CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

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CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Lucius Curtius Philo » Fri Nov 18, 2016 3:49 am

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Salvete!

For those registered and accepted into the inaugural CDR course, I would like to welcome you. I hope this course is both intellectually and spiritually fulfilling.

Just to recap; each class will consist of;

I. Readings and research - required to finish the assignments
II. Participation in discussion groups on this board (20% final grade)
III. Completion of a class assignment - one-per-class (35% final grade)
IV. Quiz (20% final grade)

A final assignment consisting of either an 8000-word essay, 15 min. presentation or recorded ceremony this is due two weeks after the end of the last class. (25% final grade)

Each class runs for two weeks.

A passing grade is 60%.

The tentative schedule is;

I. The nature of the Gods (Instructor: Philo) Nov 17 - Dec 2
II. Challenges in restoring the Cultus Deorum (Instructor: Brutus) Dec 3 - Dec 16
III. Definitions and core principles - Part I (Instructor: Brutus) Dec 17 - Dec 30
IV. Definitions and core principles - Part II (Instructor: Brutus) Dec 31 - Jan 13
V. Roman Virtues (Instructor: Philo) - Jan 14 - Jan 27
VI. General concepts on ceremony - Sacra Publica and Privata (Instructor: Philo) Jan 28 - Feb 10
VII. Parts of a ceremony - Part I (Instructor: Brutus) Feb 11 - Feb 24
BREAK Feb 25 - March 22
VIII. Parts of a ceremony - Part II (Instructor: Brutus) March 23 - April 6
IX. Time in the Cultus Deorum - Birth to marriage to death and the calendar (Instructor: Philo) April 7 - April 21
X. Priests and the Sacra Publica (Instructor: Philo) April 22 - May 5
XI. Final assignment - Due May 19


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CLASS ONE

I. Read the readings assigned to you in the private message you have been sent.

II. Read and study: http://romanrepublic.org/bibliotheca/wiki/gods.html

(I suggest you make notes on these readings as you go. It will be an excellent resource for later on during and after this course)

III. Discuss your readings here in this thread. I will prompt you with questions if you do not start a conversation on your own. I encourage you to place citations to sources you quote in your discussion. You may use any academic format you wish for citations.

IV. Finish assignment one which has been sent to you by private message. Submit your assignment back to me by private message by December 2nd at the latest. All late assignments will be given a mark of zero.

V. On December 3rd you will be sent a quiz by private message. You must submit your answers back to me by December 16th.

THIS CLASS ENDS ON DECEMBER 2ND. At this time discussion will stop and the next class with new readings and assignments will be sent to you.

I'm looking forward to your participation! Let me know how I can help you learn and get to know the Gods and Goddesses!

valete.

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Re: CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Caeso Cispius Laevus » Sat Nov 19, 2016 11:45 am

Sal.

Thank you Philo for offering this course. I completed the readings and started the assignment. I am enjoying it very much,

To kick off the discussion. In the readings by Ogilvie, R. M. (1986). The Romans and their gods. Chapter 1., it says;

A Greek historian, Polybius, one of the most acute observers of the Roman way of life in the second century B.C., summed it up when he wrote: ‘Those things of which it is impossible to ascertain the causes may reasonably be attributed to God or Fortune, if no cause can easily be discovered. But where it is possible to discover the causes, remote and immediate, of the event in question, I do not think that we should have recourse to divine agency to explain them’ (XXXVII, 9, 2).


If we say the Gods are benevolent by nature, which the readings suggest, then how do we think of ill omens? How about great and happy events? What if these events are the clear byproduct of men? How can we attribute such acts to the Gods? Should we attribute such acts to the Gods?

I am very interested in reading the thoughts of my fellow classmates and that of Philo and Brutus.
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Re: CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Tiberius Cilnius Maecenas » Sat Nov 19, 2016 3:46 pm

Caeso Cispius Laevus wrote:Sal.

Thank you Philo for offering this course. I completed the readings and started the assignment. I am enjoying it very much,

To kick off the discussion. In the readings by Ogilvie, R. M. (1986). The Romans and their gods. Chapter 1., it says;

A Greek historian, Polybius, one of the most acute observers of the Roman way of life in the second century B.C., summed it up when he wrote: ‘Those things of which it is impossible to ascertain the causes may reasonably be attributed to God or Fortune, if no cause can easily be discovered. But where it is possible to discover the causes, remote and immediate, of the event in question, I do not think that we should have recourse to divine agency to explain them’ (XXXVII, 9, 2).


If we say the Gods are benevolent by nature, which the readings suggest, then how do we think of ill omens? How about great and happy events? What if these events are the clear byproduct of men? How can we attribute such acts to the Gods? Should we attribute such acts to the Gods?

I am very interested in reading the thoughts of my fellow classmates and that of Philo and Brutus.



Frater, I would like to direct you to this part of the readings --

The Romans, like the Greeks, accepted the fundamental principle that the gods lived in the world alongside men and strove with them, in a civic context, to bring about the common good. They also believed that the deities surpassed the city and its mortal inhabitants by far, in fact were awesomely superior. In religion, however, human relations with the immortals came down essentially to an image of deities who were close, benevolent, and unwilling to make use of their superhuman powers in day-to-day life.

But in ordinary life, they did not behave as absolute masters and tyrants, but as fellow-citizens and benevolent patrons. They did not demand dishonourable behaviour or humiliating devotion from mortals and, above all, they did not attempt to control men's thoughts. In a passage discussing the behaviour one should adopt towards slaves, Seneca compares the gods to masters who act as patrons rather than as tyrants: `They (slaves) ought to respect you rather than fear you ...


Could the Gods cause harm? Yes. Do they? No, not under normal circumstances. The Gods are powerful partners in life. But they are better than us. They are virtuous. We can only emulate their virtue. In this, the Gods must act as the ideal partners in life. The Gods don't want us to live in fear or to grovel at their feet. The Gods want us to have liberty here in our mortal world.

The Gods can communicate with us through rare events and manipulations of the physical world. But they do not punish us. The readings make this clear. Bad things might happen because they are not our patron. But they are not seeking revenge. Such a thing would not be virtuous. But the Gods, are generous patrons, they can and do help us by manipulating the world around us.

In witnessing all this, we must be not superstitious and see Gods where there is no such thing behind misfortune. But we must also be aware of the significant happenings that could be a sign from the Gods or even better assistance from the Gods!
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Re: CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Lucius Livius Seneca » Sun Nov 20, 2016 4:58 pm

L. Livius K. Cispio et aliis discipulis sal.

I offer my own thoughts on your questions only because L. Curtius has solicited the opinions of the public-at-large on the Res Publica's Facebook page. Please, however, heed your teachers—P. Brutus and L. Curtius—above my own musings on the subject.

You seem to be asking two distinct questions, if I understand correctly:

K. Cispius Laevus wrote:"If we say the Gods are benevolent by nature, which the readings suggest, then how do we think of ill omens?

and:

K. Cispius Laevus wrote:What if ... events are the clear byproduct of men? How can we attribute such acts to the Gods?"

The first question looks to me to be the problem of natural evil: if benevolent powers govern the universe, then why does evil befall people (especially good people)? This is one of the more vexing theological problems, and many responses have been offered throughout the ages. The most compelling answer I have come across is that of Augustine of Hippo, in his De libro arbitrio, but as his theology is constructed around an omnipotent and omniscient deity, L. Annaeus Seneca's De providentia instead might be more useful for your purposes as a cultor deorum romanorum, if you do not mind his particularly Stoic approach.

To very briefly (and unworthily) summarize Seneca's thesis, he suggests that the gods afflict men with adversity in order to give them occasions in which to exercise virtue, and thus, these adversities are in fact good things. He says:

L. Annaeus Seneca wrote:"Why do many misfortunes fall to the lot of good men? It is not possible that any evil can befall a good man. Opposites cannot combine. All adversity [the stalwart man] regards as exercise. Is not every upstanding man who is intent upon what is right eager for appropriate exertion and ready for service which involves danger? ... Without an antagonist prowess fades away. Its true proportions and capacities come to light only when action proves its endurance ... I myself do not find it strange that the gods are sometimes moved to enjoy the spectacle of great men wrestling with some disaster ... I cannot see, I declare, what fairer spectacle Jupiter could enjoy on earth ... than Cato still standing upright amidst his country's ruins after his party had repeatedly been crushed."

As for your second question—whether any event clearly attributable to men can also involve the gods—I would simply say that we must be careful in our use of the language of causality. Polybius' principle is, in general, a good rule of thumb to avoid superstition, but can lead to the pitiful "god of the gaps" if used indiscriminately. Note that he is very careful to state that we can rule out divine intervention only when causes both "remote and immediate" are known. Men, or some other agent of nature may be the immediate cause of an event, but could the gods still have played a more remote part in the chain of causality? It is worth remembering just how many kinds of intersecting causes can be involved in any single event. Aristotle, for example, enumerates four: the material, formal, efficient, and final causes. Here we see there is much room for both gods and men to have their hand in any event, good or bad, great or small.

I apologize for my lengthy reply, but do hope that something of this philosophical ramble of mine is helpful to you!

Vale et valete.
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Re: CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Gaius Curtius Philo » Tue Nov 22, 2016 1:14 am

I find interesting the position explained by L. Seneca of his quasi-namesake the philosopher Seneca. It is interesting that a phrase of Seneca actually is a motto in my household: "Ignis aurum probat" (De Providentia 5.10) or "Fire tests gold". The notion that the gods do not readily intervene in destructive forces to teach us and help us grow is one I can appreciate, but the idea that they are the direct cause of these events is something less clear for me.

If I were to define my current (and ever open to change!) opinion I would say that:
I) The Gods being good are unwilling to cause harm on others. The idea that this harm can be good is seductive, but that would create many situations where that wouldn't apply to everyone involved (as in when a family member is killed in a flood. It could teach kinsmen to appreciate life more, but not the dead person. That person's gone.) For me a better explanation would be twofolded: That the Gods permit chaotic forces to act in certain situations because they believe that if they stopped all these events humanity as a whole would suffer for not having opportunities to evolve and grow; and that they are also not aware of every single evil thing that happens in the world, given that they are not omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnipresent.

II) The causality of things can be deceptive and we might end up falling in a fallacy created by our senses. Let me explain better: If you threw a ball to the air and it fell on top of a ceiling, what caused the ball to fall there? You might say it was you who did such a thing and that you were the cause of the predicament of the ball. But then someone could say that it wasn't just you who did it but also gravity. For if there was no gravity then the ball would be going up indefinitly. Then someone else might say that a cause of it was the Earth itself, because without the Earth's mass the gravitational effect wouldn't have been the same. Someone else could then degress to the realm of drunken philosophical reflection and say that it was your parents' fault for giving you the ball in the first place, setting in motion this chain of events. Or even go farther back and say it was because you were born to them. And thus your entire lineage is blamed for the unlucky ball. With this we can see that the notion of unicausality or even limited causal actors is only an illusion, a trick of the mind. And even the notion of direct causality can be questioned in this light, given that even when looking at the subject directly we still have at least three culprites: The person, the Earth and Gravity. If we take all this into consideration, could we truly say with all certainty that Anything could possibily not be said to have the hand of the Gods in it? Can we for certain determine that Gods were absolutely absent in any event that ever happen? No, we cannot. Does that mean they do take part of all events? Also not. For we also can't prove that a pink giant invisible and untouchable unicorn isn't on the dark side of the moon. But it does mean that we are allowed to think, logically, that the possibility exists that any single thing can be associated with the intervention of a God. My own view of the matter is that the world is full of Gods, as Varro might put it, and that every single aspect of existence has in it a divine spark. If there is a god of manure (Sterculus) then what stops there for being a god for my computer? Or a god for my slippers? Only devotional prayers, basically. I believe that all form of things has a divine consciousness linked to it and that even the most mundain thing can be subject of worship and, with that, become a God.

And that takes us to the question of course of what IS a God. For me, I adhere to the same principle that our fellow citizen C. Florius Lupus adheres to. Namely, that a God is simply something that is venerated. We venerate great entities like Ianus or Iuppiter or Iuno, but we also venerate small ones like River Gods and the goddess of hinges. Even humans have found shrines attributed to themselves as Gods! And as the scholar Ittai Gradel rightly proved in his work Emperor Worship, this was no late greek contamination or political enforcement of the Augusti, but a natural developement of the Roman Religion. Gods are not necessarily unfathomably powerful beings. They can be as great as the Universe or as small as a grain of sand. Only one thing ties them all together and gives them the epithet of God and that is: Worship. With this we may understand that a God isnt a thing. It isnt the difference of a cat or a human. Or a door and a road. It is a relationship. A description of the relationship an entity has to another. We humans venerate incredible entities and for that reason we call these entities Gods. For that reason a God can only be described as such when related to a group. Ianus isn't simply a God. He is a God of the Romani. A god of Rome. Any attempt so speak of the condition of Godhood without defining who is bestowing such condition is speaking of a relationship without one of its integral parts. In other words, it makes no sense.

I am sorry if I rambled, but this is a subject I wanted to put on the table here and my personal take on it. I would like to hear your comments!
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Re: CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Publius Iunius Brutus » Fri Nov 25, 2016 2:49 pm

Brutus sal.

Very good discussion. I would like to ask you all a question.

In the readings it says,

Roman, Greek, and later art pieces all depict impressive creations displaying images of the gods and goddesses of Rome. From exposure to these impressive works many living in the modern age already have an idea as to the supposed appearance and qualities of the gods. For example, many can imagine the images of Jupiter or Venus without an awareness of the details about these deities. The ancient academic and theologian, Varro mentions that such religious imagery was not initially used within the Religio Romana. Instead, during this archaic period more abstract representations of a god’s numen adorned altars and other sacred places. By the early republican period, the now traditional anthropomorphic imagery had become more commonplace. Scholars suspect this evolution in religious expression may have occurred due to an increasing influence from the Greeks. Ancient Greek religion had a long-standing history of such anthropomorphic artwork as expressions of piety. After this period, depictions of the gods and goddesses in a mortal appearance were frequently adorning Roman temples, public spaces, and domestic environments. Varro states that men designed these visual expressions. He does not claim that these images are literal interpretations of the divine. He concludes that these depictions are the understandings of mortal men and that the benefit of such imagery is to focus and enhance one’s expression of worship. In other words, the image of a god in human form is easier for the mortal mind to understand. In focusing the human mind on an image representing the numen of a god Varro suggests that communication and reverence might be more easily expressed. It should also not be disregarded that the art itself also served as an offering to the deity being honoured. Such beautiful imagery was hoped to be pleasing to the divine, as well as the mortal. Considering the enduring nature of this artwork across the millennia its beauty stands as a testament to the piety and reverence held by the ancients towards the gods and the Religio Romana.


What is your take on this? What role do images play? How do you think the ancients viewed this matter? How should we approach this today? Sources, as always are welcomed in responses.
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Re: CLASS I: Cultus Deorum Course - The nature of the Gods

Postby Gaius Curtius Philo » Fri Nov 25, 2016 4:34 pm

Publius Iunius Brutus wrote:How do you think the ancients viewed this matter?


This is clearly a matter of theology and, to avoid confusion, one should define more precisely what we mean by Ancients. Are we talking about the Roman élite or the Roman Commoner? It is important to differentiate the two. Regarding the Roman People as a whole little can be definitly said of how they veiwed this. Archiology shows they used statues, but if we are to speak of it being considered more or less pure we can hardly fathom. Clues exist on theth walls of history (and I say that in a quite literal sense lol) :

"VIII.2 (in the basilica); 1824: Let everyone one in love come and see. I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins. If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club?" (found here: http://www.pompeiana.org/Resources/Anci ... ompeii.htm)

This was found in Pompeii. It shows a common man demonstrating some profound anger towards Venus and expressing the desire to hurt Her in a very physical way. Poetic license? Probably. But it might show a hibt that for the common people the abstract notions of unantropomorphic gods wasnt that settled in.

When speaking of ancient Roman theology we must always heed to the fact that our knowledge is rarely based on the common people's voice. Instead it relies mostly ob archeological finds and the words of a very small élite who for the most part did not look highly on the common people's religious expression.

I do not imply here that you do not know these things Brute, but it is something others should read.

Now, if we are looking at this political élite then yes, we might have a better say on these things, but even for them the evidence isn't too good. Why? Because it is a matter of Theology, not Religion. It was a matter of personal opinion and antiquerian musing. So at most we could speak of the views of individuals. What did Varro, Cicero or Seneca think of this matter?

Publius Iunius Brutus wrote:How should we approach this today?


So not to contradict myself, I'd say that we should follow the ancient tradition and simply stay neutral as a community regarding these matters of theology, but debate about them freely as individuals. We must always keep in mind, however, that we are unable to Know the answer. That it is, in the end of the day, a matter of opinion that should be treated as a light and friendly dinner conversation and never a christian religious battle.

Publius Iunius Brutus wrote:What is your take on this?


I prefered to put this first question last because it speaks of me personally. I personally see the gods as not being antropomorphic unless humans. Sol is the Sun. Tellus is the Earth. Ianus is the encarnation of all Beginnings. All of the Gods are for me either corporeal or abstract Powers. So I ascribe more to the Numaean Tradition. I prefer natural foci (mountains, trees, stones and waterfalls etc.) as representations of the Gods but when lacking that I find the statues can be a great second choice.
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