News from Ambridge: Vicky Tucker recognises the story of Sabinus and Ambiorix and reveals her classical education

April 16th, 2012 by admin

Ambiorix the Gaul: Brian Aldridge beware

Vicky Tucker wears her erudition lightly. The well-meaning but controversial second wife of Ambridge’s one-eyed milkman, the hapless Mike Tucker, she is known for her ampleness ‘in form and deed’ and for her lack of tact. She is fond of dancing, cooking, gardening and sun-worshipping. She loathes killjoys who might want to interfere with her fun – and exams. A characteristic utterance at Willow Farm, in her pronounced ‘Brummie accent’, might be ‘Ooh Mike, I like the look of that cruise’ ( Who would have thought that she had benefited from a classical education?

On Friday 13 April, conversation in the village shop turned, as it often does these days, to Brian Aldridge’s alarming plans for a massive milking factory. Not only will it be a blot on the landscape: the idea of keeping cows indoors, instead of allowing to them graze in the open, is denounced by the traditionalists as cruel and unnatural.

Brian’s most articulate opponent is undoubtedly the retired academic Jim Lloyd who, in the presence of Vicky and another customer, Bert Fry, referred to him as ‘the most insufferable, pompous, self-centred man’.

‘I grant you he can put on a carapace of charm’ – Jim continued – ‘when he’s trying to sugar-coat this megalomaniac scheme to blight our glorious countryside with a monstrous industrial edifice. But if he thinks he can buy off the deeply-held objections of a community with a cash donation and a few pints of ale, then he’s heading for the biggest disappointment since Sabinus trusted the word of Ambiorix the Gaul – and we all know how that ended.’

The bucolic Bert (likeliest utterance: ‘My Freda bakes the finest cakes in Borsetshire’) seemed not to recognise the allusion. Indeed, Jim’s invective was greeted with a stunned silence, until Vicky artlessly enquired, ‘Was he the one with the potion?’

No doubt Jim has Caesar’s De Bello Gallico constantly to hand, but it must be a while since Vicky read it, for it was not Ambiorix, but Cativolcus who took the potion (an infusion from a yew tree). Ambiorix and Cativolcus were the two kings of the Eburones, a people between the Meuse and Rhine rivers, who rebelled against the Romans in 54 BC. Ambiorix persuaded their beleaguered commander in Eburonia, Quintus Titurius Sabinus, to surrender, promising that he and his soldiers would be unharmed.

Sabinus had been naïve to trust Ambiorix. According to Caesar, he ‘orders those tribunes of the soldiers whom he had at the time around him, and the centurions of the first ranks, to follow him, and when he had approached near to Ambiorix, being ordered to throw down his arms, he obeys the order and commands his men to do the same. In the mean time, while they treat upon the terms, and a longer debate than necessary is designedly entered into by Ambiorix, being surrounded by degrees, he is slain.’ (De Bello Gallico, V, xxxvi-vii).

Colourful detail is added by Cassius Dio (Historia Romana, XL, vi – p.415 of the Loeb edition), who says that Ambiorix seized Sabinus, ‘stripped him of his arms and clothing, and then struck him down with his javelin, uttering boastful words over him, such as these: “How can such creatures as you wish to rule over us who are so great?”’

Few of Sabinus’s soldiers escape. Many take their own lives, rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. It was left to Caesar to wreak his terrible revenge on Eburonia. Ambiorix fled with his men across the Rhine and was never found. As for poor old Cativolcus, ‘being now worn out by age, he was unable to endure the fatigue either of war or flight, so, having cursed Ambiorix with every imprecation, as the person who had been the contriver of that measure, he destroyed himself with the juice of the yew-tree, of which there is a great abundance in Gaul and Germany’ (De Bello Gallico, VI, xxxi). Surely too cruel a fate, even for Brian Aldridge?

It is surprisingly that Jim resisted a rather apt pun by quoting from the original Latin: ‘qui una cum Ambiorige consilium inierat’ (who had entered into the design together with Ambiorix). Perhaps he is saving it for another time.