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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson: Vol. CII

May 25, 2012

While we're brushing the dust off archaeological digs (read: my blog), we might as well dive right into the deep end of the dead language pool. Plus, someone said they missed the Friday Morning Latin Lesson; that's like inviting a vampire into your home. Ill-advised at best, and down-right encouraging of debaucherous behavior if we're being frank.

What's the occasion? Well, there's a couple of things going on today. On May 25, 240 BC, the first recorded track of Halley's comet was noted in some Chinese scientific writing. There's a chance that the comet that was reported in Greece (and possibly Babylon) in 467 BC was also Comet Halley, but we can't be certain of that. Evidence points in that direction, but no one has the balls to come out and say it. Yet.

Again, on May 25, in 567 king Servius Tullius held a triumph to celebrate his victory over the Etruscans. Servius Tullius was the sixth, and probably best, King of Rome (the first was the Big R himself, Romulus). He was a bit of a socialist, though, as he was one of the first to want to spread the wealth from the noble families to the poor of Rome's citizenry. This would prove to bite him in the ass later on. He also helped to lay the foundation for what would become the Roman Republic. In general, Servius was pretty well-liked, aside from his political rivals, who ended up murdering him. Details, details...

As with any character of Roman history, there's an entertaining backstory with Servius. His mother was a lady named Ocrisia who was probably captured from the Latins (there was an actual people, from whom the language arose...they lived in the "flat lands") during one of the wars between Rome and the Latin League. She arrived in Rome pregnant (most likely) and as she was a woman of noble birth, she was given to the king's wife to act as a servant. There, she gave birth to Servius; the baby, being born in the king's household, became a member of his extended family. Eventually he would grow up and marry the king's daughter and, when the king (Lucius Tarquinius Priscus) was murdered, Servius ascended the throne in Rome.

There's also a story that Ocrisia (still captured from the Latins) arrived in Rome as a virgin and was given over to serve as a Vestal Virgin (Vesta was keeper of the hearth flame at home, and she was one of those ever-virgin goddesses). Ocrisia, by her noble birth, was then sent to serve in the king's household, performing the rites and rituals of Vesta for the king. One day, after offering a sacrifice on the holy fires within the king's hearth, Ocrisia damped the flames. Apparently, Ocrisia turned around and shook some of that sweet virgin ass at the hearth, because a disembodied dick rose from the remains of the fire and penetrated Ocrisia. The child she bore was Servius Tullius, the child who would become king.

Oh, and despite the fact that she was a servant of Vesta (who presumably didn't have a dick), it was widely accepted that Vulcan was the father of the child...which is probably why he moved his forge under Mount Etna, to avoid child support payments and such. While Vesta was in charge of the sacred flame of the hearth, Vulcan was the god in charge of fire used in defense of the city.

This wasn't the only run-in that Servius had with the divine, however. During his reign as king, Servius expanded Rome's territory, spread the city across the surrounding hills, founded several temples in the name of various goddesses (Diana and Fortuna being the main ones), expanded the vote, reorganized the divisions of Roman society, improved the military and helped to keep the plebians happy by spreading some of the wealth from the top of society down through the lower ranks. It was said that Servius had so much luck on his side that Fortuna, the goddess associated with good luck, sneaked in through his window at night so that they rucked like hounds. Apparently, he did not inherit daddy's floating dick trick.

Wow. Not only did he get to bang the daughter of the previous king, but he also spent his nights in the arms of the goddess of good fortune? Talk about one lucky bastard. It sure brings this little phrase to mind:

Bonum est regem esse!

Pronounced: "Boh-noom est ray-gaim aye-say!"

Regal translation in the hovertext!

The name Servius is an interesting one. Since Ocrisia was most likely a slave--at the very best, a servant for the queen--people have noted the similarity between her son's name "Servius" and the Latin word for "slave", which was servus. Servius as a name probably comes from a root meaning "to keep or to preserve", but the similarity was enough that Rome's enemies used it as a sign of weakness in one of the Republic's founding fathers. Mithridates, the Poison King of Pontus, whom Julius Caesar had to personally destroy after Mithridates' fourth or fifth rebellion (incidentally, it was Pontus about which Caesar uttered his famous "vini, vidi, vinci"), was one such person to pun on Servius' name. He pointed out that even the Roman kings included "slaves and house servants of the Etruscan (people)", basically thumbing his nose at Roman rule, their citizens and their leadership.

Whatever the story, the links between the slave class and the name Servius was enough that the name fell out of vogue by about the time that the Roman Republic was established, despite the popularity of the king who carried the same name. Despite being born a slave (or of a slave), Servius is considered Rome's best king and overall one of the best rulers the city/republic/empire had.

Not bad for a guy whose father was a severed dick.


MJenks said...

In case you are on a mobile device (like I currently am) and you can't get the hovertext to work, the translation reads "It's good to be the King!"

Anonymous said...

Count the money! De Monet! De Money!

I've missed the lessons, too. Good stuff, as always.

Hart Johnson said...

HA! Who would have thought when I got up this morning that I would learn about Vulcan's disembodied dick coming out of a fire and inseminating a servant with a future king. I totally did NOT call that one.

Scope said...

Lucky dog.

Frank Irwin said...

Yup, May 25 is a pretty special day, alright....