Have you said the above phrase before? I know I have. The word "damn" is often considered a swear, but in fact, it's just a shortened version of the Latin "damnatio," meaning "condemnation." Though Greek remained prominent in the Eastern Roman Empire, Latin--the basis for English, French, (some) German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish--was the official language of Rome
The Roman Senate, arguably the "brain" of the Roman Empire, would "damn" or condemn the memory of any person who brought dishonor to the "body" of Rome. Not the city, mind you. We're talking about Rome when Rome was the world. This "damning" was not unique to Rome however. It was a common Middle-Eastern practice as well, stretching into parts of Africa, including Egypt. Today, we might use the word "erasure" rather than "condemnation," or "damning." Interestingly, the practice also made its way in the completely opposite direction into the Nordic countries of Europe, being used well into the 1800's.
How does something like that travel nearly 4,000 miles at a time before technology ever existed???
The answer is Rome. We talk about Rome as if everyone knows the geography of the former global-power that shaped the western world. But for me, visuals always work best. If one were to stand in the middle of, say, Greece, and launch an arrow directly north--assuming the arrow had infinite velocity and was unencumbered by obstacles--the path of the arrow would be nearly a straight shot on the world-map, flying over the borders of Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Baltic Sea separating Finland and Sweden. But, first things first...where exactly is Greece? To the west, Greece shares a border with Albania, directly across the Adriatic from the "heel" of the "boot" that is Italy. The city of Rome is perpendicular to Italy's "heel." Rome is located on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The "toe" of Italy's boot is on the Mediterranean, while the bottom of Italy's boot borders yet a forth sea, the Ionian. Greece's west coast touches the Ionian as well. Greece shares a land-border to the east with Turkey. Both Greece and Turkey share the Aegean Sea AND space along the Mediterranean--prime real estate! Greece and Turkey are across the Mediterranean north of neighboring countries Libya and Egypt in the northern-most tip of the continent of Africa. So, when you look at the world as Rome viewed it, it's easy to see how Norway and Sweden, neighbors in Northern Europe, shared socio-cultural practices with Egypt--more than 4,000 miles south--and, for hundreds upon hundreds of years after Rome's decline and fall.
Looks like Walt Disney was right--it really is a small world after all!
The Roman practice of publicly damning a traitor wasn't just a verbal condemnation. It was written, too. This was to achieve total erasure from public memory. You see, memory depends on the written word because it depends on art. In the 21st century, we tend to see art as agenda-free entertainment. But it never is. Art is often used to perpetuate socio-political rhetoric (or argument). Maybe you don't think about rhetoric as an art-form, but Aristotle did. In fact, he authored Ars Rhetorica, or The Art of Rhetoric--which is the basis of all good writing.
Writing is not just literary, it's visual, too.
When you look at a painting or any illustration, you're not just looking at it, you're reading it. It is the same with sculpture, architecture, textiles, graphics, film, photography, tattoo-art--even music. Everything from lighting to shape to symmetry to the choice of color, or lack thereof, is part of any art composition. Composition is what we writers do when we arrange words in succinct yet creative ways. Rhetoric and composition go hand-in-hand. The blank page is our canvas. Letters arranged into words are then blended into sentences and paragraphs--the paints with which we compose and project our visuals. But unlike something that physically appears before the eye on a substantive canvas, the writer's craft is more akin to magic. We are conjurers, conjuring colorful images in people's minds. And, in their memories.
Writers install, or, if you will, upload, memories to our readers without the reader ever having to live it. All art does that--conveys experience, memories, emotions...life itself. But unlike other visual arts, writers must project our images into people's minds. We do that by choosing the right words to evoke the right feelings, the right pictures. As you might imagine, the human brain is a slightly less predictable backdrop because writers only control the words. The audience is given total agency over the rest. But the benefit of using the human psyche as a canvas is that it's the most powerful canvas in the known Universe. That's why writers are not just the authors of history...we are the very creators of LEGEND.
"Damnatio memoriae," or "condemnation of memory," was a punishment. Anyone who brought dishonor to either the "brain" or "body" of Rome, was quite literally erased. Not just their image, but history itself was rewritten, and the offending party, written-out. Damnatio memoriae did not just make a person disappear, it was the total erasure of details in the lived experience (or life) of another human being--the equivalent of shooting someone point-blank. Maybe with a gun. Perhaps with a compound bow and arrow. Either way, that individual is gone. Permanently. Except, with damnatio memoriae, the traitor lived to see themselves removed, enduring the humiliation of social-invisibility. Like living ghosts. Physical phantoms lurking in the shadows. They could only ever watch from the social periphery, never again getting the chance to regain what was lost.
Damnatio memoriae was cruelty-incarnate. I'm not sure it was kinder than outright killing the liar, or thief, or cheater. But I've never understood violence. Some humans think it's "fun" to kill, even calling it a sport. The thing is, hunters are often portrayed as literary villains--their prey, however, are the heroes of legend. A legend that originates with a single novel. That novel was written by Hungarian-born, Jewish-author, Felix Salten.
Salten was a nom-de-plume; Seigmund Salzman was the name Salten was born with. Salten never went to college. He quit school at 16 after his family became bankrupt. But, by the age of 33, Salten managed to publish his first collection of short stories. Bambi, a Life in the Woods, or Bambi: Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde, was originally written in German, published in 1923; the novel was translated into English in 1928. Bambi was actually intended for an adult audience; it vilified those who stalk and kill otherwise defenseless creatures with things like bows and arrows--a sentiment that must have resonated with audiences around the globe. The book itself became very popular, especially in the States. And the 1942 Disney adaptation? To date, it has made more than $300-million world-wide.
Just call me "Bambi"....