A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

Did Romulus and Remus Exist?


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Ancient Nursery?

…or rather, did the Romans have a shrine wherein they were venerated?  It’s disappointing that this discovery took two years to be released to the world, but apparently Italian archaeologists have discovered a subterranean shrine located on the Palatine near the palace of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, who is likely responsible for its creation. 

Apparently, the entrance has yet to be discovered:  they’ve only been able to lower a camera to catch a glimpse of what lay inside, which is responsible for the picture of the ceiling mosaic above. 

You can see some short video descriptions here and here

Here’s also a link to an article. 

They’re intimating that this may have been the cave where Romulus and Remus were nursed by the shewolf (…or rather, where the Romans thought they were).  It’s certainly possible, though I’m curious what about the cave would lead specialists to think so.  Makes much better sense to me as yet another example of Augustan power solidification. 


November 24, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Columbia University Faculty Action Committee Statement of Concern


Recently, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has come under fire by more than 70 of the faculty he represents who contend that in playing to Middle Eastern politics, he has significantly jeopardized the academic freedom and vitality of the institution.  They’ve written an open letter, published in the New York Sun, and can be viewed here; the signatories are at the bottom. 

I’ve dutifully avoided expressing my opinions on either the Nadia Abu El Haj tenure controversy (note she’s a signatory) and the Bollinger-Ahmedinejad exchange during the Iranian president’s visit.  But given that I’m here now, and given that I sat under the previous Bollinger administration (at Michigan), I’ll offer a few thoughts. 

(1)  I agree that academic independence and integrity means that a faculty member’s candidacy for tenure is not the decision of interest groups.  It’s the decision of the faculty.  It should be based on academic credentials and character, not politics.  To what extent the latter actually played in Abu El Haj’s decision, or what role Bollinger himself played, I really don’t know.  But her approval in spite of such virulent opposition probably says something and shouldn’t be overlooked.  That said, her book was indeed awfully bad and tendentious–bad enough, I think, that one can easily evaluate the academic quality independent the “academic freedom” question.  Were that her only serious work, she should’ve gotten the boot.  But it’s not–it needs to be weighted with her other work and character, which I frankly know nothing about.  Moreover, I think scholars should be allowed a mulligan (though it shouldn’t be encouraged).  Scholars occasionally screw up or write garbage, and many repent in sack-cloth and ashes after the fact, and go on to do marvelous work.  My hope is that Barnard made the right choice and Prof. Nadia learns from her mistakes and we all move on. 

(2)   I applauded Columbia’s tenacity in bringing Ahmedinejad to speak.  I thought it communicated something–something which Bollinger himself articulated well:  that we’re a community interested in dialoging with those whom we agree and disagree, and it’s only in an open, free, amicable forum where we can attempt to learn and persuade.  Columbia was attacked for this by many, including Mit Romney, but I thought (and still think) they’re all too near sighted. 

But Bollinger’s ensuing comments completely contradicted it, and were embarrassing to himself, students, the university, and most importantly the United States.  He proceeded not only to criticize, but repeatedly insult and castigate the Iranian president.  One line I’ll never forget:  in the middle of a litany of requests for Ahmedinejad to explain his administration’s behavior on a series of issues, Bollinger shot:  “I would like you to explain these things, but I think you lack both the courage and intellect to do so.”  Ouch.  But Ahmedinejad was smart.  He picked right up on Bollinger’s obvious self-contradiction.   And when his time came, he politely commented on how Bollinger’s vitriol entirely undercut his praise of free speech because not only did Bollinger inoculate the audience so that it would no longer hear Ahmedinejad, but Bollinger showed the he wasn’t interested in dialog, only vitriol.  Ahmedinejad was completely right.  That’s not to say Ahmedinejad would’ve suddenly been forthcoming or penitent, but it does mean Bollinger blew a major opportunity to represent the American university.  “Bollinger demonstrated why we shouldn’t have free speech,” is what I would’ve thought were I the Iranian president. 

Moreover, the impact of Bollinger’s imprudence should be seen in the context of what brought Ahmedinejad in the first place:  the World Leaders Forum.  Now any time Columbia might choose to invite a semi-unpopular individuals to this event or others like it, he or she will have to seriously consider whether he or she might be welcomed by the same venom.  Is it worth the risk?  Before this, Columbia might have had a chance in bringing a Chavez, Putin, or a Noriega–connections which would be very interesting to establish–but that hope is gone now. 

November 14, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Paper: Augustine of Hippo on Vergil’s Aeneid: Part I


I thought I would start a series of posts on one of my paper topics for this semester:  St. Augustine’s take on Vergil’s Aeneid in his de Civitate Dei, City of God, for a course on ancient political theory taught by James Zetzel. 

Why this topic.  It basically was the convalescence of a handful of different ideas that I wanted to explore.  First was “constitutional” aspect of the Aeneid in Roman thought in general, it’s role in Late Antiquity, particularly after Constantine’s conversion and revolution.  Put (over-)simply, for many Romans the Aeneid was the people’s national story, a national poem.  It occupied a special place in the Roman collective identity, quite similar to how the Torah worked for many Jews and the works of Homer for Greeks.  It was so important that, even as Augustine notes, it was one of the major school books that kids were forced to read, study, and memorize–that along with the likes of Cicero and Seneca.  But did this change after Constantine converted, and if so how? 

Second, one would expect that if Augustine were to argue for the superiority of the “City of God” over “the City of the Earth” (=Rome), he would in some way need to respond or counteract to the Aeneid–or at least, the affect of the Aeneid on society.  It’s fairly clear from the resurgence of paganism among Roman elites and intellectuals and and the writings of Macrobius that this was an issue.  But we also know from his Confessions that he happened to really love Vergil.  For Augustine, he was still the greatest of Roman poets.  How then does Augustine negotiate this seeming internal conflict?  Can he critique Vergil while remaining loyal to him?  And if so, how does he do it? 

Third, there’s the sack of Rome in 408-410 by the Goths.  The rise of Christianity was blamed by many:  it caused Romans to avert their eyes from Juno and Juppiter; the sack was their retaliation.  How did that affect the religious landscape? 


Already this paper is turning into a big one–though eminently rewarding thus far.  The City of God is a huge and complex book and the Aeneid isn’t exactly short either.  And it doesn’t help that the amount of scholarship is exponentially mountainous–and for Augustine, is mostly in French and Italian.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to content myself a mediocre understanding of both texts this term.  Stay tuned. 

Oh, and FYI that picture above is of Vergil reading the Aeneid to Augustine (and Octavia, and Livia). 

November 10, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ιυδαιοι = "Judeans" or "Jews"?

There has been an interesting ongoing debate over whether the term ιυδαιος in Greek sources should be translated as “Jew” as is traditionally done, or “Judean.”  See Phil Harland on Steve Mason the matter here, and Michael Bird on it here.  I look forward to reading Mason’s article. 

This is an interesting question.  I’m very disposed toward Mason’s reported view.  The point in the terminological shift, in short, is to try to underscore that ιυδαιος is not first and foremost a “religious” category.  It’s an ethnic category, bound up with certain beliefs and practices pertaining to that ethnos.  That’s not to say that religion is a separable issue, but that religion as Westerns use the term, especially as Judaism often referred to as a “religion,” misunderstands both the people group in question, how they understood themselves, and how others understood them when they used that term.  This “religious” understanding is actually very influenced by modern Western Christianity’s self-understanding as a “religion” is first and foremost in terms of belief/theology over any other category.  Not so by contrast with modern Judaism; calling Judaism “religion” in that sense oversimplifies how it works. 

In any event, I’m seriously doubtful the academy will start using “judean”–“jew” is too engrained.  Moreover, Bird is certainly right that ιυδαιος cannot be geographically constrained to Judea only. There are too many counterexamples.  For example, this this past week I’ve found Latin references to “Iudaei” in satires of Horace and Persius, whose use I don’t think can plausibly connected to a belief of the group’s origin to Judea per se.  The term refers to people from the east who have certain practices, beliefs, etc.  Horace and Persius refer to that group as though it had been there for quite a while.  That said, I do think Mason has a good point, and I hope Mason’s point is felt. 

I would like to add one observation that I’m surprised hasn’t been made thus far–or if it has, I haven’t seen it.  I think direct comparison with the term ιυδαιος should be made with terms like αθηναιοι, λακεδαιμονιοι, Romani, Graeci, Galli, etc.  The point Mason is making, it seems to me, applies equally to these terms, and strengthens his case.  When ancient authors referred to “Athenians,” “Spartans,” “Romans,” “Greeks,” and “Gauls,” they were referring to people groups, their locations, their customs, etc. summed up in one word.  To refer to a Gaul, for instance, didn’t mean to invoke only one’s location of origin, and it didn’t mean only to invoke one’s fighting style or gods.  It meant to invoke the whole stereotype:  a people from the north who believed in different deities, still rode chariots, fought nude painted in blue, had long shaggy hair, and had decent boats.  Those were Gauls.  Each of those characteristics implied one another, and the same applies to the other terms as they do “Jews.” 

Now, of course there are exceptions to this.  My favorite is Tiberius Julius Alexander, the nephew of Philo Judaeus who participated in the sack of Rome under the Flavians.  But then again, when “ιυδαιος” or Iudaeus” is used in ancient sources, it’s a stereotype–on which TJA doesn’t fit.  That’s how ethnic terminology works. 

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment