Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

ASCENSIONS AND EPIPHANIES
Romulus

Introduction: The ancient story that Romulus, the legendary cofounder of Rome, was translated to Heaven and became a God was of great importance during the birth of the Roman empire. Romulus was known, in legend, to have been an absolute ruler. To be such also was the desire of the emperors of Rome; they wanted total power in order to bring peace to a chaotic political situation. Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar consciously sought to project themselves to the public in such a way as to reflect the image of Romulus. Thus, Julius was to be the “second founder” of Rome. However, the tyrannical aspect of Romulus had to be moulded into the image of a Romulus who was a “strong man” but who was benevolent and who had divine sanction. Both Ovid and Livy write to that purpose. Ovid is a poet and Livy a historian, but both were “friends of the court.” It is interesting to see how these two points of view deal with the same traditions, which are probably from the poet Ennius. Both exalt the empire, Roman military might, and expansionism.


Ovid, Metamorphoses 14.805–851

Ovid tells how Romulus brought peace to his kinsmen, and then ruled them
in benevolent fashion until it was time to be taken up to be with the Gods.

Tatius fell, and equally to the two peoples (Roman and Sabine), Romulus, you gave laws. Then, taking off his helmet, Mars spoke to the father of Gods and men (Jupiter), saying, “The time is here, Father, because the Roman state is strong with a great foundation and does not depend on one man’s protection, to give the gift promised to me and your noble grandson and to take him from earth and to place him in Heaven. You once said to me in the assembled council of the Gods, for I have remembered and have marked your pious words in my mind, ‘one there will be whom you shall lift up into the blue heaven.’ Let now the promise of your words be made good.” The Omnipotent One agreed, and he hid the sky with dark clouds, and he terrified the earth with thunder and lightning. Gradivus (Mars) knew these were the ratified signs of the booty promised to him, and, leaning on his spear, he boarded his chariot, the horses straining beneath the bloody yoke, and, with a blow of the lash, he shattered the air. Gliding down through the air, he came to rest on the top of the wooded Palatine hill. There, Romulus was giving his friendly laws to the citizens, and Mars caught Ilia’s son up. His

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