Two - Brutus the Fool
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40 Part 1. Mythology Aut fatuum aut regem nasci oportet—“It is well to be born either a King or a Fool,” or so the saying goes:1 in both cases, paradoxically, the advantages are the same. Traditional wisdom holds that the Fool and the King—the bottom and the top of the pyramid, the two extreme points of the spectrum—are actually more alike than their differences might lead us to believe. Brutus, unable to be King, was clever enough to follow the wisdom of the proverb: becoming a Fool, he shielded himself from the treacheries of his deceitful cousin Tarquin. Only he, with his superior intelligence, understood that the Fool is closest to the King and that by taking just a short step he could slip into the place of the King. And by then it was too late for his enemies; for the truth is, no one expected it. In following this paradoxical strategy, Brutus has well-known and noble fellows: not only Hamlet,2 that other “false fool” who sought vengeance for 1. Sen. Apoc. 1.1. Cf. Otto 1890, 299, who believes the proverb was “re-adapted” by Seneca, but gives no reason for this assumption. 2. In the course of this essay, I will refer exclusively to the story narrated by Saxo Grammaticus in Gesta Danorum, with some Nordic variants as collected by Gollancz 1926 and others, rather than to the (perhaps better known) versions of François de Belleforest and William Shakespeare. Further information is taken from Hansen 1983. 40 Brutus the Fool Morio dictus erat: viginti milibus emi. redde mihi nummos, Gargiliane: sapit. —Martial, Epigrams 8.13 Non v’ha dubbio che quel che si narra in specie di Bruto presenta per la maggior parte le caratteristiche della leggenda e della poesia popolare. —G. De Sanctis, Storia dei Romani, 1926 Two Chapter 2. Brutus the Fool 41 his father’s death from a murderous and incestuous uncle and then became lord of the land, but also Khusràw, son of Siyavish. As Firdawsi recounts in the Book of Kings,3 Khusràw’s uncle, Afrasyab, had had his brother, the king, murdered. Khusràw feigned madness at his uncle’s court in order to allay any fear that he might retaliate, finally succeeding in his efforts to retake his father’s throne. In the company of such false madmen we may also number David, at the court of King Achis;4 Odysseus, who feigned madness to avoid going to Troy until he was betrayed by the hateful Palamedes;5 and Solon, who, when war broke out between Athens and Salamis, resorted to a similar expedient in order to express certain disagreeable opinions without risk of danger.6 The closest analogies run among the stories of Brutus, Hamlet and Khusràw. With only slight variation, the same web of familial relationships presents a young man who avenges the murder of his father (Tarquin killed Brutus’ older brother as well as his father)7 and reclaims his rightful position on the throne from a murderous maternal uncle (Brutus), paternal uncle (Hamlet) or maternal grandfather (Khusràw) by the same stratagem: feigning insanity. Given that the same “plot” appears to have existed in Rome, Denmark and Persia,8 it is certainly understandable why De Santillana and Von Dechend would take such striking correspondences between these stories as the basis for hypothesizing a single mythic “architecture”:9 a man who speaks of the heavens and of Time in a forgotten language. As attractive as this theory is, it is also improbable and flawed, above all in sacrificing the story itself to its presumed “meanings,” as if the tale did not 3. Firdousi 1876, II, 339ff. 4. 1 Samuel 21:11–13. 5. Hyg. Fab. 95; cf. Apoll. Ep. 3.7. 6. Plut. Sol. 8.1ff.; Just. 2.7. On this episode, see Lanza 1997, 41ff. Tac. Ann. 6.24 recounts that when Drusus was dying, he feigned dementia in order to curse Tiberius. 7. Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 4.68.2; Liv. AUC. 1.56.7. etc. Dionysius tells us that Tarquin killed also the Brutus’s father, Marcus Junius. Sources for the story of Brutus: Liv. AUC. 1.56; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 4.68ff; Diod. Sic. 10.22; Cic. Brut. 53; Ov. Fast. 2.717ff.; Val. Max. 7.3.2; Anon. De vir. illustr. 10.2; etc. A complete account in Münzer 1931; Ogilvie 19565, 216ff. 8. These stories have been the subject...


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