A few interesting notes from Plutarch on the Cultus

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A few interesting notes from Plutarch on the Cultus

Postby Gaius Florius Aetius » Wed Nov 29, 2017 6:51 pm

I am just reading Plutarch's life "On Great Romans and Greeks", and it is fascinating to find often in sidenotes some details about the Roman Cultus. I thought to share some here and continue later, when I find more as I read on.

Here are some notes about what Plutarch wrote about the religious customs, as laid down by King Numa. Apparently Numa was MUCH more connected to esoteric mysticism, namely that of Pythagoras.

“Also his (King Numa's) orders on images show a close relation to the teachings of Pythagoras. He believed that the Original Essence could not be perceived by the senses and was not under any limitations, invisible, unrespresentable and could only be grasped for by spirit, and so Numa forbade the Romans to make a human-like or animal-like image of the Gods. Actually they have neither painted nor sculpted images of any God, but in the first 170 they did create Temples and Chapels, but no image of a God, because it was not allowed to depict the Higher is a material of lesser value, and it would be impossible to comprehend the Highest other than through the mind.”
(This indicates the HIGHLY spiritual nature of the original Roman Religion!)

“Numa is said to have created the round temple of Vesta to protect the ever burning flame, not as an image of the earth, but as an image of the entire cosmos, in whose center due to the Pythagorean is the fire, which they call “Vesta” and “One”; they say the earth is not immovable and in the center of of the heavenly movements, but she encircles the fire and also the earth would not be the prime and most important of the heavenly bodies. Plato too should have come to this conclusion, that the earth is only a secondary in place. “

(This is proof how scientific view played into religion.)

“Of the many sorts of Priests which Numa has created, I want to speak of two, the Salians and the Fetalians, which underscore his piety further. Because the Fetalians, a sort of peacekeepers,... searched to calm any sort of conflict and did not allow any open hostilities before any lawful way was exhausted. Like the Greeks they called it peace, when disputes were not solved by violence by through negotiations. The Fetalians went often to Romans who had acted unjustly, and tried to persuade them to be reasonable.“

(This is one witness of the greatly humanitarian spirit of King Numa.)

About the idea of circulation and structuring ritual action as symbolic image of the cosmos:

“At festivals and on sacred days the priestly heralds moved ahead through the city and called for silence to for work to halt. Numa believed like the Pythagoreans, that religious service and prayer to the Gods should not be done parenthetically, but right from the moment stepping out of the house the soul should be prepared, so people should not hear or see something divine heedlessly, but with the attention of their mind to the religious ceremony as the most important action... So some customs have a secret meaning from the Pythagoreans, like offering the Heavenly Gods in uneven number and the Earthly Gods in even number,... and that during the prayer one shall turn around his axis and then sit down after prayer. The circulation at prayer is an imitation of the circulation of the solar system; the most correct interpretation seems to me, that since the Temples are directed towards the East, the praying person is looking towards West, looking away from sunrise, so he then turns to the God and back, creating a full circle, to assure himself a fulfillment of the prayer from both directions; or maybe the circulation should indicate something similar like the Egyptian Wheel, that no human matter lasts, and like the Gods turn our life around, we should be pious to adhere to this.
Sitting down after prayer shall symbolize that the prayer is heard and that the good things are lasting. It is also said, that resting indicated an end of the first action and seperated thus from beginning a new action. … Also it can be connected to the fact, that the Lawgiver (Numa) wanted to accustom us to speak to the Gods not just by the way while we are busy, but when we have time and leisure.“

When Plutarch writes about Kimon (Cimon), whom Plutarch describes as extremely generous and sharing all his belongings with everyone who needs it. He says, Kimon had his door open, everyone could eat on his table or he tore down the fences so everyone could take fruits and crops as he needed, and then Plutarch says, Kimon had an ideal as in the Golden Era of Kronos. This is remarkable for a few reasons. Frist, the entire description has a strong impression of Socialism or Marxism and the maxim, to each according to his needs. Second, that this is apparently at least what Plutarch and his readers would assume the Golden Era was like. And third, he refers to Saturn as Kronos, so we see a level of hellenization in this era, where the Roman view overshadowed the Greek in view but the Greek in terminology.

The second story is when some invasion happens, and the General wants to sacrifice a cow for Persephone, but they have none at hand, so they form a baked cow out of dough and sacrifice that instead. Which is an interesting hint what one can use as replacement offering instead of the offering of meat. So we see that despite their many rules, the Romans were very pragmatic in their approach towards the Cultus.

The book of Plutarch is quite worth reading anyway, but these examples show, that reading the classics can be very useful to learn more about the Roman Religion in the many small details and hints.
Advice is judged by results, not by intentions.

- Cicero
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Re: A few interesting notes from Plutarch on the Cultus

Postby Tiberius Terentius Varro » Fri Dec 01, 2017 10:55 pm


Frater Aetius, your reflection is insightful.

Plutarchus was very Greek. He did not fully understand the traditions of the CDR. But neither do we moderns. Any source from ancient times can be beneficial and should be carefully considered. We must also read with an ever critical eye of our sources.

May we all be so incited by the sources and be able to convert their wisdom in a balanced manner into the living practice of the Cultus Deorum Romanorum.
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