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Why Roman history r0xx0r

Because, when looking up primary texts to illustrate a lecture on Augustus' use of imperial freedmen, you find gems like this:

Cassius Dio, Roman History 54.21.2 (on the year 15 BC) - 'Not only had the Gauls suffered much at the hands of the Germans, but much also at the hands of a certain Licinus. And of this, I think, the sea-monster had given them full warning beforehand; twenty feet broad and three times as long, and resembling a woman except for its head, it had come in from the ocean and become stranded on the shore.'

Presumably this 'sea-monster' was actually some kind of whale. But yes, of course: when a whale gets beached on your shores, you just know financial exploitation (Licinus' main crime) is bound to be around the next corner. Good old Dio.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 12th, 2006 10:41 am (UTC)

Though I can't help thinking they must have had some very odd-looking women around at the time. :-)
Jan. 12th, 2006 10:46 am (UTC)
Villa of the Mysteries
It also interests me that it resembled "a woman except for its head". Er...?

And yes, what's the explanation other than "Dio's on acid"?
Jan. 12th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Villa of the Mysteries
No explanation needed, really: this is simply perfectly normal thinking for a Roman. When bizarre natural phenomena occur, it's a sure sign that the gods are displeased, and something bad is going to happen. Livy does it all the time - check out, for example, his passage on omens in 218 BC, which for him (and the population at the time) presage the Hannibalic wars, and especially the disaster at Cannae in 216:

"During this winter many portents occurred in Rome and the neighbourhood, or at all events, many were reported and easily gained credence, for when once men's minds have been excited by superstitious fears they easily believe these things. A six-months-old child, of freeborn parents, is said to have shouted "Io Triumphe" in the vegetable market, whilst in the Forum Boarium an ox is reported to have climbed up of its own accord to the third story of a house, and then, frightened by the noisy crowd which gathered, it threw itself down. A phantom navy was seen shining in the sky; the temple of Hope in the vegetable market was struck by lightning; at Lanuvium Juno's spear had moved of itself, and a crow had flown down to her temple and settled upon her couch; in the territory of Amiternum beings in human shape and clothed in white were seen at a distance, but no one came close to them; in the neighbourhood of Picenum there was a shower of stones; at Caere the oracular tablets had shrunk in size; in Gaul a wolf had snatched a sentinel's sword from its scabbard and run off with it. With regard to the other portents, the decemvirs were ordered to consult the Sacred Books, but in the case of the shower of stones at Picenum a nine days' sacred feast was proclaimed, at the close of which almost the whole community busied itself with the expiation of the others. First of all the City was purified, and full-grown victims were sacrificed to the deities named in the Sacred Books; an offering of forty pounds' weight of gold was conveyed to Juno at Lanuvium, and the matrons dedicated a bronze statue of that goddess on the Aventine. At Caere, where the tablets had shrunk, a lectisternium was enjoined, and a service of intercession was to be rendered to Fortuna on Algidus. In Rome also a lectisternium was ordered for Juventas and a special service of intercession at the temple of Hercules, and afterwards one in which the whole population were to take part at all the shrines. Five full-grown victims were sacrificed to the Genius of Rome, and C. Atilius Serranus, the praetor, received instructions to undertake certain vows which were to be discharged should the commonwealth remain in the same condition for ten years. These ceremonial observances and vows, ordered in obedience to the Sacred Books, did much to allay the religious fears of the people."

(That was going to be a link, but it won't work properly. The book as a whole is at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=Liv3His.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=1&division=div1)
Jan. 12th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
I'm thinking his wife was not flattered when she read that...
Jan. 12th, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)
Jan. 20th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
Because dead horses need flogging...
Does this mean our economy's about to get screwed over by someone?
Jan. 20th, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Because dead horses need flogging...
Hee-hee! Well, this whale is alive in the Thames, not dead on a beach, so maybe it's a good omen? I just wish I knew what, precisely, to invest in to take full advantage of the forthcoming upswing in the stock market: corsets and lamp oil, perhaps?
Jan. 23rd, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Because dead horses need flogging...
Hang on - on Saturday you said they'd also found a dead porpoise in Putney. How old, exactly, was this porpoise? Maybe the prophecy of Black Wednesday, back in 1989, was there for all those who had eyes to see such portents...?
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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