The Lupercalia and the Romulus and Remus legend

The Lupercalia and the Romulus and Remus legend

By P. M. W. Tennant

Acta Classica, Vol.31 (1988)

Introduction: The earliest Greek speculations concerning the identity of Rome’s founder provide no evidence of an indigenous (i.e. Etrusco-Italic) foundation legend before the middle of the 4th century B.C., when the historian Alcimus spoke of ‘Rhomylos’ and ‘Alba’ (the latter as a person rather than as a place). The ‘Hellenocentric’ character of the Greek tradition gave rise to a variety of founders- all Greek in origin or association- of Rome and the Latin race, and explanations of their genealogies which for the most part took no cognizance of any local legend.  Yet, in view of Rome’s importance before the middle of the 4th century, it is difficult to believe that the Etruscan and Latin influences on the city’s development failed to produce some sort of indigenous tradition relating to the city’s origins.

While the available evidence suggests that the ‘twin’ motif, with its consequent influence on the shape of the foundation legend (e.g. the themes of fraternal rivalry and fratricide) did not develop until the end of the 4th century B. C., and while it is clear that Greek influences were predominant in the development of the canonical version, there is reason to believe that certain features of the legend were both early and indigenous in origin rather than mere Greek imports.

The fact that the earliest mention of ‘Rhomylos’ and ‘Alba’ appears in a Greek source of the mid-4th century B.C. must not be assumed to provide a reliable basis for dating the emergence of a local tradition: the highly subjective nature of the Greek tradition required nothing more than a suitable eponym of its own devising (sc. ‘Rhome’) in order to facilitate the myth of Rome’s direct connections with the Greek world; and early Greek writers could exercise their inventiveness outside, or perhaps more accurately, in ignorance of the framework of the local (oral) tradition while it was in its formative stages in the latter part of the 5th and early 4th centuries B.C.

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