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.