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Fratrum inter se irae sunt acerbissimae

Original post date: Saturday, June 23, 2007

In English: Brothers hold their fiercest anger for one another.

After yesterday's story about discord among brothers, I thought I would post this proverb as a follow-up. You can find this saying in Erasmus's Adagia, and here is the commentary he provides:
If ever rivalry happens among brothers, it is usually more fierce than among common enemies. Very many examples can be found in history: Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Jacob and Esau. The hatred of Caracalla, son of Emperor Septimius Severus, for his brother Geta was so savage and enduring that it could not even be satisfied with Geta's incredibly violent death, but continued to rage against all of Geta's friends as well.
As you can see, Erasmus has cited two examples from the Bible, along with one example from Roman mythology and one example from Roman history.

Cain and Abel were brothers, the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was jealous of the favor God showed to his brother and so he killed him, in this dramatic Bible story:
And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
Jacob and Esau are another famous pair of brothers from the Bible, and their rivalry shaped and determined the course of their whole lives. Although they were twins, Esau was the eldest, having emerged first from his mother's womb, but he notoriously sold his birthright to Jacob for a "mess of pottage." Jacob later deceived their father Isaac into thinking that he was Esau, and Isaac unwittingly bestowed his blessing on Jacob rather than his brother.

Romulus and Remus, like Jacob and Esau, were twins, the sons of the god Mars. Legend has it that Romulus slew his brother Remus in a quarrel about the founding of the city of Rome. As Romulus was building the sacred perimeter of the city, Remus leaped over the trench, which was regarded as a sign of very bad luck, as it meant that enemies could easily breach the city's walls in the future. Outraged at what his brother had done, Romulus killed him. There are many variants on this story, and you can find abundant information at the wikipedia article on this topic.

The last example is probably less familiar than the stories from the Bible or from mythology. The Emperor Septimius Severus had two sons with his second wife, Julia Domna. Caracalla was the elder son, born in 186, and Geta was the younger, born in 189. The father reigned jointly with his two sons, and when he died in 211 Caracalla and Geta were named co-emperors. Caracalla, however, had his brother killed, and ordered that his name be scratched out from every public monument and his face erased from family portraits (the so-called "damnatio memoriae").

Although the story of Geta and Caracalla is not as well known as the story of Cain and Abel, it certainly provides an excellent example of the savage hatred of brothers which is the topic of today's proverb.

So, with a moment of mourning for poor Geta, here is today's proverb read out loud:

795. Fratrum inter se irae sunt acerbissimae.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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