This paper highlights an unnoticed etymological wordplay in Livy’s description of the Ogulnian monument representing Romulus and Remus as infants suckled by the she-wolf, and argues that Livy interprets the statues as a visual pun on the etymology of Rome’s name.
The monument appears in Livy's “annalistic” notice about the curule aediles, Cn. and Q. Ogulnius, of 296 BCE: ad ficum Ruminalem simulacra infantium conditorum urbis sub uberibus lupae posuerunt (10.23.12). Scholars disagree (“huge bibliography” in Oakley 2005, 264-66) about what Livy means here because of a syntactic ambiguity. Did the Ogulnii dedicate the whole statue group (sub uberibus lupae depends on simulacra infantium)or only place the twins below an older statue such as the lupa Capitolina (sub uberibus lupae depends on posuerunt)?
The debate over syntax is a red herring and does not take account of Livy’s diction. Of vital importance is the overlooked wordplay urbis sub uberibus, a type of paronomasia or anagram that may imply etymological cause and effect (cf. Ahl 1985, 44-49; O’Hara 1996, 62-63; on such Livian wordplay, cf. Noonan 1990, 500-501, and Kraus 1994, 295-96, on 6.38.6 euersumque uestrum auxilium). This wordplay, which connects the city’s foundation with the moment of suckling (a sign of Rome’s divine favor), supports the monument’s conceptual unity, not its bricolage. That the lupa Capitolina or another bronze stood in Rome without suckling twins is unprovable and question-begging (cf. Holleman 1987; Carruba 2006; Bartoloni 2010).
The collocation of urbs and forms of uber (n. “teat” or adj. “fertile”)occurs frequently in Latin literature (at least a dozen examples, four of which are in Livy). The elder Pliny suggests the derivation of urbs from ubertas in NH 6.117: Macedones eam [Mesopotamiam] in urbes congregavere propter ubertatem soli. The wordplay also accompanies etymologizing discourse in Justin 18.3.2 condita ibi urbe, quam a piscium ubertate Sidona appellaverunt, where sidon is Phoenician for fish, whose abundance explains Sidon's name.
The closest parallel for Livy’s wordplay is Verg. Aen.3.390-94 (cf. 8.43-46), where the portent of the white sow suckling thirty piglets under holm-oaks prefigures the she-wolf suckling the twins under the fig-tree (ficus Ruminalis): sus / . . . iacebit / alba, solo recubans, albi circum ubera nati, / is locus urbis erit. Here the teats of the sow are identified with the foundation of the city Alba Longa. This passage is cataloged by O’Hara (1996, 143), though not because of the urbs/uber wordplay; instead, it exemplifies suppressed etymology, as the reader is expected to supply the name of the urbs from the white sow (sus. . . alba) and her white piglets (albi . . nati).
Livy likewise uses the urbs/uber wordplay to allude to the suppressed etymology of Capua. The Campanians possess the most fertile land of Italy and a city worthy of the land (7.38.6): agrum Italiae uberrimum, dignam agro urbem. As Livy says elsewhere (4.37.1), Capua was properly named a campestri agro (cf. Isid. Orig. 15.1.54).
Given the implicit etymologies of city-names signaled by the urbs/uber wordplay, it is probable that Livy similarly etymologizes the suppressed names of the conditores urbis,Romulus and Remus, and of the urbs itself, from the archaic Latin word ruma, which is a synonym for uber.This etymology is suggested by the name of the ficus Ruminalis (cf. Varro ap. Festus, s.v. Ruminalem ficum 332 L, Plin. NH 15.77, Plut. Rom. 4.1; Ogilvie 1965, 49, on Livy, 1.4.4 ) where the Ogulnii erected the monument. Festus also attests to the traditional belief that Romulus was named from the teat of the she-wolf (s.v. Romulum 326 L quod lupae ruma nutritus est). Equally important, Plutarch(Rom.6.2) reports the tradition that "Remus" was derived from ruma too.
Livy’s etymologizing reading of the Ogulnian monument, a symbol of brotherly equality,militates againstWiseman’s hypothesis (1995, 110) that Romans first etymologized Romulus from the Greek word rhômê ( “strength”) and Remus from remora ("delay"). No hind teat for Remus!
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