Was Myth a Primarily or Public Political Tool
For this essay I wanted to first look into the political aspects of early Rome and explore whether myth was primarily a political tool for power and wealth, starting with the foundation myths of Augustus, I came across a quote “Emperors exploited myths and mythical characters to promote their images and values” (Block 2 pg. 153) and wanted to see weather myth had any involvement in how politician’s first ruled early Rome.
I will also look in to Emperor Nero and see how he used myth as a tool to gain public support from his people, and explore how myth had an impact on both men to gain political power and respect. I will then look into weather myth was primarily a public tool for different social groups such as the elite and non-elite citizens of Rome and how myth was used to justify their beliefs and status, or to see if myth had a different role to play within a city which was growing at a rapid rate. Augustus rose to power largely because of his connection with Julius Caesar, who adopted his young relative.
Before the age of twenty, Augustus had been named to the position of Consul which was the most powerful office in the Roman Republic (http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Augustus). Augustus wanted peace and prosperity in his political career and used his heavily embellished link to Julius Caesar’s lineage in order to build his status as a “God” figure in the Roman Empire. “Augustus himself invested very heavily in the foundation myths, and repeatedly drew on the stories of Romulus and Aeneas in his imperial imagery. ”(Block 2 pg. 108).
He was able to overcome a number of obstacles in his path to gain control of the most powerful empire in the world buy using the strength of his army. The myth of the infants suckled by the she wolf became dominant during the reign of Augustus who claimed ancestry from Romulus. Augustus was adept at manipulating Rome’s foundation myths to help consolidate power in himself and his family and was offered the name Romulus as the second founder of Rome (http://darkside. hubpages. com/hub/augustus). Before August arrived to Rome Political life had been violent and chaotic.
What the Roman world desperately needed was a peaceful and orderly government, Augustus used the power of myth to create a better Rome for the citizens in it; he used his link from Julius Cesar, Apollo for his military victories and Romulus to gain political status so he could be heard, he controlled virtually all of the army and he used the power of his military to control the neighbouring communities, which was the real basis of his power. Nero was another of many rulers that manipulated myth and “linked himself genealogically with Gods and Heroes” (Secondary source 2. pg. 143).
He used the power of myth for political gain and “He promised to model his rule on the principles laid down by Augustus” (Secondary source 2. 5 pg. 34). However following the principles of Augustus was not what Nero did; Nero lacked political judgement and self-control and developed a strong natural liking with Apollo, not for military purpose as Augustus did, but for the love of music and poetry (Block 2 pg. 138-39). Nero’s Empire was in turmoil, as he was very conscious about his image, and being a performer on stage was more important than ruling his empire. He used the stage –he could not have avoided using the stage- as a platform for his views, presented in mythological dress” (Secondary source 2. 2 pg. 158).
Nero use the power of myths to draw in support from the lower class citizens, as he was already popular with them due to the introduction of reforms in tax administration and the organization of sport and music events. The ruled worshiped Nero and he found it easier to make them believe in the words he spoke and action that took place on the stage. However the upper class people opposed Nero.
He became unpopular among the elite sections due to taxes, policies against the Roman aristocrats, and he also ordered that free men could not be converted into slaves which reduced the popularity for Nero from the elite community. (http://didanese. deviantart. com/journal/My-favorite-emperor-quot-NERO-quot-228740816). Nero was good at manipulating myths to gain popularity from the lower-class who supported his political ideas and actions; they believed that Nero was one of them as he would treat the elite different and even ignore and humiliate them (block 2 pg. 39).
For the second section of my essay I wanted to see if myth was primarily a public tool for different social groups and see weather which social groups shared the same perspectives on myth. Or if myth was not primarily a public tool, what other roles did it fulfil in the Roman Empire. “Roman culture, including Roman mythology, often borrows elements from other cultures such as the Etruscans and the Greeks”. “The Romans borrowed elements of religion, government, and lifestyle”. (http://www. mhhe. com/mayfieldpub/mythology/instructors_resources/harrispt1ch18. pdf).
The elite social group used myth as a ranking of status to show their knowledge of the past and to how well educated they were. Lavish house parties were a regular part of the elite’s life, and they use their wealth to demonstrate their knowledge of myth to entertain guests, bringing theatre into the home. In primary source 2. 19 a dinner party hosted by Trimalchio was a lavish over the top event in which to show off his wealth and knowledge of ancient myth. He had many decorative items with illustrated Greek mythical symbols, and even brought in entertainers to recite from Homer (primary source 2. 19 pg. 59).
Trimalchio was educated in myth but did make errors in the finer details of interpreting the myth that he fills his home with, all in which is to gain a better social status within the public eye; to a non-elite person the errors would have gone un-noticed and Trimachio would have been seen by the non-elite who were not educated to his level, as an person with great stature in a city that was rapidly growing, who also had many links with the ancient Greek traditions and myths, there was a great social divide in this period with wealth and education playing a huge part in where you ranked in the social circle.
The use of myth as a public tool showed social status, and the elite used this in the way they decorated the home to project a desired image rather than the understanding of what the myth actually represented. Hades was a mythological character of the underworld; myth, afterlife and religion played a huge part in the early Roman world. Greek Gods all had a purpose, and people were taught to fear and respect those purposes. Death is a transition to something else, a different life. Everyone went to the underworld, not just the bad people of the world.
The myths surrounding Hades and the fear of afterlife became an important tool for communication to the masses, and could be seen to be used as a public tool to bring people together in a given society “Ethical codes and motivation derived from the fear of punishment or promise of reward”(Block 2pg 175). Alan E Bernstein secondary source 2. 10 looks into three historical views of death, Critis, Polybius and Lucretius. Lucretius was a roman philosopher and poet whose views of death were seen as fears imposed by religion and reinforcement of moral behaviour for a stable society.
According to Lucretius “human society developed and orderly fashion until the discovery of gold, which engendered greed and conflict, particularly between the poor and the rich” (Secondary source 2. 10 pg. 245). Fear was a product of the imagination, ancient cultic myth and folklore tails on Hades were believed throughout generations of Roman societies and became more feared as the generations passed “The human soul punishes itself through obsession not only with the imaginary torments described in Myth but also with the real penalties of the judicial system” (Secondary source 2. 0 pg. 246).
You could say that the myth of Hades was used as a public tool by the religious sector to reinforce good behaviour and a stable society as the fear of the underworld was not where people wanted to end up. It could have also been used as a political tool as people feared state punishments such as prison, rock lashings and executioners, which were real penalties of the judicial system (Secondary source 2. 10 pg. 246). If myth was not primarily public and political tool I wanted to find out what other role did Myth it fulfil in the roman settlements.
Entertainment was a key factor of roman society and myth told stories of the past which also brought in wealthy income through tourism. Members of all classes in Rome willingly participated in both public and private spectacles. Under Nero’s rule entertainment spectacles became more popular with roman citizens and other civilizations “he gave an immense variety of entertainments – coming of age parities, chariot races in the circus, stage plays, and gladiatorial shows” (primary source 2. 5 pg. 34).
In Nero’s reign he built a wooden amphitheatre in AD 57 with others being constructed around the empire as well to host his events. The cost of holding gladiatorial events was expensive so finding wealthy sponsorship of the games was a prestigious affair (http://penelope. uchicago. edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/gladiators/gladiators. html). “Nero not only supported the arts, providing shows and entertainment for the people of Rome, and sometimes elsewhere in the empire, but also became and entertainer himself” (Block 2 pg. 137-8).
In exchange for elites sponsorship Rome would set up for their amusement, baths, theatres, and circuses, which would also be used by the elite. Most gladiators were prisoners of war, slaves bought for the purpose, or criminals. Free men also volunteered to be gladiators, even nobility sometimes assumed the career of a gladiator, as did women. Nero’s reign “witnessed gladiatorial displays on a no less magnificent scale than before, but exceeding all precedent in the number of distinguished women and senators disgracing themselves in the arena”.
Events such as chariot racing, stage plays and musical entertainments brought in many crowds, form many destinations, and was seen as the explosion of tourism to Rome. Many would also travel to Rome to see the splendour of the buildings that were far more superior to any other city. In my essay I have found it difficult to find sources on non-elite perspectives on the use of myth as the majority of sources used are form an elite or intellectual background. Myth to the elite and educated was used as both a political and public tool to control and sustain order within the non-elite social groups.
Both Augustus and Nero used myth to control the citizens of Rome by claiming ancestral rights to Gods, Augustus used his link with myth to create a peaceful existence, where for Nero he used myth for personal gain of his love of the arts and wealth. Not all social groups had knowledge of myth; it was the elite and well educated that used myth as a tool for political and public advantages, whereas the non-elite used myth for different purposes such as religious beliefs and higher status in their own social circles.
Myth was used to fear the underworld and myth of Hades was used as a public tool by the religious sector of a way for people to have a belief in where your soul goes after death, I also see myth used as a way to explain their existence and where they belong in the world, Turing to the myth of Gods to seek guidance in everyday situations. Looking at my quote in the introduction I would agree that myth was defiantly used as a political tool and that myth was also used as a public tool for the elite to better their status and wealth.