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Bacchus and Ariadne Jupiter and Callisto
Roman Charity - Passionate Painting
10871    Dibyendu Banerjee    18/05/2019

The predated tale of Roman Charity is the story of an exceptionally kind woman, Pero, who secretly breastfed her father Cimon, who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by starvation. Pero was an ordinary woman of humble means and had just given birth to a child. She got the permission to visit her imprisoned father, but the guards always searched her meticulously before the meeting, so that she cannot carry any food for her father. But one day, while she was feeding Cimon, she was caught by a careful guard. However, her sincere love towards her father and her selfless and fearless action to save him from sure death, despite the possibility of being arrested, impressed the hearts of the officials. Consequently, she was pardoned for the offence and also won her father's release.

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577 - 1640)
Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577 - 1640)
Jan Janssens (Flemish 1590 - 1650)
Jan Janssens (Flemish 1590 - 1650)
Bermadino Mei (Italy 1612 - 1676)
Bermadino Mei (Italy 1612 - 1676)

Almost an identical story, titled Carità Romana, was recorded by the first-century Roman historian Valerius Maximus in his book, ‘Nine Books of Memorable Acts and Sayings of the Ancient Romans’, as an example of a great act of love and respect for the parents and also Roman honour. Later it was retold by Pliny the Elder (23-79) and the theme was linked to the Christian virtue of charity. The theme was depicted in various Renaissance and Baroque works of art, which changed the sex of the parent from mother to father. In fact, there is no mention of Pero’s child in the original legend, which was introduced much later, in the 17th century, probably to eliminate the possibility of any interpretation of incestuous about the deed.

Sébastien Bourdon (France 1616 - 1671)
Sébastien Bourdon (France 1616 - 1671)
Bartolome Esteban Murillo (Spain 1617 - 1682)
Bartolome Esteban Murillo (Spain 1617 - 1682)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (France 1725 - 1805)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (France 1725 - 1805)

The scene of the story was painted in the Temple of Pietas, founded in ancient Rome in 191 BC. However, the story of the Roman Charity has much similarity to the Roman mythological story of Juno’s breastfeeding of the adult Hercules, as per a mythological tale of Etruscan religion, which originated in the 7th century BC. The Etruscan religion was composed of a set of stories, beliefs, and religious practices, very much influenced by the mythology of ancient Greece and Phoenicia and at the same time sharing similarities with the concurrent Roman mythology. Later, in the 4th century BC, the Etruscan religion and mythology was assimilated and absorbed into the classical Roman culture.

Rembrandt Peale (USA 1778 - 1860)
Rembrandt Peale (USA 1778 - 1860)
Jan Saudek (Czech May, 1935)
Jan Saudek (Czech May, 1935)

The story of Roman Charity inspired many master painters during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The famous Flemish painter, Sir Peter Paul Rubens  is known to have painted several versions of it. Apart from that, many European artists, like Caravaggio, Jan Janssens, Jean Baptiste Greuze, Charles Mellin and others depicted the scene in their works.

Famous novelist John Steinbeck also gave a fictional account of Roman Charity in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel the Grapes of Wrath (1939). Apart from that, a surrealist film titled ‘O Lucky Man’ (1973) included a scene of Roman Charity when the vicar's wife nursed the starved protagonist, with the intention of preventing him from plundering the food gathered for an offering.

Max Sauco (Russia - 1969)
Max Sauco (Russia - 1969)
Bacchus and Ariadne Jupiter and Callisto
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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