Happy Father’s Day to all dads, including soon-to-be’s and want-to-be’s. And a very special shout out to my father - a hero, friend, and wise mentor.
The ancient Roman writer Valerius Maximus recounted a tale known today as Roman charity, the basic plot of which will probably make your stomach churn. The elderly Cimon is incarcerated for life and denied the benefit of food, so as to hasten his death. Pero, his daughter, would not have her father die in prison and instead gained access to his cell each night and offered him her breast-milk for sustenance. I always throw up a little in my mouth after hearing that story. Even more disturbing than the tale itself is seeing Rubens’ rendition. Cimon is so withered and enjoys sucking on Pero’s breast way too much! And Pero is a total voyeuse, gazing over towards the soldiers watching at the window. Eventually, however, Cimon is released because the soldiers so admired Pero’s self-less charity. What a disturbing story and the perfect WTF moment!
Peter Paul Rubens, Cimon and Pero (Roman Charity), c. 1630, oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Our second father is the great Roman god and Titan, Saturn (the Greek Cronus). Paranoid that one of his children would overthrow him, he had the brilliant idea of eating his children one by one! Brilliant right? Evidently not. Rhea, the mother goddess, switched Jupiter/Zeus for a stone, which Saturn devoured all the same. Goya’s painting of Saturn devouring one of his children creeps me out every time I see it in the Prado among the artist’s other Black Paintings. Again, a perfect WTF example of an f’ed up father.
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Saturn Devouring One of His Children, 1819-1823, oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid