However, lest I be accused of singling the Zoroastrians out unfairly for their religious deviancy – it is important to note that such practices of ‘editing’ and ‘updating’ a foundational myth so that it might better accommodate who its people had become in the days since, was actually a recurrent feature of the Indo-European world. At its more benign, this might involve something as simple (yet as profound) as re-situating the Mountain of the Gods as the local tallest peak (something which seems to have happened just about everywhere the Greeks migrated to, considering the sheer number of Olympus mounts with Zeus associations there are dotted about the Aegean). I say this is benign, because it is a mere updating of the geography – not of the theology, the mythology. There is still a mountain, and there is still the clear linkage with just Whose Mountain it is.
At its more intrusive, there are fundamental and foundational changes made to the mythology *itself* in the course of this. The tailoring to fit seemingly inexorably entailing the chopping and changing of some elements – occasionally quite clumsily, and in such a manner that with a skilled eye it is immediately, obviously apparent where the patch-jobs or the reductions have taken place. The Zoroastrian Yima instance aforementioned is a particularly prominent (if egregious) example. And one could also assert somewhat fairly that the forcible grafting on of a pseudo-Aeneid to the Nordic mythology by a certain later chronicler, with its insistent rendering of “Aesir” as “the Men of Asia” having migrated from Troy … is almost on par with adding “Ancient Aliens” into the mix for pseudo-mythographic vandalism in pursuit of a then-contemporary purpose. But I digress.
Probably the most well-known example of this trend all up, I believe, is also the best-known version of the Indo-European mytheme of the Man and His Deathly Counterpart. That is to say, Romulus & Remus, the founder(s) of Rome. It is, in some ways, a considerable irony that – as I say – the best-known version of the myth is also one of the more obviously bowdlerized. But what proves this? How do we demonstrate that such ‘tailoring’ has taken place in Rome’s mythic origins?
Simple. We look for what is *not there*. And what has had its place taken by something else within this far more recent and localized re-telling.
Which, of course, first requires a cursory run-through of the Roman version of the myth. Which is surprisingly difficult, due to the various versions in Classical circulation, some of which change key details rather markedly. The important details are that a Deity identified as Mars fathers twins upon a Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silvia (interestingly, at least one ancient source instead suggests that Rhea may have given birth to triplets). Various events intervene, and lead to a separation of mother and children. These are usually held to have included a certain illegitimate proto-Roman monarch attempting to ensure his security of rule by ordering the two infants to be thrown into the River Tiber. The Tiber, however, being a rather major God, has other ideas – and instead ensures that they are delivered to the relative safety of a She-Wolf who has just lost her own cubs, who suckles them as her own. They are eventually found and raised as shepherds by Faustulus; and grow into fine young men who eventually, as fate would have it, return to the city of their birth and overthrow the illegitimate king in order to replace him with the rightful ruler whom he had previously deposed. Protectors and Upholders of Order, you might perhaps say. Although it is interesting for our purposes to note that the manner via which the hero-twins are re-acquainted with their origins – as various accountings have Remus being captured and transported off, while Romulus is left behind in order to organize and marshal his people to lead the rescue effort. It is further interesting to note the accounting of the eventual fate of their mother – Rhea Silvia – who, per some more upbeat versions, instead of successfully committing suicide by throwing herself into the Tiber … effectively inadvertently throws herself into the *arms* of the Tiber instead, and happily marries Him. Thus, you might say, rendering the ‘Father Tiber’ hailing of the River in question a rather more direct and less figurative concept for the Roman People.
However, events then take a turn for the darker – as Romulus & Remus’ return to the Seven Hills region of their future settlement becomes marred by a quarrel between the brothers over where they should found their future state, and/or which of them should rule and have naming rights thereto. The conduct of a rite of divination is called for, in order to settle the dispute – at which point, things get messy.
While we can state with reasonable surety that the divinatory rite occurred, and that it appears to have been an effective competition between the two brothers … we aren’t sure who actually won, how, or why. Some sources seem to suggest that Remus actually won, and that Romulus cheated to bring about a feigned ‘victory’. Others insist (and these are generally counted amongst the dominant) that Romulus was victorious, and perhaps doubled his brother’s score in such matters. This then precipitates the more active emnity of siblings or perhaps their supporters, and leads to somebody (often identified as Romulus himself) killing Remus. However, I am rather taken with another view entirely. That found in the oft-overlooked confluence of the fragmentary account of Ennius as preserved in Cicero, and Cassius Hemina.
Now, the key point of these wherein they begin to diverge in earnest from the ‘popular’ narrative of Romulus contra Remus – is that they have the divinatory rite as being less a fraught competition as prelude to bloody confrontation … and far more as an actively co-operative exercise between the two complementary Brothers, both of whom are working, together, for the ultimate betterment of Rome. Per Cassius Heminia, the soon-to-be-Romans hail *both* Romulus and Remus as prospective kings over them, this being accompanied by the positive omen of ensuing prosperity – a sow giving birth to 30 piglets.
So why the divinatory contest? Or the divinatory collaboration, contingent upon your point of view.
For this, it must be remembered just how integral divination was to what we’re aware of archaic Roman/Etruscan religion. This helps to explicate that what Romulus & Remus had engaged in, was not merely an act of entrail-reading – but something deeply profound and significant. Communion with the Gods and hearing a message for the future – setting down the soon-to-be-travelled path of what yet must be.
This fulfils, as it happens, two of the criteria for identifying the Manu and Yama of a given Indo-European mythoreligion’s canon – the Manu figure as a pious one, who carries out some foundational rite as part of the establishment of order and a divinely regulated Kingdom for Man(u)Kind; and the Yama figure as *also* a pious one … who makes the quite literal ultimate sacrifice in order that his Brother’s people may prosper and have surety in the world beyond this one. Yet I have jumped ahead of myself somewhat. Back to the Rites.
Per Ennius, something strange happens when Remus makes ready to carry out his stab at the rite of Divination. He declares an Oath. And not just any Oath. It is the Devotio – one of the more fascinating and macabre of the Roman sacrificial offerings. For it is the sacrificial offering of one’s self. Customarily only issued forth in direst circumstances by a Roman General, he makes sacred and solemn declaration to the Gods of the Underworld as well as the Ancestors (Godly and otherwise) of the Romans … that should victory eventuate, he as well as all those slain of the enemy shall be offered as sacrifices unto Them.
Now, successive generations of academics have puzzled immensely over this term’s occurrence in these lines detailing Remus’ conduct during the course of the contest against his brother. Some have presumed that it is, in effect, a typo – a transcription error, perhaps, or even a later incorporation by a creatively-minded chronicler writing well after Ennius. Others have put forward the idea that ‘se devovet’ (as it is in the original text) means something else entirely in this context – and otherwise unknown to Latin scholarship of the period. Still others again have chosen to accept (wisely in my presumption) that the term is broadly accurate both in its place in the text and in its likely span of meaning. And therefore found themselves at a loss to explain it. After all, the main instances of Devotio of which we are directly aware – are martial, they involve pointed self-sacrifice for the good of the state, against an exterior adversary. The best approach I have seen thus far, has been to attempt to suggest that Remus may have made some form of ‘deal with the Devil’ in a bid to gain superior Divine scale-tipping advantage in the course of his impending contest with his brother. Which would therefore render this a ‘Devotio’ somewhat atypical from what else we know of the rite – not least because Remus nevertheless dies, despite apparently, upon the face of it, having failed in his sought-for outcome.
However, I have a different explanation entirely. One that has seemingly eluded many Classicists, despite being *right there in plain sight* for a man acquainted with the Vedas, and our shared Indo-European origins and heritage – exactly what this aarti-cle series has intended to be about!
To quote from RV X 13:
” 4 He, for God’s sake, chose death to be his portion. He chose not, for men’s good, a life eternal
They sacrificed Bṛhaspati the Ṛṣi. Yama delivered up his own dear body.
5 The Seven flow to the Youth on whom the Maruts wait: the Sons unto the Father brought the sacrifice.
Both these are his, as his they are the Lords of both: both toil; belonging unto both they prosper well. ”
This is ostensibly a hymnal focused upon the Havirdhanas – two wagons [one for Earth, one for Heaven], and accompanying covering-structures, made use of during the course of a Soma rite. Funnily enough, we also have direct attestation for both Romulus and Remus setting up separate tents for the purposes of their own divinitory conduct. But that’s not the part to be focused upon.
Look at Line 4. The more recent Oxford Jamison/Brereton translation renders it thus: “4. For the sake of the gods he chose death and for the sake of offspring he did not choose immortality. / They [=gods] made Br̥haspati, the seer, into their sacrifice. Yama left behind his own dear body (as offspring).”
What I think has happened here, is that RV X 13 4 … is speaking about exactly the same mythic instance as Remus [Iemus] swearing the oath of Devotio – and sacrificing *himself* for the good of his nation. Something that The Gods had perhaps portended to him when he received his omen – a confirmation of the prudence and the perhaps necessity of his decision.
Phrased another way … I don’t think Romulus killed Remus. I think that Remus killed himself. Quite deliberately. Because he still had a necessary, vital function to perform for his people. A divinely ordained one, even. And one which has, shamefully, been largely forgotten if not outright scandalized down the ages. Perhaps he knew all that. Perhaps that’s partially what he was shown. But perhaps it didn’t matter – to sacred, noble Iemus, that he should be somewhat forgotten, his sacrifice turned into the vestiges of a temper-tantrum between siblings in the popular mythunderstandings to come well after the event. And it must, of course, be recalled that virtually all of our actual Roman sources dealing with their foundation in such a manner are writing ostensibly several hundred years after the event. Or, if we are to take my theory at face value that this is not (just) a Roman event – but an Indo-European one mythremembered through a Roman lense … then potentially millennia after the fact. It is unfortunately unsurprising that such a divergence would then ensue. And rather remarkable, when one thinks about it, that we still have the mid-2nd millennium B.C. Vedic source available to us in order to act as a ‘control’ and cross-referencing check for these purposes.
But why should Remus then kill himself? Did we not earlier establish that the future Roman people were quite happy to hail both Romulus & Remus as King simultaneously? Is not dual-monarchy a surprisingly common concept in both the Indo-European mythic and historic world?
Yes. And funnily enough – that’s *exactly* why Remus *had* to die.
Cast your mind back to the Manu and Yama mytho-typology I had earlier ‘stablished. What does Yama do? And why does He do it?
He Dies First. He does so, so as to chart a course out to where souls are to go – the Highest Heaven of the Glorious/Ancestral Dead. There to Rule and help to underpin and maintain Cosmic Order out therefrom.
What is this? It is a Kingship. What is the Kingdom? It is a Reflection, an Image [‘Yama’, again] of the Kingdom of the Living. Who is the King of the Living? Manu.
And what is Manu called here? Romulus – the Kingdom, of course, being “Rome”.
[Due to its length, this article has been further subdivided – it shall continue in Part IV Section II – ‘The Remurian Empire of the Underworld – Rome’s Dark Reflection’]