Beware the Ides of March Richard Armitage…

It has been a full on CRAPTASTIC March so far – until today – March 15 – The Ides of March.

Tonight was a rather singular bright spot in a bleakish stretch.  Tonight my Rome class marked the Ides of March 44 BCE assassination of Julius Caesar.

With cake:

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What kind of cake?

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Blood red cake of course!  (Relax…it’s Red Velvet…with white chocolate buttercream 🙂  )

Brings a whole new twist to “Beware the Ides of March”

Virtutes Romanae: Richard Armitage and Clementia

An abundance of CLEMENTIA... Source

An abundance of CLEMENTIA…
Source

Although Richard Armitage exhibits them readily, kindness/indulgence/mildness/forbearance are not exactly qualities that most people would associate with the bellicose Romans.  Nevertheless, CLEMENTIA was counted among the VIRTUTES ROMANAE, the qualities to be aspired to by all citizens.  The closest English cognate to CLEMENTIA is clemency or mercy.  The unlikely poster boy for this aspect of CLEMENTIA was none other than Julius Caesar.

"Chiaramonti Caesar"  Vatican Museum

“Chiaramonti Caesar”
Vatican Museum

Incoming…another historical side trip…

Julius Caesar, the conqueror of Gaul, the dictator of Rome, the last nail in the coffin of the flailing Republic, started out as impoverished but ambitious Roman aristocrat.   A man of tremendous political and military acumen, he maneuvered himself into immense power first by allying with the voting power of the working classes, despite his elite pedigree, and then by forming an “unholy trinity” with two other ambitious men, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus.  The three pooled their resources in order to pull an end run around the beleaguered and corrupt political process of the last stage of the Republic.  A power play that would serve their individual purposes well.  As happens with alliances of ambitious and power hungry people, this one ended up in civil war in 48 BC.  Guess who came out on top?  

Caesar was not the first individual to seize sole power in 1st century BC Rome…in fact, he had run afoul of Sulla as a very young man.  Evidently Caesar learned something from the experience.  Lucius Cornelius Sulla had cut a bloody path through the Roman elite, purging any and all political opponents in order to “clean up” the corruption in the government.  By contrast, in the wake of the civil war, Caesar famously offered full pardon – Clemency – to anyone who had fought against him.  He went one step further and included many of his former enemies in high positions within his dictatorship (this turned out rather badly for Caesar in the end obviously)  The actual sincerity of Caesar’s mercy has long been suspect, but it served it’s purpose in that whether the pardoned elites believed it sincere or not, the common people of Rome – Caesar’s power source – certainly did…especially after the consecration of a temple of CLEMENTIA CAESARIS in 44BC.  

So, CLEMENTIA certainly has a famous instance of association with mercy and clemency, which actually seems to have slanted how the term has cognated into modern English usage.  In Latin however, this word appears much more commonly with a slightly different meaning related to indulgence, forbearance, mildness and kindness…or so says the literature on the Roman Virtues.  I was skeptical, since it fit my purposes almost too nicely, so I looked it up via the PERSEUS PROJECT:

There in black and white (and blue hyperlink) www.perseus.tufts.edu

There it is in black and white (and blue hyperlink)
www.perseus.tufts.edu

As you can plainly see, the entry for definition II of CLEMENTIA shows that this sense of the word appears quite commonly among prose writers…especially with writers like Cicero and Seneca…who had a great interest in Roman moralia.

CLEMENTIA in progress... Source

CLEMENTIA MISSI
Source

We have had daily proof in recent weeks that Richard Armitage embodies the Roman Virtue of CLEMENTIA as he graciously appears at the Old Vic stage door night after night…only minutes after what pretty much everyone describes as a physically grueling performance…to indulgently and kindly interact with fans.  Account after account confirms that despite the fact that he must be tired, he is kind and pleasant, signing autographs and taking selfies.  He appears to be very well aware how much it means to fans to meet him, however brief the meeting might be.  CLEMENTIA in the flesh it seems!

 

ὅ παῖς καλός – Armitage and Ascroft

I’ve been talking a lot about the Greeks, but the ancient Romans also made enormous contributions to the classical tRAdition.  A new photo of Richard Armitage that emerged over the weekend put me in mind of the Roman tradition of portrait sculpture.  The classical Greeks were skilled and prolific sculptors – arguably far surpassing the later Romans in virtually all areas…except one:  portraits.  It wasn’t that the Greeks couldn’t generate realistic portraits, it was that they just weren’t interested.  I think that it has to do with a vast divide in ideologies between the Greeks and Romans.  To boil it down, the Greeks saw much of life as a quest to achieve ἀρετή (arête or excellence in English).  I’ll have more to say about Richard Armitage and ἀρετή at a later date, but suffice it to say now, that viewed through this lens, realism gave way to idealism for the Greeks in many artistic genres.

The Romans, in contrast, have been defined by many as centering themselves around the concepts of pietas (piety) and gravitas (gravity or severity)  If the Greeks were the great “out of the box” thinkers of the classical world, the Romans were the pragmatic doers. In its original role, portrait sculpture served as a visual means of keeping the pious Romans connected to the spirits of their departed ancestors, an important part of traditional Roman religion.  The earliest Roman portrait busts are thought to have been sculpted from wax “death masks” molded from the recently deceased’s features.  Not surprisingly, the results are realistic down to the wrinkle…a “warts and all” sculptural tradition.

"Veristic" Bust of an Old Man - Vatican Museum

“Veristic” Bust of an Old Man – Vatican Museum

As the Romans expanded out of Italy, into the wider Mediterranean world, amassing a huge territorial empire, the function of portrait sculpture also expanded to include realistic portraits of important public figures like the one of Julius Caesar below.  It is meant to be a realistic portrait, but also to show the power and importance of this individual.  This portrait represents Caesar in the mid 1st century BC (BCE) at about the age of 50…not a young man, but not old either.

caesar bust

Julius Caesar – Vienna, Austria

By the 2nd century AD (CE) we can see a very different style of portrait sculpture emerging.   After several hundred years of exposure to the Greek artistic aesthetic, some of it has clearly rubbed off on the Romans in this “portrait” of Antinous, the favorite of the Roman emperor Hadrian.  To be fair, Hadrian was a massive Hellenophile, Greece’s 2nd century sugar daddy, so the Greek influence is extremely pronounced here.  But Roman portraits from this period forward reflect a blending of the Romans desire for realistic portraiture with the Greek preference for an idealized look.

Antinous_Mondragone_Louvre_Ma1205

“Portrait” of Antinous – Louvre
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

So how does the latest Robert Ascroft portrait of Richard Armitage (below) fit in here?  The Romans would have loved modern photography for its ability to realistically portray the human face down to the last wrinkle, blemish and gray hair.  The Greeks would have loved Photoshop for its ability to make that all disappear and produce an idealized view.

Photo by Robert Ashcroft 2012 - Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

Photo by Robert Ascroft 2012 – Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

I can’t tell you if this image has been retouched – although I doubt that many professional images are released without some adjustments.  We see a mature man, not an idealized youth here, and for me, at least, the impact is a stunning blend of the realistic and ideal.  ὅ παῖς καλός indeed!