Gaius Mucius Scaevola
Gaius Mucius Scaevola was a Roman youth, famous for his bravery.
In 508 BC, during the war between Rome and Clusium, the Clusian king Lars Porsena laid siege to Rome. Mucius, with the approval of the Roman Senate sneaked into the Etruscan camp and attempted to murder Porsena. It was the soldiers' pay day. There were two similarly dressed people on a raised platform talking to the troops. He misidentified Porsena and killed Porsena's scribe instead. Mucius was captured, and famously declared to Porsena: "I am Gaius Mucius, a citizen of Rome. I came here as an enemy to kill my enemy, and I am as ready to die as I am to kill. We Romans act bravely and, when adversity strikes, we suffer bravely." He also declared that he was the first of three hundred Roman youths who volunteered to assassinate Porsena at the risk of their own lives.
"Watch this," he declared. "so that you know how cheap the body is to men who have their eye on great glory." Mucius thrust his right hand into a fire which was lit for sacrifice and held it there without giving any indication of pain, thereby earning for himself and his descendants the cognomen Scaevola, meaning 'left-handed'. Porsena, shocked at the youth's bravery, dismissed him from the Etruscan camp, free to return to Rome saying "Go back, since you do more harm to yourself than me". At the same time, the king also sent ambassadors to Rome to offer peace.
Mucius was granted farming land on the right-hand bank of the Tiber, which later became known as the Mucia Prata (Mucian Meadows).
It is not clear whether the story of Mucius is historical or mythical.
In popular culture
- Dante Alighieri refers to Mucius and the sacrifice of his hand within the Divine Comedy. In Paradiso Canto 4: 82-87, along with St. Lawrence, Mucius is depicted as a person possessing the rarest and firmest of wills.
- Gordon Scott portrayed Mucius in the sword-and-sandal film Hero of Rome (1964), a film loosely based on this story.
- A similar hand-burning feat of endurance was famously performed by G. Gordon Liddy. It involved holding his hand over a lighter flame until the flesh burned. According to the Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward book All the President's Men (1974), Liddy did this once at a dinner party. When someone asked "What's the trick?" He replied, "The trick is not minding." When Liddy entered prison for his Watergate crimes he allegedly used this trick to intimidate other inmates.
- The same "trick" was also attributed to T. E. Lawrence in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence (played by Peter O'Toole) extinguishes a match with his thumb and forefinger. Seeing this, the character Potter tries it. Potter: "Ow! It damn well 'hurts!" Lawrence: "Certainly it hurts." Potter: "Well what's the trick then?" Lawrence: "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts." This scene is played in the 2012 film Prometheus.