The capability of a Roman

I could begin this post – as I first did – with a long sketch telling you about my my first exposure to the Romans through a book detailing some of the greatest figures AUC (Ab urbe condita – the Roman equivalent of our BC and AD) including Horatius (who kept the bridge), Camillus (the saviour and second founder of Rome), Cincinnatus, the tragic figure of Coriolanus, and finally the epic life and achievements of the greatest of all Romans, JC himself…… but I have decided I won’t.

After that, there were various ways in which the epoch manifested itself to me – the totally unreliable (as far as history is concerned) Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, the keenly perceptive Asterix series of adventures, a totally warped account by Conn Iggulden and so on….. but it was Colleen McCullough’s magnificent sextet (later a septet) that brought the glories (and the not so glorious times) of the last six decades or so of the Roman Republic – the SPQR  firmly to my mind. (SPQR = Senatus PopulusQue Roma)

However, me being me, I read the series totally in a jumbled way. I began with The October Horse, which happened to be the last of the original sextet, and then followed it with The Grass Crown and Fortune’s Favourites…. the second and third of the series. The next was either The First Man in Rome or Caesar’s Women, the first and the fourth of the series. I don’t recall to clearly, all I remember is reading the latter as I was crossing the Salt Range on my epic trip to my ancestral lands….. Caesar (the fifth) was the last to be read….. and the seventh, Antony and Cleopatra came much much later.

Oh dear me, I have rambled on to much… It just remains to say that during a change in work and cities I loaned the set to a individual who was not worth the privilege. But we all make mistakes and the deceit will certainly be punished….

However, the purpose of all this was to bring to you a favourite passage from one of the books – the first of them as it turns out, which can help to explain that why admire them or revile them, you can never ignore the renown of the Romans. Read on and the rest will be made clear later…..

~~~~ “Once upon a time there was a very bad and nasty King of Syria named Antiochus. […] Even though Syria was a rich kingdom, King Antiochus IV lusted after the neighbouring kingdom of Egypt […] so King Antiochus IV invaded Egypt, captured Pelusium, marched down the Delta to Memphis, captured that, and began to march up the other side of the Delta toward Alexandria.

“Having ruined the country and the army, the brothers Ptolemy and their sister-wife, Cleopatra II, had no choice but to appeal to Rome for help against King Antiochus IV, Rome being the best and greatest of all nations, and everyone’s hero. To the rescue of Egypt, the Senate and People of Rome (being in better accord in those days than we would believe possible now – or so the storybooks say) sent their noble brave consular Gaius Popillius Laenas. Now any other country would have given its hero a whole army, but the Senate and People of Rome gave Gaius Popillius Laenas only twelve lictors and two clerks. However, because it was a foreign mission, the lictors were allowed to wear the red tunics and put the axes in their bundles of rods, so Gaius Popillius Laenas was not quite unprotected. Off they sailed in a little ship, and came to Alexandria just as King Antiochus IV was marching up the Canopic arm of the Nilus toward the great city wherein cowered the Egyptians.

“Clad in his purple-bordered toga and preceded by his twelve crimson-clad lictors, all bearing the axes in their bundles of rods, Gaius Popillus Laenas walked east. Now he was not a young man, so as he went he leaned upon a tall staff, his pace as placid as his face. Since only the brave and heroic and noble Romans built decent roads, he was soon walking along through thick dust. But was Gaius Popillus Laenas deterred? No! He just kept on walking, until near the huge hippodrome in which the Alexandrians liked to watch the horse races, he ran into a wall of Syrian soldiers, and had to stop.

To be continued….

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