Yesterday, I had every intention of writing a Roman virtues post on CLEMENTIA (mildness or gentleness), a quality that has been on display in Richard Armitage’s public appearances lately…contrasting nicely with the intensity of his performance as John Proctor in The Crucible. I had definitely planned to do it…and then I took my son, his new learner’s permit in hand, out for a driving lesson. After an hour of trying to mildly instruct him to “stop…Stop….STOP!” or helplessly but gently navigate him through the space between the asphalt truck and the asphalt roller or around a ginormous oncoming combine…
…any trace of CLEMENTIA in me had been eradicated.
Consequently, we’ll leave gentle and mild for the moment and move on to another virtue…FIRMITAS. Probably the most ubiquitous modern association with firmitas lies in Vitruvius who wrote *the* book on Roman architecture. Vitruvius combined FIRMITAS, (firmness, durability or strength) with UTILITAS (usefulness) and VENUSTAS (beauty) into what has come to be called the Vitruvian Virtues of Architecture.
As evidenced by the recent images shot by Francesco Guidicini for the Sunday Times/News Syndication, there is very little about Richard Armitage that is not FIRMITAS by literal definition. However, while the ancient Romans certainly valued a strong physical form, the Roman virtue of firmitas was connected to its alternate meaning of tenacity or steadfastness.
Rome didn’t emerge as a Mediterranean super power overnight. It started out as a dinky west central Italian city state ruled by a fratricide king and populated mostly by felons and malcontents who’d been kicked out of every other place in the area. They had to scrap for just about everything…they even had to steal wives from their neighbors the Sabines, but they held fast and fought forward. The power and extent of Roman influence grew over centuries of tenacious expansion during which they suffered a number of crushing defeats that could well have ended it all. But as a culture, the Romans seemed to possess this sort of iron spine of perseverance...firmitas… that propelled them onward. This was true on an individual level as well. Although access to high political influence was limited to a very few elites, Roman society actually had a great deal of potential for upward economic mobility, which over time…with a healthy dose of firmitas… could lead to social and political mobility as well. Stick-to-it-ness was a highly prized virtue for the Romans.
Reading through the “annals” of Richard Armitage’s career, one will find that there is a similar concept at work, beginning when he was an adolescent badgering his parents about the school he wanted to attend. Despite a paucity of roles early on, he stuck it out…waiting tables, laying floors, doing whatever it took to fill in the gaps while he continued to tenaciously work toward an acting career. More recently, (notably in the Telegraph article by Chris Harvey) we’ve seen him recount his firmitas in the steadfast determination to gain access to desirable stage roles by first building a reputation and a name as a screen actor. It took years, and there may well have been times when he was ready to chuck it all, but he didn’t…he steadfastly pushed forward and then, there it was…