Saturday, July 27, 2013

Paterfamilias – The Father in Roman Society

Republican Era Portrait
Over the past months, I’ve been editing Killing the Hydra – Eagles and Dragons Book II. It’s been enjoyable delving into a story again after having stepped away for a long time.

It’s funny, but I had forgotten all the years of research that went into these books. I take for granted the world I immersed myself in to write them because now it all seems normal to me.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the characters – the good, the bad, the savage, the honourable, the beautiful, the mysterious etc. etc. One character that I had a difficult time dealing with was Lucius’ father, Senator Quintus Metellus Anguis.

Quintus is a spiteful, hard man who is quick to anger and jealous of his son’s successes. He is of a mindset that was born in the very early days of the Republic when there were no emperors, when kings were killed and when the father held supreme power in the family.

In some ways, Quintus Metellus could not be more out of place in early 3rd century Rome.

Imperial Family of Augustus
As I’ve been reading through the book again, some of my research into family life has come back to me and I thought I would share it. In particular, I would like to look briefly at the father in ancient Rome and his role as paterfamilias.

First we should have a look at the word familia. In ancient Rome, a familia did not only include a father, mother and children. The word also referred to other relatives (by blood or adoption), clients, freedmen and all slaves belonging to the family. It included all the family houses, lands and estates and anyone involved with running those holdings.

The Roman familia went far beyond the nuclear family and the paterfamilias was the head of it all.

Roman with images
of his ancestors
During the early days of the Roman Republic, the role of the paterfamilias was largely determined by an unwritten moral and social code called the mos maiorum, or the ‘ways of the elders’. These governing rules of private, social and political life in ancient Rome were handed down through the generations. Because these rules were unwritten, they evolved over time. Values and social mores change, as is natural, and successive generations come into their own with ideas different to their predecessors.

The generational differences form a large part of the conflict between Lucius and his father Quintus. Here is an excerpt from Children of Apollo in which Lucius speaks with his father after his years on campaign:

His father looked old, tired, beaten. Lucius had decided to reach out, extend to him an olive branch of peace. Then, a mistake. He pitied the proud Roman before him.
       “Father, I know that you hated being in the army, that that’s why you didn’t want me to join. But, hear me when I say that I love it and I excel at being a soldier-”
Quintus Metellus jumped to his feet, his face suddenly red with rage, his anger swelling. “What in Hades do you know? You’re nothing but an ignorant, self-indulged swine hiding behind your Emperor. The best place to serve your family is in the Senate, not the Legions. I will not be there to watch you in three days, for I have no son apart from Quintus. How dare you storm in here, dribbling virtue like a salivating cur! You know nothing of the world, of men, of character. You disgrace our family name and make our ancestors cringe from beyond. I suppose you would like to be called ‘Africanus’ for decimating Romans across the sea.” Lucius stepped to the edge of the desk, his strong fists resting on the table.
       “I’m a Metellus Anguis, father! And I know who I am and that our ancestors are proud. Can you say the same of yourself?” Lucius did not give his father a chance to retort. “The world changes and so men must change with it. You can’t long for the days of a time that won’t come again. Our ancestors lived in their time with honour and I live now, with honour. Unlike you I don’t live in jealousy and bitterness of the past and present.”
       “Get out of my sight!” Quintus’ fist slammed down on the table, scattering several scrolls. “By the Gods if ever you speak thus to me again I’ll box your ears so hard you’ll wish that-”
       “Wish what, father? That I were dead? I’m not the little boy you used to beat around when I wouldn’t do your bidding. You can’t hurt me.”
“You’re a swine, an insult to the family…”
(Children of Apollo; Chapter XIV – Pater et Filius)

Roman Youth
Quintus Metellus, as a Republican, is against the Emperor Septimius Severus. He has had a vision of his son’s social and political progress since before he was born. He has tried hard all his life to breathe life back into ancient name of Metellus, but without success. Now, all the pressure is placed upon his son whom he wants to become a senator of renown after he completes his minimum number of years in the military.

But Lucius has other ideas. He does not want what his father wants. Lucius has found success in the Legions and has been praised and promoted by Emperor Severus, a man he is happy to serve. Unlike many equestrian youths, Lucius Metellus Anguis is not interested in pursuing a political career. He wants to be a career officer in Rome’s Legions – something that causes his father no end of embarrassment and frustration. In his opinion, it is not the way to further the family name and better their fortunes.

In the early days of the Republic, Lucius would have had to do as his paterfamilias dictated. There would have been no choice in the matter, no influence from his mother or older sister to help his cause. The paterfamilias’ word was law within the familia.

Roman Family Banquet Scene
In ancient Rome, the paterfamilias had to be a Roman citizen. He was responsible for the familia’s well-being and reputation, its legal and moral propriety. The paterfamilias even had duties to the household gods.

And this is where Quintus Metellus fails. He has lost faith in the gods that have watched over them. In fact, he fears them and their apparent favour of his son. Quintus clings to the archaic role of the paterfamilias like a dictator with power of life and death over the members of his familia. He forgets that the paterfamilias’ role is also to protect his familia within the current world they live in, and to honour their ancestors and their gods through his behaviour, his example.

This is where Lucius fills the void in duties neglected by his father.

But it is never as easy as that. The Empire is large and all men are susceptible to corruption. Lucius fights for honour and goodness in a world that has no qualms about dismissing honour, virtue and family in the interests of greed and political advancement.

Quintus Metellus is the paterfamilias of their branch of the Metelli gens, but his own shortcomings and archaic notions are at complete odds with his son and the times they live in.

It is always interesting to compare previous ages and practices with those of our own. Certainly the role of the father has changed over the centuries, though it certainly varies from family to family and culture to culture.

Roman Husband, Wife and Children
Fortuna smiled on me with my own father who, thankfully, bears no resemblance to Quintus Metellus. But it was interesting to write such a character as Quintus, to explore his relationship with Lucius and the rest of the familia.

By the 3rd century A.D. the paterfamilias’ power of life and death over his family was restricted, the practice all but dead.

But old habits and ideas die hard, and for Quintus Metellus there are other ways to kill a member of your familia and maintain your power as paterfamilias.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Guest Post, an Interview, and a Great Place to Find Books

I’ve been on vacation for the last week on a foray into the woods. It’s great to recharge the batteries once in a while, to have fun and get inspired by a change of scenery.

Even though I was in the forest, hunting zombies, searching for dragons, and looking for that most elusive of beasts, Relaxation, it doesn’t mean things weren’t happening on the home front.

While I was away, I had the honour of being given a two day spotlight on a wonderful book blog site: Bella Harte Books.

Aside from being an author herself, Bella Harte is a generous blogger who gives authors much-needed opportunities to showcase their work and themselves. If it were not for folks like Bella, many authors’ work would never be picked up by readers.

Bella gave me three great opportunities on her site that I think many of you will enjoy.

First off, Children of Apollo was featured on The Saturday Showcase which includes details about the book and a new excerpt.

Second, Bella invited me to write a guest blog for her site. The post is entitled Questing for Inspiration: Children of Apollo and a Journey into the Sahara. This was, of course, a very fun post to write and it was nice to reminisce about some of the things that inspired me most when researching and writing the book.

Lastly, as part of The Sunday Spotlight, Bella asked me some great questions as part of an author interview. I haven’t done many interviews so this was a real treat and loads of fun.

Many, many thanks to Bella Harte for having me on her site. Click on Bella Harte Books and have a look around. Who knows? You may find your next great read!

Also, be sure to check out her own series, The Seraphoenix Saga – an ancient, mythological creature with a modern, urban twist!

So, now that my holiday is over, it’s back to work and writing and trying to get things done. I feel refreshed and ready to get back to editing Killing the Hydra and writing Lykos.

On a final note, the Eagles and Dragons contest deadline is this Sunday, July 21st.

You could win one of three paperback copies of Children of Apollo with the first place winner also receiving a wooden gladius donated by – perfect for practicing your moves!

To enter, all you need to do is sign-up for e-mail updates at the top right of this blog. If you have already done so, be sure to tell your friends as other contests will be forthcoming.

The winners of the contest will be announced in the coming weeks.

That’s all for this week.

Thanks for reading and I hope you are all having a brilliant summer.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Picture Postcard #10 – The Drums of War


They woke me in the night,
As I lay beside my wife.
The Drums of War sounded,
Bound am I, to Ares’ call.

I have laid aside my himation and scrolls,
My loathing for brutality.
Instead, I don thorax, greaves and crested helm.
I take up my hoplon, spear and sword,
And join the muster of hard men.

The enemy swarm from afar,
Like stinging locusts to rape our land.
With hundreds and thousands of sharpened teeth,
The beast closes in,
Seeks our deaths.

But our strength holds.
Our wall of oak, and bronze, and iron will.
Shield to shield we stand.
We press forward
Into the jaws of Hades.

To the Drums of War I fight.
My shield pushing, my spear thrusting, slicing.
Face to face with the foe,
Walking over the offal-strewn earth.

The dead and the dying blanket the ground,
Their groans a deadly chorus
For the Drums.
Push, and thrust, and cut and push!

Gods, see me!
Gods, protect me and mine!
I fear not the hoary face of Death.
But I would live a while longer,
Before I cross to the other shore
Of that sad, black river. 

* Illustration by Peter Connolly
source: Greece and Rome at War (page 22)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Brauron – The Sanctuary of Artemis, Defender of Children

Muse, sing of Artemis, sister of the Far-Shooter, the virgin who delights in arrows…” 
(Homeric Hymn IX)

It was early January in Attica, Greece, a few years ago, and I remember it clearly. I drove out of Athens on a grey day that could dampen anyone’s post-holiday spirits.

The New Year had come and gone, copious amounts of food and wine having been consumed. A new adventure was needed.

My destination on that rainy day? - The Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron.

I drove the forty two kilometres from Athens to Brauron, passing dark, rocky mountains and hills covered in deep green foliage. Greece is a very different place in the winter. This was another one of those journeys in which I didn’t know what to expect.

I had never heard of Brauron or of an Attic sanctuary of Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, protector of young girls and women in childbirth.

The car splashed its way over tiny roads and through villages lost to the outside world. As I drove past, the few heads that poked out of windows followed my progress like in some eerie back-woods movie setting.

Finally, I came to my destination. I parked the car on the side of the road and stopped for a moment to listen to the pattering of the rain on the roof. I wiped my foggy window and could just make out a set of grey columns standing sentry in the rain. I put on my rain gear and jumped out.  

The gate to the site was open and no one was at the booth. So I walked into the sanctuary.

My initial reaction was one of sadness. I don’t know why, but the rain seemed fitting then, as though the gods wept for something.

This is a place of great antiquity.

Supposedly, Brauron has been inhabited since the early Mycenaean age. Legend has it that the sanctuary of Artemis was established by none other than Iphegeneia, the daughter of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae.

Iphegeneia is brought to Aulis in this painting:
'The Anger of Achilles' by Jacques-Louis David (1819)
Here is a brief summary for those of you who do not know her story. The Greek army, led by Agamemnon, was stuck at Aulis because of bad weather which prevented them from setting out for Troy.

This was said to be due to an offense done to Artemis. Calchas, the high king’s seer, told Agamemnon that the only way for the goddess to be appeased and for the winds to abate was for him to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigeneia, to the goddess.

The young girl was brought to Aulis under the pretence that she was to marry the hero Achilles, and when she arrived, Agamemnon did the unthinkable.

Euripides opens his play Ipheigeneia in Tauris. Iphegeneia speaks:

“Child of the man of torment and of pride
Tantalid Pelops bore a royal bride
On flying steeds from Pisa. Thence did spring
Atreus: from Atreus, linked king with king,
Menelaus, Agamemnon. His am I
And Clytemnestra’s child: whom cruelly
At Aulis, where the strait of the shifting blue
Frets with quick winds, for Helen’s sake he slew,
Or thinks to have slain; such sacrifice he swore
To Artemis on that deep-bosomed shore.
For there Lord Agamemnon, hot with joy
To win for Greece the crown of conquered Troy,
For Menelaus’ sake through all distress
Pursuing Helen’s vanished loveliness,
Gathered his thousand ships from every coast
Of Hellas: when there fell on that great host
Storms and despair of sailing. Then the King
Sought signs of fire, and Calchas answering
Spake thus: “O Lord of Hellas, from this shore
No ship of thine may move for evermore,
Till Artemis receive in gift of blood
Thy child, Iphegeneia. Long hath stood
Thy vow, to pay to Her that bringeth light
Whatever birth most fair by day or night
The year should bring. That year thy queen did
A child – whom here I name of all most fair.
See that she die.”
So from my mother’s side
By lies Odysseus won me, to be bride
In Aulis to Achilles. When I came,
They took me and above the altar flame
Held, and the sword was swinging to the gash,
When, lo, out of their vision in a flash
Artemis rapt me, leaving in my place
A deer to bleed; and on through a great space
Of shining sky upbore and in this town
Of Tauris the Unfriended set me down;
Where o’er a savage people savagely
King Thoas rules. This is her sanctuary
And I her priestess. Therefore, by the rite
Of worship here, wherein she hath delight –
Though fair in naught but name. …But Artemis
Is near; I speak no further…”

(Iphegeneia in Tauris; Euripides; c.413 B.C)

Even in translation, the words Euripides gives to this tragic girl are powerful, moving.

Thankfully, the goddess Artemis is said to have substituted another sacrifice for the girl Iphegeneia and taken her far away to be a priestess in her temple at Tauris, in the Crimea. She spent years there away from her mother, Clytemnestra, and her brother, Orestes. She also lived knowing her own father had been ready to end her life.

Orestes meets Electra at the tomb of their father
The Trojan War played itself out and Agamemnon made his way home to be murdered by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. About seven years later, Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, returns from Athens and with encouragement from his sister, Electra, kills his mother and her lover.

Orestes is pursued by the Furies for his deeds but then Apollo orders him to go to Tauris in order to take the wooden cult statue of Artemis and bring it back to Athens. Euripides tells how Orestes goes to Tauris and eventually sees his sister Iphegeneia there. They are reunited and she helps him to take the statue and together they return to Attica where she establishes the Sanctuary of Artemis.

Here, the Goddess Athena speaks to Iphegeneia before she leaves Tauris:

“…Iphegeneia, by the stair
Of Brauron in the rocks, the Key shalt bear
Of Artemis. There shalt thou live and die,
And there have burial. And a gift shall lie
Above thy shrine, fair raiment undefiled
Left upon earth by mothers dead with child.”

(Iphegeneia in Tauris; Euripides)

Iphegeheia is said to have spent the remainder of her days at Brauron.

Apollo blesses Orestes and tells him to go to Tauris
Clytemnestra's shade and a Fury look on
The cult of Artemis at Brauron died out after the Mycenaean age but was re-established from the 9th century B.C. on. Eventually, the cult of Artemis was brought to Athens. After that, there was a procession every four years from the Temple of Artemis Brauronia on the Athenian Acropolis to Brauron, in honour of the goddess and her priestess, Iphegeneia.

But what was the purpose of the sanctuary besides the honour of the goddess?

It seems that the sanctuary also functioned as a sort of orphanage or fostering place for young girls who served the goddess from about five to ten years of age. They performed rituals which included sacred dances in which they acted like bears. In fact, the girls were called ‘arktoi’, or ‘the bears’. This odd tradition of the bears is said to commemorate the slaying of one of Artemis’ sacred bears by one of the girls’ brothers. The ‘Arkteia’ was a service to the goddess in which young girls would transition from childhood to puberty and marriageable age.

Votive statues of children from the site at Brauron museum
At Brauron, Artemis was worshipped as a protector of girls and women in childbirth. Women who survived childbirth dedicated a set of clothes to the goddess. The clothes of women who died in childbirth were, in turn, dedicated to Iphegeneia.

I imagine a lot of hope springing up in this place, but also much sadness.

Once you cross the 5th century bridge into the sanctuary you come to the unusual p-shaped stoa which has what are thought to be dining rooms or, more likely, rooms for the girls living within the sanctuary. Inside, you can still see places where their sleeping pallets might have been and the doors posts carved into the marble.

The stoa is known as the ‘Stoa of Bears’.

View of the remains of Artemis' temple
I walked along the paving slabs on that rainy day, peeking into the small rooms and wondering at the children who would have been there. Were they peasants or nobility? Were their parents killed by war or plague? Were they sent there in fulfillment of a vow? Who did they have left in the world?

It must have been a frightening prospect to leave the safety of the sanctuary as well. What must a young girl have thought when she turned ten and knew that her time had come to perform the sacred dance one last time before going out into the world. Ancient Greece was not so kind a place for women. They were seen as vessels to be kept indoors.

A good thing they had Artemis to look over them, and to see them through childbirth.

The stoa courtyard was overgrown with sodden grass when I was there, and the ruins of the small Temple of Artemis were minimal.

View of the 'Stoa of Bears'
As I made my way through the site, I eventually came to a small cave-like recess that was supposed to be a shrine to Iphegeneia, that sad daughter of Agamemnon.

The rain stopped here, and the skin prickled on the back of my neck.

For how long had this first priestess of Brauron been honoured here? Ages, it seemed.

I let my imagination go in the sanctuary and could hear the laughter of little girls playing, or their lonely cries upon their straw pallets. I could see them mimicking the bears for which they were named and hear the sound of their voices raised in song to Artemis, their protectress.

From Brauron’s beginnings as a sacred site, each of those little girls likely stood where I was standing and remembered Iphegeneia and her plight. I thought of how they must have wept at her sad story and perhaps felt better about their own lives that led them to that place in the green hills of Attica.

The Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron is a very special place.

Votive statue of a young girl
When I crossed back over that classical bridge and made out way back to the car, I turned at the gate and looked back through the driving rain one last time.

Usually, when I leave an ancient site or sanctuary, I feel uplifted and at peace. Not so with Brauron.
Upon leaving Brauron, my heart was in a bit of turmoil, and still is when I think back on it.

It is place of conflicting emotions wrapped in myth and legend.

It is a great comfort in some ways to know that this was a place where young girls were protected, watched over by their patron goddess who saved the first priestess; this, in an ancient, male-dominated world of war and superstition.

On the other hand, as I turned my back on the dark columns and sodden earth of the sanctuary, my sole, sad thought was for Iphegeneia whose father was so determined to sail for Troy that he was willing to perform such a heinous and tragic act.

Thus do myth, legend and history combine to shape our view of the places of the past.

Thank you for reading. 

This is a nicely done site map of the Brauron sanctuary
 by J.M. Harrington (map source: Wikipedia)