about scaevola the "left handed"

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"Scaevola" actually means "the left handed" Ė the reason being that he burned his right hand off as a demonstration of dedication and courage. Gaius Mucius Scaevola was truly a Roman hero of old: His story is told us by several Roman historians, for example Livy.

Around 505BC the last king of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, was ousted by his Roman citizens who decided they would rather belong to a Roman republic. Tarquin attempted to regain his throne by force and being of Etruscan origins found a natural ally in the very powerful Etruscan king Porsenna. Porsenna and Tarquin led the Etruscan troops to siege Rome. The Romans managed to defend themselves through great acts of heroism: only three valiant men managed to keep the whole Etruscan army at bay on the Sublician bridge (a Roman bridge across the river tiber).

Livy (Founding of Rome, book 2 chapter 9) tells us that whilst the Romans were able to get some grain provisions from cities such as Veii and Cumae (near Naples) it was evident that famine would eventually prevail. Gaius Mucius (later known as "Scaevola") was hence responsible for a fresh act of heroism: he volunteered to sneak into the enemy camp at night in order to murder the Etruscan general in his sleep. He succeeded in entering the camp and the generalís tent but mistakenly killed the generalís secretary. He was promptly caught and questioned. Scaevolaís answer was to burn his own right hand off in order to demonstrate his and the Roman peopleís willingness to fight and die in order to defend their city.

These acts of courage induced Porsenna to desist from further war but rather accept a treaty and Roman hostages. Gaius Mucius was freed and duly nicknamed "Scaevola" by his fellow citizens.

Roman accounts differ as to whether or not the city was truly taken by the invader. Like the Gallic invasions the Romans turned the event into one of personal sacrifice and "victory" against all odds.

There are a variety of elements which suggest the story isnít completely true. For example, the name has a structure which is closer to later periods (see ancient Roman names) and burning the right hand was generally considered a punishment for those who broke oaths: what oath had Scaevola broken? This is particularly curious when we realize that one of the heroes in the Sublician bridge affair was called Publius Horatius Cocles: Cocles means "the one eyed"!

As with other heroic events in ancient Roman history, such as the story of Romeís founder Romulus, the strands of fact and fiction/myth in the story of Scaevola are finely interwoven.

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"scaevola" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com - Rome apartments