This is a rough draft of a Latin research paper I have been working on for a few months. It covers the topic of two ancient Roman heroes: Mucius Scaevola, and Horatius Cocles.
One may look all around himself and see nothing but the dregs of normality and that of which he does not know the origin. It is an interesting and objectively correct idea indeed to think of the world as the Roman canvas of cultural influence. One could say, judging by his surroundings, that all are the children of a long begotten time where men stood up for their beliefs and were judged not based on the size of their posterior but on the value of their actions. Such a time has past, and yet these true, virtuous heroes are still with us today. The fact that the empire lasted for millennia and directly affected so many cultures of the area just goes to show that no one in the western hemisphere can escape the influence of the Romans. Modern culture, language, and the absence of garum can all be attributed to actions by the Romans. Many know of the greatest examples of such influence. It would be a difficult challenge indeed to find someone who did not know that name of Gaius Iulius Ceasar, for he was most definitely a major power player in Rome’s history. Many other lesser known figures have influence the modern times more directly. People might not know the names of Scipio Africanus or Cincinnatus, but there were the pioneers of espionage and presidential term limits respectively. However, some heros of early Rome are not recognized today. They may have been praised in the past, but the people have strayed and should be reminded of the great sacrifices brave Romans made in order to have the things people do today. The histories of Livy tell us the stories of two exceptional early Roman heros that have affect the present in more subtle ways. Popular culture is indeed a very important part of society if you ask any layman, but the intelligentsia denies this because they do not want the truth to get out. Mucius Scaevola and Horatius Cocles are greatly influential on modern culture when taken into account how unknown they are in the informal sphere. These young Romans provide archetypal examples of prodigal achievers who gave all they could for their country. Although it is debated whether or not these heroes did what is written, or indeed if they even existed as Livy said concerning Cocles, “A more careful study will show that Cocles was a purely imaginary and divine character. (Pais 156)”, no one can denounce their effect on contemporary media. Cocles and Mucius provide perfect hero characterization and have been replicated in many tales. The legends of Mucius Scaevola and Horatius Cocles have had major impacts on modern popular culture, aspiration, and allusionary reference.
Gaius Mucius was a young aristocrat living in Rome during the siege by the same Etruscans. “This story seems to be later used by the Romans when Scaevola was said to have disguised himself and crept into the camp of Lars Porsenna… (Beckett 90)” He was on a self-inspired mission sanctioned by the Roman Senate to assassinate the king of the Etruscans, Porsenna. “… the Roman’s hope was dimming when Gaius Mucius, a young Roman aristocrat, presented himself to the Senate with a plan to assassinate Porsenna. The Senate consented. (Zoch 43)” He snuck into the camp. Unfortunately for him, it was the soldiers’ pay day, and both the king and his secretary were out in front, dressed in the same attire. Mucius did not know which was the king and unluckily stabbed the advisor instead. After having been questioned by the king, Mucius proudly explained his intentions and held his hand in a nearby fire to show his apathy towards pain. “…in which Mucius… showed his immunity to pain by holding his right hand over a sacrificial fire, and the astonished king let him go free. (Sachs 67)” He reportedly said, “… I’ll tell you this: we, three hundred noble youth of Rome, have sworn an oath to take this same path against you. (Zoch 44)” The king was moved and released Mucius, who gained the nickname “Scaevola”, Latin for “lefty”, because of his injured hand.
Mucius Scaevola was the influencing figure for the character Lucas Skywalker in Star Wars. Scaevola burns his right hand off in an encounter and in the Star Wars series Darth Vader cuts Skywalker’s right hand off with his lightsaber. It can be inferred that George Lucas intended this allusion because Skywalker is homophonic to Scaevola. It is reasonable to conjecture that Lucas had a reason for adding Scaevola to his story for more than mere laughs. It comes to mind that Lucas was keen on using sentiments from Mucius’ story in his own narrative. All who have seen the series Star Wars know that Skywalker sneaks into Cloud City in order to kill the leader of the opposing army. This is exactly what happens in the tale of Scaevola, and this causes one to question just how much of Star Wars is actually original material. This is is an extremely prevalent use of Scaevola’s image and likeness in modern popular culture. It could be argued that without the story of Scaevola it is entirely possible that Star Wars would not exist. Scaevola appears in other literary and cinematographic works in addition to Star Wars. Gordon Liddy, chief operative of the White House Plumbers unit, and Lawrence from Lawrence of Arabia use the “burning hand” trick as well in order to impress an audience. It is entirely possible that these characters used the Scaevola allusion for a reason as well, although it seems more likely that they included due to its cool factor. Some appearances of Mucius’ likeness are not in the realm of entertainment. Political writer William Godwin likened himself to Mucius and signed letters in his name. “Godwin published a series of six letters in The Political Herald and Review, which he signed as Mucius. (Sachs 66)” He figured that his political opinions lined up with that of Scaevola, even though he never knew the guy. “In this sense, Mucius becomes an emblem for the whole work, a mark of consistent admiration carried over from Godwin’s days as a party hack. (Sachs 72)” Unfortunately for him however, not only did he assume Scaevola have his political opinions, but he assumed wrong, as Godwin was against aristocracy and political institutions, while Scaevola committed his deed in order to save his country and his republic. Shameful display, honestly.
“The etruscan soothsayers cause to be erected in the same place the statue of Horatius Cocles. (Pais 18)” This quote proves that Cocles was undoubtedly a famous figure in Roman culture, yet his name has been lost to the ages. Cocles’ father was a man that fought for his country. He got the name Cocles from the fact that he lost one of his eyes in battle, thus gaining the name Cocles from Cyclops. “…and as Horatius Cocles was descended from that Horatius who was victorious in the great battle between the Horatii and Curiatii it may be naturally presumed that he emulated the fame of his illustrious ancestor. (Colburn’s 33)” He rushed to the bridge of the Pons Sublicius as the Roman army was retreating and restricted the Etruscans from crossing by standing the width with two other roman officers. “…Cocles had the help of Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius for a while. (Beckett 90)” Even after the officers fled, Cocles remained. “When the javelins stuck in Horatius’ raised shield, he no less stubbornly controlled the bridge with his formidable presence… (Zoch 42, quoting Livy)” After the Romans successfully retreated, Cocles swam the width of the Tiber river while muttering prayers under his breath, ensuring his safety in getting to the other side.
It quite an arduous task to come up with explicit examples of Cocles’ effect on the modern world, let alone popular culture. He is mentioned in the 2012 hit movie Oblivion starring the lovable Will Smith, however he only gets about two seconds of screen time — a pittance. He is also written about in a literary work: “The story of Publius Horatius Cocles is dramatically related in the immensely popular Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington Macaulay, published in 1842. (Beckett 90)” Cocles must have inspired many soldiers with the tales of his bravery. The last stand that Cocles performed has become a common theme of bravery in the modern opinion of war. “In this dreadful emergency, despair yielded to hope, when Horatius Cocles volunteered to sacrifice himself, if needs be, in defence of his country. (Colburn’s 33)” Horatius Cocles was simply a famed hero of one of the battles between the Etruscans and the Romans. “To him all honour was due, and to him all honour was rendered. Public support was decreed him. and his statue was erected in the temple of Vulcan. And was his name forgotten in after years? never, never! (Colburn’s 34)” There are some speculations as to whether Cocles actually existed or not, as one historian said, “We shall thus (I think) reach the conclusion that the statue in the area of Vulcan supposed to represent the lame Codes, rather than being the statue of a legendary hero, was that of Vulcan himself. (Pais 158)”
However it is undoubtedly true that even if both Cocles or Scaevola never existed, their impact on modern culture is too great to ignore.