Monday, March 2, 2009

The Rape of the Sabine Women

The story of the rape of the Sabine women is an ancient one. Like many founding myths of nations, it involves sexual violence. Romulus, one of the legendary founders of Rome, led a group of womanless men, a state without a nation, doomed to extinction. Neighboring tribes, including the Sabines, refused to intermarry with this band of interlopers, so the Romans invited them to a celebration. In the midst of the festivities, Romulus gave a signal by raising his cloak, and, acting in concert, the Roman warriors seized the Sabine women and abducted them, one for each, to serve as their wives.

But Romulus and his brother Remus are perhaps more famous for the story of their own foundling origins. According to the legend, they were suckled by a she-wolf. The wolf makes several appearances in The Rape of the Sabine Women (2006), a film by Eve Sussman & The Rufus Corporation. In early moments, the wolf lounges in the Pergamon Museum’s courtyard; later she sidles through the museum and appears in the aftermath of the story. With the wolf and the story of Rome’s origins in mind, one might notice that the Pergamon courtyard resembles the Capitoline hill in Rome. Imposing classical facades constitute three sides of a square, with the fourth opening onto a descending staircase. The Capitoline—legendary original seat of government—displays in its courtyard a reproduction of the famous bronze statue of the wolf suckling the two boys.

Like the Capitoline museums, the Pergamon Museum houses antiquities, but in the German case, they are conquered antiquities, at least symbolically so, suggesting northern cultural supremacy—the museums of northern Europe as secure repositories for Mediterranean artifacts.

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