30 June 2009

Tall Poppies

This picture by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was painted in 1867 and is now in a private collection. It illustrates the story in Livy which led to the expression "tall poppy syndrome" for the delight some people take in enforcing mediocrity by cutting those who excel down to size. (image from museumsyndicate is in the public domain)

According to the story, when Sextus Tarquinius, who we've met before in the story of Lucretia, took the town of Gabii and sent a messenger to his father, Tarquinius Superbus, asking for further instructions, Tarquinius Superbus just lopped the heads off the tallest poppies in a field without saying anything. When the messenger returned and told Sextus what he'd seen, Sextus correctly interpreted his father's actions as meaning he should execute the most outstanding citizens of Gabii. Westminster Wisdom comments on the similarities between this story and a story in Herodotus.

Although I have written about him before, any excuse will do for a bit of Alma-Tadema. This site claims to have his complete works (218 paintings).

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