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The resulting complexities.
Any study of the gods of Rome, mingled as they were in a great religious potpourri, encounters unusual complexities. The Hellenization of the old Roman cults obscured their original character; and the invasion of numerous Oriental cults, which finally exercised a dominating influence over Roman religion, added many perplexing facets for consideration. The Greek myths furnish the key to the character of the Hellenic cults that came to Rome, but the loss of the liturgies and much of the mythologies of the great nations of the East, which were swept away in the fall of paganism, has left a void that has been very imperfectly spanned by the recent discoveries of ancient records. Although the religions of Rome have been diligently studied, the healing function of their worship appears to have escaped the comprehensive examination which has been given to their other more general phases. With the exception of a very few cults, the healing of the sick was a minor or insignificant part of their religious activities; and, perhaps for the reason that it was a part of the mysteries of cultic practice, it received only cursory mention by contemporary writers. Even these comments still remain to be properly collated, critically studied, and adequately presented. They form the basis of the present study, which, however, resolves itself, in great part, into a survey of the religious healing rites of the Romans as practiced by the foreign worships in Rome, which may often be better understood by reference to their native religions.
The early Roman religion.
The Romans, originally a small group of agricultural and warlike people in close contact with other tribes, or clans, of similar peoples in a like stage of civil and reli
gious development, grew in numbers and power by the absorption of neighboring communities. Their deities and cultic worship were much alike in conception; and, as the people came together, their religions were easily adjusted. Some gods of other tribes were accepted as an integral part of the common religion, and others were forgotten or blended; so that their names, when retained, were either those of independent deities or represented different phases of a more comprehensive divine personality.
The spiritual world.
The Roman religion developed from a pandæmonism, or multinuminism, to a polytheism, but always retained many of its earlier characteristics. The people believed that they were surrounded by a world of supernatural beings, spiritual powers, or numina, of undefined nature, known only by their activities. These beings were cold, colorless, abstract concepts with no personality, no human affections or relations except ritualistic; and their attitude toward man was ever doubtful. The early conception was simply that of a spirit and its function; only at a later stage did it develop into a god. Even when these powers, regarded as both the masters and the slaves of the people, were personified, they excited no emotions. They were never the companions of man, nor did he seek to know them; for the relation between man and his divinities was impersonal and merely contractual until the later period, when there came a tendency to consecrate oneself to the perpetual service of the deities.1
The deities as the supreme lords.
The Romans believed that "the gods are supreme lords
Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, pp. 145168; also Aust, Die Religion der Römer, p. 19; also Carter, The Religion of Numa, p. 116.
and governors of all things, and that all events are directed by their influence, wisdom, and divine power" (Cicero, de Legibus, ii, 7); so that all things came from them, whether for good or for evil, according as their disposition toward man was favorable or hostile. Misfortunes were a punishment for neglect or for some offense, and were the expressions of the wrath or displeasure of some divinity; and the people went in constant terror and uncertainty concerning these unseen powers.
Functions of deity.
Some divinity presided over every human affair (Cicero, de Natura Deorum, iii, 18), and a spirit was assigned to everything existing, to the man, to the state, to the family storeroom, the counterpart of the natural phenomena in the spiritual domain. The great divinities represented the larger spheres embraced in the abstraction, and there were lesser gods and a swarm of numina, named and unnamed, each with a definite circle of activity, a certain thing to do, whence the number of gods became so great that Petronius remarked (Satira, 17) that "Italy was so filled with numina that it was easier to find a god than a man." The greater number of numina remained as "vague and dimly-outlined forces, animate yet scarcely personal,"" but others received thinly transparent names significant of their function, the result, it is said, of priestly elaboration, and are found in the pontifical litanies. The names given these subsidiary deities and numina often appertained to a greater god, indicative of the capacities in which the divinity might function, and were recognized by the sacred law as belonging to one god, but among the common people it frequently
2 Mommsen, The History of Rome, i, 34.
3 L. R. Farnell, "Greek Religion," in ERE vi, 394.
happened that they were looked upon as separate deities." Such functional numina for each minute detail assisted Iuno Lucina and Diana in child-birth and in the supervision of childhood; Antevorta provided a position favorable to delivery; Opigena aided the birth; Potina taught the infant to drink; Edusa to eat; Sentina gave it understanding; Locutius taught it to speak correctly; and Ossipaga hardened the bones. Similarly there were no less than twelve subsidiary deities between the seeding and the harvest, the numina agentis. Tellus was the mother earth who received the seed and bore the fruit; Saturnus represented the seeding; Flora, the blossoming; Ceres, the growth; Pomona, the fruit; and Consus and Ops, the harvest.
The nature of the religion.
Religion consisted in sacrifice and in divination by birds, to which was added prediction by oracles (Cicero, op. cit., iii, 2). For all practical purposes, it consisted in knowledge of the right power to be invoked and in knowing the manner, time, and place for propitiating the divinity by performing the ritual of worship. The spiritual powers concerned were often confused; and since they could not always be determined, all the gods were frequently invoked, lest if one be addressed, other interested deities might be neglected. The rites were both private and public in character, and were for purification and expiation of involuntary acts of omission or commission; while by their observance the people sought to appease the wrath of any divinities who were offended, to gain their favor and avert the evil which might emanate from a malevolent spirit, and to establish and maintain a pax deorum. Having performed these rituals, man had fulfilled his whole duty to the gods as understood by the Wissowa, op. cit., p. 53.
contract; and the deities, having accepted the homage, were expected to fulfil the duties pertaining to their sphere of activity and to preserve man from all harm." This religion was exceedingly practical, prosaic, grave, and unemotional, a religion of duty. In the early days there were at least so far as the records go—no myths or poetic tales to stimulate an interest in the gods; these came later with Hellenic influences.
The great gods.
The center of the early religious life was the household. Vesta, the hearth, was the central divine figure; Ianus was the door; the Di Penates represented the storeroom, and the Di Parentum the ancestors; Lar guarded the fields and family property; and the paterfamilias was the priest. The oldest order of gods was Ianus, Iupiter, Mars, Quirinus, and Vesta; and this order was succeeded by the first triad: Iupiter, the sky-god who furnished the rain, as the chief of the pantheon; Mars, the god of war; and Quirinus, a phase of Mars in a civil capacity. Varro at a later time divided the pantheon into three categories; the celestial or sky-gods, the deities of the earth, and the divinities of the Underworld.
The early sanctuary.
For the first centuries of the city, until the sanctuary of the reconstructed triad was established on the Capitoline (circa 532 в.c.; Livy, i, 55, 56), the deities were not represented by pictures or statues; and there were no divine dwellings, except that of Vesta, which was roofed to protect the sacred fire.' Pits for receiving the sacrifices, sacred groves, altars, and fanes (loca sacra) were provided for worship from public consecrated ground.
W. W. Fowler, "Roman Religion," in ERE x, 823. 7 Wissowa, op. cit., p. 28.