“GOOD EVANDER” and founding myths of Rome
We have already met Evander in treating Etymol. Bk 1. iv: ‘De litteris Latinis’ where Isidore credits Carmentis with creation of the Latin alphabet. We noted that others including Vergil (Aen viii.338) Livy ( 1.5 ) and Tacitus (Ann.15.41) credit Evander (supposed by some Carmentis’ son) with bringing letters and culture. Some also have him the founder of Rome from that seat on the Palatine Hill.
- As so often, the most comprehensive article is Smith’s. See ‘Evander‘ in Dictionary of Classical Biography and Myth [Vol. 2 p.59 ].
However the art of Republican- and Imperial Rome associates Rome’s foundation with the Tiber, with Romulus and Remus, and occasionally with Hercules and it is evident that over the period from at least the 1stC BC – 4thC AD, Romulus and Remus were the pre-eminent ‘founding fathers’ in popular imagination.
One often sees a medieval bronze (left) promoted as symbol of Rome’s foundation, but in fact the wolf dates to the eleventh or twelfth century, and the infants to the fifteenth. There seems, nonetheless, to have been some similar work that served an iconic object for, especially during the early centuries AD, it is reproduced on coins and in other media. The form and posture given the she-wolf is remarkably consistent and one clear example of the type (probably 1stC BC – 1stC AD) is now part of the fabric of a Christian church in modern Austria. Until 15 BC the surrounding region was Celtic, but in that year had been appropriated into the Roman empire,which renamed the region its Province of Noricum, and the capital as Claudium- Virunum [mod. Zollfeld]. The Romulus and Remus relief is believed to have been taken from Virunum, with others now in the church at Maria Saal.
The story of the twins as founders of Rome has considerable antiquity, asserted in the fifth century BC by Hellenicus of Lesbos (491 BC – 405 BC) and repeated by his pupil, Damastes of Sigeum. Among the Romans, however, Cato the Elder insisted that Rome (or more exactly Alba Longa) had been founded earlier by a son born to Aeneas by King Latinus’ daughter.
Something similar is said by Vergil, but these literary genealogies evidently held less attraction for the wider public than did the story of those orphan twins reared by a she-wolf several generations later.
By the fourth century AD, the Christian writer Eutrophius opens his brief history of Rome ( ‘Breviarium ab Urbe Condita’) with the same story. ( The earlier work by Livy, Ab Urbe Condita included more detail).
A more recent translation of Breviarium ab Urbe Condita:
- H.W. Bird (trans.), Eutropius: Breviarium. (Translated Texts for Historians, 14.) ( 1993).
- – reviewed by Clifford Ando for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (04.06.15).
Our oldest illustrated copy of Vergil’s Aeneid (the ‘Vergilius Vaticanus’ Vat.lat. 3225), was made in the same century as Eutrophius’ Breviarum but takes a different view. The illustrations show Aeneas greeted by ‘Latinus’ on the Palatine, and make clear his royal status by the throne and the grandeur of a building set behind him.
Whether or not medieval scholars accepted such pre-Romulus foundation legends, the popular image of Rome’s founding remained centred on the wolf-reared twins until later medieval works began re-telling the story of Troy, and again tied Rome’s founding to Evander, Aeneas, King Latinus and his daughter Lavinia.
- Latium, its geography, archaeology and history are fairly and briefly summarised – with excellent maps – in the current wiki article. [HERE]
- Lavinia was well-known to Dante and his peers. She appears with her father, King Latinus, in Dante’s Inferno, Canto IV, lines 125–126.
Thereafter, Evander and King Latinium recede into the distance,to be revived only in the post-Renaissance period when painters were obliged to rely almost entirely on written sources for their depiction of classical events. Below is a detail from a seventeenth-century cycle of stories from the Aeneid. These were painted by Pietro da Cortana for Rome’s Palazzo Doria Pamphilj (i.e. Pamphili in antique orthography). And once more we see established on the Palatine before Aeneas’ arrival and aged ruler on his throne: Evander and/or ‘King Latinus’.
da Cortona is unmistakeably a painter of the high Baroque – but some of his work evinces interest in replicating ancient Roman method and palette. Compare the palettein the detail below to that of the fresco included in our composite (above). It comes from Pompeii of the first century AD.
Composite inset – detail from a wall painting in Pompeii.
bands (1) edited from detail in Pompeii’s ‘House of the Sphinx’ – Pompeii Archaeological Museum. (2) detail from Hadrian’s Column.