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The Oath of the Horatti
"... the moment we stop fighting for each other, that's the moment that we lose our humanity." - 2012
by Bianca C.Tate
June 3, 2011
The Oath of the Horatti was completed in 1784 by a French artist, Jacques-Louis David (Fiero, 156). “The art of Jacques-Louis David embodies the style known as Neoclassicism, which flourished in France during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century” (Galitz, np). The Oath of Horatti is a painting illustrating the event written in the Livy’s History of Rome (Fiero, 157). The picture was an instant success and “proclaimed the importance of reason and the intellect over and above feeling and sentiment, and it defended the ideals of male heroism and self-sacrifice in the interest of one’s country.” People praise the painting, but as I did more research I discovered that the story bestowed on the canvas is nothing to celebrate.
The famous painting depicts the story of three Horatti brothers going to war for their city, Rome. With the permission of their father, they fight three Curati brothers from another family. Aware of the bloodshed about to take place, the family of the warriors mourns their departure. One of the Horatti sisters was betrothed to one of the Curati brothers who was killed by one of her brothers. After the Horatti brothers returned victoriously, the widowed sister wept over the death of her future husband. Enraged, one of her brothers stabbed her to death and their father defends his son’s honor.
The Oath of Horatii depicts the importance of reason over feeling and defends male heroism and self-sacrifice In my opinion, this historic tale is nothing to celebrate. Reason over feeling? Male-heroism? Self-sacrifice? This is what starts every war, but is it necessary? Is it right? There is a quote from the 2009 motion picture film, “2012,” that explains what it means to “lose our humanity.”
“I know we have all been forced to make difficult decisions to save our human civilization. But to be human means to care for each other. And civilization means to work together to create a better life. If that's true then there's nothing human and nothing civilized about what we are doing here. Ask yourselves, can we really stand by and watch these people die? I read a book two days ago. The author is probably dead by now but he said the moment we stop fighting for each other, that's the moment that we lose our humanity." – 2012
In fact, everything the painting proclaims as important reflects in the events of 9/11. If I were to repaint The Oath of Horatti, Osama Bin Laden would be the father in the middle handing over three planes instead of swords to the young terrorist who also believed in “self-sacrifice in the interest of one’s country” (Fiero, 156). The women on the canvas will represent the people in their country who know it is wrong but have no control or no voice because males are dominant. The women will be covered up even more in my painting because they aren’t allowed to be seen. Notice the woman trying to protect her children from the vicious war illustrated in David’s painting. But no matter how she tries to protect her children, they can’t help but to watch and learn. Someday, if something isn’t done, the children will be next to “honor” their country. The children are our future, yet they learn from men who lost all since of humanity.
The Oath of Harotti is without a doubt a very well done painting that captured a dramatic event of ancient Rome. But people praise the painting for the wrong reasons. To me the painting stands for the exact opposite: It proclaims the importance of feeling over reason and intellect. It illustrates the loss of humanity and encourages people to work together instead of against each other to build a better civilization for our children and our children’s children.
2012. Emmerich, Roland. John Cusack, Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Columbia Pictures, 2009
Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition: Faith, Reason, and Power in the Early Modern World. Sixth ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. 156-157. Print.
Galitz, Kathryn C. "The Legacy of Jacques-Louis David (17481825) | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Metmuseum.org. 2000–2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.