It’s okay to war on others but not on brothers. So says Horace in Epode VII. But what’s a city state to do? Especially one like Rome which was founded on brother shedding the blood of brother, the Cain and Abel sin oft told throughout the world but with different names?
Here we have Romulus and Remus, wolf-nursed and wild, who, according to Horace, were the cause of Rome’s later troubles. Romulus killed Remus, but how and why? There are two answers. The first comes from the historian Florus [c AD 74–c130], Book I, Chapter I:
Ad tutelam novæ urbis sufficere vallum videbatur; cujus dum irridet angustias Remus, idque increpat saltu, dubium an jussu fratris, occisus est. Prima certè victima fuit: munitionemque rubis urbis novæ sanguine suo consecravit.
For the defense of the new city it seemed a good idea to put up a wall, which Remus laughed at for its puniness, and he scoffed at it by jumping over it, and by order of his brother he was killed. He was of course the first sacrifice: the walls of the new city he consecrated with his own red blood. [my translation]
The second comes from Livy, Book I, chapter 6:
[Livy I, cap 6 ff. ] Intervenit deinde his cogitationibus avitum malum, regni cupido, atque inde foedum certamen coortum a satis miti principio. Quoniam gemini essent nec aetatis verecundia discrimen facere posset, ut di quorum tutelae ea loca essent auguriis legerent qui nomen novae urbi daret, qui conditam imperio regeret, Palatium Romulus, Remus Aventinum ad inaugurandum templa capiunt.
 Priori Remo augurium venisse fertur, sex voltures; iamque nuntiato augurio cum duplex numerus Romulo se ostendisset, utrumque regem sua multitudo consalutauerat: tempore illi praecepto, at hi numero auium regnum trahebant. Inde cum altercatione congressi certamine irarum ad caedem vertuntur; ibi in turba ictus Remus cecidit. Volgatior fama est ludibrio fratris Remum novos transiluisse muros; inde ab irato Romulo, cum verbis quoque increpitans adiecisset, "Sic deinde, quicumque alius transiliet moenia mea," interfectum. Ita solus potitus imperio Romulus; condita urbs conditoris nomine appellata.
[1.6 . . .] After the government of Alba was thus transferred to Numitor, Romulus and Remus were seized with the desire of building a city in the locality where they had been exposed. There was the superfluous population of the Alban and Latin towns, to these were added the shepherds: it was natural to hope that with all these Alba would be small and Lavinium small in comparison with the city which was to be founded. These pleasant anticipations were disturbed by the ancestral curse - ambition - which led to a deplorable quarrel over what was at first a trivial matter. As they were twins and no claim to precedence could be based on seniority, they decided to consult the tutelary deities of the place by means of augury as to who was to give his name to the new city, and who was to rule it after it had been founded. Romulus accordingly selected the Palatine as his station for observation, Remus the Aventine.
[1.7] Remus is said to have been the first to receive an omen: six vultures appeared to him. The augury had just been announced to Romulus when double the number appeared to him. Each was saluted as king by his own party. The one side based their claim on the priority of the appearance, the other on the number of the birds. Then followed an angry altercation; heated passions led to bloodshed; in the tumult Remus was killed. The more common report is that Remus contemptuously jumped over the newly raised walls and was forthwith killed by the enraged Romulus, who exclaimed, "So shall it be henceforth with every one who leaps over my walls." Romulus thus became sole ruler, and the city was called after him, its founder. [Rev. Canon Roberts, translator, 1905]
With such a heavy sin to bear, Rome was doomed to fratricidal wars, that is, if like Horace, we take the karmic view of history. I know I am mixing cultures, but . . . the fact is, there were some 7 such wars in the twenty years preceding this poem, far too many, and perhaps a goodly part of the potent mix that led to the ultimate fall of Rome.
Daniel Garrison in his Horace, Epodes and Odes: a New Annotated Latin Edition, says that this epode may have been written following the collapse of the Treaty of Misenum in the spring of 38 BC. This caused a civil war between Octavian and Sextus Pompey (who claimed to be the son of Neptunus and whom Horace perhaps symbolized in line 3 below). Given Rome’s history, given this recent event, it is no small wonder that Horace took up stylus to incise these shame-on-us words into his wax tablet:
Quo, quo scelesti ruitis? aut cur dexteris
aptantur enses conditi?
parumne campis atque Neptuno super
fusum est Latini sanguinis,
non ut superbas invidae Carthaginis
Romanus arces ureret,
intactus aut Britannus ut descenderet
Sacrā catenatus Viā,
sed ut, secundum vota Parthorum, suā
urbs haec periret dexterā?
neque hic lupis mos nec fuit leonibus,
umquam nisi in dispar feris.
furorne caecus an rapit vis acrior
an culpa? responsum date!
tacent, et albus ora pallor inficit
mentesque perculsae stupent.
sic est: acerba fata romanos agunt
scelusque fraternae necis,
ut immerentis fluxit in terram Remi
sacer nepotibus cruor.
Why, why do you rush to ruin? And why in your right
hands are readied stored swords?
Not a little—in fields and on Neptune’s sea—
has Latin blood been poured,
not so the proud citadels of jealous Carthage
a Roman could set ablaze
or so the unbowed Briton might descend in
chains the Via Sacra,
but so, as the Parthians pray, by its own
right hand this City might perish.
This was not the way of wolves or lions ever,
fierce only to those not of their kind.
Does blind fury have a more violent hold?
Power? Wrong doing? Answer me!
They are silent; a dull pallor infects their mouths
and their minds are struck dumb.
Thus it is: the bitter fates drive the Romans on—
and the crime of killing brothers—
as when, of undeserving Remus, flowed o’er land
his sacred gore for those to come.
translation ©2013 by James Rumford
In Prose ::
Quo, quo scelesti ruitis? aut cur enses [nuper] conditi [in manibus] dexteris aptantur?
Parumne fusum sanguinis Latini est [in] campis atque super Neptuno, non ut Romanus arces superbas Carthaginis invidae ureret, aut ut Britannus intactus [in] Viā Sacrā catenatus descenderet, sed ut, secundum vota Parthorum, haec urbs [manu] suā dexterā periret?
Neque hic mos lupīs nec leonibus fuit, nisi umquam in [animal] dispar ferīs.
Furorne caecus an vis an culpa acrior rapit? Responsum date!
Tacent, et pallor albus ora inficit menteque perculsae stupent.
Sic est: fata acerba scelusque necis fraternae Romanos agunt, ut ‹cruor sacer Remi immerentis› in terram nepotibus fluxit.
Delphin Ordo ::
Quò, quò scelerati properatis? vel cur inclusi vaginâ gladii dextris inseruntur An non satis Latini sanguinis effusum est terrâ marique? non quidem ut Romani incenderent excelsa castella æmulæ Carthaginis, vel ut Britanni hâctenus indomiti per viam sacram vincti traherentur; Sed ut juxta, Parthorum optata destrueretur hæc civitas per vires proprias. Atque nec lupis hæc consuetudo, nec leonibus unquam fuit, sævire, nisi contra dissimile animal. An cœca [sic] rabies agit vos, an vis superior, an crimen aliquod? Respondete. Silent: atque pallidus color vultum tingit; animique attoniti obstupescunt. Ita est, Romanos exagitat sors inimica, et crimen cædis fraternæ; ex quo effusus est humi sanguis Remi innocentis posteris luendus.
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