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Nephele

A Roman's Name: A Foreshadow of His Destiny?

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I'm currently reading Death in Ancient Rome, by Catherine Edwards (professor of classics and ancient history at Birkbeck College, University of London), and I came across the following passage which I found intriguing and thought I'd share here:

 

"Self-consciousness about one's own role is also a preoccupation in plays of the early empire -- plays written by the philosopher Seneca. A number of characters, in discussing their own behaviour, repeatedly draw attention to their names... Such self-consciousness regarding one's name was not confined to the stage. In Roman political life, one could not escape the destiny of one's own name. A particular name might in itself provoke a desire for external fame. Several ancient authors comment on the pressure put on Marcus Brutus to take action against Julius Caesar, stemming, in part at least, from the name he bore. According to Plutarch, messages appeared on the base of a statue of Lucius Brutus, scourge of the Tarquins, 'If only Brutus were alive' and also on the praetor's tribunal in the Forum (when Marcus Brutus occupied that office): 'Brutus, are you sleeping?' and 'You are not really Brutus' (
Brutus
9.3). His own name obliged Marcus Brutus to follow his famous ancestor and act against tyranny. What did it mean to be called Cato? The moral severity of the Elder Cato was a demanding model to follow. One might read the Younger Cato's choices in life as partially determined by the name he shared with his great-grandfather. The Younger Cato so closely associated himself with the ancient Roman republic that he felt obliged to take his own life when he realised tyranny would prevail. Once Caesar's victory was inevitable, Cato's only course of action was to kill himself."

 

Comments? Can anyone come up with additional examples of ancient Romans whose names were, in essence, a sign of their inescapable destiny?

 

-- Nephele

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I cannot come up with any other, but the quote certainly has a good point. It might be compared with the funerals parades where the ancestors were marching with the deceased, surly that must also have inspired people when seeing the family great achievements, to live up to their family name.

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That's a really interesting thought. It's certainly a vast contrast to what we see today, in most cases. Very few people (a few notable exceptions aside) seem to feel any need to 'live up to' the model set by their parents.

 

As central as the Paterfamilias was to the Roman family, it makes sense in every way.

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"Self-consciousness about one's own role is also a preoccupation in plays of the early empire -- plays written by the philosopher Seneca. A number of characters, in discussing their own behaviour, repeatedly draw attention to their names... Such self-consciousness regarding one's name was not confined to the stage. In Roman political life, one could not escape the destiny of one's own name. A particular name might in itself provoke a desire for external fame.

 

Comments? Can anyone come up with additional examples of ancient Romans whose names were, in essence, a sign of their inescapable destiny?

 

-- Nephele

 

This is 'far afield' in time, but this is true in modern times and must have likewise been true back then. The more well known the event and the actor, the more likely the connection being acted out. A modern figure whose father

Edited by Faustus

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A fascinating topic, Nephele. Without scouring the histories, the one man who immediately springs to mind for me is Sextus Pompeius. Whilst he clearly fell woefully short of the achievements of his father, he nevertheless seemed determined to make some sort of stand against the Second Triumvirate. His reluctance to move when he could have done (41BC, for instance) suggests, to me, that he was trying to live up to his father's name, without really having the drive to do it properly. I have often wondered if the crushing weight of his family name coloured his decisions.

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One could say that all sons of consular families saw themselves as future consuls (Cicero bitterly call them "consuls from their cribs") and no doubt that the great ambition of Sulla, Caesar and Catilina stem from the fact they all came from declining Patrician families.

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