Saturday, January 21, 2017


Source: AGI Rome photo collection 
Arch or Triumph or Arch of Humility? 
by Marco Tavanti, Ph.D.

During the Academic Global Immersion in Rome #AGIROME students walked through the Triumphal Arch of Titus (81 AD). We also noticed some of the details in the relief panels. One of the images represented the original use of these arches designed to purify the emperor from the blood of battle and to enter into the City of Rome to govern. As he was standing in the chariot with four horses as a sign of human-divine victory, a woman is dressed with wings reminding him to be humble and not to think he is God. "She would hit him with a feather and constantly remind him that he is human and only after his death he will be god" - our expert guide Georgea Colella told us. 

We are reminded of the symbolic meaning of these ancient practices as newly elected President Donald J. Trump attended the Jan. 21, 2017 national prayer service after his inauguration as the 45th US president. Past history carries many lessons for today's unfolding history. The winged woman (later incorporated by Christianity in the figure of angels) represents the superiority of morality into public service. It represents that even top leaders of nations and empires would need to govern with a strong sense of humility in order to better serve the government elected (Senatus) and people (Polupus) of the country (Que Romaus). This is the meaning of the SPQR inscriptions that are seen everywhere in the City of Rome.  

Governance is a leadership service - a public service. A service under the eyes of God and the power of the people - all the people in their diversity of voices and identities. From our tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we learned a perspective of the Roman Empire that tourist hardly ever hear from their guides - a perspective from the slaves, migrants and prostitutes. These people, disenfranchised for the large part, also had a path to freedom and citizenship. After more than 2,000 years, our modern countries can learn something even from the ancient Roman Empire. They can learn that our modern situations of slavery, immigration barriers, and discrimination against refugee protection and integration need to be rooted in our common humanity. 

Apparently, the winged woman reminds us that the journey of public service - even for an empire - requires leaders to be humble and recognize that leadership is a privilege to serve the common good. Learning about governance practice in the Roman Empire carries valuable lessons for today's public service. It reminds us that ethics is the core of our leadership. It reminds us of the core value of democracy as the power in "We the people" (US constitution) and -- at the international level -- of "We the peoples" (UN charter). 

The bronze reproductions of the winged woman (Vittoria Alata) in the horsed chariot stands on top of The Altare della Patria also known as the "National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II" or Il Vittoriano, a well known and controversial structure in the heart of Rome. Ironically, the monument was completed during the rise of the Fascism in Italy and with the advent of absolutist power of Benito Mussolini.

The winged woman in the four horses (quadringa) symbolizes our consciousness. It stands behind all of us in leadership positions and reminds us of our duty as servant leaders and as temporary and humbled stewards for the common good and our common future.