When talking about religion it is important to understand that history and faith, science and theology fly on different planes and shouldn’t be confused. Science is always devising new theories in search of a better and verifiable comprehension of the world, while faith focuses on truths non verifiable and absolute which go beyond any rationality.
By Roman religion we mean any cult that was followed in ancient Rome, also foreign ones. The cult of the anatolian Kybele, for example, was established on the Palatine Hill. To the historian, anthropologist etc. the number of survivals of the Roman religion is impressive.
Survival of Roman Neptune
So-called superstitions are widespread among Italians for the simple fact that Italians were highly civilized long before (9-10 centuries earlier) Christianity arrived. While many Northern Europeans were instead brought civilization together with Christianity (the Angles, the Saxons, the Irish, the Frisians, generally the unromanized Germans etc.). This makes us a bit more pagan, whether we like it or not. [It is just a theory of mine]
The Catholic Church had to tolerate the remnants of the Roman religion [take the Saints (= gods,) which she encouraged, in order to facilitate the rural people into the new religion] while other times she fought against them. …the list could be long …San Nicola at Bari (St. Nicholas) seems linked to the survival of Roman Neptune, the god of the sea (almost all scholars agree on that). In many villages on the Adriatic coast (no idea if still at Bari) boatmen and fishermen carry the statue of the saint down to the seashore. Then the saint is set on a decorated large flat bottomed boat and taken out to sea. Dozens of boats follow. Not entirely different from what happened during the Poseidon-Neptune ancient festivals.
This ancient past might also be a reason why Italians are less strict as far as religion goes. This could explain the difference between, for example, the Irish and the Italian attitudes towards the Catholic religion, the difference for example between the famous Irish nuns and the Italian nuns. (…)
[ read more in this Conversation ]
Survival of Goddess Fortuna
We have been talking about survivals of the Roman religion. Of the goddess Fortuna or goddess of Luck remain today 1) our recurrent personification of Fortune; 2) something of the oracular function of this deity, linked to future-telling; 3) one of her emblems, the wheel, a symbol of mutability in human life.”
Personification. When we use phrases like “they invoked their fortune” or “the tricks of fortune” we have here a personification of something capricious which is deeply impressed in our mind and that can be traced back to the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna.
The Wheel of Fortune. I think very few spectators of the Wheel of Fortune, one of the most popular TV shows ever produced, suspect they are in front of a fossil from the ancient Romans. Fortuna was in fact often represented standing on a ball or close to a wheel indicating that our future is as uncertain as the random spinning of a wheel. (…)
[ read more in Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna ]
Ancient Roman Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints
Roman polytheism based on a “departmental idea of divinity” – ie on specific deities helping people in specific aspects of human life [read more] – seems to survive today in the veneration of saints.
Nothing provides a more vivid idea of such polytheistic survivals than the lists of patron saints and their respective areas of patronage.
Patron saints are special saints who intercede to God for us in certain life situations. They are such either by the will of the Pontiff or by tradition.
Very comprehensive is the Saints.SQPN.com web site, with 7,140 saints and 3,346 areas of patronage covered. (…)
Roman Pompa vs San Gennaro’s Procession. We will finish our posting with a fascinating passage by Gordon J. Laing:
“The similarity in attitude of mind of pagan and Christian devotees and the survival of the polytheistic idea in modern times may be seen in a comparison of the behavior of the people who watched the procession which preceded the circus games in ancient Rome [pompa circensis was a grand procession before the games: read a description at LacusCurtius, MoR] and that of the crowd which fills the streets of Naples today on the occasion of the festival held in May in honor of San Gennaro [Saint Januarius,] the patron saint of the city.
In the old Roman procession a conspicuous place was given to the images of the gods that were borne along in floats; and as they were carried past, pious Romans called upon the names of those whom they regarded as their special protectors.
So too at the Naples festival. In the procession referred to the images of many Saints, each of them with his own place in the affections of the Neapolitan proletariat, are carried from the Cathedral to the Church of Santa Chiara. Saints of all centuries are there, some of whom attained the dignity hundreds of years ago, while others are more recent creations. As the procession moves along, persons in the crowd call out the name of their patron Saint, and when the image of San Biagio, a sort of Christian Aesculapius with special powers in diseases of the throat, passes by, the Neapolitan mothers hold up their croupy bambini and implore a remedy.”
[read more in Ancient Roman Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (2) ]
Change and continuity. From Kybele to Artemis to Mary
My family has this tradition of using the Fatebenefratelli Hospital on the Tiber Island. My father had surgery there twice and my wife there delivered our two daughters. Now it turns that this was a healing place since 293 BC, when a temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing, was built. When, 600 years later, Christianity arrived the healing place was preserved intermittently and a Basilica di San Bartolomeo was later built a few yards away (this saint being thence associated to healing it explains by the way the name of the famous St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.)
(…) Kybele, Artemis, Mary. A very impressive example of continuity through change, it seems to me … the sanctuary in Ephesus, dedicated to the Anatolian goddess Kybele, the Earth Mother – see a 3d reconstruction above – was later converted into the temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunt, child birth, virginity and fertility. The place was very famous, one of the greatest sanctuaries of Antiquity – and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. People flocked to venerate the goddess.
Well, it is amazing how not far from that place it was later believed that there existed the last home of Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. For this reason – the marvellous temple was destroyed by a Christian mob in 401 AD – a series of pilgrimages again began with pilgrims venerating the Virgin Mary and even recently the place has been visited by three popes, who followed a pilgrimage path thousands of years old.
[ read more in Change and Continuity in History. 2 ]
Roman Saturnalia and Christmas
Merry Saturnalia to all of you! Well, was Saturnalia the ancient Roman Christmas? Mary Beard, professor in classics at Cambridge, sheds here some light (I have to thank EternallyCool for the above picture – from the British Times, probably – and for the link).
Read also by MoR:
Greek fear in gods’ envy survives
“On the way back to Rome on the via Flaminia I exclaimed merrily: “Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled smoothly as olive oil and we didn’t have any problem during the whole drive.”
Mario snapped with a worried look: “Zitto zitto non lo dire! (hush! hush! don’t you say that!).” He didn’t add much but I knew what he meant:
‘Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down? Do you want anything bad to happen to us?’ as if the mere utterance of happiness would attract us ill luck or the envy from someone.
Well, the envy from whom? (…)
[ read more in Gods are Watching with an Envious Eye ]
What is this envy?
We have narrated three episodes each containing an example of the Greek fear in gods’ envy.
What is this envy? Well, since the Greek gods lived an eternal and blissful life they watched with an envious eye men who were too prosperous and happy, hence they humbled and punished them, hence men were afraid to express their happiness too loud, lest some envious god might spot them and hit. (…)
[ read more in Knowing Thyself ]