Aedificant Nomen? Military Tribunes in Early Latin Literature This paper considers fragments of early Latin literature. While Greek models (Homeric and Hellenistic) informed new commemorative trends in second-century BCE Rome, there were some areas where Rome’s own traditions made such "translation" impossible. I explore how early writers of Latin experimented with this process of cultural translation, and in so doing defined – by their own lack of success – the place of exempla of Roman literary memory.
In the late third century BCE, new forms of written communication developed at Rome. Latin poetry found its own rhythms in the context of Rome’s first two wars with Carthage, and historiographic experiments followed closely behind. In the opening decades of the second century, the landscape of Roman commemoration looked dramatically different than it had done a generation earlier: the traditional forms of memorial practice, centered on aristocratic families, their atria, funerals and tombs, were now complemented by monuments to the Roman collectivity (e.g. Cornell; Flower; Gotter; Gildenhard; Goldberg 1995; Walter). Chief among these new monuments were the inscribed Fasti in Fulvius Nobilior’s temple of Hercules Musarum, dedicated perhaps in 179 BCE, and Ennius’ Annals, a historical epic in Latin hexameters that celebrated Rome’s glories down to the campaigns of the 170s. Both of these developments have been characterized as essentially Greek in their influences, and, perhaps, their reception (Rüpke; Goldberg 2006; Sciarrino).
Here, I will consider one aspect of this possible “Hellenizing” of Roman commemorative practices – the redefinition of Homeric paradigms for application to contemporary Roman military tribunes (a relatively junior post). In the surviving fragments of Ennius’ Annals, we meet the Caecilii brothers, tribunes whose heroism allegedly inspired Ennius to add an additional three books to his epic. Scattered across Books 31-35, the historian Livy includes an altogether exceptional level of detail in his accounts of military tribunes in just one series of campaigns in Cisalpine Gaul. And in one of the longest surviving fragments of his Origines, Cato the Elder highlights the honors expected for heroism in the Greek world, comparing the memorial legacies of a Roman military tribune and the Spartan king Leonidas (Basanoff; Calboli; Krebs).
My contention is that all of these sets of “fragments” should be read together as traces of a genre of commemorative literature undergoing a rapid period of adaptation in second-century Rome. What would define the qualities of a Roman meriting remembrance in this new age? What forms would that remembrance take? As Latin authors and political actors considered these questions in a variety of public and private settings, they confronted an inherent intranslatability within Hellenic cultural systems: poetic traditions set the standard of enduring commemoration as the preservation of a name. In Rome, that focus on the recording and repeating of names encountered conflicting patterns of traditional commemoration – and ultimately foundered on the problematic recasting of that inheritance during the political developments of the Republic.
In fifteen minutes, I will briefly present Ennius’ Caecilii, the evidence for a poetic source for Livy’s tribunes, and Cato’s historiographic response in the Origines. I will suggest that the aftermath of the Second Punic War saw a dramatic upswing in the preservation of individual names in minor heroic contexts, and that this challenged received constructions of commemoration and the transmission of honors at Rome. A central contention will be that Cato and Ennius (with Fulvius) need not be seen as lone spokesmen in a political dichotomy, but rather as part of a broad intellectual and literary debate. We may reconstruct one portion of this debate by considering collectively the literary commemoration of military tribunes in the early second century BCE.
Ultimately, Latin authors had to choose between actively recognizing the contributions of many, or highlighting selective exempla in a sort of commemorative synecdoche. We know what they chose – reconstructing the consciously discarded alternatives is part of knowing why.
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