Léopold Lambert – New York on March 5, 2013
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One of the most famous fratricide of the world mythology is the one of Romulus and Remus. Similarly to Cain killing his brother Abel in the Bible/Quran or Seth killing his brother Osiris in the Egyptian mythology, it is written that Antic Rome was founded on a murder between brothers, specifically twins in that case. Romulus and Remus, after escaping from a certain death drown into the Tiber, were fed by a female wolf and raised by a couple of shepherds. They both wanted to found a new city on one of the hills that are now famous as characteristics of Rome. After both interpreted the auguries in their own favor, Romulus starts digging a trench around what will be the new city. Remus, in protest, jump over the trench and get killed by his brother. The new city named after Romulus was born.
This story, many of us know it, but it is interesting to re-read it through the filter of architecture and the law. When Romulus digs a trench around the future city, he circumscribe and appropriate a territory, in other words he proclaims his property. Such thing would not be possible without a modification of the physical environment, that is why he is digging a trench, but he could have just as well build a fence or a wall. Architecture, understood as the voluntary act on the material context – in this regard, a wall or a trench are both as much architecture – is used to implement the law. We can also observe that what we call the law can be unilaterally declared and subjugate each body present on the territory on which the law apply. It is therefore important that architecture delimits the territory as one of the axiom of the law is that anybody who is subject to respect it is supposed to know about it. Just like when Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, when Remus jumps the trench, he is full aware of his trespassing, he is so much aware of it that he is accomplishing his act only to disobey the law as a form of protest against it (which is the only reason one is legitimate to disobey the law).
The trench is the material manifestation of a diagram imagined in Romulus’ head. In that sense, Romulus was the first Roman architect as he “drew” a line that will subjugate the bodies and implement a law (which is almost the same), and he gave himself the means to materialize this line into an architectural element, the trench. When Remus crosses this line, he not only disobey the law, but he manifest a clear denial of the power of architecture. Through his gesture, he subverts the order composed together by the law and architecture. One has to understand it as if he would have crossed a wall, ignoring the law of physics that affirms that such thing is impossible. Remus therefore has to die for Rome to be funded on the law and the world to carry on with the “laws of nature”.
What we can hope as funambulists, is that the body of Remus was buried inside the trench (which would thus served its double function of wall and grave), in the thickness of the line of Romulus’ property diagram. The narrow physical space of the line is indeed a geometrical impossibility within the legal diagram (lines have a length but no thickness) and therefore no law is applicable within it. Remus’ body would therefore be liberated from the law forever and Rome would own in its walls, the mark of the disobedience that triggered its funding murder.