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LIVY, CATO AND THE BACCHANALIA

 

Tarditi[1] believes that the concept of conspiracy about the Bacchanalia was created by Marcus Porcius Cato, the most influential personality and listened then by conservative forces. He considered useful to achieve his political project, act so that followers of Bacchus were considered as nuclei bound by an oath and operated by the Greeks against the social structure and moral of the Roman state and incite the people against them. The real goal that he wanted to strike to death was the Hellenism from which this cult depended and that was fought hard and successfully by conservative forces and was at sunset, as was at sunset the power of Scipios who had favoured it. Cato hoped that hatred and disgust towards the Greeks and Hellenistic tendencies, already widespread in the great mass of the Roman people[2], would become overwhelming. The affair of the Bacchanalia could be the death blow against Hellenism. He believed that the republic had to be freed from foreign influences and was to be anchored to the traditional ideas, ancient customs, to the thrift agricultural that had once been part of all the Romans.

We know from Festus[3] he uttered a speech about a conspiracy and that, in the opinion of Iordan[4], would keep in Senate just in 186 BC. Of this speech we received a single word, precem that for combination belongs to the religious sphere. It would have been in this speech, pronounced during the persecution of the Bacchanalia that he would have represented the Dionysian movement as a conspiracy against the State and incite the people against the followers. The consul Postumius, who had heard the speech of Cato in the Senate, then repeated the same idea in his contio to the people. “That the concept of conspiracy about the Bacchanalia comes from Cato can be confirmed by the fact that in the story of the courtesan Hispala to Postumius about the origin and the Dionysian ceremonies there is no specific mention of a conspiracy, whereas this accusation is repeated several times in the speech of the console to the Romans.” [5] If to this concept of conspiracy against the republic, is added the spirit of the whole matter, it is natural to think that Livy in designing a speech to the people of the consul has used the oration of Cato about the Bacchanalia. But the hypothesis of Tarditi and other scholars to consider Cato the number one enemy of the Bacchanalia is not based on documents that attest the truth because they do not exist.  Therefore we cannot be at all sure that the conspiracy of which speaks Festus is that about the Bacchanalia, in a time when the riots were the order of the day. It may have been uttered in the context of Slavic rebellion or the war against the Ligurians[6].

In practice the hypothesis is mainly based on the behaviour of Cato after the affair of the Bacchanalia and the historical figure of the character handed down to posterity.

 Even the most serious argument that is adduced: the presence among the three secretaries of the senatus consultum October 7 of L. Valerius Flaccus, a personal and political friend of Cato, is not a conclusive test. In fact, in this circumstance the role of Valerius Flaccus cannot be separated from the other two colleagues: M. Claudius Marcellus and Q Minucius Rufus. Each of them belonged to one of the great currents of the Senate: Flaccus to the wing conservative and reactionary of which was part Cato, Marcellus Claudius to the central block that associated then "Fabii", "Claudian" and "Fulvii", Minucius Rufus to the clan of Scipios[7]. The Pailler believes the supposition of these scholars an illusion and concludes that it should reject any retrospective mirage based on the subsequent behaviour of a person who became historical and on the image transmitted of him to posterity[8]. In his view, it can at best be assumed that the future censor has supported the measures decided upon collectively by the Senate under the impulse of the consul Postumius and have learned the lesson from these events and been able to find in the repression of the 186 the idea, or rather the model of the kaqarmo@v touted, two years later, when he requested censorship[9].

It could be concluded, according to this hypothesis, that Cato in the years prior to 186 had certainly given its important contribution to the success of the Conservative Party, but had not yet become the leader of it.

At least according to what Livy testifies the deus ex machina of all the operations that were carried out about the Bacchanalia was the consul Postumius. He was able to manage the affair with much ability so that no one of the opposite party dared to oppose, as if his opponents had suddenly disappeared into thin air. The Conservative Party, under his leadership, then reached a substantial political power. It is certain that he finally reached well as a great personal prestige if in elections of consuls and praetors for the following year (185), he managed to elect two magistrates who belonged to his family: A. Postumius Albinus (Luscus) and L. Postumius Tempsanus[10].

There is no doubt that the consul Postumius played an important role in the events of 186, but it is at all unlikely that he did not have supporting actors and it is not credible that the other consul has only played the role of spectator and that Cato did not have no part in the affair. Cato in fact, already in 195 BC (eleven years before the deal), had become the console, then he must have already achieved a leading position. In the same year he proved to be already the leader of the Conservatives, when with a fiery and long speech tried to prevent the repeal of the lex Oppia[11]. You can then reasonably assume that in the following years his role has been increasing and not decreasing, if the 184 (two years after the affair) obtained the prestigious charge of censor, while the great generals Fulvius Nobilior, Manlius Vulso and Lucius Scipio presented their candidacy to censorship but were not elected.

If we analyze the speech of the console is clear that the consul Postumius dominates the scene, is he who gives himself the authorship of the concept of conspiracy, is he who presents himself as the saviour of his country from the ambitions of the Bacchic conspirators.  His speech for the self-celebration of saviour of the country can be compared a little to the Orationes in Catilinam of Cicero. Everything would be normal if the speech of the console was packaged by him but we know all the reasons of consul are packed by the same Livy[12]. It is natural to wonder why the historian would celebrate the consul so blatantly attributing to him the authorship of ideas that were not his and why would completely be silent on the important role that Cato would have had in the affair.

It is evident that Livy, writing after so many years had no interest in celebrating Postumius all at the expense of Cato. And this is even truer if we compare this passage with fiery speech against the proposal to repeal the lex Oppia that Livy attributes to Cato.

The only explanation for this particular setup is almost certainly into the source that Livy used; it must have been different from that used in speech against the repeal of the lex Oppia attributed to Cato. He then used without critical analysis, a source who had a vested interest in the celebration of the consul Postumius and at the same time to be silent on the role of Cato.

 The hypothesis that gives a plausible answer to this problem is made ​​by Fronza. The researcher believes that the source of Livy is in the historical work of Aulus Postumius Albinus. This man, a generation later than the console, close relative, ambitious and has already started the political career in his Pragmatikh@ iéstori@a, to illustrate the splendour of his family would amplified to the maximum the role of its relative[13]

It is also obvious that for celebrate best the consul of Bacchanalia he was totally silent on the role played by other supporting actors in the affair and in particular by Cato. He could not point out that the idea of the plot of followers of Bacchus against the Roman Republic was of Cato and not of the consul.  Of this work would have benefited Polybius for the internal politics of Rome and subsequently Livy would use Polybius as a source. But nothing prevents you believe that Livy was able to have directly the work of Aulus Postumius Albinus and has used it, as his custom was, without critically analyzing[14]. He then accepted without question the approach given about the events by relative of the console, because it was consistent with what were his ideas.

 

 He looked around and saw the society to which he belonged extremely corrupt and degenerate and customs long gone from maiorum mos. He thought that the causes were to be found in the prolonged contact with the material prosperity from the east and the possibility of increasing personal wealth. He fixed the turning point for the moral degeneration in 187[15], the previous year of the Bacchanalia.[16]

Convinced that history could be magistra vitae he has endeavoured to present the past not in its reality, but in a way that could apply to the present. Who read the pages of history on Bacchanalia, had to find them abhorrent and to be avoided at all costs. Exceptional measures were justified, when it was considered that a group of foreigners, women and young people were conspiring against the State. Amplification of danger could well serve as a better example for the future. The condemnation of the Bacchanalia was also extended to all foreign cults and behaviours different from the traditional ones. In this he gave his contribution to the Augustan tending theoretically to slow the degeneration of costumes with a return to the traditional Roman religion [17]. But Augustus in ancient gods and their worship would find support in order to give legitimacy to his principality. The religion that tried to reconstruct became "for him and for his successors instrumentum regni, ie instrument of domination, according to that method which Varro, with its archaeological reconstruction, the Antiquities, had indicated to Caesar"[18].

The comparison of the two passages of Livy (The repeal of the law Oppia and the affair of the Bacchanalia) shows clearly his typical way of using the sources. Although he has available to multiple sources on a given topic, chooses one, the one that best suits his ideas and fully follows, without renouncing to embellish and boost the facts which to him seem more interesting.

He not only does not make a critical analysis of its sources, but not even check to see if in the various sources that he uses there are contradictions. This explains the celebration on the beginning of the Book XXXIV of the consul Cato and dedication of three chapters to his speech against the repeal of the lex Oppia, while in the Bacchanalian affair his name practically disappears. From Livy's account on Bacchanalia would seem that Cato did not have any role to become once again dominant person then just two years later, when he was elected to the prestigious charge of censor. This is absolutely not credible.

In conclusion we can say that Livy, in presenting the facts related to the matter of the Bacchanalia, brides, as usual, totally the point of view of the sources choices and in doing so does not hesitate to embellish them with a good dose of pathos and altering them continuously in relation to reality. The reasons that led the historian to present the events of 186 BC in a more or less deformed can, therefore, be found on the one hand in the moral ideals that guided him, in other hand in the sources that he has used without a minimum of critical analysis.

 

 


[1] Tarditi G., «PP», XXXVII, 1954, p. 277 s.; cfr. anche: De Sanctis G., Storia dei Romani, IV, 1, Roma 1923, pp. 581-584; Bruhl A., Liber Pater, Paris 1953, pp. 115-116; Bayet J., La religione romana, Torino 1959, pp. 152-155; Pettazzoni R., Italia Religiosa, Bari 1952,  p. 13 ;  Bauman R.A., «Historia», 1990, p. 336; D’onofrio G., Baccanali, Firenze 2001, p. 39 ss..

[2] A reflection of the hostile attitude of the Romans to the Greeks can be found in well-known passage of Curculio (v. 288 ff.), in which Plautus, sure to have the approval of the audience makes a violent tirade satirical against the Greek philosophers, sages only in appearance, but in reality hypocrites and full of vices.

[3] Festus, p. 280 Lindsay: «Precem  singulariter Cato in ea quae est de coniuratione.»

[4] M. Catonis praeter librum de re rustica quae extant, ed. Iordan, Stuttgardiae 1860 (= 1966), LXXVII. Cfr.: Cova P.V., «Athenaeum», 62, 1974, p. 89, n. 17; Della Corte F., Catone Censore, Firenze 1969, p. 213.

[5] Tarditi, «PP», 1954, p. 277; See also: Luisi, La terminologia del terrorismo, in “Terror et Pavor” del 2005, Fondazione Canussio 2007, p. 151 n. 27; Cova «Athenaeum», 62, 1974, p. 85, 97.

[6] Gruen E.S., Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy 1990, p. 57; cfr. Livio, XXXIII, 36, 2; Livy, XXXIV, 56, 2.

[7] Pailler J.M.,  Bacchanalia, 1988, p. 147; cfr. Rousselle «CJ», 1982, p. 12-15.

[8] Pailler, Bacchanalia, 1988, p. 148.

[9] Pailler, Bacchanalia, 1988, pp. 148–149.

[10] Livy, XXXIX, 23, 2.

[11] Livy, XXXIV, 2-4.

[12] Van Son, Bacchanalia, 1960, p. 66.

[13] Fronza L., «Annali Università di Trieste» XVII, 1947, p. 202-226; Cfr. Pailler, Bacchanalia, 1988, p. 600-612; Briscoe J., A commentary on Livy. Books 38-40, Oxford 2007, pp. 302-308.

[14] Rousselle, «CJ», 1982, pp. 4-19, Concludes after extensive discussion Livy goes back to the first source, probably A. Postumius Albinus.

[15] Livy, XXXIX, 6, 7: Uix tamen illa quae tum conspiciebantur, semina erant futurae luxuriae.

 [16] Pagan, Conspiracy narratives in Roman history, Austin 2004, p. 56. 

[17] Adamik T., Livius über die Bacchanalien Verschwörung, in «Acta antiqua», 47, 2007, p. 338.

[18] Pastorino A., Religiosità romana, Torino 1967, p. 57.