Numanus Remulus, big man in town…maybe not (Vergil, Aeneid 9.595-7)

[Editor’s Note: We are so absolutely psyched to introduce a new contributor, The fabulous Festus.  It is always great to find like-minded people ( as Herodotus puts it: “An intelligent and well-disposed friend is the finest of all possessions.” κτημάτων πάντων ἐστὶ τιμιώτατον ἀνὴρ φίλος συνετός τε καὶ εὔνοος, 5.24.3); but it is especially nice to find friends who can bring gravitas and new expertise to our endeavors (because, as Plato knows,“If you are wise, then everyone will be your family and friend.” ἐὰν μὲν ἄρα σοφὸς γένῃ, ὦ παῖ, πάντες σοι φίλοι καὶ πάντες σοι οἰκεῖοι ἔσονται, Lysis 210d). Let’s hope he shares many posts like the following with us]

With the ninth book, Vergil seriously gets into the battles of the so-called “Iliadic” Aeneid. The battle wavers; the Italian Numanus Remulus strides out to pillory the Trojans with words most distinctly not suave (598-620). Vergil introduces him thus (595-7):

Vaunting before his troops, and lengthen’d with a stride,
In these insulting terms the Trojans he defied:

is primam ante aciem digna atque indigna relatu               595
vociferans tumidusque novo praecordia regno
ibat et ingentem sese clamore ferebat:

The late fourth-century century AD commentator Servius remarks on the last four words of 598:

Vergil was not saying Remulus was a big man, but he was boasting that he was a big man.

ingentem sese clamore ferebat non erat ingens, sed se esse clamitabat ingentem.

Stop for a minute! Isn’t there something comical about a warrior in the middle of battle striding out and yelling “I am Mr. Big”? Yes, battles then as now had a surfeit of testosterone, but testosterone here could get you killed. The first time I read the Servius many years ago it took several minutes to regain a straight face.

The Latin supports either reading. Ferebat in the sense of walking, or ferebat in the sense of yelling, put differently, the indirect discourse beloved of generations of Latin students.

More modern commentators have been agnostic. There are no manuscript problems; no issue of the lectio difficilior (the more difficult reading is best). Clearly it’s an interpretational issue here. We have to think about warriors of the heroic age, especially in Homer.

Homeric warriors certainly could do self-promotion; the Iliad is peppered with it. Even in battle, especially in battle. But that self-promotion is about lineage and deeds. Nobody says “look at me, look at how big I am.” Further on this in my next post.

On this basis, Servius has it wrong. But his comment remains truly priceless.

[the translation is John Dryden’s. There are several fine modern ones available, but no one gives as close a sense of the Latin original as Dryden. Takes a major poet to know a major poet.]


I am minded that not everyone will grasp the “big man in town” part of this post’s title. It is from (obviously to me and my generation), the Four Seasons’ song Big Man in Town, which rose to number twenty on the charts in 1964. I remember it well, since I was in high school then. Some are making claims the the Jersey Boys do it better. Let them. There is no arguing with them.




6 thoughts on “Numanus Remulus, big man in town…maybe not (Vergil, Aeneid 9.595-7)

  1. One of the things that I have learned alongside Palaiophron in working on commentaries is that they seem authoritative and expert but don’t actually have to be so. I especially love when the author’s quirks seep through–Kenneth Dover is quite revealing in some of his commentary; but M. L. West says some outrageous and memorable things too.

    Servius is no slouch in this department. Man, what a great anecdote.

    It reminds me of a laugh I had every time I drove through Connecticut from New York to Maine. There is a sign on the highway for a college called Albertus Magnus. Obviously, it is named for Albert the Great; but, Magnus can also be about size, and not good, impressive size like ingens, but corpulence. So, I always used to think “Fat Albert”.

    And that entertained me for 10 minutes or so…

  2. I can’t help but laugh at the idea of some idiot going onto the fields of Troy shouting “Look at me! Look how big I am!”

    (He might actually disable a few of his foes because they were so busy laughing at him before someone without a sense of humor cut him down…)

    1. Exactly so! As for candidates…virtually any Trojan would serve. A humorless lot, but we should forgive them “tantae molis erat….”

  3. O Fearless Leader, you are very kind; no higher praise for a classicist than to share the same paragraph with Herodotus and Plato. And I do appreciate not being Fabulist or Fabulus; altho the gens Fabia is one of my favorite Roman gentes. Vicia faba and all that. Now if you’d linked me with Hesychius and Photius, this paragraph would not be so fulsome.

    Let me increase the reminded-laugh quotient. In this case, much like the proverbial cousin-in-Brooklyn. When I was an undergrad at then all male Yale (it only went coed in my last year), if you wanted a social life during the week you either hit the road and bagged the next morning’s classes, or you hoofed two miles up the hill to Albertus Magnus. The denizens were disrespectfully called “Aggie Mags.” Given that is was all female, the was a tendency to gloss “magnus” in the R-rated sense. My first long-term girlfriend was an A-M woman.

    Definitely the sentimental favorite here.

    Here’s a Martin West obiter dicta for you (written), “parallels, like love, are where you find them.”

  4. Ha! I didn’t know that at all about Altbertus Magnus. The humor must have been ribald indeed.

    Here’s another anecdote about classicists and love.

    I was once in an elevator with our departmental administrator and Seth Benardete at NYU. Trying to make conversation during the slow climb of seven stories, she smelled her coffee and said “isn’t funny how coffee always smells better than it tastes.”

    Benardete looked up from his musings and said “Kind of like love”.

    The ride continued in silence.

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