A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about Richard Armitage and how he embodies the Roman quality  known as GRAVITAS.  This quality, along with fourteen others, made up what the ancient Romans called VIRTUTES ROMANAE – Roman Virtues.  The root word virtus, derives from the Latin word vir, meaning simply, man.  Virtus essentially refers to “acting like a man,” and in the context of Roman culture this was tied up with bravery and military achievement. (Interestingly, this very manly term is actually a feminine noun in Latin…so is the word for beard – go figure)   In a broader scope, VIRTUTES ROMANAE were the character traits that all Romans, especially citizen class men aspired to…essentially, they made up the ideology upon which the Roman Republic was based.

Roman history is full of stories of virtus in action…it was a prerequisite of a successful political and military career in Ancient Rome, and ancient authors love to record the activities of the rich and powerful.  Vergil’s Aeneid is a great place to look for a literary model of VIRTUTES ROMANAE.  Vergil was writing at the turn of the first century BC/AD, under the patronage of the emperor Augustus.  Augustus was very interested in a revival of traditional Roman values, and Vergil’s version of Aeneas, the founding father of the Roman race, was written with Augustus’ agenda in mind.  As the legendary poster boy for Rome’s new era, Aeneas became the embodiment of VIRTUTES.

Aeneas saves his elderly father and young son from the destruction of Troy (I love me some Bernini!) Source:

Aeneas saves his elderly father and young son from the destruction of Troy (I love me some Bernini!)

The more I think about this, the more I think that Richard Armitage would be perfect in the role Aeneas.  It would be a case of art imitating life in a way, since he seems to embody so many of the VIRTUTES ROMANAE.  You don’t have to take my word for it…periodically, I’ll bring you a new virtue and illustrate how Richard Armitage personifies it.  Take COMITAS for example.  It means humor, ease of manner, courtesy, openness, friendliness  (  This one is almost too easy.

Whether it’s

Red carpet events Source:

Red carpet events


or interview

Drinking wine at 8am?  OK!

Drinking wine at 8am? OK!

after interview,

Miming...or is it meme-ing?

Miming…or is it meme-ing?

or being upstaged be an iconic muppet,



Richard Armitage seems to approach it all with humor, courtesy and friendliness.  In a word – COMITAS!

21 comments on “VIRTUTES ROMANAE: Richard Armitage and COMITAS

  1. katie70 says:

    Yes I do believe that Richard has comitas, the picture sure says he does.

  2. guylty says:

    I’ve been pondering my tendency to idealise this man, during the last few days. Any chance you may know what I mean 😉 ?
    Having said that, Armitage does possess wit and humour, and he seems to be a cheerful sort of fellow, when given the chance. But I also think you could possibly explain anything with this man as an example, including rocket science :-D.
    On the issue of comitas – I find it interesting that the Romans considered humour and friendliness a “virtue” as such. I understand the importance of friendly manner in daily life, but that such a belligerent race as the Romans should appreciate cheerfulness, humour and a happy disposition, really surprises me. Good on ya, Romans.

    • obscura says:

      Guilty…although, some of my fondest daydreams are imagining nature taking its course. He is lovely and all, but he’s human, and he’s a HE. I suspect that there are instances of dirty socks next to the hamper and snarky responses hiding behind that affability from time to time 😉

      The Romans? I think part of the problem here is again an issue of context. The Romans were definitely a bellicose state, standing out in a landscape of other military states. However, our understanding of them is always skewed by the fact that this is the aspect of their society that is most often recorded. If you peel back the layers, you find that there s a rich culture underneath all of that war (which was dictated by the state, and required of the people…some things never change). Comedy (of the slapstick, bawdy variety) was hugely popular amongst the Romans, much more than tragedy ever was.

      • guylty says:

        Hehe, idealising is not synonym with idolising. I sure hope there are dirty socks, snarky comments and instances of exasperated door-slamming. THAT is nature taking its course, too 😉
        Totally true – I was coming from a very stereotypical view of the Romans. To my shame! I am glad to hear that they were a cheerful lot (underneath all their sabre-rattling) – humour and laughter are essential to life. (I could do much more easily without war and death…)

        • obscura says:

          Ooooo, slamming doors – I like that! *snicker* it would make a funny sort of SNL type skit to have the ever affable Mr. Armitage going off the rails behind the’s always the quiet ones you know 😉

          It’s hard not to come from that perspective…the Romans were aggressive (they liked to refer to it as defensive aggression – how’s that for an oxymoron?). Once they conquered people, they were generous with the culture as a consolation prize though…there’s a great scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” that satirizes this…I’ll hunt it down when I get to the office later today (am determined to finish new chapter of Recovery today!)

          • guylty says:

            Horrible thought: What if Armitage is actually so good an actor that he is an asshole in RL but has managed to pull the wool over our eyes??? Oh my, I’d be so disappointed… really. More in myself (for misjudging so badly), though…
            Hehe, “generous with the culture”… I take it you mean *their* culture? That’s an entirely different form of conquest, don’t you think? I love Python, btw, and Life of Brian is a wonderful reference point.

          • obscura says:

            I think you’re safe…those types of people ALWAYS blow up from the pressure of trying to repress all their natural venom. He’s been around long enough that there would be some indication of it from some quarter by now. That’s my story and I’m sticking too it…isn’t it a sad commentary on human society that we can’t help but wonder at good natured people?

            There’s a great line in HBO’s Rome that’s something like that…

            Egyptian: “under Roman Law you mean?”

            Caesar: “is there any other law?”

  3. Perry says:

    Another fun post, Obscura.
    gravtitus -check
    comitus- check

    The scupture is another beauty, isn’t it? Which household god is Aeneas’s father holding, if you know?

    • obscura says:

      Thanks…perhaps VIRTUTES ROMANAE punch cards are in order? 🙂

      It is…there are others, but Bernini really captures it (what the Romans would ave done if they’d excelled as much in art as they did in engineering and construction). I think the references are always collective to “household gods” but this looks like probably the Lar Familiaris, the sort of patron divinity of this particular family…a decidedly Roman thing for a Trojan to be carrying :). (The Aeneid is heavily etiological)

  4. Leigh says:

    Yes, gravitas and comitas he’s got, in spades! But I think it’s important to note that the Roman comitas seems to be more good fellowship and humour in camaraderie than what many would see as humour (such as appears in sitcoms). I love the thought of Richard playing Aeneas. Aeneas embodies Roman virtues, yes, but his passion for Dido is powerful. Aeneas’ mother was Venus, after all. Only his very Roman sense of duty finally wins out over his love for the queen.

    • obscura says:

      Yeah, that’s true, I don’t think the indication is toward guffawing…that would be something like ridiculum, which the Romans certainly enjoyed, but not in this context. COMITAS refers more to geniality and affability. (It’s probably related somewhere, but comitas -with a long o – is a different root word than comitatus – with a short o – that means exactly, to be “in company” in a military sense…sorry for the belabored Latin blather…I don’t get to do it much anymore!)

      One of my favorite things about Aeneas is that he’s just a guy, but one who’s been given this monumental destiny, and from time to time, he just wants to be a guy. The episode with Dido is a perfect example. Aeneas would have been content to lay in Carthage, wrapped in Dido’s loving arms, but destiny…being carried by Mercury with a prod…gets him back on track. Although, once again, the hero goes on virtually unscathed by his broken love affair, while Dido is much worse off (don’t want to spoil the story for anyone 😉 )

  5. Servetus says:

    I was thinking while reading Guylty’s comments that “we” (by which I mean those of us engaged in reading Roman lit with undergrads in the liberal arts classroom, which is mostly in western civ or humanities classes) are usually not reading the funny Romans. I mean, I remember from college that Roman authors wrote comedies but I’m usually reading really heavy things (Cicero against Verres, Suetonius on the Caesars, Pliny observing the volcano explode, the 4th Eclogue, Aeneas, Horace, etc.) and I’m guessing that’s because the way the western canon came down to us, its sustainers were more interested in the “serious” virtues.

    • obscura says:

      Yes…have you read Caesar on the Gallic Wars – *sheesh* Some of it might also have to do with a certain level of Victorianism in what is appropriate to read – Roman comedy is usually on the bawdy/crass side – doesn’t really fit the high moral tone of Cicero 🙂

      • Servetus says:

        Indeed. I was thinking after I wrote that comment that it’s *not* true of the Greeks — I’ve read a lot of Greek comedies with undergrads in various settings. Of course, you tend to teach what you’ve read, and I’ve read much more Greek literature in general. But then the question is — why did I have more exposure to Greek comedies than to Roman ones?

        • obscura says:

          I think Greek comedy – Old Comedy (Aristophanes), despite it’s overt lewdness (I keep meaning to post about that…fart jokes and all) is deeply based in Athenian politics and thus validated.

          New Comedy – which was a huge influence on Roman comic writers like Plautus was not topical at all, but relied on stock comedic characters, etc. And of course, there’s the inherent prejudice that Rome was a cultural backwater in comparison to Greece (guess who started that rumor?)

  6. Marie Astra says:

    Thinking about the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was inspired by the comedies of Plautus (according to Wikipedia – did you really think I knew that? ;)) Anyway, it’s very funny if you haven’t seen it, both the movie and the show. I’ve seen it a gazillion times. RA as Miles Gloriosus, perhaps? 😀 Great post, Obscura!

    • obscura says:

      I’ve seen it, but not for an age – time to revisit I think 🙂 This sort of comedy of errors is what the Romans would have called ridiculus and it was very popular. That would certainly allow him to flex his comic and musical muscles – and give us a nice look at his long, long legs in Roman military costume! My pleasure 🙂

  7. […] On the question of Roman virtues, Ancient Armitage moves on to Richard Armitage’s friendliness. […]

  8. […] have found that there are others who share similar tastes and experiences, and who are intelligent and actually nice people as well – despite the selfish desires that we possess and fuel us […]

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