Literary Topoi and Historical Facts

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From: Miles, R. (2011). Hannibal and Propaganda. In Dexter Hoyos (Eds.), A Companion to the Punic Wars, (pp. 260-279). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

This passage above suggests that it is a ‘fact’ that one of Pyrrhus’ advisors made such a comparison. The story is known from Cassius Dio (9.40.27):

The same man, when, upon his retreat, he beheld the army of Laevinus much larger than it had been before, declared that the Roman legions when cut to pieces grew whole again, hydra-fashion. This did not, however, cause him to lose courage, but he in turn arrayed his forces, though he did not join battle.

 

and Plutarch:

It is said, too, that Cineas, while he was on this mission, made it his earnest business at the same time to observe the life and manners of the Romans, and to understand the excellences of their form of government; he also conversed with their best men, and had many things to tell Pyrrhus, among which was the declaration that the senate impressed him as a council of many kings, and that, as for the people, he was afraid it might prove to be a Lernaean hydra for them to fight against, since the consul already had twice as many soldiers collected as those who faced their enemies before, and there were many times as many Romans still who were capable of bearing arms.

Appian pulls these two traditions together:

The Senate made answer to Cineas as Appius advised. They decreed the levying of two new legions for Laevinus, and made proclamation that whoever would volunteer in place of those who had been lost should put their names on the army roll. Cineas, who was still present and saw the multitude hastening to be enrolled, is reported to have said to Pyrrhus on his return: “We are waging war against a hydra.” Others say that not Cineas, but even Pyrrhus himself said this when he saw the new Roman army larger than the former one; for the other consul, Coruncanius, came from Etruria and joined his forces with those of Laevinus.

Appian makes clear that bon mot was not a fixed point in the received tradition.  He knew it from at least two different sources with different variations.  We can’t be sure if Appian’s sources were riffing on Silenus’ motif or faithfully recording an actual piece of rhetoric from the time or if the metaphor is just so pervasive that it provides a nice plausible exclamation in any history.

Heck.  There are dozens upon dozens of popular histories to day that still use the metaphor.  The loose use of the metaphor is found in many earlier Greek works including Plato’s Republic, p426E.

All that said, this Florus passage (going back to a lost bit of Livy?) might be the best evidence that some lost historian made something of the Pyrrhus = Hercules, Rome = Hydra symbolism on a more meaningful level that a simple metaphor.

For Pyrrhus said, “I plainly see that I am sprung of the seed of Hercules, when I see all these heads of foes cut off springing up again from their blood as they sprang from the Lernaean hydra.”

Perhaps tellingly for the attribution to Pyrrhus, Plutarch uses it when discussing the actions of Alexander.

The use of metaphor in relationship to Pyrrhus is not irrelevant to a discussion of Silenus, but I’d hesitate to move it from a conversation about the historiographical tradition and into one about propaganda.

Note also how the hydra in Pyrrhus tradition is not a negative characterization of Rome, not emphasizing her monstrosity or destructive capacity, but instead resilience and depth of martial resources, especially her manpower base.  It’s a complement.

308 out of 410 days: A Trade Embargo on Cisalpine Gaul?

In view of the fact that the Boii and rest of the Gauls were offering for sale various articles and an especially large number of captives, the Romans became afraid that they might some day use the money against them, and accordingly forbade anybody to give to a Gaul either silver or gold.  (Zon. 8.19)

I came across this odd little quote in the fragments of Cassius Dio in the midst of the narrative of events preceding the Second Punic War.  This got me thinking about the monetization of the region and led me back to this passage in R. Haeussler, Becoming Roman? Diverging identities and experiences in ancient northwest Italy (2013), p. 98:

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The chapter from which this is pulled is a nice example of a historian integrating numismatic evidence into the narrative.  Anyway this further led me to discover that all of Ermanno A. Arslan’s publications are online.  A very exciting resource.  And, I also got to read some of the work of Giovanni Gorini who also seems to have put much of his publications online.

So in some regions, like Turdetania in Further Spain [the most unfortunate place name ever!], it has been suggested that the issuing of bronze coinage is a reaction to Roman regional engagement, a vehicle to help with the collection of taxes, etc. So, S J Keay, “The Romanisation of Turdetania” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 11.3 (1992), 275-315, esp. 288ff. By contrast, the current suggestion seems to be that the peoples of Northern Italy were already engaged in the use and production of silver coinage before their engagement with the Romans.  

The passage from the epitome of Dio (above) is interesting because of how it sees a connection between the acquisition of silver and gold and military readiness.  It ties trade and commerce directly to war resources. The trade doesn’t give the Gauls more resources–they already have a good deal of material wealth–instead it gives them a type of resource, gold and silver (coins?!) which make it easier to engage in warfare.

And, here’s a nice pic of a padane drachma just so this post has one:

165 out of 410 days: Constitutional Details in Dio

When nothing else would cause them to heed him and they were unconcerned by the fact that the trial had been held in a manner contrary to custom, he ran up to the Janiculum before they took any vote at all, and pulled down the military flag, so that it was no longer lawful for them to reach a decision.

28 1 Now this matter of the flag is as follows. In ancient times there were many enemies dwelling near the city, and the Romans, fearing that while they were holding a centuriate assembly by centuries foes might occupy the Janiculum and attack the city, decided that not all should vote at once, but that some men under arms should by turns always guard that position. 2 So they guarded it as long as the assembly lasted, but when this was about to be adjourned, the flag was pulled down and the guards departed; for no further business could be transacted when the post was not guarded. 3 This practice was observed only in the case of the centuriate assemblies, for these were held outside the wall and all who bore arms were obliged to attend them. Even to this day it is done as a matter of form.

So on that occasion, when the signal was pulled down, the assembly was adjourned and Rabirius was saved. Labienus, indeed, had the right to bring suit again, but he did not do so. (Dio 37.27.3-28.4)

In the spirit of using the blog to dump little bits of information I might want later, here is a passage on the procedure of the centuriate assembly.  It provides a nice parallel to narratives of Bibulus “watching the skies” to annul Caesar’s legislation during their join consulship (59BC).  It illustrates ritualized militarism.  AND, it has a nice allusion to later practice.  Dio is writing in the high empire as a senator under the Severan emperors and he reports: “Even to this day it is done as a matter of form”.  It also makes me think about the function of the filibuster in the US legislative process.  Although, the context of the passage is actually a political trial in 63BC, not a legislative process.  The Senate can be used for certain trials under the US constitution as well.

As an aside, I enjoy how Dio transitions from a discussion of Rullus’ popular legislation to a reflection on what it means to prosecute the 36 year old crime of killing Saturninus thus explicitly connecting the two sets of tribunician legislation.