Regulus and Classical Reception in Robin Hobb’s “The Triumph”

“Classical Reception” encompasses all work concerned with postclassical material, including history of scholarship; history of the book, film and media studies; performance history; translation studies;  response and personal voice criticism; postcolonial studies; medieval and Neo-Latin; and much else besides.  Therefore, reception has helped to challenge the traditional idea of what “classics” is.  It is not merely a matter of looking at what happened to classics after what we like to now call “late antiquity,” but of contesting the idea that classics is something fixed, with predefined boundaries, and whose nature we can understand on its own terms.  Reception allows for classics to evolve, involving the active participation of readers in a two way process, in which the past and present are in dialogue with one another.

Robin Hobb’s “The Triumph”, enables us to transcend time to visit the ancient city of Carthage in the year 251 BC.  Hobb’s story gives us a perspective of Marcus Atilius Regulus’ final dying days, and the events that led to his gruesome death.  Regulus appears in many sources because of his extraordinary story, and the use of his life story as an example of Roman virtue and honor. Regulus, consul 267 and 256 BC., invaded Africa during the First Punic War, and after winning an initial battle on Carthaginian soil, he entered into negotiations for peace with the city leaders. However, deemed too harsh by the Punic leaders, talks broke down, and the war was continued. In the ensuing battle, his forces were routed, and he was held captive by the Carthaginians. Released to Rome ca. 250 BC. to negotiate a peace, or at least a trade of prisoners of war, Regulus, however, goaded the Roman Senate to continue the war, and returned to Carthage, as he had promised, to be tortured. While Rome later did negotiate a trade of prisoners with the Carthaginians around 247 BC., the exemplum of Regulus was used throughout the remainder of Roman history, and later in the western world.  While Robin Hobb strays from the classical sources a few times throughout her depiction of Regulus, the true debate should lie in her ability to engage the reader into the classical world, and her ability to imitate the the past versus seeking the construction of the-past-as-it-really-was-in-itself.

wl114 Hobb details several accounts of Regulus, but the true importance to her writing is her focus on accounts that many modern historians have attempted to deem as myths and falsifications of the true historical account by ancient historians.  Those specific accounts being Regulus’ battle against a serpent while in Africa, his return to Rome to negotiate a peace, and his torture upon returning to Carthage.  For each of these specific events, I will detail Robin Hobbs portrayal of Regulus, countered against the historical tradition of the account, while attempting to display the importance of Regulus’ story as it can be applied to the evolution of reception studies.

Livy, Zonaras, Ionnes Damascenes, Silius Italicus, and Aulus Gellius each give an account of a fascinated story on how Regulus defeated a 120-foot serpent that attacked his troops, defeated it with catapults, and sent the skin to Rome for display.  Therefore, it is not out of line for Robin Hobb to recount this event through the eyes of her characters, Regulus and Flavius.  In her story, Regulus disbelieves his scouts of such a lengthy creature, yet diverts his river crossing to avoid the beast.  The serpent still finds his forces, and injures his Italian neighbor, Flavius, when his own life is threatened.  Hobb, by giving her characters the ability to speculate and appear in awe of the beast, places us in the battle, and gives the reader a practical imitation of how a traumatizing event could be embellished by those involved.  W. W. Fowler, who wrote “Roman Essays and Interpretations” in 1920, thought that the serpent that Regulus fought had been a member of a nearly extinct species, whose length is nearly sixty feet, and that merely its length and the number of victims was embellished, but more so, he supposed an attack with equipment was plausible.  The account is the first such where a foreign beast is sent back to Rome, being the first Roman war fought outside of Italy, and this fact should hold some significance, even though many modern historians have attempted to discount the historical accounts of the battle.

The Triumph’s next account of a historically controversial topic is the portrayal of Regulus’ return to Rome. Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus, consul in 129 BCE, is reported by Aulus Gellius, as well as Dio Cassius, Appian, Cicero, Livy, and Zonaras, to have returned to Rome while a prisoner to engage in peace negotiations around the year 250 BCE.  He swore an oath to the Carthaginian senate that he would return from his parole if he could not sway the Roman senate to peace, or at least a trade of prisoners.  Once in Rome, he, instead, told his fellow senators to continue to wage war against Carthage.  Historians have discounted the accounts as fabrications, based in part because of the silence of Polybius.  John Toland, in his dissertation “The Fabulous Death of Atilius Regulus” of 1722, was the first to assert that Polybius’ silence proved the fiction of the account of his returning to Rome.  Later, he was supported by Louis De Beaufort in his “Dissertation sur l’incertitude des cinq premiers sicles de l’histoire romaine.”  Meanwhile, Tenney Frank found no reason to reject the accounts of the mission because of Polybius’ silence, despite Polybius’ relationship to Fabius Pictor and other Romans, and Polybius implies at one point his histories that more could be said on the subject.

Robin Hobb’s true topic in her story “The Triumph,” is the torture of Marcus Atilius Regulus, which opens and closes her feature in the book, Warriors.  She depicts Regulus as having his eyelids removed, and being hung in a spiked chamber over the gated entrance to the city of Carthage.  In the historical accounts, he died upon his return from Rome; however the way he died is debated among ancient historians.  Tubero, in an extract in Gellius, along with Dio and Zonaras, say the Carthaginians tortured Regulus by sewing his eyelids open, turning his face upward towards the sun.  One extract from Diodorus, preserved by Tzertes, indicates Regulus was tortured by having his eyelids cut off with a knife, and was then crushed to death by a maddened elephant.  While none of the extant fragments of Diodorus mention the peace mission to Rome, but only that Regulus’ wife was under the impression that he died from lack of care.  Tuditanus and Appian agreed that Regulus did in fact die from being kept awake for a long time.  Furthermore, Cicero accounted that Regulus died from cruel torture.  Diodorus Siculus, Tuditanus, Zonaras, Dio Cassius, and Polybius account that the Roman senate turned over two highborn Carthaginian captives that the family of Regulus tortured in retribution for the Marcus Atilius Regulus’ death.  The inability of the ancient historians to agree has made for deathofregulusthe topic to be a subject of debate among modern historians for its veracity as well.  In 1668, Palmerius published his “Exercitationes in Optimos fere Autures Graecos” endeavored to prove that the accounts of Regulus’ torture and death were fictional.  Palmerius claimed that Diodorus Siculus, being a Sicilian, would have better knowledge of Carthaginian interactions than a Roman, and thus his account was the correct one.  In addition, Palmerius interpreted Polybius’ silence on the story as an inability to trust the sincerity of both Philinus and Fabius’ accounts of Regulus’ death.  He then suggested that Polybius did not want to surpass the limits of historical certainty by recounting a popular Roman tale as truth, nor did he wish to incur Roman hatred by merely dismissing it as rumor.  Toland also attested that the torture of Regulus was a legend that was created by Regulus’ wife and children to keep themselves out of jail for such inhumane tortures of their Carthaginian prisoners.  He assesses his belief that the women of Rome fostered the myth to keep his wife within her rights.  Louis De Beaufort supported Palmerius’ opinion on the death of Marcus Atilius Regulus, attested that the contrasting accounts of Tuditanus, Tubero, Cicero, and Florus, coupled with the agreement of Appian and Silius about what proved the illegitimacy of the account.  A number of modern historians, however, have treated his story more favorably.  W. W. Fowler found the alleged savagery of the widow incredible and suggested that if the story of Regulus’ oath, his mission to Rome, and his heroic death was an invention, then it had as its purpose the illustration of Roman belief in the sanctity of oaths, and not the concealment of a barbaric crime.  Pais attempted to defend the validity of the accounts of Regulus’ torture, in his “I tormenti inflitti ad Attilio Regolo e l’autenticita della tradizione Romana.”  He found it difficult to reject an account of an event purported to have occurred in a period when roman historiography had seriously begun.  He also asserted that Diodorus’ statement that Regulus died of neglect was only proof to his wife that Regulus needed more attention, but not that he died of disease.  If Diodorus’ account that the government intervened to rescue Hasdrubal, it was only a sign that Roman society had begun to condemn excessive application of personal vendettas.  Moreover, by joining Diodorus account to Polybius’ selectivity, it gave credibility to the tradition.  Finally, Pias remarked that modern attitudes make it difficult to understand the character of Regulus, who would sacrifice his life for the greatness of Rome.

Robin Hobb’s “The Triumph” displays a strong knowledge of the ancient sources throughout her contribution to Warriors.  Her depiction of Regulus enables us to bear witness to a tragic account of a Roman consul as documented by ancient historians.  Her attempt to “imitate” the true historical accounts shows the reader how embellishments and judgments can leak into ancient historical accounts of Regulus’ life.  Modern historians discount the tale of Regulus because the character of Regulus is a display of a selfless stoicism that is lost in an anti-honor society, as documented in James Bowman’s Honor: A History.  Elizabethan playwrights were in awe of the ability to sacrifice oneself for their country, which served as the impetus of their portrayals of him to spawn a nationalistic movement among the youth of their societies.  Meanwhile, it opens Regulus to continued debate about his historiography, and serves as an example of T.S. Eliot’s argument that, “the past [is] altered by the by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”  As long as we can look back on the past and attempt to deconstruct it, we will also be open to the rewriting and altering of history.  The story of Regulus is now treated as a myth in most history books, and modern literature, which displays his stoic death, is treated as an example of the motives that ancient historians encountered when they decided to embellish his accomplishments in order to serve as a example of Roman virtues.  “The Triumph” allows us to continue debate on the topic  and to continue to study how we receive classics today.

 

Warriors

 

For more, see my speech on the Historiography of Marcus Atilius Regulus from 2009’s 8th Annual Undergraduate Classics Conference at Miami University’s Marcum Conference Center, as well as my full Chronological Table of Sources.

Marcus Atilius Regulus: A Historiography and Transformation from Roman History to Legend

Turner's Regulus My paper today concerns the historigraphical treatment of Marcus Atilius Regulus, consul 267 and 256 BCE, in both ancient Greek and Roman historians and more modern historians, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.  On the one hand, the story of Regulus’ heroic actions serve as an exemplum of roman virtues, while on the other hand, the story of Regulus has been called into account regarding its veracity.  My paper will look at examine Regulus’ story

The story enabled Greek and Roman historians to demonstrate both positive and negative behavior of Regulus.  Later artists, poets, playwrights, and historians have envisioned differently the story of Regulus throughout the past 2,300 years, seeking to reveal the life of a man whom they wish to portray, depending on their own objectives, for either positive or negative reasons.  Horace, for example, sought to use Atilius Regulus as an example to motivate Augustus to reclaim the standards and soldiers lost by Crassus in defeat by the Parthians in 53 BCE.  Cicero repeatedly used Regulus as an example of Stoic virtues in defining how a Roman should lead a happy life in the service of Rome.  Playwrights such as Hannah Moore and Lucien Arnault, among many others within a 160-year period, all wrote plays portraying the story of Regulus and attempt to create a citizenship more like Regulus.  Presently, Regulus remains a model of virtue and honor.

Now, the story.

I begin with Marcus Atilius Regulus as he is depicted in the ancient sources.  He had served as consul 13 years prior, in 267 BCE, campaigning in Calabria.  Zonaras, the Greek historian, recounts Regulus’ early career, and in fact, based on early successful military exploits, Regulus was chosen as consul suffectus, a job which he did not want, but was chosen for merit in 256 BCE.

During the First Punic War, Regulus demonstrated his skills and talents through engagements  both on land and on sea.  His career and successes in this war deserve much and close attention but our emphasis today will be on his career and actions, which form the legend that grew up around him.  Specifically, in 255 when Regulus engaged the Carthaginians at the battle of Tunis, 10 miles from Carthage, he was taken captive when the Romans were decimated.  Of an army of 15,000, only 1500 returned home, and another 500 were taken captive, including Regulus.

Many historians retell the accounts of Regulus’ life, but some historians are silent about his actions, or their writings are in fragments or missing.  However, from the sources available, I will account for his actions surrounding his role in the First Punic War.  Cassius Dio and Zonaras write that Marcus Atilius Regulus was selected for merit as consul suffectus, based on his role as consul in 167 BCE.  In his first actions as consul, Zonaras and Polybius, Marcus Atilius Regulus is mentioned as leading a Roman fleet from Messene toward Africa in 256 BCE.  The Romans landed at Aspis, after a victorious naval engagement with the Carthaginians off Ecnomus.  Polybius, along with Diodorus Siculus and Zonaras, then reports that RegThe Death of Regulus - Salvatore Rosaulus remained in Africa while Lucius Manlius returned to Rome.  Regulus garrisoned the city of Aspis as his base of operations in Africa.  Livy, Zonaras, Ionnes Damascenes, Silius Italicus, and Aulus Gellius each give an account of a fascinated story on how Regulus defeated a 120-foot serpent that attacked his troops, defeated it with catapults, and sent the skin to Rome for display.  In the battle of Adys, Regulus routes Carthaginian forces, according to Livy, Polybius, Zonaras, and Diodorus Siculus, and advances to Carthage.  Now, the Carthaginians offered peace negotiations, as Regulus led his army within ten miles of the city gates, according to Dio Cassius, Zonaras, Diodorus Siculus, and Polybius, which were so harsh that the Carthaginians chose, rather, to fight.  In the ensuing battle, Zonaras and Polybius mention how the Carthaginians, under the Spartan mercenary general Xanthiappus, routed the Roman forces, capturing 500 men, including Regulus, while only 1500 returning to Rome of the 15,000 men Regulus was left in Africa with.  Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus, consul in 129 BCE, is reported by Aulus Gellius, as well as Dio Cassius, Appian, Cicero, Livy, and Zonaras, to have returned to Rome while a prisoner to engage in peace negotiations around the year 250 BCE.  He swore an oath to the Carthaginian senate that he would return from his parole if he could not sway the Roman senate to peace, or at least a trade of prisoners.  Once in Rome, he, instead, told his fellow senators to continue to wage war against Carthage.  Upon his return from Rome he died; however the way he died is debated among ancient historians.  Tubero, in an extract in Gellius, along with Dio and Zonaras, say the Carthaginians tortured Regulus by sewing his eyelids open, turning his face upward towards the sun.  One extract from Diodorus, preserved by Tzertes, indicates Regulus was tortured by having his eyelids cut off with a knife, and was then crushed to death by a maddened elephant.  While none of the extant fragments of Diodorus mention the peace mission to Rome, but only that Regulus’ wife was under the impression that he died from lack of care.  Tuditanus and Appian agreed that Regulus did in fact die from being kept awake for a long time.  Furthermore, Cicero accounted that Regulus died from cruel torture.  Diodorus Siculus, Tuditanus, Zonaras, Dio Cassius, and Polybius account that the Roman senate turned over two highborn Carthaginian captives that the family of Regulus tortured in retribution for the Marcus Atilius Regulus’ death.

Until the seventieth century, the accounts of Regulus’s death by Carthaginian hands, had been widely believed to be true, as recorded in the fragments of Dio Cassius and Zonaras, as well as the writings of Horace, Cicero, Appian, and Livy.  However, the veracity of their accounts and indeed of the story of Regulus itself has been called into question.  Among those who question the story are Palmerius, de Beaufort, Niebhur, and Toland, all historians of ancient Rome.

In 1668, Palmerius published his “Exercitationes in Optimos fere Autures Graecos” endeavored to prove that the accounts of Regulus’ torture and death were fictional.  Palmerius claimed that Diodorus Siculus, being a Sicilian, would have better knowledge of Carthaginian interactions than a Roman, and thus his account was the correct one.  In addition, Palmerius interpreted Polybius’ silence on the story as an inability to trust the sincerity of both Philinus and Fabius’ accounts of Regulus’ death.  He then suggested that Polybius did not want to surpass the limits of historical certainty by recounting a popular Roman tale as truth, nor did he wish to incur Roman hatred by merely dismissing it as rumor.

Regulus John Toland, in his dissertation “The Fabulous Death of Atilius Regulus” of 1722, asserts that Regulus died of disease during his captivity.  Toland believed that Polybius’ silence proved the fiction of the account of his returning to Rome.  He also attested that the torture of Regulus was a legend that was created by Regulus’ wife and children to keep themselves out of jail for such inhumane tortures of their Carthaginian prisoners.  Toland assesses his belief that the women of Rome fostered the myth to keep his wife within her rights.

Louis De Beaufort supported Palmerius’ opinion on the death of Marcus Atilius Regulus in his “Dissertation sur l’incertitude des cinq premiers sicles de l’histoire romaine,” published in 1738.  De Beaufort attested that the contrasting accounts of Tuditanus, Tubero, Cicero, and Florus, coupled with the agreement of Appian and Silius about what proved the illegitimacy of the account.  Moreover, de Beaufort engaged in a topic that Palmerius did not: de Beaufort rejected Regulus’ mission to Rome.  De Beaufort asserted that Polybius’ silence on the account of Regulus’ mission was sufficient proof that the story was fictional.

B.G. Niebuhr treated Regulus with considerable space in his “Lectures on the History of Rome,” from 1849.  While he believed the account of Regulus’ mission to Rome to be true, he asserted that the account of Regulus’ heroism was exaggerated by later generations, or Regulus would have been branded with infamy for breaking an oath.  However, Niebhur observed that the letter Regulus supposedly sent, wishing his early return from Africa, was inconsistent with Polybius’ telling that Regulus wished to conclude the war in Africa by himself.  Niebuhr also supported the account that Regulus’ family was given Hasdrubal and Bodostor as hostages following Regulus’ death.

A number of modern historians, however, have treated his story more favorably.

IN 1846 Halthaus, in “Geschichte Roms im Zeitalter der punischen Krieger,“ rejected the silence arguments.  In 1846 of Regulus’ mission and torture.  He believed that “however off the vengeance sequel sounds, it is odder still to seek therein an argument for the ‘fiction’ of the gruesome death of Regulus.”  Halthaus believed the vengeance taken by Regulus’ wife seemed to call for better justification than just an argument of silence.

W. W. Fowler, who wrote “Roman Essays and Interpretations” in 1920, thought that the serpent that Regulus fought had been a member of a nearly extinct species, whose length is nearly sixty feet, and that merely its length and the number of victims was embellished, but more so, he supposed an attack with equipment was plausible.  Furthermore, he found the alleged savagery of the widow incredible and suggested that if the story of Regulus’ oath, his mission to Rome, and his heroic death was an invention, then it had as its purpose the illustration of Roman belief in the sanctity of oaths, and not the concealment of a barbaric crime.

Tenney Frank suggested, in 1926’s “Two Historical Themes in Roman Literature,” that the mission of Regulus to Rome took place around 248 BCE.  He found no reason to reject the accounts of the mission because of Polybius’ silence, despite Polybius’ relationship to Fabius Pictor and other Romans, and Polybius implies at one point his histories that more could be said on the subject.m503604_98de17030_v

Pais attempted to defend the validity of the accounts of Regulus’ torture, in his “I tormenti inflitti ad Attilio Regolo e l’autenticita della tradizione Romana.”  He found it difficult to reject an account of an event purported to have occurred in a period when roman historiography had seriously begun.  He also asserted that Diodorus’ statement that Regulus died of neglect was only proof to his wife that Regulus needed more attention, but not that he died of disease.  If Diodorus’ account that the government intervened to rescue Hasdrubal, it was only a sign that Roman society had begun to condemn excessive application of personal vendettas.  Moreover, by joining Diodorus account to Polybius’ selectivity, it gave credibility to the tradition.  Finally, Pias remarked that modern attitudes make it difficult to understand the character of Regulus, who would sacrifice his life for the greatness of Rome.

My conclusions are limited to these comments by modern historians regarding the historiographical treatment of Regulus.  The prevalence of Marcus Atilius Regulus in literature well after Rome suggests that the importance of the legend of Marcus Atilius Regulus is not to determine if the story is true or false, but to suggest that his is a worthy example to follow:  follow Regulus example to be honest in all oaths, while also keeping a composed mind.

Jacques Arnault, a French playwright, remarks in the preface to his own screenplay version, Regulus, that the admirable and dramatic elements in Regulus’ life are not so much the way he died as the motives that pointed him toward death, not so much his arrival in Carthage as his departure from Rome.  One could measure the success of this play, he felt, by the applause awarded by the youthful audience, the pride and hope of France.

Implicit in this is that the story of Marcus Atilius Regulus is meaningful and worthwhile.  Regulus is the military hero, whose life is at the service of Rome.  Otherwise, modern historians would not care whether the ancient historians are correct or not.  Modern historians examine the ancient sources for their credibility and trustworthiness.  Though they analyze the ancient sources, and how the story of Regulus was handed down throughout the years following his capture, they only do so to enlighten present and future generations on the issues surrounding Regulus’ story.