Epitome Historiarum

Joannes Zonaras

It is related that after this a disaster befell Rome. The level land between the Palatine and the Capitoline is said to have become suddenly a yawning chasm, without any preceeding earthquake or other natural phenomenon such as usually takes place in connexion with such events. For a long time the chasm remained thus, refusing to close at all or even to be filled, although the Romans brought and cast into it masses of earth and stones and all sorts of other material. In the midst of their uncertainty an oracle was given them to the effect that the aperture could in no wise be closed unless they threw into the chasm their best possession and that which was the chief source of their strength; in this way the prodigy would cease, and the city would command invincible power. Still the uncertainty remained unresolved, for the oracle was obscure. But Marcus Curtius, a patrician, young in years, of a remarkably handsome appearance, powerful physique, and courageous spirit, and conspicuous for intelligence, comprehended the meaning of the oracle. He came forward, therefore, before them all and addressed them, saying: "Why, Romans, do we blame the obscurity of the oracle rather than our own ignorance? We are this thing sought and debated. For nothing lifeless is to be accounted better than that which has life, nor shall that which is uncomprehending, speechless, and senseless be preferred to that which has comprehension and sense and the adornment of speech. What should any one deem superior to man to be cast into the earth-fissure, that therewith we might close it? There is no mortal creature either better or stronger than man. For, if I may speak somewhat boldly, man is naught else than a god with a mortal body, and a god naught else than a man without body and therefore immortal; and we are not far removed from divine power. This is what I think about the matter, and I ask you also to accept this view. But let no one think that I would have recourse to the lot or bid maiden or lad perish. I, of my own free accord, bestow myself upon you, that you may send me at once this very day as herald and envoy to the chthonian gods, to be your representative and helper forever." With these words Curtius proceeded to put on his armour and then mounted his horse. The rest grew mad with grief and mad with joy; and collecting various ornaments, some adorned the man himself with them as a hero, while others threw theirs into the chasm. Scarcely had Curtius sprung into it mounted, when the earth fissure was closed and no one ever again beheld either the chasm or Curtius. This is the way the story is related by the Romans; should any person judge it fabulous and not to be credited, he is at liberty to pay no attention to it.

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of the Loeb Classical Library from Johannes Zonaras: Dio's Roman History (Volume I Books I-XI), Loeb Classical Library Vol. 32, translated by Earnest Carey, Herbert B. Foster, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, © 1914, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. The Loeb Classical Library ® is a registered trademark of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.