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Seeking some help from the Group Mind in confirming a story told about Caesar and his Centurions.

This particular story comes to me from one of my graduate school professors (a leading expert of Japanese puppet theatre and pre-modrn lit) regarding a tale told by his High School Latin teacher.

I quote:

Annie Johnson was eager to get us interested in Rome and its history, and thence its language, which she taught, and thus the adventurous stories of great Romans that she read to us. We hung on the literary cliff until the next morning when she would continue the saga. (Man how we must have mourned the weekends!!) I remember one of the stories, apocryphal or not, and in English of course at that level of our alleged linguistic intellect, of a Centurion being interrogated by Caesar who, wishing to emphasize his trustworthiness, placed his arm, his left arm (thus not the one he'd need for handling a sword—clever bugger) in a fiery brazier to prove the truth of what he had uttered to his master. Caesar, duly impressed (why did I never have a student so eager to show his devotion???), accepted what the man had said (probably promoted him to some higher post on the a spot), and henceforth the man gained the name—get this—scaevola, which Annie Johnson told us meant "Left handed" (Lefty to us interested in the mafia) and should be pronounced "Sky-voh'-lah". We duly responded.

Now I do find reference to an old patrician family with the name Scaevola, but find nothing about Caesar and a Centurion so named. So does this story have any historical footing or is it a case of creative instruction?


Well, it's a good story, and sounds thoroughly Roman.
And is some 600 years oldaer, than Caesar lived. Check out Mucius Scaevola.
Yes, you're thinking of Caesar's centurio Scaeva who features rather nicely in book 6 of Marcus Annaeus Lucanus' (Lucan) poem, various called the Pharsalia or De Bello Civili etc depending on the paradosis.

He is indeed an heroic figure. Enjoy. Smile
Yes, it is a very Roman story.

Reminds me of the saying, attributed to Caesar but never confirmed, to the effect: "Never trust the advice of anyone above the rank of Centurion."

Thank you Gentleman, I felt certain that members of the Forum would know the veracity of this tale and if true pin down a source.

I will pass the information on to Dr. Jones.

And by way of background, here is a link to his most recent book of translations, published by the University of Hawai'i Press.

Thanks again!


As Mark George said,this is a story from the beginning of Roman Republic. when Roma was besiged by the etruscan king Lars Porsenna, Mutio Cordo infiltrated to the enemy king's camp and attempted to kill him, but he failed. so he put his right hand on a brazier, because this hand wasn't able to kill the king. Porsenna was impressed by his bravery and decided to release him. Hence came the name " scaevola" , that in Latin means " left-handed"
A source could be Livy, I suppose.
The story Francesco mentioned can be found in Livy 2.12. In the next passage, 2.13, it explains the name:

Quote:Mucius being dismissed, to whom the cognomen of Scævola was afterwards given, from the loss of his right hand...

I think this is an interesting story. Not only is it a very Roman morality tale, it is also a very Roman attempt at etymology.
He is mentioned in the following passages:
Livy, 2.11-13 ; Plut., Vit. Publ., 17 ; Dion. Hal., Ant. Rom., 5.27.1-30.1 ; Val. Max., 3.3.1.

Reference to modern study (Mucius Scaevola as Stoic ideal):
HEIKKINEN, R., ‘A Moral Example in Seneca: C. Mucius Scaevola, the Conqueror of Bodily Pain’, J. VAAHTERA and R. VAINIO eds., Utriusque linguae peritus. Studia in honorem Toivo Viljamaa, Turku, 1997, 63-72.
As fa as I recall, the text book we used at school (Approach to Latin - Paterson and Macnaughton) had this story as one of the first large passages to be translated.

No doubt a simplified version for us to battle with, but it was either before or after the piece on Horatius at the bridge Smile