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writers, and inscriptions of late date, afford ample proof that the methods followed at Rome were essentially those of the Orient (Festus, p. 110). All information obtainable indicates that the chief features of their healing practice consisted in the use of divination, the dream-oracle (incubation) with official interpretation by coniectores, and sacerdotal magic with material remedies.


Cicero's study of divination and dreams shows that the Romans held the same views concerning them as did the Greeks; that they were nearly akin, divinely inspired, and prophetic. Cicero (de Div., i, 30) quotes Poseidonios as imagining that men might dream in three ways under the impulse given by the gods; (a) the mind intuitively perceives things by the relation which they bear to the deities; (b) the perception arises from the fact that the air is full of immortal spirits in whom all signs of truth are stamped and visible; and (c) the divinities themselves converse with sleepers, especially before death, since the soul, when disentangled from the cares of the body, perceives forewarnings of the future. Divination by dreams was similar to the presentiments which happen to the diviner when awake, and consisted in the ability to discern and express the signs given by the gods to man as portents; while interpretation was the power of revealing those things which the deities signify in dreams (ib., ii, 63). Evidence of the antiquity of the dream-oracle in Rome is afforded by Vergil in relating the consultation of King Latinus with his prophetic sire, Faunus, in his sanctuary at Tibur. Servius (ad Æneidem, vii, 85-92), in commenting on this passage, defines incubation,50 and Tertullian (de Anima, 94) called those who sleep in temples for dreams "incubatores fanorum."

50 "Incubare dicuntur hi qui dormiunt ad accipienda responsa."


Temple-sleep, or incubation, as practiced by the cults was preceded by ceremonial purification and by fasting from wine and food. Pallets for the sick were placed in the porticoes of the temples; and after the usual sacrifice the priest offered a prayer, and the patients slept."1 In Greece, and probably in Rome, the patients were visited at some time during the night by a representative of the god and by attendants with the sacred animals; and possibly a few words were passed concerning the disease, or the disordered part of the body was touched or anointed, or licked by the serpents. Celsus states (Origenes contra Celsum, iii, 24) that both Greeks and Barbarians asserted that they had seen, and still saw the deity daily, in his own person, healing the sick, succoring men, and foretelling the future. In the morning the dreams and visions of the night were reported and were interpreted by the priests as divine monitions for effecting a cure. There were always suggestions of the marvellous powers of the divinity, supplemented by directions for the use of supposedly potent remedies, which were considered as 'the hands of the god,' to be used internally and externally, with baths, rubbings with ointments, diet, and other hygienic regimen. The cures were announced as illustrations of the superhuman powers of the deity and were spread abroad as miracles of healing, serving as pious tales to strengthen the faith of the clientele and to forward the propaganda of the cult. It would appear that in the Roman practice there was less of personal healing by the god and more use of symbolic magic and suggestion than in Greece. Those who were not cured at once remained under the charge of the priests for treatment or further temple-sleep. It has been claimed that many

51 Hamilton, Incubation, pp. 5, 63-68.

of the priests practicing in the temple of Esculapius, and especially in that of Serapis, were educated physicians.

Laying-on of hands.

Sacerdotal magic with suggestion was common to all Oriental cults and was doubtless freely used at Rome in connection with material remedies. The laying-on of hands was regarded as a most efficient means of transferring the divine power for healing, especially in the cults of Esculapius and Sabazius. The patient was approached and the right hand was applied, the open right hand, or thumb and two fingers open and the other two closed, as often used in blessing and portrayed on vases, being potent, while the left hand had a maleficent influence. The position of the hands and legs was important among the Romans both in council and in religion. In council, at sacrifices, and during prayers, no one was permitted to sit with legs crossed or hands clasped, as such posture impeded what was going on (Pliny, op. cit., xxviii, 17). The touching of sacred objects, the altar, or the image of the god frequently conveyed to the individual the power of healing himself. Flagellation was used in the cults of Faunus and Magna Mater for the februation of women, to drive away hostile spirits which prevented pregnancy.52

Sacred serpents and dogs.

Sacred serpents and dogs were kept at the healing temples of Rome (Festus, p. 110), and their ministrations were highly esteemed, the licking of ulcers and other external diseases by the tongue of either animal being regarded as particularly efficacious. Women resorted to the temples for the relief of sterility, and there were several legends of impregnation by the god in the form 52 Fowler, op. cit., p. 104.

of a serpent, as in the tradition that Atia, the mother of Augustus Cæsar, asserted that he had been engendered by intercourse which she thought she had had with Apollo, in the form of a serpent, while she slept in his temple (Dion Kassios, xlv, 2; cf. Suetonius, Vita Augustæ, 94; Aulus Gellius, VI, i, 3; Livy, xxvi, 19). Pliny states (op. cit., xxix, 22) that the sacred Esculapian serpents were first brought from Epidauros and were commonly raised in the houses of Rome to such an extent, if they had not been kept down by frequent conflagrations, it would have been impossible to make headway against their rapid increase. The original Epidaurian reptiles were harmless, but Pliny says that these were watersnakes and venomous, and that their livers were used to remedy the ill effects of their bites. Other parts of the serpents were also used as remedies. The serpent, as dwelling in a hole in the ground, and often under the house, came to be regarded as the guardian spirit of the household, and hence as symbolizing Genius and Iuno.5

Votive offerings.

Those who had been healed at the temples not only paid fees when able, but left donaria of various kinds as an expression of their gratitude, these objects covering a wide range from works of art and inscribed tablets to relics and silver, bronze, or terra-cotta models of the parts diseased.

Greek medicine in Rome.

While religious healing was gaining popularity among the citizens of Rome, the germs of more scientific methods of treatment of disease had been transplanted from Knidos, Kos, and Alexandria by many Greek physicians.

53 J. A. MacCulloch, "Serpent-Worship (Introductory and Primitive)," in ERE xi, 405; also Wissowa, op. cit. (ed. 1902), p. 24.

Notwithstanding the violent hatred of the Elder Cato and other Romans toward the earlier Hellenic doctors, and despite the cold reception given them, they came in increasing numbers, many of them gaining respect, influence, and popularity. It appears that the great majority of the educated Romans eventually preferred their traditional medical treatment or the physicians, such as they were, to the religious healing of the temples, which they regarded with scepticism and scorn, often as being too plebeian for personal patronage, at least until long after the establishment of the Empire. These Greek doctors had their offices on the streets and in the Forum, and accepted patients at their homes. During the second and third centuries A.D., the cult of Esculapius gained materially in the estimation of the better classes of Rome, and it became a common practice for the wealthier families to seek the aid of the Greek healing god elsewhere, particularly at his sanctuaries of Epidauros and Pergamon.

Scepticism toward cult-healing.

That there was a widespread scepticism toward all religious medicine among the more intelligent citizens of Rome, especially among the followers of the Stoic philosophy, is evidenced by the concluding remarks of Cicero on the subject of dreams and divination: "Now whence comes this distinction between true dreams and false? And if true dreams are sent by God, whence do the false ones rise? What can be more ignorant than to excite the minds of mortals by false and deceitful visions?-What authority is there for making such a distinction as, 'God did this, and nature that?'" (op. cit., ii, 62). "How, then, can it be reasonable for invalids to seek healing from an interpreter of dreams rather than from a physician? Can Esculapius or Serapis, by a dream, prescribe to us a

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