Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ancient Romans Worth Knowing: Gaius Mucius Scaevola

After the Romans threw off Etruscan rule, the Etruscans weren't done trying to reconquer them. And the Etruscan King Lars Porsena laid siege to the city state on behalf of the exiled former-king Tarquin.

In that war, a hero emerged. The Roman Senate authorized an assassination attempt on Porsena. A young man named Gaius Mucius Scaevola was able to enter the Etruscan camp but misinterpreted the scene and killed the scribe of Porsena instead of the king himself.

Captured, Scaevola declared that he was but the first of three hundred young men who had volunteered for this assassination project. He then added, "In order that you may know how cheap the body is to those who see great glory" (Ab Urbe Condita 2.12: ut sentias quam vile corpus sit iis qui magnam gloriam vident), and he thrust his right hand into the flames of a sacrifice, burning it completely away.

Shocked and impressed by this resolve, Porsena let Scaevola (which means left-handed, a nickname he and descendants picked up after this incident) go free. And he then sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace.

So, let's a give a hand (too soon?) to this Roman hero...


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