Immortal Meals #21: The Fish That Killed An Emperor March 3, 2015Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback
***thanks to Tacitus from Detritus for sending this one in***
Symmachus and the far more famous Boethius were Roman nobles after the end of the Roman empire, an uncomfortable time to be ‘senators’. Boethius fell into disgrace with the emperor Theoderic: he essentially got into trouble for defending, in the law courts, an enemy of Theoderic. He, then, confounded this error by allowing his father-in-law Symmachus to defend him: Symmachus was actually far more than a father-in-law, he had raised Boethius himself. Symmachus was, in turn, accused of treason and both he and Boethius were put to death: but not before Boethius had written, in his jail cell, the Consolation of Philosophy. There is a chance that Boethius was guilty of some form of ‘treason’ with the eastern empire, but Symmachus seems to have been innocent of every sin and was widely loved to boot. It is significant, in any case, that it was Symmachus that came back to haunt Theoderic in the most unexpected way.
And a few days [after the execution], while [Theoderic] was dining, the servants set before him the head of a great fish. This seemed to Theoderic to be the head of Symmachus newly slain. Indeed, with its teeth set in its lower lip and its eyes looking at him with a grim and insane stare, it did resemble exceedingly a person threatening him. And becoming greatly frightened at the extraordinary prodigy and shivering excessively, he retired running to his own chamber, and bidding them place many covers upon him, remained quiet. But afterwards he disclosed to his physician Elpidius all that had happened and wept for the wrong he had done Symmachus and Boethius. Then, having lamented and grieved exceedingly over the unfortunate occurrence, he died not long afterward. This was the first and last act of injustice which he committed toward his subjects, and the cause of it was that he had not made a thorough investigation, as he was accustomed to do, before passing judgment on the two men.
Beach feels he’s come across this motif before, but cannot be sure where. It is possible that it is a distant memory of reading Procopius’ History of the Wars, from which this passage comes. Flashes of some damp but wonderful afternoons in Trinity College Library. In any case, any parallel cases… drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
Had a lot of fun choosing the picture: shallow or what?