctors, described as such in Homer’s Iliad.
  12. The International Medical Congress was designed to be a triennial event, thus Washington D.C. in September 1887, Berlin in August 1890, Rome in March 1894, Moscow in August 1897. Trieteris strictly, by ancient inclusive counting, denoted a festival that occurred at intervals of two years, not three.
  13. Steele echoes Odes 3.29.35-6.

Further Larks

I’ve been translating some more issues of Alaudae (“Larks”), the Latin newspaper produced by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs from 1889 to 1895: for earlier thoughts about Ulrichs and Alaudae, see here. A three-volume edition–intro, Latin text, translation and explanatory notes–is going to be published by Bloomsbury in the fullness of time, but here is a taster, from the two issues I’ve just been translating, of the (I think, fascinating) snippet views of Europe in the 1890s (through the eyes of an activist and Classicist) that Ulrichs’ newspaper offers. The first three are from issue 17-18 in March 1891, and the last two from issue 32b in June 1895. Ulrichs is in roman; any comments from me in italics.

Latin in Istanbul:

“Not even in Constantinople is the Latin language spurned. In a Greek high school in the suburb of Pera, whose headmaster is Ch. Hadjichristou, Esq., it is taught by two teachers. And years ago in Würzburg I got to know two young men studying medicine there from Asia Minor, Greek speakers, who had received a thorough grounding in Latin. “I have read “Aeneidos β” (Book 2 of the Virgilian poem), one of them said. Moreover I remember them saying, “Wir sind Romi” (Romīi, that is, “We are Romaei.”) They declared themselves to be Romans, not Hellenes, Romans of the eastern branch, descendants of those Romans who fought under the Comneni and the last of the Palaeologi.”

Paraphrasing a Finnish scientist’s account of a research trip to the Kola Peninsula:

“In the month of July the author witnessed the plain still covered in snow, surrounded by land already cleared by the sun’s rays, and in the middle of the plain more than a hundred head of reindeer. They had retreated there to avoid the torment of mosquitoes, and the mosquitoes were not willing to follow them into the snow.”

A self-defence against criticism of his activism for the recognition and tolerance of homosexuality:

“To my critic from Munich. How unkind you are! You have certainly not read the books I have written about that remarkable mystery. Have you explored the profundities of Nature? Have you penetrated her secrets? I somewhat doubt it. And do you presume to pass sentence, a judge before your time? Forbear then, if you wish to sit in judgment, forbear to pass judgement on the defenceless, lest you harm the daughter of great Jupiter the Thunderer, heavenly Justice. If it is so much your wish to have someone to condemn, have it out with Nature the creator. Condemn her. She it was that committed the crime of not creating things according to your instructions, you silly man. A Swiss historian, a man of the purest judgment, has read my books carefully and wrote the following to me: “A wicked case cannot be defended as you have defended yours.” It is worth something, I think, to know truth, and its power to disperse the darkness and expunge unpardonable evil. To know it and remain silent, when I have the ability to speak, I have judged unworthy. Rightly would you scorn me, if I had kept silent, like someone of the basest kind and the weakest of spirits. But I was not willing to abandon what I considered my duty. I wanted to fulfil my duty. I acted fearlessly, though my heart was pounding.”

On poems in Latin in honour of Guido Baccelli, a senior Italian physician and politician, and President of the Eleventh International Medical Conference in Rome in 1894, who according to his obituary in the British Medical Journal 15th January 1916, pp. 114–115 “could discourse in Latin of a Ciceronian quality” himself; Dr. J.P. Steele’s poem is to be found in The Lancet 31st March 1894, pp. 819-20, or more conveniently, here:

“Two Latin poems have been written for Guido Baccelli. One is by a British doctor, Steele, twenty alcaic stanzas which The Lancet in London published: “At the part of the wall where the standard bearer of the Allobroges etc.” The other by the Roman doctor Cesare Ballabene is four elegiac couplets: “The … which once shone with diverse marbles and gold etc.” (Balla bene, that is, “he dances well”. If there weren’t ten elisions in these eight verses I’d judge he made good verses, too.)”

In the process of deciphering this section, I discovered (with some effort) two things: the first was that “Guido” can be rendered in Latin as “Vitus”, and the second that Ulrichs’ Latin abbreviation for Baccelli’s governmental position in 1894, “min. regius a p. instr.”, could be expanded as “minister regius a populo instruendo”, “Regio Ministro della Pubblica Istruzione”, “Royal Minister of Public Education”, which was indeed Baccelli’s role in 1881, 1881-4, 1893-6, and 1898-1900.

Excerpt from a Latin oration delivered by John Sandys, Public Orator, on the occasion of the award of an honorary doctorate to the future George V by Cambridge University, June 1894; the child mentioned is the future Edward VIII, born just a few days before the ceremony:

“Most worthy sir, Mr Chancellor, and the whole University! How happily we hail the grandson of the Queen and Prince Albert, once our Chancellor. We hail his father, our most eminent Prince, whom thirty years ago we saw honoured with the same accolade. We hail his mother, whom we rejoice is today herself in attendance. We hail the Prince, who almost from boyhood has devoted himself to mastering naval science; who, having traversed the oceans, visited our colonies separated from us by the whole world but joined with us with their whole hearts, as yet unaware of the kingship that would one day be his; who has shown again and again that the naval glory of the British Empire is his greatest love. … Almost a year ago he took as wife the granddaughter of the first Duke of Cambridge *) Today we rejoice that the heir of the heir of this great kingdom has been blessed with a son and that the royal line has been continued to the third degree. I bring before you Prince George Frederick, Duke of York.”

At *) Ulrichs comments, “I love this name. The Duke of Cambridge ruled the kingdom of Hanover, my homeland, as Viceroy when I was a boy. U.” Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was Viceroy of Hanover from 1816 to 1837, at which point Victoria’s accession in Great Britain caused the dissolution of the “personal union” between Britain and Hanover. Adolphus was the grandfather of Mary of Teck, the wife of George V, and was associated by Ulrichs with a more liberal constitution in Hanover than followed after the separation, and then again some years later after Hanover’s annexation by Prussia.


The View from Malakand

There are links here, here, here, and here to a pdf of my and Prof. Olivieri’s open-access book on Harold Deane, political officer and archaeologist.

Blogs related to the research it involved me in are here (the Jahanabad Buddha, destroyed and restored); here (the search for Alexander’s Aornos); here (the edicts of Ashoka, and Deane’s role in their interpretation); here (Aurel Stein and Deane’s botanical collection); here (a Persian wordplay applied to Deane); and here (Deane’s dreams of Alexander).

You can also find me here, back in 2020, struggling to figure out Deane’s frankly shocking handwriting.

Ingenuo patre natus?

A snippet here, scribbled rapidly on a Saturday afternoon before the FA Cup final (in the event, I shouldn’t have scribbled so rapidly), from the research I’m doing toward Horace: A Very Short Introduction. The issue here is a detail, and quite a significant one given Roman snobbery, of the poet’s biography.

Horace’s stellar career, according to Horace himself, owed a lot to his father. But was his father born a slave?

If so, Horace’s career even prior to his success as a poet is stunningly unconventional. For instance, he enjoyed the Roman elite’s equivalent of higher education in Athens, hobnobbing with the most privileged stratum of Rome’s highly stratified society, and thereafter as tribunus militum, a rank again reserved for the Roman elite, he seems to have commanded a legion at Philippi. Rome was an intensely status-conscious place, and while the extremities of civil war brought inevitable compromises, that remains an unexpected CV for the son of an ex-slave.

Now, there is no question that Horace was in some sense “the son of a freedman”, his father a slave who had secured his freedom. Satire 1.6, which will feature a lot here, is clear that Horace was so considered by detractors at least (libertino patre natum, 1.6.6, 45-6). But an influential (and clever) article by Gordon Williams, “Libertino patre natus: true or false?”, in S.J. Harrison, Homage to Horace (1995), has argued that Horace was exaggerating the humbleness of his origins for effect (an important theme of the poem is the consideration due to people of lower social status), and that Horace’s father was only an ex-slave in a technical sense.

What Williams proposed was that Horace senior had been captured, in his youth, when the Romans took the rebel city of Venusia, Horace’s home town, at the end of the Social War in 88 BC. Once in captivity, he would likely have been considered a slave, Williams suggests with reference to known parallels, but his status might have been reversed fairly easily, in which case he could have quickly returned to his previous existence as a free inhabitant, potentially quite prominent and prosperous, of Venusia. In literal terms a freedman, then, but in social status far from a typical example.

Well, Williams’ argument rests on detailed readings of Satire 1.6, and I think it’s fair to say that Horace’s chatty style in the Satires (they are designed to read like the conversations of Romans at dinner) makes it hard to pin down precisely what he’s saying about himself—hard for Williams to ground his theory securely, but hard also for me to dispute it. But a word that features a lot in connection with Horace’s father seems to me important, and this is ingenuus. It can be used loosely to mean something like “respectable” or “gentlemanly”, but its core meaning is “freeborn”, and in a poem where social categories are at issue, in general and with reference to Horace’s father, that implication must be readily felt.

By Williams’ theory, Horace’s father was “freeborn”, ingenuus, his enslavement a temporary inconvenience of his early years. But on three occasions in Satire 1.6 Horace’s father is, to put it no stronger than this, associated with a lack of ingenuitas, freeborn status. The question is whether we can walk away from this poem seriously doubting that he was born unfree.

In the first case Horace credits Maecenas, his powerful friend and patron, with attaching no importance to quali sit quisque parente/ natus, dum ingenuus, “of what kind of parent anyone is born, so long as he be ingenuus” (7-8). Here I think the natural sense of ingenuus is “freeborn”, and while Williams suggests that Horace might in this clause be describing the father rather than “anyone”, that seems to me a stretch. In context it is Horace’s status that is the primary issue here, and Maecenas’ unconcern for the status of an individual’s father. There may be an implication that Horace’s father was not freeborn, unlike his son, but no more than that.

In the second passage, the most important for us, Horace is stating, and also accepting (somewhat unexpectedly), that people of low birth will not get far in political life: namque esto populus Laeuino mallet honorem/ quam Decio mandare nouo, censorque moueret/ Appius, ingenuo si non essem patre natus/ —uel merito, quoniam in propria non pelle quiessem, “For let’s grant that the people would rather entrust office to a Laevinus than to a Decius with no family background, and that Appius the censor would exclude me from the Senate if I weren’t born of a freeborn father—rightly perhaps, since I’d not have rested quietly in my own skin” (19-22).

To repeat, getting the nuance of satirical Latin is not straightforward, and this does not say outright that Horace’s father was not freeborn—that is stated as a remote condition, strictly speaking—but it is hard to explain why he raises this of all possible objections to himself (and in terms that so clearly recall the earlier statement of Maecenas’ point of view), not to mention the following acknowledgement in principle of the validity of the imagined sanction by the censor (an official responsible among other things for policing the qualifications of senators), unless Horace wants this understanding of himself and his paternity to be seriously entertained.

Finally, 89-92, which won’t clinch anything either: nil me paeniteat sanum patris huius, eoque/ non, ut magna dolo factum negat esse suo pars,/ quod non ingenuos habeat clarosque parentis,/ sic me defendam, “While of sound mind I would never regret having such a father, and the way the majority say it’s not their fault that they don’t have freeborn or distinguished parents isn’t how I would defend myself.” Here ingenuos might, I suppose, just entail “respectable”, if at any rate a reader could fail even toward the end of the poem to be thinking of more precise kinds of social differentiation. For a sense of the contemporary significance of being not just free but freeborn, the story of Augustus’ refusal to dine in the company of Menas/Menodorus, the turncoat freedman of Pompey, until he had been assertus in ingenuitatem, deemed legally (if not actually) freeborn, is suggestive (Suetonius, Life of Augustus 74, cf. Appian, BC 5.338, ἐλεύθερον εὐθὺς ἀπέφηνεν ἐξ ἀπελευθέρου).

Williams’ argument needs to be read to be properly assessed, and I can’t do it justice here: it’s also included in Kirk Freudenburg’s collection Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Horace, Satires and Epistles (2009). All I can do is say that my own impression at the end of Satire 1.6 is that Horace has strongly implied that his father was born a slave. If this is correct, it is not, I think, something that a poet in Rome would state of his background unless it were substantially true.

“And so what?” you might say at this point.

I think to me it matters because it restores to Horace’s life story some of its dramatic quality. It reinstates major obstacles that Horace and his father had to overcome for the Horace we know and can write books about to emerge.

The turning point in Horace’s early life, described in this satire and in more oblique terms in his famous ode on the Bandusian Spring, was his father’s decision to secure for him an education at Rome, 200 miles from Venusia. If we conclude that Horace senior was a conventional Venusian who had simply experienced some misfortune (widely shared among his fellow townsmen) as a youngster, that still counts as a courageous decision, but it is vastly more so if a man born a slave refused to let his talented son be limited by his own accident of birth, in a culture that continued to set great store by such things.

Some of the most impressive figures from Greco-Roman antiquity are those whose exceptional ability had secured their escape from slavery: here is such a person, for instance. Horace’s remarkable rise to the very heights of Roman society—including his composition and performance of the hymn at the Secular Games in 17BC, perhaps the ideological acme of the Augustus’ principate—had as its catalyst the fatherly ambition that took him to Rome, and I’m loath to lose the sheer, splendid audacity of that decision by a man born enslaved without better reason than Williams seems to give us.

On liking the unlikeable

I’ve been trying to find an analogy for my personal response to Horace’s political odes (spoiler: I like them), which has implications also for how I talk about them in the Very Short Introduction I’m writing. Horace’s Odes are all “political” in a broader sense, but here I mean the lyric poems that advance Augustan ideology in an overt fashion.

Contemporary scholarship tends to have a problem with these poems that it doesn’t have with other odes, and I find it odd. Sometimes the idea is that we in the twenty-first century have less sympathy with his political material, to which my response is that one doesn’t have to read his other poetry at all hard to find material or attitudes that are objectionable, and it doesn’t seem to me that poems promoting support for Augustus are much different in that respect. Sometimes the thought is more that Horace’s was too liberal a sensitivity to give real assent to the Augustan poetry he wrote, and just one objection to that is that every lyric poem composed by Horace is a carefully crafted piece of artifice, and not to be confused with any straightforward expression of his inner beliefs.

My feeling is that we can do two things with this poetry that are sometimes treated as incompatible. We can enjoy it, allowing ourselves to empathise enough with the poet and the poet’s circumstances to appreciate how effectively he promotes the cause, and to take pleasure from the reading experience; while at the same time we can achieve the detachment necessary to see accomplished political poetry for what it is, a sophisticated way of rendering people susceptible to a partisan ideology.

An example of what I’m talking about in Horace might be the passage in Odes 3.5, the Regulus Ode, where Horace condemns the miles Crassi, the “soldier of Crassus” taken prisoner by the Parthians in their crushing victory at Carrhae in 53 BC. Their greatest failure, in line with the core concern of this poem with the ethical guidance provided by the Roman past, is that they have forgotten their Romanness and “gone native” (5-12):

milesne Crassi coniuge barbara
turpis maritus uixit et hostium —
pro curia inuersique mores! —
consenuit socerorum in armis

sub rege Medo Marsus et Apulus
anciliorum et nominis et togae
oblitus aeternaeque Vestae,
incolumi Iove et urbe Roma?

“Has the soldier of Crassus lived his life a disgraceful husband to a barbarian wife, and have the Marsian and Apulian—shame on the Senate House and our topsy-turvy values!—grown old bearing arms for their fathers-in-law, their enemies, in the service of the Persian King, forgetful of the sacred shields and their name and the toga and everlasting Vesta while Jupiter and the city of Rome are yet unimpaired?”

It goes without saying, I hope, that I don’t endorse the chauvinistic nationalism of Horace’s “Roman Odes”, and furthermore I’m fascinated as an academic literary critic by the terms in which he expresses it, for instance the items that function as the Roman counterparts of motherhood and apple pie, the staples of a Roman identity that Horace suggests a true Roman could never forget: the sacred figure-of-eight shields borne by the dancing priests of Mars; the peculiar Roman styles of naming and dress; and Vesta, the goddess whose everlasting flame guaranteed Rome’s permanent existence.

Part and parcel of that analysis is seeing how brilliant the poetry is in which Horace’s xenophobic case is made. Just one detail out of many: how he exploits the expansive character of the third line of these alcaic stanzas to give aeternae special emphasis, the description of Vesta, “everlasting/eternal”, which clashes outrageously with oblitus, “forgetful” before it. What kind of people could forget Vesta who is always there, Horace asks us: only Romans who had fallen so far as no longer really to be Romans–and I feel the power of this. At some level I’m allowing myself to be manipulated by the poet, and understanding what he is doing by experiencing it.

Stated thus, it may still seem a paradoxical claim that I can be manipulated and still critique, but here comes my analogy. In the clip below Leonid Kharitonov, a Russian bass-baritone, with the Red Army Choir, performs the Song of the Volga Boatmen at a concert in the Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow, in 1965. I see (and who couldn’t, since everyone is in military uniform) the ideological project, and (9 years after Hungary, 3 before Prague) I deplore it. (Current events exert their own influence, no doubt.) Furthermore it interests me intellectually how a folksong, because it talks about working men collaborating for the common good, and doing so along Russia’s greatest river, could be coopted by an outfit like the Red Army Choir to express a Soviet ideal.

That said, though, I find everything about this video frankly thrilling, the power of the singing, by Kharitonov and by the Red Army Choir, the superb arrangement by the Choir’s director, the camera work and the whole mise-en-scène of the film. I think what’s happening here is that I’m achieving an imaginative empathy with the Soviet elite in 1965 which does not preclude, indeed coexists with and positively informs, my critical distance and dispassionate analysis.

And I think I can do that with Horace, too.

Enjoy, in any case (but critically):

Doggone

I’m not at all sure this justifies a post. But at 100 blogs I disburdened myself of some familial stuff, and this happens to be no. 125.

Our dog Chester had been growing increasingly frail over the last few months. But his death on Tuesday, while related to that frailty, was sudden, unexpected in its manner, and traumatic in ways I shan’t elaborate. But he was a jack russell/chihuahua cross, a jack chi or jackhuahua if you prefer, rising 15, and facing pretty rapid decline.


I do buy the idea that dogs slot into families so naturally because we’ve been cohabiting, our two species, for tens of thousands of years. Having rather dreaded Chester’s arrival twelve or thirteen years ago—how much effort and inconvenience it could be, disruption in an already disrupted household, and a rescue dog to boot—I now feel a huge absence, and it’s not just the thousands of companionable miles, for years now without a lead, that we’ve clocked up in that time strolling round the neighbourhood. My wife understood that a dog would be a force for calm in a household in some need of it when our elder son was nine, and he has been, a shared focus of affection in our family life.


I know, of course, that our reasons for, and pleasure in, those walks were mutually incomprehensible, but that I guess is how symbiosis works. Similarly, I’ve no understanding why every day without fail, immediately after his dinner, Chester would steal one of my socks and “bury” it somewhere around the house.

No understanding at all, but I miss it.

Hercules on the edge

Some thoughts about the structure immediately above, thoughts that I’ve needed to have, then park while I crack on with other, more urgent things.

You are looking at the Tropaeum Alpium, Trophy of the Alps, or Tropaeum Augusti, Trophy of Augustus, in La Turbie (which takes its name from it), a town on a rise above Monaco in the South of France. However we choose to call it, this monument is certainly concerned with both the Alps and the emperor Augustus. What interests me about it, though, is that it is also concerned, albeit more obliquely, with the hero Hercules, on whom one day I shall assuredly write A BOOK.

Unless I don’t.

The first thing to appreciate about the Tropaeum Alpium is that, while it was dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome in 7/6BC, what you you see in La Turbie today is really a confection dating back just a century. The Middle Ages were not kind to the monument (one story, if anyone reads Provençal, tells how St Honoratus miraculously destroyed it, the fortress of a giant named Apollo, but the reality wasn’t much less dramatic). Shortly before the First World War, and then again from 1929 to 1934, two architects, Jean Camille and Jules Formigé, father and son, undertook a very creative reconstruction, and the result is a landmark which probably tells us as much about French culture in the early decades of the Twentieth Century as it does about Augustus.

There is nevertheless a lot we know about the Trophy, not least the inscription it bore, which was recorded by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (3.136-7) and explained that the monument marked the conquest of the Alps by the emperor Augustus a mari supero ad inferum, from the higher to the lower sea, i.e. from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian Sea. All the Alpine tribes conquered by Augustus and his lieutenants were listed, the message being that the Alpine borderlands of Italy were now thoroughly pacified.

Image from the Museum of the Tropaeum Alpium showing the location of all the defeated peoples listed on the monument.
The red line marks the route of roads closely associated with the Tropaeum.

We’ll come back to Pliny, because his record of the Tropaeum is interestingly located within his own text. But what I’m most concerned with is the meaningful association established by Sophie Binninger (all citations are at the bottom) between this monument celebrating Augustus on the heights above Monaco and the hero/god Hercules — who was so important to Monaco that he seems to have given his name to the place.

We know that the port of Monaco, and apparently the heights above it, were perceived to have a special connection to Hercules. Strabo, for instance, informs us that “the harbour of Monoikos is a mooring-place for only a few, small ships, with a temple of Herakles ‘Monoikos’, as he is known” (4.6.3), while other sources give emphasis to the neighbouring heights. If there was a specific cult site, at any rate, we don’t know where it was. But the connection was established enough for the Hercules worshipped here, under that moody epithet Monoikos (“solitary; who lives alone”), to give the location a name today very familiar to us.

It is on this basis that Binninger makes the case, unanswerable it seems to me, that the placement of the monument honouring Augustus is designed to imply an assimilation with Hercules, and she suggests that treating Augustus as a Herculean figure suggests military prowess, divinity present or future, and a civilizing power closely related to the establishment of roads and communication. Ammianus Marcellinus (15.10.9) describes Hercules as the builder of the first road along the coast en route to dealing with the three-bodied giant Geryon, and adds that he also “consecrated the harbour and citadel of Monoecus to his own everlasting memory”. (The context for Hercules’ presence in the western Mediterranean, whether in Rome, Tangier or Monaco, is generally his mission to kill Geryon in Spain and drive Geryon’s superlative herd of cattle back to Greece.) Augustus’ Tropaeum was coordinated with the Via Julia Augusta, the road from Italy to Gaul recently constructed or renovated by Augustus which it overlooked.

But I think we can push the Herculean associations of the Tropaeum Alpium a bit further, and particularly that last idea of communication. Hercules was all about pathways and access, certainly, but by extension he promoted the meeting and mingling of peoples. Within Italy Hercules’ close association with the cattle trade, and the drove roads by which cattle were herded around the peninsula, had made him the agent of intermingling and unification described by Dionysius, who imagines a rationalised Hercules as the greatest general of his day, leading a great army with which, among other things, “he mingled barbarians with Greeks, and inhabitants of the inland with dwellers on the sea coast, groups which hitherto had been distrustful and unsocial in their dealings with each other” (Rom. Ant. 1.41.1).

Meanwhile, the story was told around the Mediterranean and beyond of peoples descended from Hercules and a local woman: see here on Rome, Herodotus 4.9-10 on the Scythians, and Plutarch, Sertorius 9.3-5 on the people of Tangier. This recurrent myth clearly encoded the establishment of reciprocal relations between Greek colonisers and native peoples, albeit by implication on Greek terms. In ancient France we find stories, collected by Jane Lightfoot in her edition of Parthenius, that make Hercules the ancestor of the Celts. As Parthenius tells it, when Hercules was driving the cattle of Geryon back to Argos, he came to the court of king Bretannos in the country of the Celts. The inevitable liaison with Bretannos’ daughter Keltine resulted in the birth of Keltos, ancestor of the Celts.

Hercules’ capacity to bring peoples together is one of his most remarkable characteristics, and at first sight hard to square with this club-wielding epitome of male violence. It no doubt has a lot to do with the ubiquity of muscular civilising gods across peoples. The Greeks encountered the Carthaginian Melqart and saw Heracles, and vice versa. Another illustration is the worship of Hercules Magusanus by the Batavians of what is now the Netherlands, as explained by Nico Roymans: the syncretism of a local and a Roman god, Magusanus and Hercules, facilitating the Batavians’ assimilation within the Roman Empire, resulting inter alia in one more Lysippan Hercules to join all the others.

Another illustration again is Virgil’s Aeneid, where Hercules the communis deus, “god who is common to all” (8.275), appears on both sides of the conflict between Aeneas’ forces and Turnus’ forces, as comrade or ancestor, in the second half of the poem, and seems to promise a unity in Italy when all the fighting’s done. In Virgil the tension between that peaceful outcome and the violence Hercules displays is quite deliberately drawn out, I think. (I investigated some of these Herculean associations as they were exploited by Horace in the article cited at the bottom.)

Well, if the monument to Augustus at La Turbie does indeed by its position provoke thoughts of Hercules, that position (which was clearly chosen very, very carefully) answers in various suggestive ways to these aspects of the hero. Monaco, as Binninger explains, can be seen as the end of the Alps, illustrating the claim of the inscription that the mountains had been pacified from sea to sea. But we are also here on a frontier, Hercules’ natural space: Binninger cites a medieval gloss on the Antonine Itinerary which remarks of this location usque hic Italia, hinc Gallia, “Thus far Italy; henceforth Gaul”. At Monaco Hercules presided over the meeting of Italians and Gauls as well as Greeks and Celts.

Photo by Berthold Werner: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_Turbie_BW_1.JPG#mw-jump-to-license

But I think the most interesting implication of all arises from the text of Pliny the Elder which preserves the inscription that graced the Trophy, and indeed allowed the structure at La Turbie to be identified as the Tropaeum Alpium. Binninger again points out that Pliny’s reference to the Tropaeum comes at the end of a long account of Italy (3.38-138), just before his resounding conclusion, “This is Italy, sacred to the gods, these its races, these its people’s towns…” Pliny’s account is structured by Augustus’ organisation of Rome and Italy into regiones, a reform which may have been introduced around the time of the Trophy’s dedication. In other words, Pliny’s account of Italy, and its climax with the Tropaeum Alpium, may well follow an Augustan logic. Binninger talks of the idea in Pliny that the Alps (and the Trophy) “round off” Italy, and again I am put in mind of Hercules.

In the Aeneid, or at least in my reading of the poem, Hercules represents a kind of summation of Italy. All in Italy worship him, and in him, symbolically, is found unity between Italians, even as they fight each other. The paradox, which is also present to some degree at La Turbie, is that Hercules/Augustus stands for violent conquest, and yet also for equality and collaboration. Just maybe, then, there is an Augustan pattern of thought here, centred upon the mythical figure of Hercules and shared between Virgil’s epic and this monument on the heights above Monaco.

* * *

S. Binninger, “Le Tropaeum Alpium et l’Héraclès Monoikos. Mémoire et célébration de la victoire dans la propagande augustéenne à la Turbie”, in M. Navarro Caballero and J.-M. Roddaz (eds.), La Transmission de l’idéologie impériale dans les provinces de l’Occident romain (Pessac, 2006), 179-203;

Le trophée d’Auguste à La Turbie (Paris, 2009);

E. Bispham, “The Regiones of Italy: between Republic and Principate”, in M. Aberson, M.C. Biella, M. Di Fazio & M. Wullschleger (eds.), Nos sumus Romani qui fuimus ante… Memory of ancient Italy (Bern, 2020), 23-51;

H. Cornwell, “The King Who Would Be Prefect: Authority and Identity in the Cottian Alps”, Journal of Roman Studies 105 (2015), 41-72;

J. Lightfoot, Parthenius of Nicaea: the Extant Works, Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford, 1999);

I. Malkin, Myth and Territory in the Spartan Mediterranean (Cambridge, 1994);

Ll. Morgan, “A Yoke Connecting Baskets: Odes 3.14, Hercules, and Italian Unity”, Classical Quarterly 55 (2005), 190-203;

N. Roymans, Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: the Batavians in the Early Roman Empire (Amsterdam, 2004), 235-50.