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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Roman Religion: Juno

Juno, the Roman divinity supposed to be identical with the Greek Hera, differed from her in the most salient points, for whereas Hera invariably appears as the haughty, unbending queen of heaven, Juno, on the other hand, is revered and beloved as the type of a matron and housewife. She was worshipped in Rome under various titles, most of which point to her vocation as the protectress of married women. Juno was believed to watch over and guard the life of every woman from her birth to her death. The principal temples dedicated to her were in Rome, one being erected on the Aventine, and the other on the Capitoline Hill. She had also a temple on the Arx, in which she was worshipped as Juno Moneta, or the warning goddess. Adjacent to this shrine was the public mint.

On the 1st of March a grand annual festival, called the Matronalia, was celebrated in her honour by all the married women of Rome, and this religious institution was accompanied with much solemnity.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Saturnalia

The Saturnalia, a national festival held in December in honour of Saturn, was celebrated after the ingathering of the harvest, and lasted several days.

It was a time of universal rejoicing, cessation from labour, and merry-making. School children had holidays, friends sent presents to each other, the law-courts were closed, and no business was transacted.

Crowds of people from the surrounding country flocked to Rome for this festival attired in every variety of masquerade dress; practical jokes were given and received with the utmost good humour, shouts of exultation filled [201]the air, all classes abandoned themselves to enjoyment, and unrestrained hilarity reigned supreme. Social distinctions were for a time suspended, or even reversed; and so heartily was the spirit of this festival entered into, that masters waited upon their slaves at banquets which they provided for them; the slaves being dressed upon these occasions in the garments of their masters.

There appears little doubt that the modern Carnival is a survival of the ancient Saturnalia.

Genii

A comforting and assuring belief existed among the Romans, that each individual was accompanied through life, from the hour of his birth to that of his death, by a protecting spirit, called his genius, who prompted him to good and noble deeds, and acted towards him as a guardian angel, comforting him in sorrow, and guiding him throughout his earthly career.

In the course of time a second genius was believed to exist, of an evil nature, who, as the instigator of all wrong-doing, was ever at war with the beneficent genius; and on the issue of the conflict between these antagonistic influences, depended the fate of the individual. The genii were depicted as winged beings, greatly resembling our modern representations of guardian angels.

Every state, town, or city, (as well as every man), possessed its special genius. The sacrifices to the genii consisted of wine, cakes, and incense, which were offered to them on birthdays.

The genius which guided a woman was called, after the queen of heaven, Juno.

Among the Greeks, beings called Dæmons were regarded as exercising similar functions to those of the Roman genii. They were believed to be the spirits of the righteous race which existed in the Golden Age, who watched over mankind, carrying their prayers to the gods, and the gifts of the gods to them.