sovay: (I Claudius)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2010-12-31 09:57 pm

God, sometimes you just don't come through

By an unretrievable chain of internet meandering last night, I ran into Peter Iver Kaufman's "Augustine, Martyrs, and Misery" (Church History, 1994), not ordinarily a set of topics I would choose to spend much time with. But the article opens with the following speculation:

Augustine said that Rome fell frequently, all too often into "utter moral depravity," occasionally into the hands of the city's enemies. Maybe Aeneas was to blame. He had shown poor judgment, hauling to Italy the gods that failed to save Troy. Subsequently, when the Gauls came to Rome's gates, those divine and purportedly vigilant protectors did remarkably little protecting. They later offered no resistance when Nero reduced Rome to rubble. Augustine held Aeneas's eulogist responsible for the terribly inflated expectations that made the city's humiliations all the more demoralizing; Virgil misled citizens, suggesting that Rome would stand forever. Christians should have known better. They had it on higher authority that heaven and earth would pass away.

That last bit about Christian realism vs. Roman arrogance, whatever. It's the line about the failed gods of Troy. That got my attention.

I had never made quite that connection before, though I had known since eleventh grade that the Lares and Penates of Rome were indeed the household gods Aeneas carried out of burning Troy in Book II of the Aeneid (2.293—295):

sacra suosque tibi commendat Troia penatis:
hos cape fatorum comites, his moenia quaere
magna, pererrato statues quae denique ponto.


To your hands Troy entrusts its sacred rites and Penates:
take them as companions of your fate, seek out for them
the great walls you will raise, done at last with wandering over sea.


To reconcile Troy's foreignness with homegrown Romanitas, the Penates themselves appear to Aeneas and prophesy for him later on in Book III, arguing that far from taking them into unknown country, the hero is really returning them to their homeland (3.163—168):

est locus, Hesperiam Grai cognomine dicunt,
terra antiqua, potens armis atque ubere glaebae;
Oenotri coluere viri; nunc fama minores
Italiam dixisse ducis de nomine gentem.
hae nobis propriae sedes, hinc Dardanus ortus,
Iasiusque pater, genus a quo principe nostrum.


There is a place, the Greeks call it Hesperia,
an ancient land, strong in arms and rich in soil.
The Oenotrian men tilled it; their descendants now,
they say, call the region Italy after their leader's name.
This is our own home—there Dardanus grew up,
and father Iasius, with whom our people began.


But Troy in Asia Minor was still their city, and Troy fell. The Olympians themselves took it down (2.608—618):

[Aspice] hic, ubi disiectas moles avolsaque saxis
saxa vides mixtoque undantem pulvere fumum.
Neptunus muros magnoque emota tridenti
fundamenta quatit, totamque a sedibus urbem
eruit; hic Iuno Scaeas saevissima portas
prima tenet, sociumque furens a navibus agmen
ferro accincta vocat.
iam summas arces Tritonia, respice, Pallas
insedit nimbo effulgens et Gorgone saeva.
ipse pater Danais animos viresque secundas
sufficit, ipse deos in Dardana suscitat arma.


[Look] there, where you see the skyline flung apart,
ripped stone from stone and smoke coiling among the dust.
Neptune with his great trident is shaking down the walls
and the shifting foundations, tearing out all the city
from its roots; there Juno in her savagery is first to hold
the Scaean gates, and raging, steel-girt, calls her host
of allies from their ships.
Now on the heights of the citadel—look—Pallas Tritonia
couches fierce and flashing with her stormcloud and Gorgon.
Our very father supplies the Danaans with spirit and strength
of success, drives the gods himself against Dardanian arms.


And I wonder how Vergil thought about this. On the one hand, the Olympians are universal; Carthage is Juno's city.1 Neptune helped raise the walls of Troy (2.625, 3.3). Jupiter will preside over Rome. On the other, whatever Varro says, the di magni in the Aeneid are not the same as the Lares and Penates. Dido at Carthage has her own household gods, which she honors before the feast at which Aeneas begins his tale (1.704), Evander at Pallantium has his Lares and Penates (8.543). Octavian at Actium is fighting with both kinds of divinity on his side (8.678—679):

hinc Augustus agens Italos in proelia Caesar
cum patribus populoque, penatibus et magnis dis . . .


there Augustus Caesar leading the Italians into battle
with senators and people, Penates and great gods . . .


That same battle is framed as a face-off not only between Octavian/Agrippa and Antony/Cleopatra, but between the gods of Rome and Egypt's therianthropic monstrosities (8.698—700):

omnigenumque deum monstra et latrator Anubis
contra Neptunum et Venerem contraque Minervam
tela tenent.


Every kind of monster-god and barking Anubis
have taken arms against Neptune and Venus
and against Minerva.


No prizes for guessing how that one turned out. Gods can be defeated in this world. They can be taken from captured cities, like spoils or collaborators; they cannot be killed, but their cults can be dispersed. Aeneas rescues the Penates of Troy from, perhaps, Greek evocatio,2 preserving their lineage and restoring their power in a new-old land, but the fact remains that as tutelary deities, their track record is not great. The di magni of Agamemnon's army brought their walls down. They are the needfire of Rome's hearth. How long until it, too, is scattered ash?

1. I will not digress here about Tanit pene Baal and Juno Caelestis, but trust me, they're good stuff.

2. Literally, calling-out: the old Roman practice of co-opting the gods of a besieged or conquered city; see here. Juno herself was famously acquired from the Etruscans by this ritual in 396 BCE.

So it sticks with me, this idea of seeding a city's future doom with the wrong gods. Maybe this is why Rome becomes the epitome of falling empire, rather than being remembered at the height of its imperium: somewhere its temples are always in flames. I cannot quite say that I agree with Augustine, because he's got his argument stacked in favor of the efficacy of Christ—and I would think the gods of the Gauls who sacked Rome were fully as pagan as the once-victi, long-victores Penates, thank you very much—but as a secret history, it does have something to it. Or at least it should make someone a very good story.

Apparently this is what I do for New Year's . . .

[identity profile] cucumberseed.livejournal.com 2011-01-01 07:44 am (UTC)(link)
his idea of seeding a city's future doom with the wrong gods. Maybe this is why Rome becomes the epitome of falling empire, rather than being remembered at the height of its imperium: somewhere its temples are always in flames.

What you do for the new year is rock.

[identity profile] ibid.livejournal.com 2011-01-01 08:46 am (UTC)(link)
Hey it's interesting stuff!

[identity profile] papersky.livejournal.com 2011-01-01 12:46 pm (UTC)(link)
He says it right at the beginning, it's really central. Juno, in book 1, says

"gens inimica mihi Tyrrhenum navigat aequor,
Ilium in Italiam portans victosque Penates:"

"A nation hostile to me is sailing the Etruscan sea,
carrying to Italy Troy and her conquered gods."

It's practically the first page, and still in the mission statement. You really have something here.
dhampyresa: (Epic shit happening on the internet)

[personal profile] dhampyresa 2017-06-17 10:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Gods can be defeated in this world. They can be taken from captured cities, like spoils or collaborators; they cannot be killed, but their cults can be dispersed. Aeneas rescues the Penates of Troy from, perhaps, Greek evocatio,2 preserving their lineage and restoring their power in a new-old land, but the fact remains that as tutelary deities, their track record is not great. The di magni of Agamemnon's army brought their walls down. They are the needfire of Rome's hearth. How long until it, too, is scattered ash?

I really like how you've phrased things here and it is somehting I never really thought about before.


I will not digress here about Tanit pene Baal and Juno Caelestis, but trust me, they're good stuff.

PLEASE PLEASE OH PLEASE?


Maybe this is why Rome becomes the epitome of falling empire, rather than being remembered at the height of its imperium: somewhere its temples are always in flames.

Oooooooooooooooh.