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Desultor





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DESULTOR, a leaper, a vaulter; the technical appellation of a sort of riders, who practice it was, in the circus games to urge two horses to their utmost speed, leaping from one to the other with surprising agility without stopping. The term was also applied to those young Romans, some of the highest rank, who, not content with driving the biga and quadriga in the circus carried the reigning taste for the exercises to the utmost excess. They, too, mounted bare-backed horses, riding one of them and leading another in hand. On these they alternately vaulted whilst galloping, thus changed their position many times, with wonderful celerity, after the manner of a troop of hours in the Numidian army, as described by Livy (xxiii. 29). The Roman desultor wore a pileus, or cap of felt, and his horse was without a saddle, but he had the use of both whip and bridle. 

From those volatile feats of horsemanship the term desultor was, by a metaphor, applied to the fickle and inconstant, and to those who were prone to betray a cause. And so, Ovid says of himself (Amor. i eleg. 3, v. 15): Non mihi mille pacent, non sum desultor amoris, that is, "I am not a fickle lover."
 
The remarkable type exhibited on the reverse of the above engraved denarius (the obverse bears the heads of Numa and Ancus), is described by Hyginus when speaking of the Dioscuri -- "Whence also the Romans kept up to custom,  when they exhibited a desultor; for one individual manages two horses, with a cap on his head, and leaps from one horse to the other, in memory of his (i.e. Pollux), representing his brother (Castor), as well as himself." In conformity with this account, the desultor is represented wearing cap of a conical form, doubtless the more closely to imitate the Dioscuri, whose caps where this kind, as is testified by numerous monuments, and also by Lucian (Dial. deor. 36), who calls them half segment of an egg," by which is indicated the myths which affirms their being sprung from an egg.
 
Eckhel then quotes the verses of Homer (Iliad, O. v. 679), so graphically descriptive of the exploits of a desultor, to the following effect:
  "As when a man, well-skilled in the management of race horses, who, after selecting from a multitude four steeds, hurrying them from the plain, drives them to the city by the much-frequented road; and crowds gaze on him with admiration, both men and women; whilst he with firm seat and in security, leaps alternately from one to the another; they flying the while."
 
Manlius also well illustrates this type (Astron. v. 85):
Necnon alterno desultor sidere dorso Quadrupedum, et stabiles poterit defigere plantas, Perque volabit equos, ludens per erga volantum.
The vaulter, to, mail light alternately on the back of each quadruped,  and plant his firm feet, flying amidst the horses ,and playing his pranks over their backs, as they go full speed. 
 
This type was selected by Censorinus in memory of a celebrated seer of the Marcia family, named Marcius ,who suggested to the Senate establishment of the Ludi Apollinares   Equestrian games in honor of Apollo.

As a numismatic illustration,. The foregoing cut is inserted from a coin  of the Marcian gens, which exhibits one of the desultores, with conical and with whip in right, urging at their fullest speed, two horses, one of which he is riding, the wreath and palm, as symbols of victory, accompanying the equestrian group, one of the Sepullia and other family coins. See Calpurnia Jens (p. 167), on coin of which is a figure of a man, with a palm branch on his shoulder, riding a horse at a rapid rate but which Eckhel does not consider to typify the desultor, who he observes had at least two horses in hand, as exemplified in the denarius  engraved in lefthand column.  For three other illustrations of the subject, see Dr. Smith's dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities ,, page 327 article DESULTOR.
 

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