Thursday, 11 September 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: diomedes or totem and taboo

Learning about Roman history, there are quite a lot of places to keep in order—both as battlefields and storied colonies—but one particular locale that seems to come up frequently seemed relatively unsung and little celebrity, so I became curious about this port they called Brundisium (from the Greek for a deer’s head, referring to the shape of the habour).
The modern-day Brindisi in in Apulia on the heel of Italy, facing the Adriatic, is mentioned quite often—like when the Senate, fleeing from Julius Caesar after he crossed the Rubicon, abandoned the capital for Greece and generally as a destination for jaunting off in order to embark for the eastern lands. I discovered, however, this city at the terminus of the Via Appia, has a very rich history and mythic endowment as well. As the Matter of Rome itself has foundations in Trojan refugees, Brundisium too was established by a hero of the Iliad—one Diomedes, an Achaean warrior counted in the pantheon of the best along with Odysseus and Ajax for his strategic and physical skills, and the only mortal with the distinction to having fought alongside the goddess Athena and wounding an immortal, Ares. After this battle, Diomedes is bound to the Goddess of Wisdom for all eternity, but the divine the connection to southern Italy and greater Rome, one has to go back further to Athena’s birth and upbringing. Having emerged fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, Athena, though radiant and wise, did sort of miss out on social development, and in order to imbue her with some graces, she was raised by human foster parents alongside their own daughter, Pallas. One day Athena and Pallas were playing a bit rough, and not realising her own strength—or her foster-sister’s fraility, and the goddess accidentally killed the mortal girl. Athena was devastated and took the name Pallas Athena evermore and fashioned a wooden statue of her, the Palladium, which later fell from the sky and was taken as the omen to found the City of Troy. The icon was said to protect the city and it was revered as a symbol of state and Troy could not be taken so long as it remained within the city walls. Diomedes (who got several warnings from Athena about being too rough and about not killing or maiming any of the central characters) and Odysseus snuck into the city and wrested the Palladium away from Debbie-Downer Cassandra (Ajax was instrumental in seizing the statue but was punished with a divine madness later for having violated the altar where it was displayed), who was the only other person who knew that the relic ensured the safety of Troy but no one listened to her.
After the war and the Greeks dispersed, Diomedes migrated to the Italian coast, having been unseated as king of Argos during his decade absense, and as the talisman, a monkey's paw, was bringing him no great fortune (probably due to the unsavoury though preordained manner in which it was purloined), Diomedes surrendered it to his enemy, Aeneas, as the keystone of his new settlement, Rome.  This treasure appears in official manifests for well of seven-hundred years of documented history, but it was perhaps lost to the ages with the sack of Rome by the Visigoth hordes in 410 AD.  Some believe, however, during the waning years of the Western Empire that Constantine, an avid collector, smuggled the Palladium to Constantinople, as a blessing for the Eastern capital and it is buried under his column, still standing in modern-day İstanbul.