In this painting, the French artist Merry-Joseph Blondel (c. 1781–1853) envisions the mythical or legendary King Numa Pompilius of Rome, traditionally dated to have ruled between 716 and 674 BCE. Numa, according to Roman folklore, was the second king of Rome—successor to the city’s mythical founder and first king, Romulus. As opposed to Romulus’ violent and war-torn reign, Numa was said to have been a more peaceful ruler, whose specialties were in religion, law, and the general pursuit of wisdom. On this aspect of Numa’s character, the Roman historian Livy (59 BCE-17 CE) wrote, “Numa Pompilius had a great reputation at this time for justice and piety. He lived in the Sabine town of Cures, and was, by the standards of antiquity, deeply learned in all the laws of God and man” (The History of Rome, 1.18). His natural wisdom was said to have been further amplified by a goddess named Egeria, who became his consort and counselor. In keeping with this wiseman persona, many ancient Roman religious and legal institutions and innovations were attributed to the king. This amalgamation of a divinely-connected priest, lawman, and wiseman, is what Merry-Joseph Blondel attempts to capture in his painting.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.