Wednesday, February 4, 2009


The image above (you may click on it to make it bigger) shows a fairly famous scene from ancient Roman history. You will notice the band of men in the foreground making a pyramid in order to ascend the last bit of Rome's Capitoline Hill. They are Gauls, and they are up to no good.

It was about 389 B.C., and the Gauls, irritated by a Roman violation of international law, had managed to take the lower city of Rome and pen the survivors up in the citadel atop the Capitoline Hill. This resulted in a bit of a stalemate, until the Gauls spotted a narrow track up the hill, and snuck up it one moonlit night, as depicted in the scene above. They were so successful in their sneaking that, according to Livy, they did not even wake the dogs. However, their luck ran out at the top of the climb, when the lead Gaul attained the summit and discovered himself in the pen containing the geese sacred to the goddess Juno (they are also in the above picture). His arrival did not please the geese, which brings us to the title of this post.

The resulting expression of avian dismay woke up one Marcus Manlius (later, as a result of his exploits that night, Marcus Manlius Capitolinus), he woke up his comrades, and the Gaulish assault was thrown back. One of the more amazing aspects of this episode, again according to Livy, is that the Romans had not yet gotten around to eating the sacred geese (the food shortage on the hill was severe, and in fact eventually led to the Romans simply paying the Gauls a lot of money to go away).

I mention this episode not simply because it is one of my favourite stories from Roman history (it is), but because that particular passage of Livy (V.47) turned up on my Latin comprehensive exam last week, along with some bits from Catullus and Vergil (I elected not to try my hand and the passages from Cicero, Horace, and Tacitus). And, just yesterday, I received the official word that I passed the thing, and indeed that the examiners thought that some of it had been translated "quite elegantly." So that is that out of the way, and it is now onto the Greek, thanks at least in part to Marcus Manlius and the geese!


Chorus said...


And great post, by the way!

Chunklets said...

Thank you!

I'm enjoying your new blog!