Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones

By Carlin A. Barton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
A Sort of Prelude
The Tao of the Romans

The judgment of the censor imposed on the condemned scarcely any penalty save the blush.

CICERO, DE REPUBLICA 4.6.61

The implication of Cicero's remark is that the blush was, in itself, penalty enough. “If we can cause the man who murdered Cicero to blush, we will have succeeded, ” declares the Elder Seneca's Porcius Latro (Controversiae 7.2.1).2 As Wilfried Nippel reminds us, like most premodern cities, Rome had no central peacekeeping force.3 The suppression of the vendetta depended above all on the self-mastery (decorum, disciplina, modestia, temperantia) and the sense of honor (pudor, fides) of the inhabitants, quickened by a fear of losing face and a dizzy horror of disgrace.4 Rome was like the Republic described by Cicero in which the citizens

____________________
1
Censoris iudicium nihil fere damnato nisi ruborem obfert. Cicero continues: “Since, therefore, his decision affects only the name, such censure is called 'ignominy'” (Itaque ut omnis ea iudicatio versatur tantummodo in nomine, animadversio illa ignominia dicta est [= Nonius p. 25, W. Lindsay ed.]).
2
id solum proficiemus, ut qui Ciceronem occidit tantum erubescat. “If this causes him shame, I will consider him to have atoned; I will be satisfied” (Si hoc pudet, fecisse sumptum, supplici habeo satis [Plautus, Mostellaria 1165]).
3
Policing Rome, ” Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984): 20–29; Public Order in Ancient Rome, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 2–46.
4
For the Romans' fear of infamia, a notion that takes for granted a generalized and shared sense of honor, see Michèle Ducos, “La crainte de l'infamie et l'obéissance à la loi, ” Revue des études latines 57 (1979): 146–165; Freyburger, Fides, Paris, 1986, p. 49. For various aspects of the “government” of shame in ancient Rome, particularly the flagitatio, the occentatio, and the carmen famosum, see Hermann Usener, “Italische Volksjustiz, ” Kleine Schriften vol. 4, Osnabrück [1906] 1965, pp. 356–382; G. L. Hendrickson, “Verbal Injury, Magic or Erotic Comus? (Occentare ostium and Its Greek Counterpart), ” Classical Philology 20 (1925): 289–308; Léon Pommeray, Études sur l'infamie en droit romain, Paris, 1937, pp. 5, 19–23, 63–67; Eduard Fraenkel, “Two Poems of Catullus, ” Journal of Roman Studies 51 (1961): 46–51; Paul Veyne, “Le folklore à Rome et les droits de la conscience publique sur la conduite individuelle, ” Latomus 42 (1983): 3–30. More generally: J. M. Kelly, Roman Litigation, Oxford, 1966, esp. pp. 21–24; “'Loss of Face' as a Factor Inhibiting Litigation, ” Studies in the Civil Judicature of the Roman Republic, Oxford, 1976, 93–111; A. W. Lintott, Violence in Republican Rome, Oxford, 1968, pp. 6–21; Amy Richlin, The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, 2nd ed., New Haven, 1992; Catherine Edwards, The Politics of Immorality, Cambridge, 1993; Anthony Corbeill, Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic, Princeton, 1996, esp. pp. 19, 24. For the importance of shame even in modern countries with central peacekeeping forces, see John Braithwaite, Crime, Shame, and Reintegration, Cambridge, 1989; F. Adler, Nations Not Obsessed with Crime, Littleton, Colorado, 1983. For skillful analyses of the government of shame in other cultures, see Max Gluckman, “Gossip and Scandal, ” Current Anthropology 4 (1963): 307–315; Jean Briggs, Never in Anger, Cambridge, Mass., 1970; Lila Abu-Lughod, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, Berkeley, 1986; William J. Goode, The Celebration of Heroes: Prestige as a Control System, Berkeley, 1978.

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