This paper examines two myths invoked in Book 2 of Ovid’s Fasti to explain the nakedness of the Luperci during the Lupercalia: the story of Hercules’ cross-dressed servitude to the Lydian queen Omphale (2.303–58), and the account of Romulus and Remus’ driving off of cattle thieves (2.359–80). The paper argues that lurking behind both passages is Vergil’s description of Hercules’ battle with Cacus in Book 8 of the Aeneid, and that Ovid is rewriting the Vergilian model, as he does elsewhere in the Fasti (Murgatroyd 2005), in an effort to reimagine foundational moments in Roman history as less violent than they were traditionally conceived. In other words, the etiologies Ovid artfully adduces (Littlewood 1975) for the nakedness of the Luperci share an aversion to violence and a preference for prohibitions in lieu of murders.
The first part of the paper highlights Ovid’s strategy for alluding to Hercules and Cacus via his telling of the Hercules-Omphale myth. In particular, Ovid foregrounds generic play as one of the focal points of the episode, deploying the metapoetic language of duritia and mollitia to emphasize the tension produced by squeezing an identifiably epic Hercules into the dainty world of elegy (Hejduk 2011: 24–25; Robinson 2011: 225–30). Additionally, Ovid brackets the ludic tale of Hercules and Omphale with two other stories more familiar from canonical Roman foundation narratives, and more familiar from narratives of Hercules and Cacus: Evander and the Arcadians (2.271–302) and the contest between Romulus and Remus (2.361–80). Add to this an abundance of verbal and thematic echoes between the Ovidian passage and Book 8 of Vergil’s Aeneid, and Ovid creates ready conditions for interpreting his version of the Omphale myth as a kind of dressed-up retelling of the Vergilian Hercules-Cacus myth.
The second part of the paper turns to the Romulus-Remus myth, showing how Ovid’s telling of the myth revises a number of elements from the canonical version, all of which recall elements from Vergil’s telling of the Cacus myth. As with the Vergilian conflict between Hercules and Cacus, the Ovidian contest between Romulus and Remus hinges not on counting birds but on recovering cattle stolen by thieves (2.369–70). In the Fasti the meat the two brothers are cooking on the skewers for the sacrifice to Faunus consists of the “entrails,” called exta (2.364, 373), and while it is not typically Roman custom to eat the exta, Vergil specifies that this is what the Arcadians consumed during their celebrations at the Ara Maxima (Aen. 8.183), in commemoration of Hercules’ defeat of Cacus. Ovid’s episode concludes with a prescribed practice for performing Faunus’ rites that applies to two families, the Fabii and the Quintilii, just as Vergil’s episode concludes with instructions to the Potitii and Pinarii on the keeping of Hercules’ rites (Fabre-Serris 2013: 94–99). Through the allusions connecting his contest of Romulus and Remus to Vergil’s narrative of Hercules and Cacus, Ovid revises the epic and violent Vergilian foundation narrative into a contest between Romulus and Remus with a peaceful resolution.
Variant Voices in Roman Foundation Narratives