The sometimes uncannily familiar political struggles and partisan machinations in Roma are not my invention, nor have I done much to modernize the terms of the debates. The long tug of war between the patricians and the plebeians, the cynical tactic of the war-mongering ruling class to exploit religious rhetoric and fear of outside threats to their own advantage, the political shift of the descendents of Appius Claudius from far right to far left, the witch-hunt that eradicated the “subversive” Cult of Bacchus, the appeal of the high-born Gracchi to the disenfranchised rabble-each of these incidents is given to us in explicit detail by the sources. The republic of the Romans endured almost twice as long as has our own, so far, and they confronted the paradoxes and paradigms of class struggle long before we did. Whether the American republic will end with the rise of an all-powerful executive, as did that of the Romans, remains to be seen.

Was Fascinus the first deity of the Romans, as recounted in Roma? According to Pliny’s Natural History (28.7), Fascinus was the name of a god worshipped by the Vestal virgins, who placed his image (a fascinum, or phallus amulet) under the chariot of those who triumphed as a protection against “fascination” (what we would call the evil eye). Varro tells us that phallic amulets were often hung around the necks of Roman children to protect them; they were also placed in gardens and on hearths and forges. Anyone who visits Pompeii will notice phallic graffiti and sculptures, but few may realize that an image that may appear obscene to the modern eye was sacred to the ancients.

The mystical phallus that rises from a hearthfire appears in the origin myth of the Roman king Servius Tullius, and, even earlier, in a variant of the origin story of Romulus as related by the historian Promathion. Early Greek authors like Promathion were the first to speculate on the beginnings of Rome, upon which they tended to superimpose their own myths; eventually the Romans themselves would link the foundation of their city with a Greek legend, the fall of Troy (the subject of The Aeneid by Virgil). “What is extraordinary” about Promathion, as T. P. Wiseman notes in Remus, “is that this early Greek author evidently reported a native Roman story. The phantom phallus is a totally un-Greek concept. Greek gods do not manifest themselves in such a way.”

If Promathion’s depiction of the divine phallus is drawn from an authentic and very early Roman myth, and if this phallus from the hearth is the same deity that later became known as Fascinus, then it may indeed be that Fascinus was the first Roman god. Livy, I suspect, would understand my reasons for making it so.

Вы читаете Roma.The novel of ancient Rome
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