Virtutes Romanae: Industria et Salubritas per Richard Armitage

Yes, I’m still alive…up to my eyeballs in a backlog of THDOS premiere and press tour materials.  I’m tired from just watching the video of events – I can only imagine the energy it must take to be an integral part of a tour like this.   Promotion is a huge part of the overall film making process these days, and it is a part that Richard Armitage has been less than enthusiastic about in the past.  Nevertheless, he’s really stepped up to the plate again, thus embodying the Roman virtue of industria.  Hard work, diligence, industriousness – all characteristics that can be easily identified in Richard Armitage’s approach to his career.   Over the past two weeks he, joined by many fellow cast members, has walked the red carpet at premieres on two continents, met legions of fans, signed autographs and posed for seemingly thousands of cameras…smile, smile, smile.

Richard Armitage works the red carpet in Berlin Source:  Guylty Pleasure

Richard Armitage works the red carpet in Berlin
Source: Guylty!!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg…in addition to the premieres, he’s also done countless interviews, press conferences , promos, “Hangouts” and Q/A’s.  Maybe it’s my indulgent eye, but it seems to me that he makes an effort to offer a bit more info in answer to oft repeated questions that must feel like a single song on perpetual repeat to him by now. daybreak interview It would be really easy for us to shrug this all off and say, “It’s all part of the job.”  This is a true statement,  but by his own admission, it is not a part of his job that Richard Armitage particularly relishes.  However, despite the travel, the fatigue and the reality of being “on”, not as a character but as himself, for two solid weeks, he doesn’t just go through the motions, he does it to the best of his ability.  Industria. So how does salubritas (good health, wholesomeness) fit in here?  Just look at him! Movie boyfriend is in fine form bringin’ the industria!!

*sigh* Source:  Guylty

*sigh*
Source: Guylty

Golden Boys: King Midas and Thorin Oakenshield

“It’s this attraction to gold which becomes their downfall, has always been at the back of his mind.”

 -Richard Armitage (http://collider.com/richard-armitage-the-hobbit-interview/)

The allure of gold, the danger of succumbing to greed, is a recurrent theme in many world societies, and it was certainly of interest to the ancient Greeks.  Arguably the most famous cautionary tale from Greek mythology is the story of King Midas.   As the Greeks tell the story (and a lot of them do!)  Midas was a powerful king of the kingdom of Phrygia in central Anatolia.  He was renowned for a lot of things, including wisdom and a love of the arts and literature, but it is the story of The Golden Touch that most everyone remembers.

A lot of authors tell this story and virtually all the versions start with the wanderings of the reveling followers of Dionysus, his favorite satyr friend Silenus in particular.  The revelers were travelling through Midas’ neck of the woods and Silenus was separated from the group, ending up in the famous rose gardens of Midas.

Silenus brought before the king... Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/midas/

Silenus brought before the king…
Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/midas/

When the drunken old satyr (half man, half goat) was apprehended and brought before the king, Midas treated him with cordiality and hospitality.  When Dionysus heard of the friendly reception that Silenus had received from Midas, he offered the king anything he wished in thanks.  Midas asked Dionysus to grant him a golden touch…that is, that everything he touched would turn to gold.

In theory, this sounds like a good idea, but in practice it turns into one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios.  Dionysus told Midas as much, warning him of the potential dangers of such a wish, but Midas would not be talked out of it, so the wish was granted.  Initially, Midas was ecstatic…touched a branch – Presto! – gold branch.  Touched a rock – Shazam! – er…you get the picture.  Midas made his way home, touching everything in sight as he went.  (Good thing ancient kings always traveled with large retinues – somebody had to carry all that gold!)

By the time he made it back to his palace, Midas was jubilant…and famished.  Gold making is hungry and thirsty work!  He ordered a feast to be laid out for him and quickly encountered the catch of his golden wish.  Everything he touched turned to gold…everything, including the bread he picked up to eat and the wine he tried to drink.  When he tried to sleep, his comfy bed with its sumptuous coverings, turned to cold hard gold too.  Before long, the very sight of gold was abhorrent and Midas was headed back to beg Dionysus to reverse the “gift.”

This story served two purposes for the Greeks.  It was an etiological myth that explained why gold was so plentiful in a certain river in Lydia…Dionysus instructed Midas to bathe in the river Pactolus to lose the golden touch.  It also served as yet another illustration of the Greeks’ assertion that sophrosyne was the way to go.   Midas would have been fine with a moderate gift of gold from Dionysus, but his greed in wanting it all was his undoing.

Thorin’s ability to withstand the lure of the “dragon sickness” that had consumed his grandfather is certain to be a major theme in the remaining films of The Hobbit trilogy.   Thorin is even more aware of the potential dangers than Midas.  Midas had only been warned of the threat…Thorin has seen for himself the damage that greed for gold wrought on his house.  I will be very interested to see how Richard Armitage characterizes this growing obsession in Thorin’s character….the peeks from the trailer are alluring!

Paludamentally yours…Thorin Oakenshield in Roman Military Wear

Thorin Oakenshield looking very Roman generalish in the DOS trailer. Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com Source:

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) looking very Roman generalish in the TDOS trailer.
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

I have been trying very hard to isolate myself from the impending deluge of promotion preceding the release of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug in December.  I just can’t afford three solid months of constant distraction.   As such, *braces self for hue and cry* I haven’t watched the trailer yet.  I did, however, catch a glimpse of the image above and was instantly struck by how very Roman Thorin (Richard Armitage) looks.  With a mind toward NOT being sucked into the distraction, I noted it and moved along.  Then Servetus had to post this…dammit, now I have no choice! I will lose my Classical Tradition Club membership if I don’t formally address the Roman military inspiration of this look.

The paludamentum or sagum purpura (purple cloak) was the iconic red cloak worn by a Roman general (Legatus) and his staff officers.  Originally, it’s distinctive red/purple color clearly delineated between these officers and the rest of the army, which sported the sagum gregale (cloak of the flock).  Although the sagum gregale, worn by the rank and file, started out the color of the flock (i.e. undyed wool), it seems likely to have transitioned to a coarser version of the sagum purpura by the imperial period (27BCE – 476CE).  Outfitting the entire army in red garments would have been a mark of the great wealth of Rome – well, that and the fact that the Romans controlled the source of purple dye by then.

  • Brief sideline into the color purple… The Romans did not have an extremely detailed vocabulary for color (they would have been completely dumbfounded by the Crayola color palette!)  and their understanding of purple encompassed a variety of shades ranging from red to maroon to purple.  A deep, rich color like this was quite difficult to achieve with the dyes available in the ancient world.
Shells of Bolinus Brandaris

Shells of Bolinus Brandaris

  • In fact, the Phoenicians made a fortune selling Tyrian Purple, a dye extracted from the Bolinus Brandaris or Spiny dye murex, a mollusk that resides in the waters off the coast of Phoenicia (modern Lebanon).  The potency of this dye made it “worth it’s weight in silver” according to the ancient historian Theopompus, and put it well out of reach of all but the extremely wealthy.

Sorry…I got a little carried away there!  The paludamentum was a cloak that was specifically associated with warfare.  A general donned one for the ceremonial procession leading an army out of the sacred precinct of the city of Rome and was required to remove it before returning to the city…a sign that he was no longer a general, but a common citizen.

paludamentum mixThe paludamentum was usually worn over one shoulder and fastened with a fibula (ancient version of a safety pin).  Arguments abound over what shoulder was exposed, but it seems fairly clear that the garment was fastened loosely enough to move around, (if you look through the Cleopatra caps, you’ll see that the sagum worn by Epiphanes (Richard Armitage) shifts freely when he’s involved in a tussle in defense of Octavian (Rupert Graves)).

fibula cuirass detailIn addition to the details of the cloak and the fibulae (Thorin wears two), it looks to me as if he might also be wearing a leather chest protector (cuirass) that is detailed with an elaborate metal section.  If you look at the image of Ciarin Hinds as Caesar above, you’ll see a similar arrangement, which is well attested historically.  All in all, this is very Roman regalia indeed.

There is one thing that stands out as distinctly not Roman however, and that is Thorin’s hair.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Thorin’s mane, but the Romans were sticklers about hair.  In his biography of Caesar, Suetonius recounts that not only did Caesar keep his face shaved and his hair cut short, he also insisted that all of his body hair be regularly removed.  (Here’s to job security for depilatory slaves!)

Thorin’s long, braided hair and beard would have immediately marked him as a barbarian, a German even (no offense my German friends, but your ancestors scared the togas off the Romans!).  By the later stages of the Empire though, there were plenty of Romanized barbarians who had been assimilated into the Roman army.  In this guise, Richard Armitage could be any one of a number of Ostrogothic kings who rose to prominence as Roman power waned in western Europe.  I’m especially partial to Theodoric the Great.  He had grown up as a hostage in the Byzantine court at Constantinople and went on to recover and rule the remnants of the Roman west, promoting religious tolerance in an era of persecution.  I seem to recall Richard Armitage saying in an interview that he’d like to play an historic character, but not someone too famous…I think I might have found the perfect fit.

VALÉ Armitageworld