By ‘Don’ Alberto Macchione
Earlier this year Rome celebrated its 2,772nd Birthday. No country can claim a history greater than that of Italy however its mythology is equally if not more compelling.
The western world has a political consciousness derived from the myth (or reality) of Adam and Eve. Rome however, despite its physical and cultural relationship to the Vatican, has its psyche firmly entrenched in the story Romulus and Remus, the siblings that, according to a grand mythology, founded the city of Rome.
Like all myths there are many versions, one of which was translated by Virgil in ‘The Aneid’. The mythology states that Mars, the god of War (Some believe that they are the children of Hercules), and llia, also known as Rhea Silvia, bore two sons called Romulus and Remus. The King of the county to which they were born feared the newborn children as a threat to his throne and put the children in a basket and floated them down the Tiber river where they were expected to perish.
The boys were met with good fortune when the then infants were discovered by a she-wolf who took the children into her care as if they were her own. They suckled on the wolves teets and the animal provided warmth, food and protection from other animals.
A shepard came across the boys and took them under his care. As they were growing into capable and strong men, the boys identity was discovered and Remus was captured and taken to the king. Romulus took his Step Father, the shepherd and gathered other shepherds and went to rescue his brother, killing the King in the process. The people of the county wanted to crown the brothers however both could not be King so they rejected the towns-peoples offer. The brothers set about looking for an area to start their own Kingdom however they could not agree on a location. The brothers started constructing on the two hills of what is now Rome, Palatine Hill and Aventine Hill. They each built fortresses for their respective cities arguing over where to found this new city. Their hostility grew until Romulus killed Remus. Romulus went on to found the two hills as his own however with mostly men at his disposal he and his followers started abducting nearby Sabine and Latin women. The Men of these peoples, angry at the misappropriation of their women went to war with Rome, a war that Romulus and his army won definitively.
The story is often believed to be entrenched in real events and its monuments are etched, painted and constructed to mark this neo-history of the she-wolf giving milk to the young brothers. It is this grand image which we see all around the world as a tribute to Rome and to one of the great mythologies of the world. The original tribute is a bronze statue from the early second century housed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Campidoglio in Rome. The Capiltone Wolf, as it is known, has replicas all over the world, many of which were donated by a proud and partial Benito Mussolini during his reign as Prime Minister of Italy.
The Wolf mother and the boys have become more than a myth and more than the myriad of statues and works of art that featured their likeness. They have become a part of the very fabric and philosophy of Italy. They are the image of a country giving safe haven to the embattled and under seige Italians. The children suckling the she wolf have become a graphic portrayal of the history of the Republic, whilst giving people the impetus to go on with the same resistance and fortitude as the boys. The Symbol of the she wolf has survived empires, kings and the republic internally and the occupation of a thousand armies from near and far away lands and still stands unflinching as a reminder of Italy and Rome’s proud past and in the forefront of the minds of those who salute the red, white and green of Italy. This is most evident in a commonly used turn of phrase by Italians which is ‘in bocca al lupo’. The saying literally means ‘in the mouth of the wolf’ and figuratively is used to wish safety and good fortune to one another as individuals, or to the nation of Italy as a whole. It is now written and verbalised by media commentators the world over as Italy battles the European Games in Russia, the Under 21’s world cup in football (soccer) and storms into the finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. It will also be used from one person to another as people fight for jobs, relevance and a future in an increasingly economically marred European country fighting for prosperity.
What we are left with is a story of hope, which is what we italians need as a community and as a culture as our names, our customs, our languages and our heritage dissipate before our very eyes, ‘In Bocca al lupo ragazzi!’
‘Don’ Alberto is a journalist, Italophile and descendent of Mars who is dedicated to preserving the rich history of ‘il bel paese’’.