Zonaras 7.11 Part II: How the Capitoline Got Its Name

A Severed Head Appears; A Trick is Attempted; Rome Forms Great Hopes

He constructed a temple on the Tarpeian Hill according to the wish of his father. As the foundation was laid down, the earth split apart and the head of a recently deceased man appeared still full of blood. The Romans therefore sent to an Etruscan soothsayer to inquire about the meaning of the portent. The soothsayer, with the aim of turning this to the advantage of the Etruscans, drew out a diagram upon the earth, in which he drew the situation of Rome and the Tarpeian Hill. He planned to ask the ambassadors, “Is that Rome? Is that the Hill? Was the head found there?” so that the ambassadors, suspecting nothing, would agree to these statements and the power of the portent would be transferred to the ground on which it was drawn. Thus the soothsayer had planned it, but the ambassadors learned the plan from his son, and so when they were asked these questions, responded “Rome is not there, but in Latium, and the Tarpeian Hill is in the city of the Romans, and the head was found on that hill.” Thus, the soothsayer’s trick having been avoided, they learned the truth about the portent and announced to their fellow citizens that the Romans would be the strongest and would rule over many. From this, great hope sprung up in their hearts. Thereupon the rock’s name was changed to the Capitoline, for in the Roman language ‘capita’* signifies ‘head’ (kephale).

The Hills of Rome

Τὸν δὲ νεὼν τὸν ἐν τῷ Ταρπηίῳ ὄρει κατὰ τὴν τοῦ πατρὸς εὐχὴν ᾠκοδόμει. τῆς δὲ γῆς εἰς τὴν τῶν θεμελίων καταβολὴν ἀναρρηγνυμένης, ἀνδρὸς νεοθνῆτος κεφαλὴ ἀνεφάνη ἔναιμος ἔτι. ἔπεμψαν οὖν ῾Ρωμαῖοι πρὸς ἄνδρα Τυρσηνὸν τερατοσκόπον ἐρωτῶντες τὸ διὰ τοῦ φανέντος δηλούμενον. ὁ δὲ τὸ σημεῖον εἰς τὴν Τυρσηνίδα μεταθεῖναι μηχανησάμενος, διάγραμμα ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐποιήσατο, καὶ εἰς αὐτὸ τήν τε τῆς ῾Ρώμης θέσιν ἐντείνας καὶ τὸ Ταρπήιον ὄρος, ἔμελλε τοὺς πρέσβεις ἀνερέσθαι “ἡ ῾Ρώμη αὕτη ἐστί; τὸ ὄρος τοῦτό ἐστιν; ἡ κεφαλὴ ἐνταῦθα εὑρέθη;” ἵν’ ἐκείνων μηδὲν ποτοπησάντων καὶ συμφησάντων ἡ δύναμις τοῦ σημείου εἰς τὸ χωρίον ἐν ᾧ διεγέγραπτο μετασταίη. καὶ ὁ μὲν ταῦτα ἐτεχνάσατο, οἱ δὲ πρέσβεις παρὰ τοῦ υἱέος ἐκείνου μαθόντες τὸ τέχνασμα, ἐρωτώμενοι “οὐκ ἐνταῦθα” εἶπον “οἰκεῖται ἡ ῾Ρώμη, ἀλλ’ ἐν τῷ Λατίῳ, καὶ τὸ ὄρος ἐν τῇ ῾Ρωμαίων ἐστί, καὶ ἡ κεφαλὴ ἐν τῷ ὄρει ἐκείνῳ εὑρέθη.” οὕτω δὲ τῷ τερατοσκόπῳ διακρουσθέντος τοῦ μηχανήματος πᾶσαν ἐκεῖνοι τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἔμαθον καὶ τοῖς πολίταις ἀνήγγειλαν ὅτι κράτιστοι ἔσονται καὶ πλείστων ἄρξουσιν. ἐλπὶς οὖν κἀκ τούτου αὐτοῖς προσεγένετο. κἀντεῦθεν τὸ ὄρος μετωνομάσθη παρ’ αὐτῶν Καπιτώλιον· καπίτα γὰρ τῇ ῾Ρωμαίων διαλέκτῳ ἡ κεφαλὴ ὀνομάζεται.

*Here, Zonaras translates the plural ‘capita’ as the singular ‘head;’ this is the sort of error which I feel compelled to correct when made by my students, but I will chalk this up to translators’ license on Zonaras’ part.

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