As you may know if you’ve ever perused my about page, my education and training is as an archaeologist, so when I see a category like HISTORIC OBJECTS, I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame, but with less burning.
Jeopardy! category: HISTORIC OBJECTS (10-7-2015)
The gist: The Capitoline wolf, they call it. The cast bronze sculpture of a she-wolf (“lupa” in Latin), currently housed in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, depicts Romulus and Remus, the legendary twins who founded the Eternal City in 753 BCE according to Roman “historian” Livy (as well as some other writers). According to the myth, Romulus and Remus were born to the daughter of the rightful king of Alba Longa, Rome’s legendary predecessor, who had been impregnated by Mars, the Roman god of war (and counterpart of the Greek Ares). The twins’ grandfather had been deposed by his brother, whose first act was to kill all the king’s male heirs; Romulus and Remus were spared as they were still in utero. After their birth, he exposed them to die on the banks of the Tiber, where they were found and suckled by the she-wolf depicted in the sculpture. Eventually, they were adopted by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife.* Learning of their noble births in young adulthood, the two twins set off to found a new city rather than claiming their inheritance at Alba Longa. The two set up shop on two of Rome’s Seven Hills, Romulus on the Palatine and Remus on the Avantine, and took the auguries that traditionally preceded the founding a city. Remus saw six vultures flying; next Romulus saw twelve. Typical brothers, the two feuded over whose augury was superior, Remus’ with its primacy or Romulus with its numerical superiority. Eventually they put the argument briefly behind them and began digging protective trenches and walls around their respective settlements. Unable to help himself, Remus taunts Romulus over the pitiful state of his constructions, and to add insult to injury, leapt over Romulus’ walls. Romulus killed his brother in a rage, and buried him deep with regret and sorrow – this act of murder is considered the traditional founding date of Rome. With the Avantine leaderless, Romulus’ settlement on the Palatine grew in size and power, battling with and marrying into other Italian tribes, eventually becoming the centre of the one of the most powerful empires in human history.
As for the sculptures, the wolf was long thought to have been produced by Etruscan artisans, the non-Latin speaking and artistically and technologically gifted early neighbours of Rome, sometime around 400 BCE. The infants, done in a completely different Renaissance style, were assumed to have been much later additions, as the clue says. More recent scientific analysis, however has significantly narrowed the gap between wolf and babies, indicating that the wolf was likely cast sometime around 1100 CE, give or take 75 years or so.
The clue: Not only is this one of the better-known Roman sculptures out there, the story of Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf is also one of the better-known of the Roman myths, making this a topic ripe for a $400 clue. I’m also a fan of any clue that alludes to a true current scholarly controversy or some new fact that’s overthrown what we thought we knew about a topic, as this one does.
In Jeopardy!: 25 clues in the J!Archive cover the topic of Romulus and Remus together (although Romulus is mentioned in 38 by himself, while Remus gets more thanks mainly to the “Uncle Remus” tales.) Nine mention that they’re twins, and nine mention the city their feud ended up founding. Ten mention the wolf, which pretty much rounds out this duo’s presence in the show.
* Some ancient sources suggest that Faustulus’ wife was not quite that, as “lupa” was also a derogatory slang term for a prostitute.