Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones

By Carlin A. Barton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Light and Fire

Fire is the test of gold; adversity of the strong man.

SENECA, DE PROVIDENTIA5.101

As gold is proven by fire, so are we by ordeals.

MINUCIUS FELIX, OCTAVIUS 36.92

Virtus and the honores won in the crucible of the contest were shining and volatile; the refining fire of the ordeal produced a heightened sense of vividness, a brilliant, gleaming, resplendent existence.3 The man of honor was speciosus, illustris, clarus, nobilis, splendidus: the woman of honor was, in addition, candida, casta, pura. Valerius Maximus describes brave Cloelia as a lumen virtutis (3.2.2).4 Cicero declares that Julius Caesar was “the fairest light of all nations and all history” (omnium gentium atque omnis memoriae clarissimum lumen [ Pro rege Deiotaro 5.15]). Ovid's Cyclops praises Galatea as “shining brighter than glass” (splendidior vitro [ Metamorphoses 13.791]).

____________________
1
Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros.
2
itaque ut aurum ignibus, sic nos discriminibus arguimus. “Just as gold is tested in the flames, so fides must be tried in duress. ” (scilicet ut fulvum spectatur in ignibus aurum, / tempore sic duro est inspicienda fides [Ovid, Tristia 1.5.25].) “Devouring fire purges all things and melts the dross from out of the metals; therefore it purges the shepherd and the sheep” (omnia purgat edax ignis vitiumque metallis / excoquit: idcirco cum duce pergat ovis [Ovid, Fasti 4.785–786]). For the annealing, purifying force of fire, see also Virgil, Georgica 1.84–93. For the fire in the Mucius Scaevola legend as a form of ordeal, a test of wills, see Walter Otto, “Fides, ” in Pauly-Wissowa, Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, vol. 6.2, Stuttgart, 1909, 2281–2282, col. 2283; Rudolf Hirzel, Der Eid, Leipzig, 1902, p. 199 n. 1.
3
Honor shone: “The glory of one's ancestors acts as a kind of light” (maiorum gloria posteris quasi lumen est [Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum 85.23]). “Caesar yearned for a high command, an army, and a new war where his virtue could shine forth” (sibi magnum imperium, exercitum, bellum novum exoptabat, ubi virtus enitescere posset [Sallust, Catilina 54.4]). “Would that there were some commonwealth where honor could shine forth” (sit modo aliqua res publica, in qua honos elucere possit [Cicero, Ad familiares 10.10.2]). Cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello 6.19, Pro rege Deiotaro 11.30.
4
Cf. 3.8.7, 5.8.4; Ennius apud Cicero, De senectute 4.10; Plautus, Trinummus 664; Cicero, De lege agraria 2.1.1; Horace, Carmina 3.2.17–18; Hans Drexler, “Honos,” in Römische Wertbegriffe, ed. Hans Oppermann, Darmstadt, 1967, pp. 459–460.

-34-

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