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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

David vs. Goliath, The Battle of Champions--round two

Since writing my first post about Goliath, I've found a passage in Livy's History of Ancient Rome that closely parallels the story of David and Goliath. I've printed the passage in full, highlighting the correlations to the biblical account. This battle took place around 360 B.C.
The dictator, having in consequence of the alarm of a Gallic tumult proclaimed a cessation of civil business, obliged all the younger citizens to take the military oath; and marching out of the city with a very powerful army, encamped on the hither bank of the Anio. The bridge lay between the armies, neither party choosing to break it down lest it should be construed as an indication of fear. Frequent skirmishes were fought for the possession of the bridge, but so indecisive that it could not be clearly discovered to which party it belonged. While affairs were in this posture, a Gaul of a stature remarkably large advanced on the bridge then unoccupied, and with a loud voice called out, "Let the bravest man that Rome can produce come forth here to battle, that the event of a combat between us two may determine which of the nations is to be held superior in war."

The young Roman nobility were for a long time silent, ashamed to refuse the challenge yet unwilling to claim the first post of danger. Then Titus Manlius son of Lucius, the same who had freed his father from the persecution of the tribune, advancing from his station to the dictator, said: "General, I would on no account leave my post to fight without your orders, not though I should see a certain prospect of victory; but if you permit me, I wish to show that brute who makes such an insolent parade in the front of the enemy's army that I am sprung from that family which beat down an army of Gauls from the Tarpcian rock."

 The dictator answered Titus Manlius, "I honour your bravery and your dutiful regard to your father and to your country; go, and with the help of the gods, show the Roman name invincible." The youth was then armed by his companions, took a footman's shield, and girded on a Spanish sword adapted to close fight.

As soon as they had fitted on his armour and ornaments they conducted him out towards the Gaul, who showed a savage joyand--the ancients have thought that circumstance also worth mention--even thrust out his tongue in derision. They then retired to their posts, and the two champions were left in the middle space in the manner of a spectacle, rather than according to the rules of combat, very unequally matched in the eyes of such as judged by sight and appearance. The one had a body of enormous size glittering in a vest of various colours, having armour painted and inlaid with gold; the other was of the middle stature among soldiers, and his mien devoid of ostentation in arms, calculated for ready use more than for show. On his side there was no song of defiance, no capering, nor vain flourishing of arms; but his breast replete with resolution and silent rage, reserved all its fierceness for the decision of the contest.  

They took their ground between the two armies while the minds of such great numbers of men on both sides were suspended between hope and fear. The Gaul, like some huge mass ready to crush the other under it stretching forward his shield with his left hand, discharged an ineffectual blow on the edge of his sword with great noise on the armour of Manlius as he approached; while the Roman, pushing aside the lower part of his antagonist's shield with his own and insinuating himself between that and his body, closed in with him in such a manner as to be in no danger of a wound. He then raised the point of his sword and with one and then a second thrust, piercing the belly and groin of his foe, laid him prostrate on the ground, of which he covered a vast extent The body, without offering it any other indignity, he despoiled of a torc only, which, bloody as it was, he threw round his own neck.

Astonishment and dismay held the Gauls motionless.The Romans in rapture advanced from their posts to meet their champion, and with congratulations and praises, conducted him to the dictator. Among the unpolished jests which they threw out, according to the soldier's custom, composed in a manner somewhat resembling verses, the appellation Torquatus was heard joined with his name, which being generally adopted, has since done honour to the descendants of that whole line. The dictator also presented him with a golden crown, and in a public speech extolled the action in the highest terms. In fact, that combat was of so great consequence with respect to the general issue of the campaign, that on the night following, the army of the Gauls, abandoning their camp in hurry and confusion, removed into the territory of Tibur.
In what follows, we also see a remarkable correlation with the story of Saul's attempted execution of his son Jonathan for breaking military discipline:
At the same time strict commands were given that no Roman should come out of his rank to fight in single combat with the enemy; a necessary regulation, as the Latins were so like, in every respect, to the Romans, that there would have been fatal confusion had there been any mingling together before the battle. Just as this command had been given out, young Titus Manlius, the son of the consul, met a Latin leader, who called him by name and challenged him to fight hand to hand. The youth was emulous of the honour his father had gained by his own combat at the same age with the Gaul, but forgot both the present edict and that his father had scrupulously asked permission before accepting the challenge. He at once came forward, and after a brave conflict, slew his adversary, and taking his armour, presented himself at his father's tent and laid the spoils at his feet.  But Manlius Torquatus was a man of principles. He collected his troops and surprised them by not honouring his son for the glorious defeat of an enemy. Instead, he said he would not allow disobedience and lack of discipline, and ordered to strike off his own son's head. The Roman army won the battle, but when Manlius Torquatus returned to Rome, the Senate refused to give him the usual marks of honour. The severity he had shown went way too far for the Roman people.

ADDED APRIL 30, 2012

I could also mention the Greek account of Nestor and Ereuthalion, champion of the Achaewoi-- another parallel to, and roughly contemporaneous with,  Goliath. The differences between the two heroes who took on these giants, and David, however, is profound. They trusted in long battle training, skillfully wrought weapons, and military strategy. David, on the other hand, had no military training, rejected the use of military armour, and went into battle armed with a simple shepherd's sling. What did he trust in? Only the LORD his God, and with that, he triumphed despite the incredible odds.

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