Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Insults to Ambassadors

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 19.5 (tr. Earnest Cary):
[1] Postumius was sent as ambassador to the Tarentines. As he was making an address to them, the Tarentines, far from paying heed to him or thinking seriously, as men should do who are sensible and are taking counsel for a state which is in peril, watched rather to see if he would make any slip in the finer points of the Greek language, and then laughed, became exasperated at his truculence, which they called barbarous, and finally were ready to drive him out of the theatre. [2] As the Romans were departing, one of the Tarentines standing beside the exit was a man named Philonides, a frivolous fellow who because of his besotted condition in which he passed his whole life was called Demijohn [Κοτύλη]; and this man, being still full of yesterday's wine, as soon as the ambassadors drew near, pulled up his garment, and assuming a posture most shameful to behold, bespattered the sacred robe of the ambassador with the filth that is indecent even to be uttered.

[3] When laughter burst out from the whole theatre and the most insolent clapped their hands, Postumius, looking at Philonides, said: "We shall accept the omen, you frivolous fellow, in the sense that you Tarentines give us what we do not ask for." Then he turned to the crowd and showed his defiled robe; but when he found that the laughter of everybody became even greater and heard the cries of some who were exulting over and praising the insult, he said: [4] "Laugh while you may, Tarentines! Laugh! For long will be the time that you will weep hereafter." When some became embittered at this threat, he added: "And that you may become yet more angry, we say this also to you, that you will wash out this robe with much blood." [5] The Roman ambassadors, having been insulted in this fashion by the Tarentines both privately and publicly and having uttered the prophetic words which I have reported, sailed away from their city.
Appian, Roman History 3.7.2 (tr. Brian McGing):
The Tarentines made difficulties about admitting the embassy to their council at all, and when they had received them jeered at them whenever they made a slip in their Greek, and made fun of their togas and of the purple stripe on them. But a certain Philonides, a fellow fond of jest and ribaldry, going up to Postumius, the chief of the embassy, turned his back to him, drew up his dress and polluted him with filth. This spectacle was received with laughter by the bystanders. Postumius, holding out his soiled garment, said: "You will wash out this defilement with much blood—you who take pleasure in this kind of joke." As the Tarentines made no answer the embassy departed. Postumius carried the soiled garment just as it was, and showed it to the Romans.
Dio Cassius, Roman History 9.39.6-8 (tr. Earnest Cary):
However, they despatched envoys, in order not to appear to have passed over the affair in silence and in that way render them more arrogant. But the Tarentines, so far from receiving them decently or even sending them back with an answer in any way suitable, at once, before so much as granting them an audience, made sport of their dress and general appearance. It was the city garb, which we use in the Forum; and this the envoys had put on, either for the sake of dignity or else by way of precaution, thinking that this at least would cause the foreigners to respect their position. Bands of revellers accordingly jeered at them—they were then also celebrating a festival, which, though they were at no time noted for temperate behaviour, rendered them still more wanton—and finally a man planted himself in the way of Postumius, and stooping over, relieved his bowels and soiled the envoy's clothing. At this an uproar arose from all the rest, who praised the fellow as if he had performed some remarkable deed, and they sang many scurrilous verses against the Romans, accompanied by applause and capering steps. But Postumius cried: "Laugh, laugh while you may! For long will be the period of your weeping, when you shall wash this garment clean with your blood."
Cf. Strabo 8.6.23 (tr. Horace Leonard Jones):
The Corinthians, when they were subject to Philip, not only sided with him in his quarrel with the Romans, but individually behaved so contemptuously towards the Romans that certain persons ventured to pour down filth upon the Roman ambassadors when passing by their house. For this and other offences, however, they soon paid the penalty, for a considerable army was sent thither, and the city itself was razed to the ground by Leucius Mummius...


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