I was invited to prepare these lectures, on Lord Gifford's foundation, as one who has made a special study of the religious ideas and practice of the Roman people. So far as I know, the subject has not been touched upon as yet by any Gifford lecturer. We are in these days interested in every form of religion, from the most rudimentary to the most highly developed; from the ideas of the aborigines of Australia, which have now become the common property of anthropologists, to the ethical and spiritual religions of civilised man. Yet it is remarkable how few students of the history of religion, apart from one or two specialists, have been able to find anything instructive in the religion of the Romans—of the Romans, I mean, as distinguished from that vast collection of races and nationalities which eventually came to be called by the name of Rome. At the Congress for the History of Religions held at Oxford in 1908, out of scores of papers read and offered, not more than one or two even touched on the early religious ideas of the most practical and powerful People that the world has ever known.
This is due, in part at least, to the fact that just when Roman history begins to be of absorbing interest, and fairly well substantiated by evidence, the Roman religion, is religion, has already begun to lose its vitality, its purity, its efficacy. It has become overlaid with foreign rites and ideas and it has also become a religious monopoly of the State; of which the essential characteristic, as Mommsen has well put it, and as we shall see later on, was “the conscious retention of the principles of the popular belief which were recognised as irrational, for reasons of outward convenience.”1 It was not unlike the religion of the Jews in the period immediately before the Captivity, and it was never to profit by the refining and chastening influence of such lengthy suffering. In this later condition it has not been attractive to students of religious history; and to penetrate farther back into the real religious ideas of the genuine Roman people is a task very far from easy, of which indeed the difficulties only seem to increase as we become more familiar with it.
It be remarked, too, that as a consequence of this unattractiveness, the accounts given in standard works of the general features of this religion are rather chilling and repellent. More than fifty years ago, in the first book of his Roman History, Mommsen so treated of it—not indeed without some reservation,—and in this matter, as in so many others, his view remained for many years the dominant one. He looked at this religion, as was natural to him, from the point of view of law; in religion as such he had no particular interest. If I am not mistaken, it was for him, except in so far as it is connected with Roman law, the least interesting part of all his far-reaching Roman studies. More recent writers of credit and ability have followed his lead, and stress has been laid on the legal side of religion at Rome; it has been described over and over again as merely a system of contracts between gods and worshippers, secured by hard and literal formalism, and without ethical value or any native principle of growth. Quite recently, for example, so great an authority as Professor Cumont has written of it thus:—
“Il n'a peut être jamais existé aucune religion aussi froide, aussi prosaïque que celle des Romains. Subordonnée à la politique, elle cherche avant tout, par la stricte exécution de pratiques appropriées, à assurer à l'État la protection des dieux ou à détourner les effets de leur malveillance. Elle a conclu avec les puissances célestes un contrat synallagmatique d'où découlent des obligations réciproques: sacrifices d'une part, faveurs de l'autre... Sa liturgie rappelle par la minutie de ses prescriptions l'ancien droit civil. Cette religion se défie des abandons de l'âme et des élans de la dévotion. “And he finishes his description by quoting a few words of the late M. Jean Réville:” The legalism of the Pharisees, in spite of the dryness of their ritualistic minutiae, could make the heart vibrate more than the formalism of the Romans.”2
Now it is not for me to deny the truth of such statements as this, though I might be disposed to say that it is rather approximate than complete truth as here expressed, does not sum up the whole story, and only holds good for a single epoch of this religious history. But surely, for anyone interested in the history of religion, a religious system of such an unusual kind, with characteristics so well marked, must, one would suppose, be itself an attractive subject. A religion that becomes highly formalised claims attention by this very characteristic. At one time, however far back, it must have accurately expressed the needs and the aspirations of the Roman people in their struggle for existence. It is obviously, as described by the writers I have quoted, a very mature growth, a highly developed system; and the story, if we could recover it, of the way in which it came to be thus formalised, should be one of the deepest interest for students of the history of religion. Another story, too, that of the gradual discovery of the inadequacy of this system, and of the engrafting upon it, or substitution for it, of foreign rites and beliefs, is assuredly not less instructive; and here, fortunately, our records make the task of telling it an easier one.
Now these two stories, taken together, sum up what we may call the religious experience of the Roman people; and as it is upon these that I wish to concentrate your attention during this and the following course, I have called these lectures by that name. My plan is not to provide an exhaustive account of the details of the Roman worship or of the nature of the Roman gods: that can be found in the works of carefully trained specialists, of whom I shall have something to say presently. More in accordance with the intentions of the Founder of these lectures I think, will be an attempt to follow out, with such detailed comment as may be necessary, the religious experience of the Romans, as an important part of their history And this happens to coincide with my own inclination and training; for I have been all my academic life occupied in learning and teaching Roman history, and the fascination which the study of the Roman religion has long had for me is simply due to this fact. Whatever may be the case with other religions, it is impossible to think of that of the Romans as detached from their history as a whole; it is an integral part of the life and growth of the people. An adequate knowledge of Roman history with all its difficulties and doubts, is the only scientific basis for the study of Roman religion, just as an adequate knowledge of Jewish history is the only scientific basis for a study of Jewish religion. The same rule must hold good in a greater or less degree with all other forms of religion of the higher type, and even when we are dealing with the religious ideas of savage peoples it is well to bear it steadfastly in mind. I may be excused for suggesting that in works on comparative religion and morals this principle is not always sufficiently realised, and that the panorama of religious or quasi-religious practice from all parts of the world, and found among peoples of very different stages of development, with which we are now so familiar, need constant testing by increased knowledge of those peoples in all their relations of life. At any rate, in dealing with Roman evidence the investigator of religious history should also be a student of Roman history generally, for the facts of Roman life, public and private, are all closely concatenated together, and spring with an organic growth from the same root. The branches tend to separate, but the tree is of regular growth, compact in all its parts, and you cannot safely concentrate your attention on one of these parts to the comparative neglect of the rest. Conversely, the great story of the rise and decay of the Roman dominion cannot be properly understood without following out the religious history of this people—their religious experience, as I prefer to call it. To take an example of this, let me remind you of two leading facts in Roman history: first, the strength and tenacity of the family as a group under the absolute government of the paterfamilias; secondly, the strength and tenacity of the idea of the State as represented by the imperium of its magistrates. How different in these respects are the Romans from the Celts, the Scandinavians, even from the Greeks! But these two facts are in great measure the result of the religious ideas of the people, and, on the other hand, they themselves react with astonishing force on the fortunes of that religion.
I do not indeed wish to be understood as maintaining that the religion of the Roman was the most important element in his mental or civic development: far from it. I should be the first to concede that the religious element in the Roman mind was not that part of it which has left the deepest impress on history, or contributed much, except in externals, to our modern ideas of the Divine and of worship. It is not, as Roman law was, the one great contribution of the Roman genius to the evolution of humanity. But Roman law and Roman religion sprang from the same root; they were indeed in origin one and the same thing. Religious law was a part of the ius civile, and both were originally administered by the same authority, the Rex. Following the course of the two side by side for a few centuries, we come upon an astonishing phenomenon, which I will mention now (it will meet us again) as showing how far more interest can be aroused in our subject if we are fully equipped as Roman historians than if we were to study the religion alone, torn from the living body of the State, and placed on the dissecting—board by itself. As the State grew in population and importance, and came into contact, friendly or hostile, with other peoples, both the religion and the law of the State were called upon to expand, and they did so. But they did so in different ways; Roman law expanded organically and intensively, absorbing into its own body the experience and practice of other peoples, while Roman religion expanded mechanically and extensively, by taking on the deities and worship of others without any organic charm of its own being. Just as the English language has been able to absorb words of Latin origin, through its early contact with French, into the very tissue and fibre of its being, while German has for certain reasons never been able to do this, but has adopted them as strangers only, without making them its very own: so Roman law contrived to take into its own being the rules and practices of strangers, while Roman religion, though it eventually admitted the ideas and cults of Greeks and others, did so without taking them by a digestive process into its own system. Had the law of Rome remained as inelastic as the religion, the Roman people would have advanced as little in civilisation as those races which embraced the faith of Islam, with its law and religion alike impermeable to any change.3 Here is a phenomenon that at once attracts attention and suggests questions not easy to answer. Why is it that the Roman religion can never have the same interest and value for mankind as Roman law? I hope that we shall find an answer to this question in the course of our studies: at this moment I only propose it as an example of the advantage gained for the study of one department of Roman life and thought by a pretty complete equipment in the knowledge of others.
At the same time we must remember that the religion of the Romans is a highly technical subject, like Roman law, the Roman constitution, and almost everything else Roman; it calls for special knowledge as well as a sufficient training in Roman institutions generally. Each of these Roman subjects is like a language with a delicate accidence, which is always presenting the unwary with pitfalls into which they are sure to blunder unless they have a thorough mastery of it. I could mention a book full of valuable thoughts about the relation to Paganism of the early Christian Church, by a scholar at once learned and sympathetic;4 who when he happens to deal for a moment with the old Roman religion, is in accurate and misleading at every point. He knew, for example that this religion is built on the foundation of the worship of the family, but he yielded to the temptation to assume that the family in heaven was a counterpart of the family on earth, “as it might be seen in any palace of the Roman nobility.” “Jupiter and Juno,” he says “were the lord and lady, and beneath them was an army of officers, attendants, ministers, of every rank and degree.” Such a description of the pantheon of his religion would have utterly puzzled a Roman, even in the later days of theological syncretism. Again he says that this religion was strongly moral; that “the gods gave every man his duty, and expected him to perform it.” Here again no Roman of historical times, or indeed of any age, could have allowed this to be his creed. Had it really been so, not only the history of the Roman religion, but that of the Roman state, would have been very different from what it actually was.
The principles then on which I wish to proceed in these lectures are—(1) to keep the subject in continual touch with Roman history and the development of the Roman state; (2) to exercise all possible care and accuracy in dealing with the technical matters of the religion itself. I may now go on to explain more exactly the plan I propose to follow.
It will greatly assist me in this explanation if I begin by making clear what I understand, for our present purposes, by the word religion. There have been many definitions propounded—more in recent years than ever before, owing to the recognition of the study of religion as a department of anthropology. Controversies are going on which call for new definitions, and it is only by slow degrees that we are arriving at any common understanding as to the real essential thing or fact for which we should reserve this famous word, and other words closely connected with it, e.g. the supernatural. We are still disputing, for example, as to the relation of religion to magic, and therefore as to the exact meaning to be attributed to each of these terms.
Among the many definitions of religion which I have met with, there is one which seems to me to be particularly helpful for our present purposes; it is contributed by an American investigator. “Religion is the effective desire to be in right relation to the Power manifesting itself in the universe”5 Dr. Frazer's definition is not different in essentials: “By religion I understand a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life;”6 only that here the word is used of acts of worship rather than of the feeling or desire that prompts them. The definition of the late M. Jean Réville, in a chapter on “Religious Experience,” written near the end of his valuable life, is in my view nearer the mark, and more comprehensive. “Religion,” he says, “is essentially a principle of life, the feeling of a living relation between the human individual and the powers or power of which the universe is the manifestation. What characterises each religion is its way of looking upon this relation and its method of applying it.”7 And a little further on he writes: “It is generally admitted that this feeling of dependence upon the universe is the root of all religion.” But this is not so succinct as the definition which I quoted first, and it introduces at least one term, the individual, which, for certain good reasons, I think it will be better for us to avoid in studying the early Roman religious ideas.
“Religion is the effective desire to be in right relations with the Power manifesting itself in the universe.” This has the advantage of treating religion as primarily and essentially a feeling, an instinctive desire, and the word “effective,” skilfully introduced, suggests that this feeling manifests itself in certain actions undertaken in order to secure a desired end. Again, the phrase “right relations” seems to me well chosen, and better than the “living relation” of M. Réville, which if applied to the religions of antiquity can only be understood in a sacramental sense, and is not obviously so intended. “Right relation” will cover all religious feeling, from the most material to the most spiritual. Think for a moment of the 119th Psalm the high-water mark of the religious feeling of the most religious people of antiquity; it is a magnificent declaration of conformity to the will of God, i.e. of the desire to be in right relation to Him, to His statutes, judgments, laws, commands, testimonies, righteousness. This is religion in a high state of development; but our definition is so skilfully worded as to adapt itself readily to much earlier and simpler forms. The “Power manifesting itself in the universe” may be taken as including all the workings of nature, which even now we most imperfectly understand, and which primitive man so little understood that he misinterpreted them in a hundred different ways. The effective desire to be in right relation with these mysterious powers, so that they might not interfere with his material well-being—with his flocks and herds, with his crops, too, if he were in the agricultural stage, with his dwelling and his land, or with his city if he had got so far in social development—this is what we may call the religious instinct, the origin of what the Romans called religio.8 The effective desire to have your own will brought into conformity to the will of a heavenly Father is a later development of the same feeling; to this the genuine Roman never attained, and the Greek very imperfectly.
If we keep this definition steadily in mind, I think we shall find it a valuable guide in following out what I call the religious experience of the Roman people; and at the present moment it will help me to explain my plan in drawing up these lectures. To begin with, in the prehistoric age of Rome, so far as we can discern from survivals of a later age, the feeling or desire must have taken shape, ineffectively indeed, in many quaint acts some of them magical or quasi-magical, and possibly taken over from an earlier and ruder population among whom the Latins settled. Many of these continued doubtless, to exist among the common folk, unauthorised by any constituted power, while some few were absorbed into the religious practice of the State, probably with the speedy loss of their original significance. Such survivals of ineffective religion are of course to be found in the lowest stratum of the religious ideas of every people ancient and modern; even among the Israelites,9 and in the rites of Islam or Christianity. They form, as it were, a kind of protoplasm, of religious vitality, from which an organic growth was gradually developed. But though they are necessarily a matter of investigation as survivals which have a story to tell, they do not carry us very far when we are tracing the religious experience of a people, and in any case the process of investigating them is one of groping in the dark. I shall deal with these survivals in my next two lectures, and then leave them for good.
I am more immediately concerned with the desire expressed in our definition when it has become more effective; and this we find in the Latins when they have attained to a complete settlement on the land, and are well on in the agricultural stage of social development This stage we can dimly see reflected in the life of the home and farm of later times; we have, I need hardly say, no contemporary evidence of it, though archaeology may yet yield us something. But the conservatism of rural life is a familiar fact, and comes home to me when I reflect that in my own English village the main features of work and worship remained the same through many centuries, until we were revolutionised by the enclosure of the parish and the coming of the railroad in the middle of the nineteenth century. The intense conservatism of rural Italy, up to the present day, has always been an acknowledged fact, and admits of easy explanation. We may be sure that the Latin farmer, before the City-state was developed, was like his descendants of historical times, the religious head of a family, whose household deities were effectively worshipped by a regular and orderly procedure, whose dead were cared for in like manner, and whose land and stock were protected from malignant spirits by a boundary made sacred by yearly rites of sacrifice and prayer. Doubtless these wild spirits beyond his boundaries were a constant source of anxiety to him; doubtless charms and spells and other survivals from the earlier stage were in use to keep them from mischief; but these tend to become exceptions in an orderly life of agricultural routine which we may call religious. Spirits may accept domicile within the limits of the farm, and tend, as always in this agricultural stage, to become fixed to the soil and to take more definite shape as in some sense deities. This stage—that of the agricultural family—is the foundation of Roman civilised life, in religious as in all other aspects, and it will form the subject of my fourth lecture.
The growing effectiveness of the desire, as seen in the family and in the agricultural stage, prepares us for still greater effectiveness in the higher form of civilisation which we know as that of the City-state. That desire, let me say once more, is to be in right relations with the Power manifesting itself in the universe. It is only in the higher stages of civilisation that this desire can really become effective; social organisation, as I shall show, produces an increased knowledge of the nature of the Power, and with it a systematisation of the means deemed necessary to secure the right relations. The City-state, the peculiar form in which Greek and Italian social and political life eventually blossomed and fructified, was admirably fitted to secure this effectiveness. It was, of course, an intensely local system; and the result was, first, that the Power is localised in certain spots and propitiated by certain forms of cult within the city wall, thus bringing the divine into closest touch with the human population and its interests; and secondly, that the concentration of intelligence and will-power within a small space might, and did at Rome, develop a very elaborate system for securing the right relations—in other words, it produced a religious system as highly ritualistic as that of the Jews.
With the several aspects of this system my fifth and succeeding lectures will be occupied. I shall deal first with the religious calendar of the earliest historical form of the City-state, which most fortunately has come down to us entire. I shall devote two lectures to the early Roman ideas of divinity, and the character of their deities as reflected in the calendar, and as further explained by Roman and Greek writers of the literary age. Two other lectures will discuss the ritual of sacrifice and prayer, with the priests in charge of these ceremonies, and the ritual of vows and of “purification.” In each of these I shall try to point out wherein the weakness of this religious system lay—viz. in attempts at effectiveness so elaborate that they overshot their mark, in a misconception of the means necessary to secure the right relations, and in a failure to grow in knowledge of the Power itself.
Lastly, as the City-state advances socially and politically, in trade and commerce, in alliance and conquest, we shall find that the ideas of other peoples about the Power, and their methods of propitiation, begin to be adopted in addition to the native stock. The first stages of this revolution will bring us to the conclusion of my present course; but we shall be then well prepared for what follows. For later on we shall find the Romans feeling afresh the desire to be in right relation with the Power, discovering that their own highly formalised system is no longer equal to the work demanded of it, and pitiably mistaking their true course in seeking a remedy. Their knowledge of the Divine, always narrow and limited, becomes by degrees blurred and obscured, and their sight begins to fail them. I hope in due course to explain this, and to give you some idea of the sadness of their religious experience before the advent of an age of philosophy of theological syncretism, and of the worship of the rulers of the state.
Let us now turn for a few minutes to the special difficulties of our subject. These are serious enough; but have been wonderfully and happily reduced since I began to be interested in the Roman religion some twenty-five years ago. There were then only two really valuable books which dealt with the whole subject. Though I could avail myself of many treatises, good and bad, on particular aspects of it, some few of which still survive, the only two comprehensive and illuminating books were Preller's Römische Mythologie, and Marquardt's volume on the cult in his Staatsverwaltung. Both of these were then already many years old, but they had just been re-edited by two eminent scholars thoroughly well equipped for the task—Preller's work by H. Jordan, and Marquardt's by Georg Wissowa. They were written from different points of view, Preller dealt with the deities and the ideas about them rather than with the cults and the priests concerned with them; while Marquardt treated the subject as a part of the administration of government, dealing with the worship and the ius divinum, and claiming that this was the only safe and true way of arriving at the ideas underlying that law and worship.10 Both books are still indispensable for the student; but Marquardt's is the safer guide, as dealing with facts to the exclusion of fancies. The two taken together had collected and sifted the evidence so far as it was then available.
The Corpus Inscriptionum had not at that time got very far, but its first volume, edited by Mommsen, contained the ancient Fasti, which supply us with the religious calendar of early Rome, and with other matter throwing light upon it. This first volume was an invaluable help, and formed the basis (in a second edition) of the book I was eventually able to write on the Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic. At that time, too, in the 'eighties, Roscher's Lexicon of Greek and Roman Mythology began to appear, which aimed at summing up all that was then known about the deities of both peoples; this is not even yet completed, and many of the earlier articles seem now almost antiquated, as propounding theories which have not met with general acceptance. All these earlier articles are now being superseded by those in the new edition of Pauly's Real-Encyclopädie, edited by Wissowa. Lastly Wissowa himself in 1902 published a large volume entitled Die Religion und Kultus der Römer, which will probably be for many years the best and safest guide for all students of our subject. Thoroughly trained in the methods of dealing with evidence both literary and archaeological, Wissowa produced a work which, though it has certain limitations, has the great merit of not being likely to lead anyone astray. More skilfully and successfully than any of his predecessors, he avoided the chief danger and difficulty that beset all who meddle with Roman religious antiquities, and invariably lead the unwary to their destruction; he declined to accept as evidence what in nine cases out of ten is no true evidence at all—the statements of ancient authors influenced by Greek ideas and Greek fancy. He holds in the main to the principle laid down by Marquardt, that we may use, as evidence for their religious ideas, what we are told that the Romans did in practising their worship, but must regard with suspicion, and subject to severe criticism, what either they themselves or the Greeks wrote about those religious ideas—that is, about divine beings and their doings.
It is indeed true that the one great difficulty of our subject lies in the nature of the evidence; and it is one which we can never hope entirely to overcome. We have always to bear in mind that the Romans produced no literature till the third century B.C.; and the documentary evidence that survives from an earlier age in the form of inscriptions, or fragments of hymns or of ancient law (such as the calendar of which I spoke just now), is of the most meagre character, and usually most difficult to interpret. Thus the Roman religion stands alone among the religions of ancient civilisations in that we are almost entirely without surviving texts of its forms of prayer, of its hymns or its legends;11 even in Greece the Homeric poems, with all the earliest Greek literature and art, make up to some extent for the want of that documentary evidence which throws a flood of light on the religions of Babylon, Egypt the Hindus, and the Jewish people. We know in fact as little about the religion of the old Italian populations as we do about that of our own Teutonic ancestors, less perhaps than we do about that of the Celtic peoples. The Romans were a rude and warlike folk, and meddled neither with literature nor philosophy until they came into immediate contact with the Greeks; thus it was that, unfortunately for our purposes, the literary spirit, when at last it was born in Italy, was rather Greek than Roman. When that birth took place Rome had spread her influence over Italy,—perhaps the greatest work she ever accomplished; and thus the latest historian of Latin literature can venture to write that “the greatest time in Roman history was already past when real historical evidence becomes available.”12
We have thus to face two formidable facts: (1) that the period covered by my earlier lectures must in honesty be called prehistoric; and (2) that when the Romans themselves began to write about it they did so under the overwhelming influence of Greek culture. With few exceptions, all that we can learn of the early Roman religion from Roman or Greek writers comes to us, not in a pure Roman form, clearly conceived as all things truly Roman were, but seen dimly through the mist of the Hellenistic age. The Roman gods, for example, are made the sport of fancy and the subject of Hellenistic love-stories, by Greek poets and their Roman imitators,13 or are more seriously treated by Graeco-Roman philosophy after a fashion which would have been absolutely incomprehensible to the primitive men in whose minds they first had their being. The process of disentangling the Roman element from the Greek in the literary evidence is one which can never be satisfactorily accomplished; and on the whole it is better, with Wissowa and Marquardt, to hold fast by the facts of the cult, where the distinction between the two is usually obvious than to flounder about in a slough of what I can only call pseudo-evidence. If all that English people knew about their Anglo-Saxon forefathers were derived from Norman-French chroniclers, how much should we really know about government or religion in the centuries before the Conquest! And yet this comparison gives but a faint idea of the treacherous nature of the literary evidence I am speaking of. It is true indeed that in the last age of the Republic a few Romans began to take something like a scientific interest in their own religious antiquities; and to Varro, by far the most learned of these, and to Verrius Flaccus, who succeeded him in the Augustan age, we owe directly or indirectly almost all the solid facts on which our knowledge of the Roman worship rests. But their works have come down to us in a most imperfect and fragmentary state, and what we have of them we owe mainly to the erudition of later grammarians and commentators, and the learning of the early Christian fathers, who drew upon them freely for illustrations of the absurdities of paganism. And it must be added that when Varro himself deals with the Roman gods and the old ideas about them, he is by no means free from the inevitable influence of Greek thought.
Apart from the literary material and the few surviving fragments of religious law and ritual, there are two other sources of light of which we can now avail ourselves, archaeology and anthropology; but it must be confessed that as yet their illuminating power is somewhat uncertain. It reminds the scrupulous investigator of those early days of the electric light, when its flickering tremulousness made it often painful to read by, and when, too, it might suddenly go out and leave the reader in darkness. It is well to remember that both sciences are young, and have much of the self-confidence of youth; and that Italian archaeology, now fast becoming well organised within Italy, has also to be co-ordinated with the archaeology of the whole Mediterranean basin, before we can expect from it clear and unmistakable answers to hard questions about race and religion. This work, which cannot possibly be done by an individual without co-operation—the secret of sound work which the Germans have long ago discovered is in course of being carried out, so far as is at present possible, by a syndicate of competent investigators.14
In order to indicate the uncertain nature of the light which for a long time to come is all we can expect from Italian archaeology, I have only to remind you that one of the chief questions we have to ask of it is the relation of the mysterious Etruscan people to the other Italian stocks, in respect of language, religion, and art. Whether the Etruscans were the same people whom the Greeks called Pelasgians, as many investigators now hold: whether the earliest Roman city was in any true sense an Etruscan one: these are questions on the answers to which it is not as yet safe to build further hypotheses. In regard to religion, too, we are still very much in the dark. For example, there are many Etruscan works of art in which Roman deities are portrayed, as is certain from the fact that their names accompany the figures; but it is as yet almost impossible to determine how far we can use these for the interpretation of Roman religious ideas or legends. Many years ago a most attractive hypothesis was raised on the evidence of certain of these works of art, where Hercules and Juno appear together in a manner which strongly suggests that they are meant to represent the male and female principles of human life; this hypothesis was taken up by early writers in the Mythological Lexicon, and relying upon them I adopted it in my Roman Festivals15 and further applied it to the interpretation of an unsolved Problem in the fourth Eclogue of Virgil.16 But since then doubt has been thrown on it by Wissowa, who had formerly accepted it. As being of Etruscan origin, and found in places very distant from each other and from Rome, we have, he says, no good right to use these works of art as evidence for the Roman religion.17 The question remains open as to these and many other works of art but the fact that the man of coolest judgment and most absolute honesty is doubtful, suggests that we had best wait patiently for more certain light.
In Rome itself, where archaeological study is concentrated and admirably staffed, great progress has been made, and much light thrown on the later periods of religious history. But for the religion of the ancient Roman state, with which we are at present concerned, it must be confessed that very little has been gleaned. The most famous discovery is that recently made in the Forum of an archaic inscription which almost certainly relates to some religious act; but as yet no scholar has been able to interpret it with anything approaching to certainty.18 More recently excavations on the further bank of the Tiber threw a glint of light on the nature of an ancient deity, Furrina, about whom till then we practically knew nothing at all; but the evidence thus obtained was late and in Greek characters. We must in fact entertain no great hopes of illumination from excavations, but accept thankfully what little may be vouchsafed to us. On the other hand, from the gradual development of Italian archaeology as a whole, and, I must here add, from the study of the several old Italian languages, much may be expected in the future.
The other chief contributory science is anthropology, i.e. the study of the working of the mind of primitive man, as it is seen in the ideas and practices of uncivilised peoples at the present day, and also as it can be traced in survivals among more civilised races. For the history of the religion of the Roman City-state its contribution must of necessity be a limited one; that is a part of Roman history in general, and its material is purely Roman, or perhaps I should say, Graeco-Roman; and Wissowa in all his work has consistently declined to admit the value of anthropological researches for the elucidation of Roman problems. Perhaps it is for this very reason that his book is the safest guide we possess for the study of what the Romans did and thought in the matter of religion; but if we wish to and get to the original significance of those acts and thoughts, it is absolutely impossible in these days to dispense with the works of a long series of anthropologists, many of them fortunately British, who have gradually been collecting and classifying the material which in the long run will fructify in definite results. If we consider the writings of eminent scholars who wrote about Greek and Roman religion and mythology before the appearance of Dr. Tylor's Primitive Culture—Klausen, Preuner, Preller, Kuhn, and many others, who worked on the comparative method but with slender material for the use of it—we see at once what an immense advance has been effected by that monumental work, and by the stimulus that it gave to others to follow the same track. Now we have in this country the works of Lang, Robertson Smith, Farnell, Frazer, Hartland, Jevons, and others, while a host of students on the Continent are writing in all languages on anthropological subjects. Some of these I shall quote incidentally in the course of these lectures; at present I will content myself with making one or two suggestions as to the care needed in using the collections and theories of anthropologists, as an aid in Roman religious studies.
First, let us bear in mind that anthropologists are apt to have their favourite theories—conclusions, that is, which are the legitimate result of reasoning inductively on the class of facts which they have more particularly studied. Thus Mannhardt had his theory of the Vegetation-spirit, Robertson Smith that of the sacramental meal, Usener that of the Sondergötter, Dr. Frazer that of divine Kingship; all of which are perfectly sound conclusions based on facts which no one disputes. They have been the greatest value to anthropological research; but when they are applied to the explanation of Roman practices we should be instantly on our guard, ready indeed to welcome any glint of light that we may get from them, but most carefully critical and even suspicious of their application to other phenomena than those which originally suggested them. It is in the nature of man as a researcher, when he has found a key, to hasten to apply it to all the doors he can find, and sometimes, it must be said, to use violence in the application; and though the greatest masters of the science will rarely try to force the lock, they will use so much gentle persuasion as sometimes to make us fancy that they have unfastened it. All such attempts have their value, but it behoves us to be cautious in accepting them. The application by Mannhardt of the theory of the Vegetation-spirit to certain Roman problems, e.g. to that of the Lupercalia,19 and the October horse,20 must be allowed, fascinating as it was, to have failed in the main. The application by Dr. Frazer of the theory of divine Kingship to the early religious history of Rome, is still sub judice, and calls for most careful and discriminating criticism.21
Secondly, as I have already said, Roman evidence is peculiarly difficult to handle, except in so far as it deals with the simple facts of worship; when we use it for traditions, myths, ideas about the nature of divine beings, we need a training not only in the use of evidence in general, but in the use of Roman evidence in particular. Anthropologists, as a rule, have not been through such a training, and they are apt to handle the evidence of Roman writers with a light heart and rather a rough hand. The result is that bits of evidence are put together, each needing conscientious criticism, to support hypotheses often of the flimsiest kind, which again are used to support further hypotheses, and so on, until the sober inquirer begins to feel his brain reeling and his footing giving way beneath him. I shall have occasion to notice one or two examples of this uncritical use of evidence later on, and will say no more of it now. No one can feel more grateful than I do to the many leading anthropologists who have touched in one way or another on Roman evidence; but for myself I try never to forget the words of Columella, with which a great German scholar began one of his most difficult investigations: “In universa vita pretiosissimum est intellegere quemque nescire se quod nesciat.”22
Mommsen, Hist. of Rome (E.T.), vol. ii. p. 433.
Cumont, Les Religions orientales dans le paganisme romain, p. 36. Cp. Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, p. 63. Gwatkin, The Knowledge of God, vol. ii. p. 133.
See some valuable remarks in Lord Cromer's Modern Egypt, vol. ii. p. 135.
Since this lecture was written this scholar has passed away, to the great grief of his many friends; and I refrain from mentioning his name.
Ira W. Howerth, in International Journal of Ethics, 1903, p. 205. I owe the reference to R. Karsten, The Origin of Worship, Wasa, 1905, p. 2, note. Cp. E. Caird, Gifford Lectures (“Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers”), vol. i. p. 32. “That which underlies all forms of religion, from the highest to the lowest, is the idea of God as an absolute power or principle.” To this need only be added the desire to be in right relation to it. Mr. Marett's word “supernaturalism” seems to mean the same thing; “There arises in the region of human thought a powerful impulse to objectify, and even to personify, the mysterious or supernatural something felt; and in the region of will a corresponding impulse to render it innocuous, or, better still, propitious, by force of constraint (i.e. magic), communion, or conciliation.” See his Threshold of Religion, p. 11. Prof. Haddon, commenting on this (Magic and Fetishism, p. 93), adds that “there are thus produced the two fundamental factors of religion, the belief in some mysterious power, and the desire to enter into communication with the power by means of worship.” Our succinct definition seems thus to be adequate.
The Golden Bough, ed. 2, vol. i. p. 62.
Liberal Protestantism, p. 64.
For religio as a feeling essentially, see Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer, p. 318 (henceforward to be cited as R.K.). For further development of the meaning of the word in Latin literature, see the author's paper in Proceedings of the Congress for the History of Religions (Oxford, 1908), vol. ii. p. 169 foll. A different view of the original meaning of the word is put forward by W. Otto in Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, vol. xii., 1909, p. 533. (henceforward to be cited as Archiv simply). See also below p. 459 foll.
See, e.g., Frazer in Anthropological Essays presented to E. B. Tylor, p. 101 foll.
Staatsverwaltung, iii. p. 2. This will henceforward be cited as Marquardt simply. It forms part of the great Handbuch der römischen Alterthümer of Mommsen and Marquardt, and is translated into French, but unfortunately not into English. I may add here that I have only recently become acquainted with what was, at the time it was written, a remarkably good account of the Roman religion, full of insight as well as learning, viz. Döllinger's The Gentile and the Jew, Book VII. (vol. ii. of the English translation, 1906).
Two fragments of ancient carmina, i.e. formulae which are partly spells and partly hymns, survive—those of the Fratres Arvales and the Salii or dancing priests of Mars. For surviving formulae of prayer see below, p. 185 foll. Our chief authority on the ritual of prayer and sacrifice comes from Iguvium in Umbria, and is in the Umbrian dialect; it will be referred to in Bücheler's Umbrica (1883), where a Latin translation will be found. The Umbrian text revised by Prof. Conway forms an important part of that eminent scholar's work on the Italian dialects.
F. Leo, in Die griechische und lateinische Literatur und Sprache, p. 328. Cp. Schanz, Geschichte der röm. Literatur, vol. i. p. 54 foll.
Among Roman poets Ovid is the worst offender, Propertius and Tibullus mislead in a less degree; but they all make up for it to some extent by preserving for us features of the worship as it existed in their own day. The confusion that has been caused in Roman religious history by mixing up Greek and Roman evidence is incalculable, and has recently been increased by Pais (Storia di Roma, and Ancient Legends of Roman History), and by Dr. Frazer in his lectures on the early history of Kingship—writers to whom in some ways we owe valuable hints for the elucidation of Roman problems. See also Soltau, Die Anfänge der römischen Geschichtsschreibung, 1909, p. 3.
Most welcome to English readers has been Mr. T. E. Peet's recently published volume on The Stone and Bronze Ages in Italy, and still more valuable for our purposes will be its sequel, when it appears, on the Iron Age.
Roman Festivals, p. 142 foll.; henceforward to be cited as R.F.
See Virgil's Messianic Eclogue, by Mayor, Fowler, and Conway, p. 75 foll.
Wissowa, R.K. p. 227.
An account of this in English, with photographs, will be found in Pais's Ancient Legends of Roman History, p. 21 foll., and notes.
Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen, p. 72 foll.
Ibid., p. 156 foll.
Lectures on the Early History of Kingship, lectures 7–9.
Not long after these last sentences were written, a large work appeared by Dr. Binder, a German professor of law, entitled Die Plebs, which deals freely with the oldest Roman religion, and ell illustrates the difficulties under which we have to work while archaeologists, ethnologists, and philologists are still constantly in disagreement as to almost every important question in the history of early Italian culture. Dr. Binder's main thesis is that the earliest Rome was composed of two distinct communities, each with its own religion, i.e. deities, priests, and sacra; the one settled on the Palatine, a pastoral folk of primitive culture, and of pure Latin race; the other settled on the Quirinal, Sabine in origin and language, and of more advanced development in social and religious matters. So far this sounds more or less familiar to us, but when Dr. Binder goes on to identify the Latin folk with the Plebs and the Sabine settlement with the Patricians, and calls in religion to help him with the proof of this, it is necessary to look very carefully into the religious evidence he adduces. So far as I can see, the limitation of the word patrician to the Quirinal settlement is very far from being proved by this evidence (see The Year's Work in Classical Studies, 1909, p. 69). Yet the hypothesis is an extremely interesting one, and were it generally accepted, would compel us to modify in some important points our ideas of Roman religious history, and also of Roman legal history, with which Dr. Binder is mainly concerned.