Presenter: Dr J. Lea Beness (Macquarie University)

The Romans knew as well as we do the power of rumour. It travelled like wild fire and spread throughout a community (Ter. Adelph. 91–92: clamant omnes). Orators were trained to see in it a powerful tool to exploit or a threat to be overturned by sophistry (Rhetorica ad Herenn. 2.12). Gossip was ubiquitous. This paper will explore one possible item of political polemic that has until now escaped notice. (The fullest discussion of which I am aware is that of Paula Botteri, Les Fragments de l’histoire des Gracques dans la Bibliothèque de Diodore de Sicile [Genève, 1992], 61.) It explores the tensions between P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus (cos. 147, 134) and his cousin, Ti. Sempronius Gracchus (trib. pl. 133) and the unhappy family alliance that had as its base Scipio Aemilianus’ unproductive marriage to a sister of Gracchus: Sempronia Ti.f. (Appian, Civil Wars 1.20). It will focus on an obiter dictum of 133 BC recorded by Plutarch (Life of Tiberius Gracchus 21.4; an apophthegm also transmitted by Diodorus 34/35.7.3, preserved in the Byzantine Excerpta de Sententiis, p.387, no 412) where Scipio had recourse to Homer’s Odyssey (1.47): ‘Thus perish all others who attempt such’ (or perhaps ‘so die all who would wish to imitate him’). The line in context refers to the tyrant Aegisthus, the murderer of Agamemnon, and suggests that Ti. Gracchus had stepped beyond the acceptable and met a fate that was worthy of his misdeeds. The paper will explore the ramifications of Scipio’s pronouncement.

Further Reading

  • Edward Champlin, ‘Agamemnon at Rome. Roman Dynasts and Greek Heroes’, in D. Braund and C. Gill (eds), Myth, History and Culture in Republican Rome. Studies in Honour of T.P. Wiseman (Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 2003), 295–319.