GIS 15/2/13 – Curtius and the Swamp


Romulus (L) defeats Mettius Curtius (R) in this no-expense-spared dramatic reconstruction.

We’re going to be talking about swamps this week. It’s very tempting to make some pun about this being a bog-post, but I think there was probably enough of that kind of thing last time so today I’ll spare you and jump straight into talking about Hannah Price’s paper. Hannah talked to us about ‘Curtius and the Swamp’. She’s interested in the enigmatic feature of the Forum Romanum known as the Lacus Curtius, and the various stories the Romans told to explain its origins and its strange names. In particular, two narrative come to the forefront. In the first it’s named for the Sabine warrior Mettius Curtius. During his duel with Romulus at the time of the foundation of Rome, when the site of the future Forum was still a marshy bog, Mettius allegedly leapt into the waters to escape.

Giovanni-Paolo-Pannini-xx-Marcus-Curtius-leaping-into-the-gulfThe second story concerns a Roman Curtius, Marcus. When a chasm opened up in the middle of the Forum, oracles determined that it was necessary to throw Rome’s most valuable possession into it to make it close. Marcus bravely – if somewhat egotistically – concluded that it ought to be him. Saddling his horse, he threw himself down into the fiery depths. It’s the second version Livy prefers, and it’s also that version which captured the imaginations of later artists. As Hannah pointed out, the bravery, virtus and patriotic pietas of Marcus fits well with the concerns of imperial Rome. But unlike on other occasions where Livy chooses one version of a story over others, but doesn’t bother to present the alternatives, here he – and other Roman writers – are at pains to portray the diversity of stories surrounding the Lacus. Hannah pointed out the ambiguity of Roman iconographic depictions of the story, and accounts such as Statius’s, which seem to include elements of both. She also talked about the importance of dead dignitaries underfoot in Roman traditions about the Forum, and how citizens of the Imperial period felt their city to have been literally built on the bones of their dead heroes. This becomes particularly apposite in the Forum, where earlier cemeteries are likely to have been disturbed by later building activities. It’s in this context that the Curtius myths should be understood, Hannah argued.


Discussion afterwards was interesting and ranged from mythological parallels – Polykrates and his ring and pseudo-Plutarch’s version of the Midas story – to discussion of the role of foundation-deposits in the beginning of building works and how these might have inspired mythological traditions. We also talked about whether the different versions of the myths were quite as well distinguished as they appear in the historians, or whether the realities may have been much more mixed up and intermingled.

We didn’t have an official Snippet this week. That’s your fault. Yes, yours. You should all feel very ashamed and guilty and try to make amends by volunteering in your droves in time for next week’s session. Instead we opened up the floor to general discussion. Fran brought up the topic of the Graduate Development Programme and asked for people’s experiences of it. Despite some significant reservations, people had some generally good things to say. It was, however, felt that training in teaching skills remains somewhat less than we would like, especially for those who have not come up through the Cambridge system. It was agreed that more communication between graduate supervisors might help, as well as more opportunities to sit in on others’ supervisions and see how it’s done. With this in mind, we intend to offer a round-table of sorts on issues to do with supervising in one of our Snippet slots later in the term. If anyone who wasn’t at this week’s GIS has things to say or questions to ask, we encourage you to come along when we do it, or else to contact your GIS consuls or Grad Rep.

Finally, we plugged this very blog, albeit less fully than we had intended because of time constraints. If you’re reading this, well done! You’ve found it! Now tell your friends and spread the word.

In a startling and controversial move several weeks in the plotting, this week we eschewed the traditional Granta location for post-seminar drinks in favour of the more convivial pizza-and-pub-quiz-equipped surroundings of the Red Bull. This initially caused some consternation among certain attendees, who regarded change – and the prospect of a slightly longer walk – with the traditional horror of the confirmed Classicist. Nevertheless, a good time seemed to be had by all. Topics of discussion included alternative past-tense verb forms in American English, board games, and how to wear tweed and a moustache without being mistaken for a hipster.

This week’s award for outstanding achievement in post-seminar discussion goes to Fran Middleton, for a virtuoso non-sequitur concerning Windolene.

5 thoughts on “GIS 15/2/13 – Curtius and the Swamp

    • I found the exact Fran quote (Froute?) on my phone: ‘I bought some Windolene in our last Sainsbury’s order, and I haven’t got around to cleaning the television yet.’ Almost as good as, ‘I tried knitting over Christmas when I was absolutely bored out of my tree, and then I remembered it was boring.’ I think I should start keeping a Twitter of these on Fran’s behalf, because they really, really need to be shared with the wider world.


      • Frote, surely.
        Also Philip is being too modest to give himself a special mention, so I’m going to do it for him, for the immortal line: “One day you’ll be able to say you knew Bactrian before it was cool.”


      • Hannah, any chance you could read out the Frotes in Franvoice and upload it as an audio clip? They just don’t work as well as plain text. 😉


      • I’m pretty sure that can’t be a direct quote, because I’m not going near my TV with Windolene… The TV reminded me of other glassy surfaces, which reminded me of the Windolene and my smudgy mirrors! But the knitting is true.


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