Friday, September 11, 2009

Roman Religion was different from Greek

Now the fact is that while Greek religion conquered Rome, Italy had an older religion of its own, which was not annihilated by the more brilliant newcomer, but remained beside it and never entered into entire fusion with it. The Romans were not a thinking so much as an organising race; in politics they were far ahead of the rest of the world, but in thought and imagination they were children; and so it happened that they borrowed ideas and usages from neighbours on this side and on that, and organised the whole into a system they could use, the organism being their own, but only little of the contents.

We must therefore inquire, in the first place, as to the religion the Romans had before they came under the influence of Greek ideas. Their earliest religion is to be traced in the calendar of their sacred year, in the lists of gods preserved for us in the writings of the fathers, and in numberless usages and institutions descended from early times.

The sacred year of early Rome is that of an agricultural community. The festivals have to do with sowing and reaping and storing corn, with vintage, with flocks and herds, with wolves, with spirits of the woods, with boundaries, with fountains, with changes of the sun and of the moon. There are festivals of domestic life, of the household fire, and of the spirits of the storeroom, of the spirits of the departed, and of the household ghosts. There are also festivals connected with warlike matters, some connected with the river and the harbour at its mouth, and some having to do with the arts of a simple population. The calendar, taken by itself, would create the impression that the community using it began with agriculture and added to it afterwards various other activities; there is nothing in it to contradict the supposition that Roman religion had its beginnings in the fields and in the woods.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mars

The Roman divinity most closely resembling the Greek Ares, and identified with him, was called Mars, Mamers, and Marspiter or Father Mars.

The earliest Italian tribes, who were mostly engaged in the pursuit of husbandry, regarded this deity more especially as the god of spring, who vanquished the powers of winter, and encouraged the peaceful arts of agriculture. But with the Romans, who were an essentially warlike nation, Mars gradually loses his peaceful character, and, as god of war, attains, after Jupiter, the highest position among the Olympic gods. The Romans looked upon him as their special protector, and declared him to have been the father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of their city. But although he was especially worshipped in Rome as god of war, he still continued to preside over agriculture, and was also the protecting deity who watched over the welfare of the state.

As the god who strode with warlike step to the battlefield, he was called Gradivus (from gradus, a step), it being popularly believed by the Romans that he himself marched before them to battle, and acted as their invisible protector. As the presiding deity over agriculture, he was styled Sylvanus, whilst in his character as guardian of the state, he bore the name of Quirinus.

The priests of Mars were twelve in number, and were called Salii, or the dancers, from the fact that sacred dances, in full armour, formed an important item in their peculiar ceremonial. This religious order, the members of which were always chosen from the noblest families in Rome, was first instituted by Numa Pompilius, who intrusted to their special charge the Anciliæ, or sacred shields. It is said that one morning, when Numa was imploring the protection of Jupiter for the newly-founded city of Rome, the god of heaven, as though in answer to his prayer, sent down an oblong brazen shield, and, as it fell at the feet of the king, a voice was heard announcing that on its preservation depended the future safety and prosperity of Rome. In order, therefore, to lessen the chances of this sacred treasure being abstracted, Numa caused eleven more to be made exactly like it, which were then given into the care of the Salii.

The assistance and protection of the god of war was always solemnly invoked before the departure of a Roman army for the field of battle, and any reverses of fortune were invariably ascribed to his anger, which was accordingly propitiated by means of extraordinary sin-offerings and prayers.

In Rome a field, called the Campus Martius, was dedicated to Mars. It was a large, open space, in which armies were collected and reviewed, general assemblies of the people held, and the young nobility trained to martial exercises.

The most celebrated and magnificent of the numerous temples built by the Romans in honour of this deity was the one erected by Augustus in the Forum, to commemorate the overthrow of the murderers of Cæsar.

Of all existing statues of Mars the most renowned is that in the Villa Ludovisi at Rome, in which he is represented as a powerful, muscular man in the full vigour of youth. The attitude is that of thoughtful repose, but the short, curly hair, dilated nostrils, and strongly marked features leave no doubt as to the force and turbulence of his character. At his feet, the sculptor has placed the little god of love, who looks up all undaunted at the mighty war-god, as though mischievously conscious that this unusually quiet mood is attributable to his influence.

Religious festivals in honour of Mars were generally held in the month of March; but he had also a festival on the Ides of October, when chariot-races took place, after which, the right-hand horse of the team which had drawn the victorious chariot, was sacrificed to him. In ancient times, human sacrifices, more especially prisoners of war, were offered to him; but, at a later period, this cruel practice was discontinued.

The attributes of this divinity are the helmet, shield, and spear. The animals consecrated to him were the wolf, horse, vulture, and woodpecker.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Roman Apollo

The worship of Apollo never occupied the all-important position in Rome which it held in Greece, nor was it introduced till a comparatively late period. There was no sanctuary erected to this divinity until B.C. 430, when the Romans, in order to avert a plague, built a temple in his honour; but we do not find the worship of Apollo becoming in any way prominent until the time of Augustus, who, having called upon this god for aid before the famous battle of Actium, ascribed the victory which he gained, to his influence, and accordingly erected a temple there, which he enriched with a portion of the spoil.

Augustus afterwards built another temple in honour of Apollo, on the Palatine Hill, in which at the foot of his statue, were deposited two gilt chests, containing the Sibylline oracles. These oracles were collected to replace the Sibylline books originally preserved in the temple of Jupiter, which were destroyed when that edifice was burned.
Sibyl

The Sibyls were maidens who had received the gift of prophecy, and the privilege of living to an incredible age. One of these Sibyls (known as the Cumæan) appeared to Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, offering for sale nine books, which she informed him had been written by herself. Not knowing who she was, Tarquin refused to buy them, upon which she burned three, and returned with six, demanding the same price as before. Being again driven away as an impostor, she again retired and burned three more, returning with the remaining three, for which she still asked the same price as at first. Tarquin, amazed at her inconsistency, now consulted the Augurs, who blamed him for not having bought the nine books when they were first offered to him, and desired him to secure the remaining three, at whatever price they were to be had. He, accordingly, purchased the volumes, which were found to contain predictions of great importance to the Romans. After the disposal of the books, the Sibyl vanished, and was seen no more.

The most beautiful and renowned of all the statues of Apollo now in existence, is that known as the Apollo Belvedere, which was found in 1503 among the ruins of ancient Antium. It was purchased by Pope Julius II., who removed it to the Belvedere of the Vatican, from whence it takes its name, and where it has been, for more than three hundred years, the admiration of the world. When Rome was taken, and plundered by the French, this celebrated statue was transported to Paris, and placed in the museum there, but in 1815 it was restored to its former place in the Vatican. The attitude of the figure, which is more than seven feet high, is inimitable in its freedom, grace, and majesty. The forehead is noble and intellectual, and the whole countenance so exquisite in its beauty, that one pauses spell-bound to gaze on so perfect a conception. The god has a very youthful appearance, as is usual in all his representations, and with the exception of a short mantle which falls from his shoulders, is unclothed. He stands against the trunk of a tree, up which a serpent is creeping, and his left arm is outstretched, as though about to punish.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roman Religion: Diana

Roman religionThe Diana of the Romans was identified with the Greek Artemis, with whom she shares that peculiar tripartite character, which so strongly marks the individuality of the Greek goddess. In heaven she was Luna (the moon), on earth Diana (the huntress-goddess), and in the lower world Proserpine; but, unlike the Ephesian Artemis, Diana, in her character as Proserpine, carries with her into the lower world no element of love or sympathy; she is, on the contrary, characterized by practices altogether hostile to man, such as the exercise of witchcraft, evil charms, and other antagonistic influences, and is, in fact, the Greek Hecate, in her later development.

The statues of Diana were generally erected at a point where three roads met, for which reason she is called Trivia (from tri, three, and via, way).

A temple was dedicated to her on the Aventine hill by Servius Tullius, who is said to have first introduced the worship of this divinity into Rome.

The Nemoralia, or Grove Festivals, were celebrated in her honour on the 13th of August, on the Lacus Nemorensis, or forest-buried lake, near Aricia. The priest who officiated in her temple on this spot, was always a fugitive slave, who had gained his office by murdering his predecessor, and hence was constantly armed, in order that he might thus be prepared to encounter a new aspirant.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

August Festivals

In August the farmer's hopes are at last realised, and the harvest is brought in. The season is marked by two closely connected festivals on the 21st and 25th in honour of the old divinity-pair, Consus (condere), the god of the storehouse and Ops, the deity of the wealth of harvest.

At the Consualia, an offering is made by the flamen Quirinalis, assisted by the Vestal virgins, at an underground altar in the Circus Maximus, specially uncovered for the occasion: here we have probably not so much the notion of a chthonic deity, as a relic of the simple practices of an early agricultural age, when the crops were stored underground. The beasts who had taken part in the harvest were released from their labours during the day, and were decorated with flowers: the festival included a race of mules, the regular Italian beasts of burden.

Four days after this general festivity occurred the second harvest-ceremony of the Opiconsivia, held in the shrine (sacrarium) of the Regia, and attended only by the pontifex maximus and the Vestal virgins. This is clearly the state-harvest of the regal period, the symbolic storing of the state-crops in the sacred storehouse of the palace by the king and his daughters. Both festivals are significant, and we shall meet with Consus and Ops again in close connection in December.

The Portunalia of the 17th may have been another harvest-home, if we can believe the old authorities, who tell us that Portunus was a 'god of doors' (portae).

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Genius

The Genius is perhaps the most difficult conception in the Roman religion for the modern mind to grasp. It has been spoken of as the 'patron-saint' or 'guardian-angel,' both of them conceptions akin to that of the Genius, but both far too definite and anthropomorphic: we shall understand it best by keeping the 'numen' notion clearly in mind and looking to the root-meaning of the word (genius connected with the root of gignere, to beget). It was after all only a natural development of the notions of 'animism' to imagine that man too, like other objects, had his indwelling spirit—not his 'soul' either in our sense of moral and intellectual powers, or in the ancient sense of the vital principle—but rather as the derivation suggests, in origin simply the spirit which gave him the power of generation. Hence in the house, the sphere of the Genius is no longer the hearth but the marriage-bed (lectus genialis). This notion growing somewhat wider, the Genius comes to denote all the full powers, almost the personality, of developed manhood, and especially those powers which make for pleasure and happiness: this is the origin of such common phrases as genium curare, genio indulgere, meaning practically to 'look after oneself,' 'to indulge oneself.' Every man, then, has this 'spirit of his manhood' in his Genius, and correspondingly every woman her Iuno, or spirit of womanhood, which are worshipped on the birthdays of their owners.

No doubt later the Genius was accredited with powers over the fortune and misfortune of his possessor, but he never really developed anything like the independence of a god, and remained always rather a numen. The individual revered his own Genius, but the household cult was concerned, as one would expect, with the Genius of the master of the house, the pre-eminent Genius of the family. Its special locality was, for the reason just noticed, the marriage-bed and its symbol, the house-snake, kept as a revered inmate and cherished in the feeling that evil happening to it meant misfortune to the master.

The festival of the Genius was naturally the master's birthday, and on that day slaves and freedmen kept holiday with the family and brought offerings to the Genius domus. It is a significant fact, and may serve to bring out the underlying notion, that in later paintings, when anthropomorphism and sensuous representation held sway over all Roman religion, though the other gods of the household were depicted after the manner of Greek deities, the Genius is either represented by his symbolic snake or appears with the human features and characteristics of the head of the house, his owner.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Roman Names for Greek Gods

Here is a basic list of the translations from the Greek Gods into the Roman:

Zeus, Jupiter.
Here, Juno.
Poseidon, Neptune.
Plouton, Pluto.
Demeter, Ceres.
Apollo, Apolo.
Artemis, Diana.
Hephaistos, Vulcan.
Athene, Minerva.
Ares, Mars.
Aphrodite, Venus.
Hermes, Mercury.
Hestia, Vesta.