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Ulysses Returns

"Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears. . . It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus’ dog he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy."
-The Odyssey by Homer, Translated by Robert Fagles. Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 1996, 317-320

Ulysses Divine Ancestors

The Roman, poet Ovid, writing during the reign of Augustus in his Metamorphoses, describes the aftermath of the Trojan War and quotes Ulysses describing Jupiter and Mercury as his ancestors:

"Now as for ancestors and noble birth
and deeds we have not done ourselves, all these
I hardly call them ours. But, if he boasts
because he is the great grandson of Jove,
the founder of my family, you know,
is Jupiter; by birth I am just the same
degree removed from Jupiter as he.
Laertes is my father, my grandsire is
Arcesius; and my great grandsire is Jove,
and my line: has no banished criminal.
My mother's grandsire, Mercury, would give
me further claims of birth—on either side a god."
-Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII, 157-168

Mamilii Descendants of Ulysses and Circe

According to Roman mythology, the Mamilii, a noble family from the town of Tusculum, claimed descent from Telegonus, the son of Ulysses (Odysseus) and the enchantress Circe. Telegonus is said to have founded Tusculum, and his descendants became prominent in Roman history. Here are two references to this connection between Octavius Mamilius and Ulysses:

1.49.9 He gave his daughter in marriage to Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum, who was quite the foremost man of the Latin race, descended, if we are to believe traditions, from Ulysses and the goddess Circe; through that connection he gained many of his son-in-law's relations and friends.
-Livy, History of Roman, 1.49.9

"This man was Octavius Mamilius, who traced his lineage back to Telegonus, the son of Ulysses and Circe; he lived in the city of Tusculum and was looked upon as a man of singular sagacity in political matters and a competent military commander..."
-Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, IV.XLV.1

A Coin from Sulla's Dictatorship

C. Mamilius Limetanus, 82 BC82, AR Serrate Denarius (19mm, 3.92g), Rome mint

Obv: Draped bust of Mercury right, wearing winged petasus; to left, A above caduceus

Rev: Ulysses walking right, holding staff and extending hand toward his dog, Argus.

Ref: Crawford 362/1; Sydenham 741; Mamilia 6; RBW 1370.

Celebrating Family

The lineage of the gens Mamilia, descendants of Mamilia, the daughter of Telegonus, the son of Ulysses and Circe. Ulysses descended from Mercury on his mother's side.

The reverse scene depicts the scene of Ulysses return home from his wanderings after the Trojan War. He dressed like a beggar to surprise and kill the many suitors of his wife Penelope. Ulysses' old dog Argus recognizes him and dies, having waited loyally, 20 years, for the return of his master.

The moneyer, C. Mamilius Limetanus, was the son of C. Mamilius Limetanus, who was tribune of the plebs in 109 BC.

A Contemporary Parallel?

Although Crawford was skeptical about the connection, writing "I no longer believe that the types have any contemporary reference" in RRC, there is certainly a connection between Ulysses return home and the return home of Sulla after settling the war with Mithridates. Sulla's return to war even more vicious than that of Ulysses. This is the scene as the Telemachus leads the nurse into the hall where Ulysses has slaughtered the suitors:

"She found Odysseus in the thick of slaughtered corpses, splattered with bloody filth like a lion that’s devoured some ox of the field and lopes home, covered with blood,his chest streaked, both jaws glistening, dripping red— a sight to strike terror. So Odysseus looked now, splattered with gore, his thighs, his fighting hands, and she, when she saw the corpses, all the pooling blood, was about to lift a cry of triumph—here was a great exploit, look—but the soldier held her back and checked her zeal with warnings winging home: “Rejoice in your heart, old woman—peace! No cries of triumph now. It’s unholy to glory over the bodies of the dead."
-The Odyssey by Homer, Translated by Robert Fagles. Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 1996, 427-436

Here are four ancient accounts from

  • Livy writing during the reign of Augustus.

  • Plutarch writing about 90-120 CE.

  • Florus writing during the reign of Emperor Hardrian (circa 100-140 CE)

  • Appian writing circa 160-170 CE.

and one contemporary view from Cicero.

Plutarch paints a bloody scene of the end of the Battle with Marian forces and the scence in Praeneste (modern Palestrina - ~35km southeast from Rome), The town had been a stronghold for the Marian forces, and after their defeat, Sulla's response was severe:

Meanwhile Marius the younger, at the point of being captured, slew himself; and Sulla, coming to Praeneste, at first gave each man there a separate trial before he executed him, but afterwards, since time failed him, gathered them all together in one place — there were twelve thousand of them — and gave orders to slaughter them, his host alone receiving immunity. But this man, with a noble spirit, told Sulla that he would never owe his safety to the slayer of his country, and joining his countrymen of his own accord, was cut down with them."
- Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 32.1

The end of the war came with more vengeance in Rome to remove political enemies:

"However, the end of the fighting was not also the end of the killing; for even after peace was made, swords were drawn and punishment was inflicted upon those who had surrendered voluntarily. The slaughter of more than 70,000 men by Sulla at Sacriportus and the Colline Gate was a lesser crime, for it was what one expects in war. But he ordered 4,000 unarmed citizens who had been surrendered to be slain in the Villa Publica. Do not all these 4,000 slain in peace really outnumber those other 70,000? Who can compute the total of those whom anyone, who wished to do so, slew in various parts of the city?"
-Florus, Epitome of Roman History, Book II.9

and accumulate wealth from confiscated property.

Sulla now wielded with unbridled cruelty the powers which former dictators had employed only to save their country in times of extreme danger. He was the first to set the precedent for proscription—would that he had been the last! The result was that in the very state inwhich an actor who had been hissed from the stage has legal redress for wilful abuse, a premium for the murder of a citizen was now publicly announced; that the richest man was he who had slain the greatest number; that the bounty for slaying an enemy was no greater than that for slaying a citizen; and that each man became the prize set up for his own death. Nor was vengeance wreaked upon those alone who had borne arms against him, but on many innocents as well. In addition the goods of the proscribed were sold, and their children were not only deprived of their fathers’ property but were also debarred from the right of seeking public office, and to cap the climax of injustice, the sons of senators were compelled to bear the burdens and yet lose the rights pertaining to their rank.
-Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History, II

Appian doesn't tell a prettier story:

"Sulla himself called the Roman people together in an assembly and made them a speech, vaunting his own exploits and making other menacing statements in order to inspire terror. He finished by saying that he would bring about a change which would be beneficial to the people if they would obey him, but of his enemies he would spare none, but would visit them with the utmost severity. He would take vengeance by strong measures on the praetors, quaestors, military tribunes, and everybody else who had committed any hostile act after the day when the consul Scipio violated the agreement made with him. After saying this he forthwith proscribed about forty senators and 1600 knights. He seems to have been the first to make a formal list​31 of those whom he punished, to offer prizes to assassins and rewards to informers, and to threaten with punishment those who should conceal the proscribed."
- Appian, The Civil Wars, I.95.1

In 80 BC - while Sulla was still dictator, Cicero bravely defended a man named Sexto Roscio Amerino, who was accused of killing his father. He had to stand up to powerful allies of Sulla's. He challenged the evidence and motives assigned to the accused and suggested that the real culprit was Chrysogonus who had orchestrated the murder to seize the Roscius family's property, which was valuable and had been confiscated during the proscriptions. His client was acquitted. Cicero writing only 2 years after the events also describes the post victory period in Rome as:

"After their victory had been established and we were no longer at war, when proscription was rife and those who were supposed to have belonged to the opposite party were being seized in every quarter,...."
-Cicero, Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino, VI

Later, he rightfully prides himself on (De Officiis II.51,) lending "aid to one who seems to be oppressed and persecuted by the influence of someone in power" and . This I have done on many other occasions; and defending "Sextus Roscius of Ameria against the power of Lucius Sulla when he was acting the tyrant".

Liv Yarrow suggests that the imagery of Ulysses and Argos was meant to evoke loyalty not just within families, from soldiers to their generals, citizens to their community, and allies to each other. Loyalty would have been a critical theme given the widespread betrayal and shifting allegiances during the Social War and the battles between Sulla and Marius: "the image on the coin reflects the present anxieties over divided loyalties and insecurities over the social contract".

I find it hard to imagine that the legend of Ulysses return and clearing of rivals from his house would not evoke thoughts of Sulla's return in 82 BC and clearing of rivals - whether the allusion was interntional or not.


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