Rome Foundation Myths: The Debate Continues
On Thu, 28 Oct 1999, Dan King wrote:
I've recently read Prof. Wiseman's book Remus. In the first chapter he outlines a complex network,hard to keep up with, of differing versions of the of the Romulus and Remus myth. In the Appendix hethen gives another 60 variants on different parts of the myth, taken from various authors.I was wondering whether anyone had any enlightening ideas on why quite so many different versionsof such a myth should pop up. Obviously there are plenty of times in Roman history when politicalcircumstance have resulted in uses, and thus adaptations of the myth - but so many of them seem largelyirrelevant. Maybe we ought to think more along the lines of why anybody should construct and re-construct foundation myths endlessly, whatever the institution involved. Perhaps the foundation myths ofcolleges and universities offer an interesting comparison - but I don't know many of these. Anyenlightening views would be most welcome.
Dan King Replies:
Subject: Re: Rome foundation mythsFrom: Phillip Snider (firstname.lastname@example.org)Date: Thu Oct 28 1999 - 10:19:41 EDT
I think what you need to remember is that a lot of these foundation myths come out of Greekhistoriography, where there seemed to be considerable controversy over where the Romans fit into theGreek world picture. What that often meant was attempts to connect Rome, and Italy to the Homericworld which ultimately seems the source of many foundation myths in the Greek world. In that case, theproblem becomes who, in the Homeric world, actually got out to Italy and points west. That explainsOdysseus, and later Aeneas (with some necessary adaptations, of course). As for the huge numbers ofvariations, I suspect that is simply scholarly one-upmanship. Get enough scholars around and you'll findbickering of that type :).As for political needs and foundation myths, I do wonder about these. Yes, for purposes of communityself-definition, efforts seem to have been made to harmonize Rome's foundation myth with Homerictradition. But, is this political? I really don't buy Wiseman's contention in [the book] Remus that Remusrepresented plebeians, simply because he bases it on, what I believe to be unreliable, and late sources.As memory recalls, the crucial link is made by an anonymous sixth century chronicle (please correct me ifI'm misremembering) which gives me a lot of pause. I'm not sure how much I would trust such a source. Ido think that the myth of Romulus and Remus did become adopted for the simple reason that it resonatedwith Roman's political experience. They are, as Ovid and Propertius (again, I think), suggest emblematicof civil strife, of the type that Rome suffered in the last century and a half of the Republic's existence. But,why anyone would want to make political hay out of that, I don't know. Besides, how would you? If youwere choosing a founding myth, wouldn't you prefer one that made you look good. I'm not sure theRomulus-Remus myth does that very well, at least, as we've received it.Just a few thoughts.
Phil SniderPhD Student