History : Jun-Jul 2015
portrayals of the she-wolf show the animal displaying a maternal rather than an aggressive attitude, turning her head toward the boys as she feeds them. The animal’s appearance is itself providential, as if she had been sent by the gods. Indeed Mars was believed to have considered wolves to be sacred animals. Latin heroes were frequently linked with creative fire, mainly represented in Roman religion by Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, at whose temple the twins’mother was a priestess, and by Vulcan the Roman god of fire. The twins being raised in the wild, far from the city, the classical symbol of civilization, echoes ancient initiation rites practiced in the re- gion, marking the passage of young men into adulthood. The Lucanos, a people living in the highlands of southern Italy, would send their boys out into the wil- derness for a time during which they would learn the values that allowed them to return to the community as men. It is in this context that Romulus and Remus appear as leaders of a group often portrayed as protecting cattle from being stolen. This is probably a positive spin, as the gang was more likely to have been the cattle rustlers. Caeculus and Fabidius are presented in a similar way and in an equally positive light. A City Needs Its Hero The story that Romulus and Remus founded Rome seems to have been well established by the fourth century b.c . This was a time when the prosperous Greek colonies in southern Italy (called Magna Graecia) had forged close rela- tionships with the Latin peoples farther north, including the Romans, and their influence is also apparent. The Greeks believed that all cit- ies must have a founder and suggested stories to explain how Rome came into being. The first and best known was centered on Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War. According to Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid, he escaped to the Italian peninsula after his city was destroyed. The Romans accepted the principle of the founding hero but adapted it to their needs. They were happy to claim descent from the Greeks Vulcan with Venus or possibly Vesta. Tiberinus, the personification of the god of the Tiber River. Somnus, the god of sleep, pours nectar on Rhea Silvia to put her to sleep. Mars with a helmet and carrying a shield, approaches Rhea Silvia. Rhea Silvia falls asleep; “her hand, made languid, falls from her chin,” said the poet Ovid. Eros, god of love, brings about the union of Mars and the vestal virgin Rhea Silvia. DEA/ALBUM A MINTED LEGEND The story of Romulus and Remus was ever- present throughout the history of Rome and its empire, often appearing in decorative reliefs and on coins, such as this one from the third century b.c. showing the suckling she-wolf.