R02b_The Founding of Rome: A Mythical Beginning
The Romulus and Remus Myth
1. Many years ago in a small city, there was a kind and gentle king named King Numitor. He was good to his people and wanted peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, King Numitor had a wicked younger brother called Amulius.
2. Amulius wanted to be king. He hated his older brother and was very jealous of him. Amulius trained an army of men to work for him. One day he attacked King Numitor’s home. He killed the king’s son and kidnapped the king’s daughter. The princess, Rhea Sylvia, was put in prison. He was afraid to kill King Numitor because he was so popular so he exiled his brother to a farm several miles away. Amulius immediately proclaimed himself king.
3. A few years went by and the people heard a wonderful rumor. They heard that Princess Rhea Silvia had escaped from prison with the help of a great warrior. No one knew where she was taken or what happened to her. A year passed and one day two shepherds came to the king with two tiny babies in a basket. They told the king this story.
4. “Yesterday we were letting our sheep drink from a little stream near the great Tiber River. We saw a woman standing high up on the bank over the swirling waters. We walked closer and saw that she was the Princess Rhea Sylvia. When she saw us, she turned and fell into the rushing water of the Tiber. We cannot swim and by the time we got to the bank she had disappeared. However, in the grass we found these two tiny babies in this basket. You can see that this is the Princess’ royal cloak that covers the babies.”
5. The king was very angry. He said, “Why didn’t you throw the babies into the river? I command you to take the babies back to the Tiber and drown them.”
6. The shepherds were very sad. They did not want to carry out the king’s order. One of them said, “I cannot kill another human being. I agree, especially not an innocent baby,” said the other. “I have an idea, let’s put the babies inside this water trough. At least it will float and who knows, someone may find them in another country.” That is exactly what the shepherds did. The babies were put into the water trough and gently pushed it onto the Tiber River. Even though they hoped for the best, the shepherds were sure that the babies would drown or be eaten by some wild animal.
7. The trough floated down the river until the river’s current pushed it along the shore. It just so happened that a mother wolf had just lost her two baby cubs. She heard the babies crying and thought they were her cubs. She dragged them out of the trough by the cloak and into her wolf den. Then she was able to feed them as she had fed her own baby cubs.
8. Later that week, a visitor to the area named Faustulus was hunting in the woods. He heard the babies crying from the wolf’s den. He crawled into the den and was amazed when he found the two babies. Since the wolf was out hunting for her dinner, he made a big decision. He decided to take the babies away from the den and back to his wife and uncle. Faustulus picked up the babies and bundled them in the cloak he found on the floor of the den. When he arrived home, his wife and his uncle were very surprised. Since the couple had no children, Faustulus’ wife was delighted by the sight of the two babies. But his uncle said, “Look at this cloak. This belonged to the Princess Rhea Silvia who was held prisoner by the wicked King Amulius. Do you remember hearing the she and her babies had drowned in the Tiber River? These two boys must have been hers.” “What shall we do? The King will kill us and them if he finds out,” the couple said. The Uncle thought for a while, and then said, “If you want to keep the babies, we must tell people that they are your own. No one here knows you and they will certainly believe me.” Faustulus agreed. They named the boys Romulus and Remus.
9. Romulus and Remus grew to be strong young men and great hunters. Like their father, they were also shepherds. One day Remus decided to let his flock of sheep graze on the rich green pastures of old Numitor’s farm (the same farm that the old king had been banished to by his brother). Remus often did things before he spent time thinking about the consequences. The guards caught Remus dozing under a tree with his sheep happily munching the tender young wheat plants and took him before the old king.
10. “This boy dared to let a hundred sheep graze in your wheat fields, your majesty. They ate all the young wheat growing there and spoiled the crop. In addition, this is not the first time he has done this. What shall we do with him?” King Numitor was now a very old man. The loss of his family had made him hard and uncaring. “We must make him an example for others who would harm my property this way. Take him away and kill him,” said the old king.
11. Suddenly Romulus burst into the room and said, “Good sir, my brother is not very bright. Sometimes he does things without thinking, but does not mean to harm others. Please, spare his life, but divide the punishment between us so that I can share the burden of his punishment.” This caused the old king to think. He was not a bad man and always admired courage and self-sacrifice. “If I were my wicked brother Amulius, I would say that each of you would lose half of your heart.”
12. Then Faustulus burst into the room. He bowed low before the king and said, “Good King Numitor, you must have mercy on these boys because they are your own grandsons.” The king looked surprised and then was angry.
13. “Fool, all of my children and my grandchildren are dead. How dare you say such a thing.” “Look at this cloak, your majesty. This is the cloak of Princess Rhea Silvia. I found it with these two boys when they were tiny babies.” Faustulus told him the entire story of finding the babies in the wolf’s den. The king rejoiced to have suddenly gotten two new grandchildren. However Romulus and Remus were very angry and so were the people when they heard what King Amulius had done to the babies. The entire countryside, led by Romulus and Remus rebelled against King Amulius. The people put King Numitor back on the throne.
14. For many years, the city was at peace. But Romulus realized that the only way for the town to grow was to build a new settlement on the banks of the Tiber River where they could ship their goods up the river to other towns, and down the river and out to the ocean to far away places. He selected a spot between seven hills along the Tiber River. Soon people were building new houses as Romulus and his men built the roads. Remus was helping also, but true to his character, he got in the way more than he worked. One unhappy day, as Romulus swung a heavy ax to break up boulders for the road, Remus came by to bring Romulus his lunch. Remus hid behind the pile of stone, and as he leaped up to scare his brother, Romulus accidentally hit him with his ax and Remus died instantly.
15. Poor Romulus. He was sad for many years and never forgave himself for accidentally killing his brother. He became a workaholic and spent long days building a beautiful city that he and Remus had named Rome.
1. What questions does the myth answer? (Consider: Rome’s History, proper behavior, personal character, destiny, etc.)
2. Is there a portion of this text that would express the value of hard work?
3. Is there a portion of this text that would express the value of being ‘serious’ about anything you attempt to do?
4. Is there a portion of this text that indicates/ implies a significant destiny?
5. Is there a portion of this text that describes an event that is extremely uncommon, unique, or supernatural?
6. Are there any familiar elements within this myth? Are there other myths/ legends that may share a common element?
The text of the myth was taken from http://michiganepic.org/NHA/Rome/RomulusRemus.html on 13 Jan. 2003 (except where otherwise indicated). The text has been edited by Mr. Anthony Valentin for use in classroom instruction. Content has not been altered, but its formatting and organization were (ex.: paragraph #s). Any alteration of content was restricted to that which will improve clarity and understanding (ex. punctuation, vocabulary and spelling conventions).
The version of the Romulus and Remus myth presented here is one version. Other versions, varying in depth of detail and/ or contextual setting, exist.