February 12, 2007


This is an interesting article in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review about the Roman definition of Virtus or manliness. Myles McDonnell in a recent book published by CUP has asserted that for the Romans in the early Republic manliness was a very simple thing, it stood for courage in a cavalry encounter in the field. Bob Kaster of Princeton University is less sure about McDonnell's conclusions and points to lots of problems within the evidence that he cites. Its an argument worth perusing- as would be McDonnell's reply to it- partly as a reminder of how different Roman ideas about manhood are from ours.


El Dave. said...

I wonder if this explains the 'fuerte en un caballo' - strong man on a horse - tendency of Latin America? I hasten to add that this isn't rampant orientalism on my part, but has been picked up by indigenous students of Latin American political history. From Bolivar on, there has been a succession of very strong figures, sometimes literally on a horse, such as Peron, Castro of Venezuela, Chavez and so on, that have come to dominate a polity for a period of time with people coming after them shaping themselves, sometimes explicitly, in their image and using an appeal to their idol's greatness to justify their excesses and incompetences.

james higham said...

There was also the gladiatorial test of virility and Commodus was one Emperor of that ilk.

El Dave. said...

I thought Commodus preferred using the bow and arrow, often from the imperial box, in the opposite of a demonstration of virtus - using a distance weapon. Commodus, when he took to the arena, fought against challengers who had be told or briefed to submit or against the handicapped as a means of, with foretones of Nazism, removing the unsuitable.

Appearing in gladiatorial combats was to be with the lowest of the low - virtus in Roman society equated with a level of class, and at the very least not lowering yourself - and so I would say that Commodus, although he tried to appear otherwise, was the antithesis of virtus.

Commodus was, I believe, a nickname given to him meaning 'comfortable'.

Gracchi said...

I don't have time to get into this right now and respond to your posts- will this evening- but the fact that two people are having a discussion about Commodus on my blog is I think my greatest ever accomplishment!