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The Preservation of Romulus and Remus

In this passage, from the beginning of his history of Rome, Livy outlines the exposure and preservation of the twins Romulus and Remus, who went on to establish the city of Rome. It is this story that gave rise to the many depictions in art of the twins being suckled by a wolf. Note, however, Livy’s rationalizing interpretation of the “miraculous” element of the story.

Then Proca ruled. He sired Numitor and Amulius. To Numitor, who was the eldest of his offspring, he bequeathed the ancient kingdom of the Silvian clan. Force, however, was far more powerful than the will of the father and respect for age; Amulius drove his brother out and assumed the rule. He added foul deed to foul deed. He destroyed the male offspring of his brother and from Rhea Silvia, his brother’s daughter, he stole any hope of offspring by imposing perpetual virginity on her, when he chose her as a Vestal as if for the sake of honoring her.

But, as I see it, the origin of a very great city and the beginning of the greatest empire next to the power of the gods was predestined. When the Vestal was raped and gave birth to twins, she named Mars as the father of her children, either because she believed it was so or because a god was more respectable as the author of the deed. But neither the gods nor men saved either her or her offspring from the king’s cruelty. The priestess was bound and put in custody; he commanded that the boys be put in flowing water. By some chance from the gods, since the Tiber had flowed over its banks with its quiet pools, it was not possible to approach anywhere the flow of the actual river. This gave hope to those bearing the infants that they would be able to submerge the babies in the water, however languid it might be. So, as if they were fulfilling the command of the king, they exposed the babies in the nearest overflow where the fig tree Rumina is now located, which people say was called the tree of Romulus. At that time there were vast open areas in those places. The report is that when the shallow water left on dry land the floating basket, in which the boys had been exposed, a thirsty wolf from the nearby mountains turned its course to the boys’ crying. She was so gentle that she lowered her teats and offered them to the infants. The master of the royal herd, whose name was Faustulus, found her licking the boys with her tongue. Faustulus took the boys home and gave them to his wife, Larentia, to be raised.

There are those who think that Larentia was called a wolf by the shepherds because she was a prostitute. This then became the reason for the miraculous fable.

Silvian—The first kings of Rome were from the Silvian family.

Vestal—Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, one of the most important deities in Rome. The equivalent of Greek Hestia, she was the goddess of the hearth and the hearth fire. In her temple in the Roman Forum was a fire that represented the life center of the Roman Republic. It was not allowed to go out. The Vestal Virgins were highly honored in Rome.

city—The city that was ultimately founded as a result of the exposure of Romulus and Remus was Rome.

Mars—The equivalent of Greek Ares, Mars was the Roman war god. Originally he was an agricultural deity. He was one of the most important gods for the warlike Romans.

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