Friday, August 16, 2013

Question the lexica. Or: The myth of the tollere liberum, suscipere liberum, etc.

     “Often the purpose of historical research is to create by explanation and description; occasionally, however, it is destruction that is required.  In the present case, two intertwined historical myths are the problem”, “both . . . so deeply rooted in modern scholarship and in popular consciousness that the hope of eradicating them by this brief exposition is not very great.  The first myth is the claim that the Roman father, especially as delineated in the legal model of the paterfamilias, maintained in his hands a formal power, the so-called ius vitae necisque—the ‘right  of life and death’—by which he could legally kill his children.  The emphasis must be on ‘legally’ since no sensible historian of antiquity has ever sought to deny the pervasive reality of infanticide or, more commonly, the exposure or setting out of unwanted newborns.  Closely related is the second myth:  the widespread acceptance, again by both scholars and the informed laity of a liminal ritual by which the [Roman] father formally accepted the newborn child into his possessions and power, which is to say into his familia.  The ritual, we are told, consisted of the father ceremonially lifting the newborn up from the ground after it had been placed at his feet, and then raising the infant in his arms for all to see.  The scene is worthy of a DeMille or a Mankiewicz, but not, alas, of mundane history despite constant allusion, description, and detailed analysis by reputable historians.  The ritual, so it is claimed, was designated by the technical phrase tollere liberum, or sometimes by its equivalent suscipere liberum.  Recent standard treatments of the Roman family have affirmed, occasionally in intriguing detail, the nature of the liminal ceremony itself.”


     Cf. the entries in Lewis and Short, s.v.
suscipio II.B.:  To take up a new-born child from the ground; hence, to acknowledgerecognizebring up as one's own (class.; cf. “tollo): simul atque editi in lucem et suscepti sumus,” Cic. Tusc. 3, 1, 2: “puerum,” Ter. And. 2, 3, 27: “haecad te die natali meo scripsi, quo utinam susceptus non essem!” Cic. Att. 11, 9, 3.
tollo I.A.2.a.:  Tollere liberos, to take up, i. e. to acceptacknowledge; and so, to raise upbring upeducate as one's own (from the custom of laying new-born children on the ground at the father's feet; cf. “suscipio): quod eritnatum, tollito,” Plaut. Am. 1, 3, 3: “puerum,” id. Men. prol. 33; Enn. ap. Cic. Div. 1, 21, 42 (Trag. v. 67 Vahl.): “natum filium,” Quint. 4, 2, 42: “nothum,” id. 3, 6, 97: “puellam,” Ter. Heaut. 4, 1, 15; cf. id. And. 1, 3, 14.—Also of the mother:  “si quod peperissem, id educarem ac tollerem,” Plaut. Truc. 2, 4, 45.
And similarly in the Oxford Latin dictionary, Cassell's, etc.
     Shaw names also the following variants:

Starter bibliography (in progress):
2001:  Brent D. Shaw, “Raising and killing children:  two Roman myths,” Mnemosyne, ser. 4, vol. 54, no. 1 (2001):  31-32 (31-77). 
1994:  William V. Harris, "Child-exposure in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman studies 84 (1994):  5 (1-22).  Here Harris makes only a passing reference, but does no debunking.
1990:  Thomas Köves-Zulauf, Römische Geburtsriten (München : C.H. Beck, 1990), 1-90.  From the review by Jane F. Gardner, Classical review 42 (1992):  92-94:  “Part I [(Tollere infantem)] challenges the common belief that the recognition of a child by its father, and its acceptance into the familia and into his potestas, was done by means of a ritual immediately consequent upon birth, involving the ceremonial laying of the infant upon the ground from which it was picked up by the father.  K., pointing out that tollere is a word bearing a number of meanings (instances of which he cites and discusses at perhaps unnecessary length), analyses in detail a large number of texts concerning the activities immediately consequent upon childbirth, and finds no trace of this alleged legitimating ceremony.  The  obstetric practices customary among the Romans and the various stages of postnatal care involved at some point an actual deposition of the child on the ground and its subsequent picking up, by midwives.  Fathers may sometimes have been present in the birth-chamber, and have been handed the child—and more or less of an ‘event’ may have been made of this—but it was not a ‘legitimating’ act (since their potestas was not dependent on any ceremonial performance) nor, he demonstrates, do the texts indicate that it had a religious significance.”  L’Année Philologique lists also the following additional reviews:
1986:  William V. Harris, "The Roman father's power of life and death," in Studies in Roman law in memory of A. Arthur Schiller (Leiden:  Brill, 1986), 93 ff. (81-96).  There is no debunking here.  In 1986, Harris (as in
"Child-exposure in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 84, (1994): 1-22) is still assuming the legitimacy of the old interpretation.
My thanks to American Theological Library Association colleague Amy Koehler for the diversion.

2 comments:

Amy said...

you're welcome!

Amy said...

you're welcome!