|Title:||Religion of the Greeks and Romans|
|Original Title:||Religion des Grecs et des Romains|
|Volume and Page:||Vol. 14 (1765), pp. 83–88|
|Author:||Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)|
|Original Version (ARTFL):||Link|
This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see http://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/did/terms.html for information on reproduction.
|Citation (MLA):||Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Religion of the Greeks and Romans." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Susan Emanuel. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2005. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.431>. Trans. of "Religion des Grecs et des Romains," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 14. Paris, 1765.|
|Citation (Chicago):||Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Religion of the Greeks and Romans." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Susan Emanuel. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2005. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.431 (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Religion des Grecs et des Romains," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 14:83–88 (Paris, 1765).|
The religion of the Greeks and of the Romans is the same religion , with Greek the mother and Roman the daughter. One would be mistaken to regard Romulus as the father of the religion of the Romans. He brought it from Alba and Alba had received it from the Greeks. Critics who contest the coming of Aeneas to Italy do not deny that even before the Trojan War, the Arcadians under Oenotrus, the Palantines under Evander, and the Pelagians came with their gods into Italy. Thus without having recourse to Aeneas, Greek religion found its birth in Rome. Remus and Romulus, shortly before laying the first stone, celebrated the Lupercal according to the custom of Arcadia and the institution of Evander, and when the city received its citizens, Romulus began with the cult of the gods, he consecrated temples, raised altars, established festivals and sacrifices, by taking from Greek religion everything that was best in it.
Moreover, monuments have long attested in Rome and in the other towns of Italy to an altar erected to Evander on the Aventine Hill, another to Carmenta, his mother, near the Capitol; sacrifices to Saturn according to the Greek rite; the temple of Juno at Fateres modeled on that of Argos, and the cult that resembled it. These monuments and so many others, some of which Denis of Halicarnassus had seen, led him to say that Rome was a Greek city.
It is commonly claimed that Numa gave religion to Rome but this is to confuse the ornaments of a building with its construction. Scarcely had the crowd of individuals who rushed into this capital been formed into a political body, when Romulus opened there, if I may speak thus, an asylum for gods as well as for men.
It is true, however, that Numa gave order and breadth to the ceremonies, festivals, sacrifices and sacred mystery. Under the reign of this prince, religion took a stable form: either he was called to the crown by his piety and had no other purpose than to honor the gods; or, armed by the principles of Pythagoras, he wanted to give his policy all the appearance of religion ; or else, raised in the doctrine of the ancient Sabines as the most pure and austere and not in the doctrine of philosophy that Titus assures us did not appear until the reign of Servius Tulsius, and then in the outer limits of Italy, Numa thought he could do nothing more advantageous for the establishment of the Roman Empire than to introduce the rites of his country, and to soften, with the principles and impressions of religion , a savage and war-like people who knew almost no other law than that of superiority, nor other virtues than valor. Numa thus formed many useful establishments of this kind; but neither he nor his successors touched the institutions of the Greek religion founded by Romulus.
The Roman religion was thus daughter to the Greek religion . One is not surprised that a daughter resembles her mother, nor that she differs from her in some things. But what was the difference between one and the other? What did the Romans add to Greek religion ? And what did they take away from it? This is very curious research I have found discussed only by Abbot Coyer in a charming dissertation that we are going to summarize with a little elaboration.
The additions and subtractions that the Romans made to the Greek religion offer four aspects, he says: 1st, Rome in adopting the Greek religion wanted the most respectable gods, 2nd, the most sensible dogmas, 3rd, a less fanatic marvel, 4th, a wiser cult. Let us establish these four points that Abbot Coyer has so well developed and we will have the system and the difference between the two religions .
We will first set aside from our viewpoint the religion of the Greek and Roman philosophers; some of them denied the existence of the gods, others doubted it; the wisest adored only one. All the other gods were, for Plato, Seneca and like, only attributes of divinity. All the fables told about them, all the marvels they were credited with, all the worship that was rendered them—the philosophers knew what to think of them. But the people, the public religion , took things literally, and it is the public religion that is our subject here. So I say first that the Romans in adopting Greek religion wanted the most respectable gods.
Which were the gods of Greece? You have to look for them in Homer, in Hesiod. The Greeks in those days had only poets for historians and theologians. Homer did not imagine the gods, he took them as he found them to put them into action. The Iliad was their theater, too, like the Odyssey . Hesiod, while the theogony is his own, without giving the gods so much action, traces their genealogy in a simple and historic style. And so, there are the ancient archives of Greek theogony and here are the gods that they show us. Corporeal gods, weak gods, vicious gods and useless gods.
Romulus adopted a portion for Rome but rejected the fables that dishonored them, corporality being one. The gods of Homer and Hesiod, including the dozen major gods that Greece carried in pomp in its solemn festivals, were born like men are born: Apollo from Jupiter, Jupiter from Saturn, and Saturn had Caelus for his father. Rome adored them without asking how they had been born. It knew neither the fecundity of the goddesses, nor childhood, nor adolescence, nor the maturity of the gods; it did not imagine the silver feet of Thetis, the golden hair of Apollo, the arms of Juno white as snow, the beautiful eyes of Venus, the feasts and sun in Olympus. The Greeks wanted to paint everything; the Romans were content with glimpsing in a respectable cloud. Cotta proves very well against the Epicurian Velleius that the gods could not have sensory figures; and when he said that, he exposed the sentiments of Rome from its birth.
Romulus vaunted the power and goodness of the gods, not their figures or their sensations; he did not suffer there being attributed to them anything that did not conform to the excellence of their being; Numa had the same care to remove from divine nature any idea of the body: Be careful, he says, not to imagine that the gods might have the form of a man or a beast; they are invisible, incorruptible and may not be perceived except by the mind. Also during the first 160 years of Rome, one saw neither statues nor images in the temples; even the Palladium was not exposed to the public gaze.
Greek religion , after having put the gods into bodies, pushed the error even farther, and from pure men they made gods. Did the Romans think the same? Can one make conjectures? If they had thought so, would they not have made Numa, Brutus, Camilla, and Scipio divine, those men who so resembled the gods? If they raised to the rank of their gods those heroes Castor, Pollux, Aesclepius, Hercules—whom Greece had made divine—they disabused themselves and no longer regarded these heroes as more than friends of the gods.
Bacchus son of Semele, whom Greece adored, was not the one that the Romans had consecrated and had no mother whatever. Virgil shows us all the heroes of Rome in the Elysium; they did not make them gods. Homer saw things otherwise; the soul of Hercules is not found there, but only his simulacrum, since he himself is seated at the god's table, he has become a god. The publicans of Rome had debated his divinity as they did that of Trophonius and Amphiaraus; they are not gods, they said, since they were men, and we will raise tribute on the lands that it pleased you to consecrate to them as if to the gods. Might one raise the objection of the apotheosis of Roman Emperors? This was never more than base flattery that slavery had introduced. Domitian a god while Cato remained a man! The Romans were not so duped! They wanted gods of truly divine nature, gods disengaged from matter.
They wanted them without weakness, too. The Greeks said that Mars had groaned thirteen months in the irons of Otus and Ephialtes, that Venus had been wounded by Diomedes, Juno by Hercules, that Jupiter himself had trembled under the fury of giants. Roman religion cited neither wars nor wounds, nor chains and slavery for the gods. Aristophanes in Rome would not have dared to dramatize Mercury seeking a condition among men— porter, innkeeper, businessman, game steward—to escape misery; he would not have included this ridiculous embassy, where the gods deputize Hercules to the birds, for a treaty of arrangement; the audience chamber is a well stocked kitchen where the ambassador asks to establish his dwelling.
The Romans did not want to laugh at the expense of their gods; if Plato made them laugh in his Amphytrion , it was a foreign fable that he presented to them, a fable that was not at all believed in Rome but that Athens adopted when it was treated by Euripides and Archippus. The Greek Jupiter and the Roman Jupiter, although they bore the same name, scarcely resembled each other. The Greek gods had become for Rome the gods of theater because fear, hope, success, and misfortune, rendered them suitable for plots. Rome thought its gods above fear, misery, and weakness, following Numa's doctrine. It only knew strong gods.
But if it rejected the weak gods, all the more reason to reject vicious ones. One did not hear in Rome as in Greece that Caelus was mutilated by his children, that Saturn devoured his own out of fear of being dethroned, that Jupiter held his father imprisoned in the Tartarus. This Greek Jupiter, like the greatest of the gods, was also the most vicious; he transformed himself into swan, bull, and golden rain, in order to seduce mortal women. Among the other divinities, there was not one who did not stand out for licentiousness, jealousy, perjury, cruelty, and violence.
If Homer and Hesoid had chanted in Rome the misdeeds of the gods, admiring their genius, they might perhaps have been stoned. Pythagoras, under the reign of Servius Tullius, cried to all Italy that he had seen them tormented in chains for all the falseness they ascribed to the gods' account. Religion was taken much more seriously in Rome. Minds were simple, manners were pure; people remembered Romulus' institutions, which had accustomed the citizens to think well and speak well of the immortals, to not impute to them any unworthy inclination. People had not forgotten Numa's maxims, the first of which was respect for the gods. People refuse respect to what they despise.
One might be tempted to believe that people ceased to think well of the gods when, literacy having come to Italy, the poets started to apply Greek theology. But for them and for the Romans it was no more than a tissue of fables to decorate Poetry. Ovid imposed upon his metamorphoses nobody. Horace and Virgil in dressing the gods Greek-style did not destroy the ancient traditions. Roman theology subsisted in its entirety. Denys of Halicarnassus, who was a witness, says that he preferred it to Greek theology because the latter spread contempt for the gods among the people, and imitation of the crimes of which they were guilty. Rome wanted wise gods.
It made gods for itself as well as Greece did, but useful gods. Pallas was invoked for the troops, Vertumnus and Pomona for fruits, Lares for houses, Termerus for the boundaries of processions. Greek Hebus became the tutelary goddess of youth. If the nuptial gods in marriages, the Nixi in childbirth, the goddess Horta in honest actions, Strenna in actions of force—if these divinities and so many others unknown to the Greeks did have a share of the Romans' incense, it was on account of their utility. It seems that from the very first, the Romans were led by Cicero's maxim, that it is the nature of the gods to do good for men.
It is on this principle that they made divine: concord, peace, health, freedom. The virtues were not forgotten: prudence, piety, courage, faith—-for each moral beings who was personified, a temple; and Cicero found that very good because (he said) men have to regard the virtues as divinities that inhabit their souls. The Greeks were more sober in this order of divinities. Pausanias mentions only one temple that they raised to mercy.
But one is perhaps surprised to see the Romans sacrifice to Fear, to Fever, to the Tempest, and to the gods of hell, yet they did not remove them from their system. They invoked these harmful divinities to prevent them from doing harm. One would never finish listing all the gods that Rome added to the gods of Greece; never did a Greek or pagan village have so many. The Quartille of Petronius complained of them, saying that one found there a god more easily than a man. The capital of the world regarded itself as a sanctuary of all the gods. But despite this excessive polytheism, one owes to it one justice: that it removed from divine nature any uselessness, vice, weakness, corporeality. The useful gods, the wise gods, the gods of fortune, the gods disengaged from matter, were the most respectable gods. Rome did not stop there: the dogma that it adopted were sensible. We shall prove this.
In any religion , the truly interesting dogmas are those that relate to customs, to happiness and to unhappiness. Man is free under the action of gods? Would he be happy in leaving this earth and if he is unhappy, would he be so eternally? These are the question that have agitated men in all ages, and always will unsettle them if they have no recourse to the true religion .
The Greeks were fatalists, fatalists of the worst kind, for according to them, the gods controlled events, and that is not all, they pushed men into crime. Let us listen to Homer, he pointlessly tells us at the beginning of the Odyssey that the friends of Ulysses owe their loss to their own folly, one finds a hundred other places where fatalism is openly declared. It is Venus who lights in Paris' and Hercules' heart that criminal flame that makes so many ravages; good Priam consoles Helen by imputing everything to the gods. There are enemy gods who sow hatred and discord between Achilles and Agamemnon, the wise Nestor does not doubt this. It is Minerva who in concert with Juno directs the perfidious arrow of Pandarus, to break a solemnly sworn peace. It is Jupiter who after the sack of Troy leads the ax of Clytemnestra into the head of Agamemnon. We could go on and on.
If one opens the poem of the Romans, Virgil does not impute Paris' crime to the gods' account. Helen in the eyes of Aeneas is just a guilty woman who merits death. The criminal women whom the Trojan hero contemplates in the Tartarus, the impious Salmonea, the audacious Titys, the insolent Ixion, the cruel Tantalus, have nothing to reproach the gods for. Rhadamanthys obliges them to confess their own misdeeds. This is not the language of Phaedra, Astras, Orestes, and Oedipus on the stage of Athens. There one heard nothing but railing against the gods as authors of crimes. If the Roman stage copied these blasphemies, this should not be taken for the sentiments of Rome. Seneca and the other tragedians did precisely what we do today. Phaedra and Oedipus also complain of the gods in our theatre, and we are not fatalists, but those who gave us the tone, and to the Romans before us, the Greeks spoke the language of their religion .
Roman religion proposed in everything the intervention of the gods—but in all that was good and honest. The gods did not force the coward to be brave, and still less the brave to be cowardly; this is the premise of the harangue by Posthumus on the point of going to battle against the Tarquins; the gods, he says, owe us their assistance, because we are fighting for justice; but know that they extend their hands only to those who fight valiantly and never to cowards.
The dogma of fatality did not pass from Athens to Rome until the time of Scipio the African, Panaetius brought it to the Stoic School, but it was only a philosophical opinion adopted by some, fought by others, especially by Cicero in his book of fate . Religion did not teach it, and those who embraced it never used it to enchain the will of man. Epictetus assuredly did not believe that the gods had forced Nero to disembowel his mother.
It is astonishing that the Greek religion , having attributed to the gods the misfortune of men, should have dug the Tartarus to punish the vicious without crime. It is perhaps still more so that they condemned them to eternal torment. Tantalus always dies of thirst amidst the waters; Sisyphus rolls eternally his rock; never will the vultures abandon the entrails of Titys. These deep and obscure abysses, these frightful caverns of iron and bronze, with which Jupiter threatened the gods themselves, do not render their victims. The hell of the Romans lets its own escape; it retains only the villains of the first order, a Salmoneus, an Ixion, who abandoned themselves to enormous crimes; when Aeneas descended into it, he learned its secrets. All the souls, Anchises tells him, 'have contracted the stains by their commerce with matter, they have to be purified; some suspended in the air are the playthings of the winds; others are plunged into a lake to expiate their sins by water; some by fire, then we are sent to Elysium. Some return to the earth by taking on other bodies.' Aeneas, who knew only Greek dogmas, cries: 'O my father, is it possible for souls to leave here to see daylight?' Anchises answers: "See, this warrior whose helmet is decorated with a double crest, this is Romulus. Here is Numa, contemplate Brutus, Camillus, Scipio, all these heroes will appear in the light to carry the glory of our name and that of Rome to the extremes of the earth.'
The Elysium of the Greeks was still more badly imagined than Tartarus; all the souls that come to the eyes of Ulysses, the wise Anticleia, the beautiful Tyro, the virtuous Antiope, the incomparable Alcmenie, all have a sad countenance, all of them are crying. The brave Antilochus, the divine Ajax, the great Agamemnon sigh as much as they speak; Achilles himself sheds tears; Ulysses is surprised by this: 'What, you the most excellent of the Greeks! You who look at us as the equal of the gods! Do you have no great empire? Are you not happy?' What does he answer? 'I would rather labor on the land and serve the poorest of the living, than to command the dead.' What a place for felicity! What an Elysium! Different from this delicious place where the Trojan hero finds his father Anchises and all those who have loved virtue, the agreeable gardens, the verdant valleys, the enchanted groves, this always pure air, this always serene sky, where one sees shine another sun and other stars! Thus it is that the Romans, in correcting Greek dogmas, made them more sensible.
And thus it is that the marvels that they reformed were less fanatic: the taste for reform has nothing singular in one religion that is founded upon another. Any religion has its marvelous side: that of Greece showed in the dreams, oracles, auguries and miracles. Rome knew little of these mysterious dreams that descended from the throne of Jupiter to enlighten mortals; Romulus could not like Agamemnon have gone into combat on the strength of a dream; one would not have credited in Rome the death of the tyrant of Pheres because Edemus had dreamed of it; and the Senate would not have done what Areopagus did when Sophocles came to tell him that he had seen in a dream the thief who had stolen the Gold Cup in the temple of Hercules; the accused was arrested on the spot and questioned. In Greece people prepared for dreams by prayers and sacrifices, after which one slept on the skins of victims to receive them. It is from there that the temple of Podalirius took its celebrity, as well as that of Amphiaraus, that great interpreter of dreams, who was given divine honors.
These temples, these victims, these ministrations for dreams, marked a decisive point for religion . Rome did not have any such apparatus for religion : that sacred wood of which Virgil speaks, where the king Latinus went to dream mysteriously, by lying by the side of the priest, had no more repute when Rome was built. If some dreams were rumored and produced events, one would not have looked for them in the temples; they came of themselves, accompanied by some striking circumstance, without which people would not have taken account of them. The farmer who had himself brought dying to the Senate, announcing on Jupiter's behalf that the games had to be recommenced, would have earned only contempt if he had not suddenly recovered his health while recounting his vision. In a word, the Romans did not pay more attention to dreams than any other nation that was affected very little by them, did not deny them absolutely but believed in them only rarely, and always in fear of falling into falsehood; whereas the Greeks made them into a marvelous essential to their religion and a resource for their government. Those who governed Sparta slept in the temple of Pasiphaë to be enlightened by dreams.
The fanaticism of oracles was even greater in Greece; pagans recognized the oracles as the voice of the gods; several Christians [saw in them] the work of the devil; the Philosophers and politicians saw them only as the deceits of priests, or at most the vapors of the earth that agitated a priestess without her being more knowledgeable about the future. Whatever the case, Claros, Delphos, Dodone and so many other temples to oracles, turned all the heads of Greece. The people, magistrates, army generals, kings—everyone there sought their fate, and that of the state. This fanaticism was very small in Rome; the religion had been quite consistent since the times of Numa; one reads nothing in its institutions that concerns oracles. The first Roman who consulted them was Tarquin the Superb, sending his two sons to Delphos to learn the cause and remedy for a terrible malady that had taken away his youth. Much time had passed since Romulus without the religion of oracles; ultimately a few were established in Italy but their fortune was not great. They did not have fateful doves, talking oak trees, those basins of bronze that also had their language, nor that Pythia that a God possessed, nor those mysterious lairs where one experienced sudden education, ravishings, communications with heaven. Let us say that people did not have Greek heads and that so much fanaticism and enthusiasm was not made for Roman imaginations, which were colder. It is not that they did not sometimes turn toward oracles. Auguste went to question the Delphic oracle, and Germanicus that of Claros; but the distant oracles, so rarely consulted, could scarcely establish any credit in Rome and be incorporated into religion .
I will say further that the slight success of the country oracles had apparently discredited the others: history names them but is silent on their merit, and this silence does not signal a great vogue. Moreover there were small in number: that of Pisa, of the Vatican, of Padua—now they are almost all named. They would not have been so few if people had had more faith in them. Greece had over a hundred of them and all of great reputation, they governed; but if they won a few individuals in Rome, they never governed Rome itself. That was not its folly; instead it was Etruscan divinations and Sybilline books.
Etruscan divinations included soothsayers and fortune tellers. The college of auguries instituted by Romulus and confirmed by Numa was revered by the consuls who succeeded the kings; augury was thus a ruling establishment, a dignity, a power, that one could not exercise without being avowed in that estate, whereas in Greece, a fanatic, a charlatan, could erect himself in augury. In Rome one was trained in divination: that famous soothsayer who proved his science to Tarquin the Elder by cutting a stone with a razor; Attius Navius was indoctrinated under an Etruscan master, the most able there was; and afterward the Senate sent pupils to Etruria as to the source, students drawn from the foremost families. Greece had no school of divination; it had no need of one because the spirit of Apollo blew where it willed. Helenus, who had quite other things to do (he was the son of a great king), found himself suddenly possessed, he was now a soothsayer.
In Rome, auguring was designated only for men because it demanded work and sustained study; in Greece, where inspiration did it all, women were as suitable for it as men and perhaps more so. The name of Cassandra is famous, and Cicero asked why this princess in a furor discovered the future, while Priam her father, in the tranquility of his reason, saw nothing. The divination by the Greeks was thus a divine furor and that of the Romans was a cold science that had its rules and principles. Falseness was no doubt equal in each case, but I ask on which side fanaticism was most apparent. It indeed appears that the augural enthusiasm of the Greeks would not have succeeded in Rome better than the oracles: the Romans, a solid and serious nation, needed an air of wisdom even in their folly.
Fanaticism erupted even more in the imaginary wonders that Greece cited than in those of Rome. Any religion has its wonders: the fathers have always seen, the children see nothing but they are persuaded as if they had seen. The first Greeks had seen the gods travel and live among them. Tantalus had invited them to his table: numerous Greek beauties had received them in their beds. Laomedon made us for an entire year of Neptune and Apollo to build the walls of Troy. All of Greece under the reign of Erectheus had been able to see Ceres searching for her daughter Proserpine and teaching agriculture to men. Never did the Romans have such perceptive eyes; they said that the gods resided still in Olympus and that from there they governed the world without being seen. Can we hope, says Cicero, to meet the gods in the streets, in public places, in our houses? If they do not show themselves, they spread their power everywhere. The pontiffs wrote of only a small number of momentary apparitions, such as the one that surprised Posthumous in combat with the Tarquins; another that struck Vatinnius in the Salarian way, and that of Sagra in combat with the Lochrians. Those who believed them in fact judged them to be very rare; whereas Greece was sown with monuments that attested to the frequent, long and visible commerce of the immortals with men.
The eyes of a nation see much less when the imaginations are not warmed; that of the Greeks were still inflamed with the marvels that the gods operated through heroes. Deucalion after a flood threw stones behind him, and these stones changed into men to repopulate Greece. Hercules separated two mountains to open a passage to Oceanus. Cadmus killed a dragon whose teeth sown in the earth produced a harvest of soldiers. Atlas had held up the sky, an impious people was changed into frogs, another into rock.
The pomp of Roman religion , instead of those sublime extravagances, presents us with voices formed in the airs, columns of fire that stop on the legions, rivers that return to their source, simulacra that sweat, others that speak, walking specters, raining stones and blood—thus the gods announce to the Romans their protection or their anger. These miracles, however attested in the histories, confirmed by tradition, consecrated by monuments, taught by the pontiffs, are without doubt as false as the monstrous reveries of the Greeks; but it did not quire so much fanaticism to believe them. Let us conclude that overall, the marvelous in the Roman religion was less fanatic. There remains one last thing to prove.
Its cult was more sage: it consisted as in Greece of festivals, games and sacrifices. Grecian festivals carried an imprint of extravagance that did not suit Roman soundness: it was not only in the dim recesses of oracles, but in the light of day, amidst public processions, that one saw enthusiasts whose wild looks, sparkling eyes, inflamed faces, spiky hair, and foaming mouths passed for certain proof of the divine spirit that agitated them, and that some god did not fail to speak through their mouths. One saw there the famous Corybants, who to the sound of drums and cymbals would dance and turn rapidly around, making cruel wails to honor the mother of the gods. One heard groans, lamentations, lugubrious cries: devastated women who cried at the kidnapping of Proserpine or the death of Adonis.
The license was even more powerful than the extravagance: whether represented by men covered with animal skins, a thyrsus in the hand, crowned with vines, heated by wine, running day and night through the towns, mountains and forests, with women similarly disguised, or else even more frenzied: a thousand voices calling on Bacchus whom they wanted to propitiate with debauchery and corruption. Can one believe that amid this impure pomp, one was exposing for public veneration objects that cannot be too well veiled: those monstrous phalluses, which apart from orgies cannot be seen without blushing? And Venus, how was she honored? Amathonte, Cythera, Paphos, Gnide, Idalia, names celebrated for obscenity: here is where girls and married women prostituted themselves publicly before the altars, for she who retained a bit of modesty would have badly honored the goddess.
The same festivals were celebrated in Rome; but Denys of Halicarnassus who had seen both assures us that the Roman festivals, although customs were already corrupted, put into them neither women's lamentations, nor frenzy, nor corybantic fury, nor prostitution, nor bacchanalia. Bacchanalia did creep into Rome under the veil of secrecy and night: but the Senate banished them from the city and from all Italy. The speech by the Consul in the assembly of the people is noteworthy: 'Your fathers taught you to pray, to honor the wise gods, not the gods who bewitch spirits by foreign and abominable superstitions, not the gods who with whips of the furies push their adorers to all sorts of excesses.' Worship was expected to bear a decent and honest character, as opposed to the custom among Greeks and pagans.
If it was necessary to relax [rules] for the benefit of foreigners, one did it with precaution; they were allowed to honor Cybele with Phrygian ceremonies, but it was forbidden to Romans to be involved, and when Rome celebrated this festival, it eliminated all indecencies and vain superstitions.
It also reproved clandestine assemblies, the nocturnal vigils of both sexes so habitual in the temples of Greece. If it authorized the secret mysteries of the good goddess, then the matrons who celebrated them did not suffer the gaze of any man. The attempt by Clodius caused horror. These ancient mysteries, says Cicero, that are celebrated by pure hands for the prosperity of the Roman people, these mysteries devoted to a goddess whose name men are not supposed to even know, these mysteries which outrageous impudence would not dare to approach, were violated by Clodius by his very presence. If they later became suspect, they were not then so and still less when they were instituted. Hence, the result is that Roman festivals were more sage than Greek festivals.
The games entered into fetes, they related to religion , such were the Olympic games in Greece, as well as the Pythic, Isthmic, Nemean, and in Rome the Capitoline, Megalense, Apolinarius and many others all dedicated to some divinity; thus they were not games for pure amusement. Wrestling, boxing, pugilism, footraces—all that was done to honor the gods and for the salvation of the people. It was a part of the cult; but it appears that the Greeks profaned them much more than the Romans. Their athletes fought and ran naked until the fifteen Olympiad. Pausanias tells us that the priestess of Ceres had an honorable place in the great games, and that entering them was not even forbidden for virgins. How would it appear in effect to want to exclude half of a nation from the public games approved by the gods? What religion consecrates is ordinarily common to all and always appears to be good.
Modesty reformed the Lupercalia among the Romans, which were celebrated in honor of the god Pan. Evander had brought them from Greece with all their indecency: the naked shepherds ran lasciviously here and there, hitting spectators with their whips. Romulus dressed his Luperci; the skins of immolated victims formed their belts. Finally the Roman people appear to not have breached the boundaries of modesty except in the floral [?] games; it shows a remnant when, under the eyes of Cato, it did not dare demand the nudity of the mimes, and Cato withdrew so as not to trouble the festival.
The sacrifices were the most essential part of the religious cult of the Greeks and Romans. It was not a minor thing when men realized they should cut an animal's throat to honor divinity instead of simply offering the fruits of the earth. The blood of bulls made more than one people think that the blood of men would be even more agreeable to the gods. If this idea had struck only the pagans, we would be less surprised; the Greeks, whose customs were so gentle, there let themselves get carried away. Calchas, if we can believe Aeschylus, Sophocles and Lucretias, sacrificed Iphigenia in Aulida. Homer does not agree, because Agamemnon offers her in marriage to Achilles ten years later. But the impious custom pierced through this difference in sentiments; and history furnishes us with facts that cannot be doubted. Lycaon, King of Arcadia, burned an infant to Jupiter Lycian and offered him the blood. The name Callirhoe is known: the arm raised, she would expire if the sacrificial lover, in applying the oracle to himself, was not immolated for her. Aristodemys himself thrust the sacred knife into the heart of his daughter in order to save Messina. And these are not passing furies that the centuries only rarely demonstrate. Achaeus each year saw the flowing blood of a young boy and a virgin to expiate the crime of Melanippus and Comaetho, who had violated the temple of Diana with their love.
I know that Lyerges and other legislators abolished these pagan sacrifices. Rome did not have the problem of proscribing them because she never had them. To say that the Greeks were still new and little policed when they gave themselves to these religious excesses if not to justify them: what is harder and more ferocious than the Romans under Romulus? However, no human victim stained their altars, and the rest of their history supplies no single example of this; on the contrary, they demonstrated a decided horror of it, when in a peace treaty they demanded that the Carthaginians not sacrifice their children to Saturn, according to a custom they had received from their ancestors the Phoenicians.
Nevertheless, Lactantius and Prudence in the 4th century tell us that they had seen these detestable sacrifices in the Roman Empire. If there had been a continuation of the ancients, Titus Livius, Denys of Halicarnassus, that faithful and curious author who let us know the Romans deeply, then all the other historians would how shown us some vestige of it. But if there were these horrible sacrifices in the 4th century, it would not be astonishing that one might have introduced monstrous practices into a religion that perished with Rome.
Assuredly the religious devotions that were made for the fatherland were not among the sacrifices that the Romans may be reproached for. A warrior animated by such a motive, even a Consul, after certain ceremonies, prayers and oaths against the enemy, threw himself, head lowered, into the center of the melee and if he did not succumb there, it was a curse that had to be expiated. Thus perished three Decius, all three of them consuls; such were the voluntary sacrifices that Rome admired, and yet it did not order them. If she buried four or five living Vestals in the course of seven or eight centuries, they were guilty people who were being punished according to rigorous laws for having violated their religious obligations. Rome thought always that the blood of lambs, goats, and bulls sufficed for the gods, and that the Romans should not spill theirs except on the field of battle, or to answer the law.
Thus Rome in adopting the Greek religion , reformed its cult, marvels, dogmas and the gods themselves.