Thursday 19 July 2018

The Men Named Epaphroditus by L.J. Trafford

Large stone inscription found on the Esquiline Hill. The name Epaphroditus is visible

Roman names are annoying. All those Gaiuses, Luciuses and Marcuses. Gaius Octavius calling his son Gaius Octavius. Mark Antony calling his two daughters Antonia and err Antonia. Every second female in Augustus’ massive clan being a Julia.
It can make it difficult to ascertain whether you have the right Gaius or Julia.

With slaves this is even harder. They have only one name and then on freedom add to it the name (s) of their master or mistress. Their lives are not as well documented as the Roman elite . And they too have popular names that crop up again and again. The most popular name for slaves is Felix, meaning happy (an ironic use given their slave status? Or wishful thinking?) Second to this is Epaphroditus, meaning charming.

I want to take this second name, Epaphroditus, and have a look at a few notable Epaphrodituses who all lived in the same period, the first century AD, querying whether they were in actuality the same man.

The Emperor’s Secretary

Nero, Epaphroditus' master
Our first Epaphroditus is fully known as Tiberius Claudius Epaphroditus and he was an Imperial freedman, that is an ex slave of the Emperor. In this case he was freed by Nero.
TC Epaphroditus appears at three precise moments in the historical record. Firstly in 65AD when a man named Milchus brings him word of a huge conspiracy against Nero. This was the Piso conspiracy that brought down a praetorian prefect, the poet Lucan, Nero’s party planner Petronius and his own tutor Seneca.

That Epaphroditus is the man who Milchus approaches and is able to put the matter before Nero shows that TC Epaphroditus enjoyed a good position in the Imperial bureaucracy. It was about to get better. Nero rewarded him heavily for his role in uncovering the Piso conspiracy. He was advanced into the equestrian rank and bestowed with titles. We even know what these titles were for a whopping big stone was uncovered on the Esquiline Hill in Rome (seen at the top of this post). That Epaphroditus commissioned such a monument to himself shows, I would say, a certain pride in his accomplishments.

The next mention of TC Epaphroditus is in 68AD. A rebellion was threatening Nero. Another emperor, Galba had been declared by the legions. Deserted by his own Guard Nero fled Rome. He took with him three men: the eunuch Sporus (the subject of a previous History Girls post of mine), a freedman named Phaon and Epaphroditus.

That Epaphroditus accompanied Nero on this final journey demonstrates how close and how trusted he was by the Emperor.

It was Epaphroditus who performed the greatest of favours for his master. “Then with the help of his secretary Epaphroditus he stabbed himself in the throat.” Suetonius

However this assistance to Nero would come back to haunt him. The reign of Domitian (81-96AD ) slowly descended into paranoia. Fearful of plots against him from within his own household, Domitian set to make an example. “To remind his staff that even the best of intentions could never justify a freedman’s complicity in his master’s murder, he executed his secretary Epaphroditus who had reputedly helped Nero to commit suicide.” Suetonius

This probably occurred in 95AD. A year or so after he was initially exiled. He was most likely over 70 by this point.

The Philosopher’s Master.
Our second Epaphroditus is linked to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Epictetus ran a thriving philosophy school in the Greek city of Nicopolis in the early 2nd century. He was born around 55AD into slavery and brought to Rome. He himself tells us the name of his master, Epaphroditus - Nero’s freedman.
For a long time this was thought to be the same Epaphroditus who helped Nero commit suicide. My own copy of Epictetus states this as fact. However a paper by PRC Weaver comprehensively unpicks this and casts doubt that they are the same man.

The key passage that Weaver quotes is this tale:

“Epaphroditus once owned a slave, a shoemaker, who he sold because he was no good. As chance would have it he was brought by one of the Imperial household and became shoemaker to Caesar. You should have seen Epaphroditus flatter him then! 

“And how is my friend Felicio today?” Whenever one of us asked. “Where is the master?” he would be told, “He is in conference with Felicio.” 

This doesn’t not sound like a freedman who was in such high standing he was one of only three people Nero took with him during his desperate flight from Rome. The man who gained so many titles after uncovering the Piso conspiracy surely had no need to flatter a cobbler to gain Imperial favour.

Epictetus’ Epaphroditus sounds more like a petty courtier rather than a trusted Imperial favourite.

The Literary Patron.
Bust of Josephus

Our third Epaphoditus is connected to the Jewish Historian Titus Flavius Josephus.  Captured in Judaea in 67AD Josephus defected to the Romans, acting as an advisor/translator to the future emperor Titus. He was later taken to Rome where he wrote several important works including one on the Jewish War.
This work was dedicated to an Epaphroditus. Of whom he says:

“Epaphroditus, a man who is a lover of all kind of learning; but is principally delighted with the knowledge of history; and this on account of his having been himself concerned in great affairs, and many turns of fortune; and having shewn a wonderful vigor of an excellent nature, and an immoveable virtuous resolution in them all. I yielded to this man’s persuasions; who always excites such as have abilities in what is useful and acceptable, to join their endeavours with his.” 

Josephus also dedicates his autobiography to him

“But to thee, O Epaphroditus, thou most excellent of men, do I dedicate all this treatise of our Antiquities” 

His work Against the Greeks is similarly dedicated to Epaphroditus.
This would suggest that Epaphroditus is a patron to Josephus’ works. It would make sense that Josephus’ patron was someone within the Imperial palace. It was standard for the literary inclined to seek influence with the emperor via the imperial freedmen. Martial writes several poems mentioning emperor Domitian’s chamberlain Parthienus and the gifts exchanged between them.
The timing is right too to connect with our first Epaphroditus. Josephus was in Rome from the 70s AD as was our secretary Epaphroditus.
However there is an issue with the publication dates of Josephus’ works, they coincide with the exile and later execution of TC Epaphroditus. It seems unlikely that Josephus would dedicate his works to a man banished from the city by the emperor. Or address a book in the present tense to a man who had been executed. 

The Christian

St Paul, early Christian and epic traveller, was facing some troubles.

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[ and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. "

He’d been arrested after preaching in Jersaleum and upsetting the locals. He’d been dragged from a temple by a mob and only escaped a messy death by handing himself over to some Roman centurions.

He was transported to Rome in the 60s AD to live under house arrest whist he awaited a trial. From here he wrote letters to Christian communities he had visited. Including that of the Greek city of Philippi. The community had sent an emissary to Paul to assist him in any way during these troubles. His name was Epaphroditus and he had brought gifts from the Christians at Philippi. 

“But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” 

Epaphroditus took his role representing the Philippian church and assisting Paul extremely seriously. So seriously that it made him ill.

“ But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.” 

Presumably Epaphroditus returned to Philippi to recover. This is the last we hear of him in the new testament. St Paul was sadly killed during Nero’s persecution of the Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD

The Waiter
I have one final Epaphroditus to offer up as an example of the depth and variety of Epaphrodituses hanging about in the first century AD. It’s from Herculaneum and so we can date it to the 80s AD or the very late 70s if the city cleaners were lax with their wall cleaning.
It’s a piece of graffiti from outside a bar.

Two friends were here.  While they were, they had bad service in every way from a guy named Epaphroditus.  They threw him out and spent 105 and half sestertii most agreeably on whores. 

The Man Named Epaphroditus
OK I think it’s clear these are all different men who happened to live during the same time period in the same part of the world.
But isn’t it more fun to imagine it’s the same man.
The Imperial freedman subject to the whim of an emperor, so that one day he is his most trusted companion and the next day so far from favour as to be jealous of a cobbler.
A ‘charming’ man who was a friend to both a Jewish Historian and a Christian Preacher.
And who keeping it real and down with the folk, supplemented his secretary’s salary with a bit of part time bar work in Herculaneum.

What a guy!

L.J. Trafford is the author of a series of books that feature Nero's secretary Epaphroditus as a character.


Sue Bursztynski said...

It might make a novel! As for Roman names, I believe there were just a few praenomens around for men, while women didn’t have names at all, they were just called by the family name. So you’d just be called Trafford and I’d be Bursztynski(actually, Bursztynska, because of the Polish system of making women’s names end in a). I think they must have had their own ways to call their daughters if there were two or more. In Suetonius, for example, they are referred to as “the Younger/Elder”, but I bet families had nicknames.

France doesn’t have many given names even now, and I believe you aren’t allowed to give your kids the kind of weird and wacky names they get in English speaking countries.

LJ Trafford said...

I do wonder how it worked in the palace where all freedmen would have the same first two names. They can't have called each other Tiberius it would get v.confusing :)