THE Rome of the first consuls was a very different Rome from that of the earlier kings. Not only was the population larger but it was divided socially into different classes. The simple patriarchal one-class community had been transformed into the complex structure of a society which had in it virtually all those elements and interests, except the more strictly intellectual ones, which go to make up what we call society in the modern sense. The world of the gods also had increased in population, and there too there was present a slight social distinction between the old gods (Indigetes) and the new-comers (Novensides), though it is open to question how strongly this distinction was felt. The new gods thus far were not incommensurable with the old ones. They formed a tolerably harmonious circle, and there was not felt to be any need of new priesthoods; the old priests were sufficient to look after them all. There were a few new names, and a few new temples or altars, but everything was in the old spirit, and there
was no rivalry between the old and the new. None of the old gods was crowded into the background by the new-comers. This was on the face of it impossible as yet, because the new gods all represented new ideas which had not been provided for under the old scheme. Even Diana, who afterwards usurped somewhat the functions of Juno, stood at present pre-eminently for the political idea pure and simple, so far as Rome was concerned. This period of equipoise did not continue very long, but while it lasted it was beyond doubt the best and strongest period in the whole history of Roman religion. There was no violent religious enthusiasm, but then there was no corresponding depression offsetting it. It was the cold but conscientious formalism which was best adapted to the Roman character, because so long as it held sway the excesses of superstition were avoided.
But this element of superstition was already on the way, it came in within a few years of the opening of the republic, and it exercised its insidious influence ever more and more powerfully until it celebrated its wildest orgies in the time of the Second Punic War. It is in this period of the first three centuries of the republic, roughly from B.C. 500 to B.C. 200, that this change was produced. Outwardly it resembled a steady growth in religious feeling and enthusiasm, and it might well have seemed so to contemporaries. It was a period of many new gods
and many new temples, but this in itself was no harm. It was the principle behind it which did the damage. It was the essential contradiction to what true Roman religion and Roman character demanded; and the last half of the republic paid the price for what the first half had done, in a decline of faith which has scarcely been exceeded in the world's history.
It has been customary for writers on the history of Roman morals to attribute these changes to the coming of Greek influence; and of course in the main this is correct, but these writers have in general neglected to analyse this Greek influence more closely, and to distinguish the various aspects of it in different periods, and to ask and answer the question why this influence should be so particularly harmful to the Romans. It is generally spoken of as the influence of Greek literature and philosophy, but for our present period this is entirely incorrect, for we all know that Greek literature did not begin to influence Rome until the time of the Punic wars, and yet the Greek influence of which we speak here began to exert its effects two hundred and fifty years before the Punic wars. The real cause of the unnatural stimulation of religion during these three centuries is nothing more nor less than the books of the Sibylline oracles. It is therefore a very definite and interesting problem which we have before us. It is to examine the
workings of these oracles and to explain why they had such an extraordinary effect on religion and society, that in three centuries they could entirely change both the form and the content of Roman religion, and under the guise of increasing its zeal, so sap its vitality that it required almost two hundred years of human experience and suffering before true religion was in some sense at least restored to its own place.
Like the origin of almost all the great religious movements in the world's history, the beginnings of the Sibylline books are shrouded in mystery. A later age, for whom history had no secrets, with a cheap would-be omniscience told of the old woman who visited Tarquin and offered him nine books for a certain price, and when he refused to pay it, went away, burned three, and then returning offered him at the original price the six that were left; on his again refusing she went away, burned three more and finally offered at the same old price the three that remained, which he accepted. Except as a sidelight on the character of the early Greek trader the story is worthless. It is doubtful even if the presence of the Sibylline books in Rome goes back beyond the republic. The first dateable use of them was in the year B.C. 496, and there is one little fact connected with them which makes it probable that they did not come in until the republic had begun. This is the circumstance that in view
of the great secrecy of the books it is unthinkable that they should ever have been in Rome without especial guardians, and yet the earliest guardians that we know of were a newly made priesthood consisting originally of two men, the so-called "two men in charge of the sacrifices" (IIviri sacris faciundis). Now the form of this title is peculiar; it is not a proper name like the titles of all the other priesthoods. Instead it is built on the plan of the titles of the special committees appointed by the Senate for administrative purposes; it bears every mark therefore of having arisen under the republic, rather than under the kingdom, at a time when the Senate had the supreme control. So much may be said regarding the time when they were introduced into Rome; as for the place from which they came, this was without doubt the Greek colonies of Southern Italy, probably the oldest and most important of them, Cumae, so famous for its Sibyl. This was not the first association that Rome had had with Cumae, for in all probability the worship of Apollo had spread from there into Rome toward the close of the kingdom. Apollo and the books were connected at Cumae, for it was Apollo who inspired the Sibyl, and the oracles were his commands, but it is almost certain that Apollo came to Rome in advance of the oracles. He came there as a god of healing and was given a sacred place outside the pomerium in the Campus Martius, on the spot
where later (B.C. 431) a temple was built for him with his sister Artemis-Diana and their mother Latona. This was the only state temple that Apollo ever had, until Augustus built the famous one on the Palatine. It was in the wake of Apollo that the Sibylline books came. As for the books themselves, they were kept so secret that we cannot expect to know much about them, but in rare cases where the seriousness of the exigency warranted it, the Senate permitted the actual publication of the oracle upon which its action was based, and of the oracles thus published one or two have been preserved to us. They were of course written in Greek and were phrased in the ambiguous style which for obvious reasons was the most advantageous style for oracles. They commanded the worship of certain specific deities, naturally all of them Greek, and the performance of certain more or less complicated ritual acts. When they were received in Rome, they were placed in the temple of Juppiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline in the keeping of their guardians, the new priesthood of the "two men in charge of the sacrifices." This committee of two was enlarged to ten in B.C. 367 when the great compromise between the Patricians and the Plebeians was made, and the Plebeians were admitted into this one priesthood, with five representatives. Subsequently Sulla made the number fifteen, which continued as the official number from
that time on, so that the priesthood is ordinarily called the Quindecemviri, even when one of the older periods is referred to. The real control of the books however lay in the hands of the Senate. When the Senate saw fit, the priests were ordered to consult the books, but without this special command even their guardians dared not approach them. The priests reported to the Senate what they had found, and the Senate then decreed whatever actions the oracles commanded. The carrying out of these actions was again in the charge of the Sibylline priests, who performed the ceremonies demanded and were for all time to come responsible for the maintenance of any new cults which might be introduced.
When we see how carefully these oracles were guarded and how circumspectly their use was hedged about by senatorial control, and when we think how relatively little harm the use of oracles had wrought in Greece in all the centuries of her history, it may well seem as if the statements made in the beginning of this chapter about the havoc caused by these oracles were grossly exaggerated. But the efforts of the Senate to safeguard these oracles only prove that the older and wiser men in the community realised how dangerous they were, and the comparison with Greece leads to a consideration of certain essential differences between the Greek and the Roman temperament which made that which was meat for one into poison for the other.
In the older purer age of Greece the gods were never far away from men, they lived almost side by side with them; there were to be sure many gods of whom they were afraid and from whom they desired to keep as far away as possible, but there were a great many other gods of whom they liked to think. In constructing the records of their history they did not work backwards from the light of the present into an ever darkening past, but they began from the beginning in the full light of the gods from whom all things sprang, and mythology passed into history by imperceptible gradations. They knew more about the beginning when all things were completely in the hands of the gods than they did about their immediate past. Art began very early to make them familiar with the appearance of the gods, so that there was little that was mysterious about their religion, so little that the element of mystery had later to be almost artificially cultivated in the "mysteries." They respected the gods rather than feared them, and they felt that the gods would do them no harm unless they themselves first sinned against them or their own fellow-men, and the oracles of Delphi were no more terrifying to them than the coming of the word of God was to the prophets of Israel. They were accustomed to these messages, which were almost every-day affairs. It was all a part of that marvellous poise of nature which made the every-day mortal Greek almost as
calm as the unperturbed imperturbable faces of their gods as their great sculptors saw them.
In Rome all was very different. The superstitious element in the Italian character, which amazes us so much to-day when cultured twentieth century men and women in good society persecute their fellows because of the evil eye, is a heritage of many thousand years. Sometimes it seems as if it were the Italian birthright, the blight of Etruria which came into their nature in spite of themselves. It required centuries to educate the Roman into the concept of personal individual gods. He had begun his theological career by terror of unknown powers all about him, and by regarding religion as the science of propitiating the right power on the right occasion. One could not know these powers, one did not desire to. Their gods were at once their masters and their servants, but never their companions. The early Roman knew no such thing as an oracle, the only messages from the gods were the expressions of their wrath, in the sending of prodigies and portents. They did indeed consult the gods by watching the flight of birds or studying the entrails of the sacrifice, but it was merely to obtain a "yes or no" answer to a categorical question as to whether a certain act was pleasing to the gods. Otherwise all about them lay mystery, and at the point where sight failed, since neither imagination nor faith carried them any further, superstition
stepped in, and the more they thought of the gods the more terrified they became. Now if you present to a people thus constituted a divine book of infallible oracles, you increase their terror in greater measure than the book itself can assuage it, and with the use of the book the simpler forms of their old belief will grow less and less effective in the face of this new "witchcraft," which can work wonders. And no matter how you may hedge the use of the book about, it will be used more and more as the craving for magic is increasingly aroused.
The study of the outward and the inward effects of the Sibylline books is therefore the real history of religion in the first half of the republic. The outward effects are seen in the introduction of a series of Greek gods, who were in themselves in the main eminently respectable, and whose presence was in itself no offence to good morals, and if we stop there we fail to understand why the religious interest of the Second Punic War should change so quickly to the scepticism of the following century. The inward effects however, which, though they are hard to see, may yet be discovered between the lines of the chronicle, will explain all the undermining of foundation, until we wonder not why the structure collapsed so suddenly but how it managed to last so long.
The history of the activity of the books begins peaceably enough. In the year B.C. 496 Rome was
in a bad way; her crops had failed and the importation of grain from Latium was rendered very difficult because of the war with the Latins in which she was engaged. In her distress she turned to the Sibylline books, and on the occasion of this their first recorded use, the oracles ordered the introduction into Rome of the cult of three Greek deities, Demeter, Dionysos, and Kore. It was a most appropriate and characteristic choice. In the first place the deities in question were worshipped at Cumae, the home of the books, whence Rome could, and probably did, borrow the cult; and in the second place Demeter was the goddess of grain, and it was from Cumae that Rome was already beginning to obtain her imported grain supply. Thus the coming of the Cumaean Demeter into the religious world of Rome is but the sacred parallel to the coming of Cumaean grain into the material world of Rome. The Greek goddess of grain came with the grain, just as Castor had come with the Greek cavalry, with this essential distinction however that Demeter came by the incantation of the books and the enactment of the Senate, whereas Castor's coming was a slow and normal development.
It is important to notice closely exactly what happened when these deities were introduced, partly because they form the first recorded instance, and hence may well have acted as a model for subsequent repetitions of the act, but also because we have a more definite knowledge of the phenomena in this
case than in many others. In the first place it is clear that the deities were felt to be foreign: not only was their temple built out the Aventine way, in the valley of the Circus Maximus, outside the pomerium, but--a much more significant fact--their Greek names were dropped, and they were given Roman names instead, to make them seem less out of place. Then too these Roman names were not new names, translations of their Greek titles, but were the names of already existing Roman deities with whom they were easily identified, so that we see at once that their coming was no real enrichment of the Roman Olympus; what they stood for was already represented there, and their coming was simply a reduplication, with the consequent result that as these parvenus increased in prominence and influence, they robbed of all their vitality the sober old Roman deities to whom they had attached themselves. What were these original deities who were thus doomed to death in B.C. 496? Demeter took the name of the old Roman goddess Ceres, a goddess of fertility, about whom we know just enough to assert that she belonged to the old religion of Numa and that she was at heart quite a different person from Demeter. All the rest is lost, submerged under the new Demeter-Ceres with her temple built by Greek architects and her April games. It is this new Ceres who soon develops an extraordinary political importance because her temple is to the
[paragraph continues] Plebeians as a class what the temple of Minerva is to the unions of organised labour. It is there that they have their meeting-place, and the temple itself is always their treasury as contrasted with the Saturn temple, the treasury of the state as a whole. The very officers of the Plebeians, the famous Plebeian aediles, get their name from association with this temple (aedes). This political side of her activity is the only real advantage, except the grain itself, connected with her importation; the two form at best a poor economic compensation for the ever increasing immoral effects of the public games of Ceres.
But though Ceres is the most important of the three deities economically and politically, we must not forget the other two, both of whom are interesting, though one of them more for what she is not than for what she is. Along with Demeter came Dionysos and Demeter's daughter Kore: the three were: associated in the solemn mysteries of Eleusis, but none of the beauty of these ideas went over into the Roman cult. Demeter was merely the deified grain-traffic, and Dionysos was little else than the god of wine, while poor Kore fell out without any particular content for a curious reason that we shall see in a moment. The only old Roman deity with whom Dionysos could be identified was the god Liber, who had had a rather interesting history, and who had done enough along the line of self-development
to deserve a better fate than to be crushed to insignificance under the prominence of his new namesake. Liber was at this time a flourishing god of fertility and, since the introduction of the grape into Italy, especially the patron of the fruit of the vine, but he had made his own career, and there was a time when he had no individuality of his own but was merely a cult-adjective of the great god Juppiter, the giver of all fertility in every phase of life. Thus out of the original Juppiter-Liber there had grown the independent god Liber; and now this Liber lost his individuality by identification with Dionysos. Finally comes Kore, Demeter's daughter. Here the Romans were hard put to it to find a goddess who represented any similar content, and after all this was no light task because Kore has little meaning unless she is taken also as Persephone, Pluto's bride--a process which required a mythological knowledge and appreciation in which the Romans of the early republic were totally lacking. But there was an old goddess Libera, a shadowy potentiality contrasted and paired with the masculine Liber, and they chose her and gave Kore her name. We have a curious proof of how little the Romans knew of Kore-Libera, and of how purely mechanical both the introduction of Kore and her identification with Libera were, in the fact that about two hundred and fifty years later, as we shall see, Persephone, the real Kore, was introduced into Rome as an
altogether new deity, and existed there side by side with Libera for at least a century before people began to realise that Proserpina and Libera stood for the same Greek goddess.
It was necessary to go into these details in order that we might understand as much as possible of the process by which the gods of the Sibylline books were assimilated into the body of Roman religion. We see how in the main they were superfluous and therefore unnecessary and even undesirable because by their presence they robbed old Roman deities of their existence, and how those elements in them which were least in accord with the old Roman spirit were most apt to develop, and how in general their adoption was a purely mechanical process, like any act in witchcraft, where the form is all important because the meaning cannot be understood, and how totally different therefore the estate of these gods was in Rome from what it had been in Greece, because in Rome they were introduced, stripped of all their mythology, worshipped only for their practical bearings, and compelled therefore to work for their living.
The importation of grain from Cumae meant more to Rome than the mere satisfaction of her physical needs; it meant much more than the addition of three deities to her state-cult, for the grain thus imported was carried from Cumae to Ostia by sea and so up the Tiber to Rome, and the
whole matter therefore marks one of the important steps in Rome's interest in commerce generally but especially in ocean commerce. As yet she did not do the actual carrying herself, but she began to be interested in it, and the sea began to mean something to this inland town. This increased interest in trade in general and this inceptive interest in those who "go down to the sea in ships" have both of them left their reflexion in the religious life of the time; two new deities are introduced, both of them almost certainly by means of the Sibylline oracles, though some accidental blanks in our historical tradition have deprived us of details.
The chronicle of the year B.C. 495 tells us that there was a dispute in that year as to who should dedicate the temple of Mercury. This is Mercury's first appearance in our sources. The circumstances of the vowing of the temple have been omitted through some oversight, but in spite of this the connexion of his introduction with the Sibylline books is beyond all reasonable doubt, for the simple reason that the guardians of the oracles always looked after his cult in all subsequent time. Notwithstanding the suddenness of his appearance and the silence of the chronicle, his story is quite clear and his past history easy to restore, at least in outline.
The versatile Hermes, who as messenger of the gods plays a part in so many Greek myths, became in the course of time among other things associated
with travelling, as god of roads, and also with trade, partly because trading necessitates travelling, and partly because Hermes was also the protector of the market-place in which the trading was done. Thus he was called "Hermes Protector of the Merchant" (Empolaios) and in this capacity went into the colonies of Greece, including those of Southern Italy. Thus Hermes travelled with the grain merchant from Cumae and became known to the Romans. They however knew him merely as the god of trade, and their name for him is nothing but the translation into Latin of his Greek cult-title: Empolaios = Mercurius. For a long time it was thought that there had existed a Mercurius among the original gods of Rome, but the traces of this old god are apparent rather than real and suggest one phase of that pastime of which the later Romans were so fond, that of writing history backwards and putting an artificial halo of antiquity about the gods whom they borrowed from Greece. Thus Mercury was received into the state-cult at about the time when the grain trade began, and was, as it were, the divine representative of the interest which the Roman state took in the whole transaction. His temple was outside the pomerium on the Aventine side of the Circus Maximus. It was in this temple of the merchant god that the primitive Chamber of Commerce (collegium mercatorum) had its beginning, an association, partly sacral, partly commercial, whose members, the mercuriales, are
frequently met with in literature and also in inscriptions, one of which has been found as far away as the island of Delos. In the actual cult of the Romans Mercury never regained the many-sidedness which he had lost in coming to them merely as a god of trade. In this capacity he appears on the sextans of the old copper coinage, and under the empire he went into the provinces as the companion of Mars, since the merchant went side by side with the soldier. On the contrary when in the third century before Christ Greek literature came to Rome, this simple idea of Mercury was reinforced by many new Greek ideas and he entered into Roman poetry with all the attributes and functions of Hermes; but this had little or no effect on the cult and there were no great rivals to the old temple near the Circus Maximus, no cult-centre with advanced Greek ideas, as we have seen spring up in the case of Hercules, Castor, Minerva, and Diana.
We have already seen how the rise of the grain trade brought four new deities to Rome, but there is one more chapter to our story. The grain itself and the trade itself had now obtained their divine complements, but the sea had not yet received its due; it too must have its parallel among the gods of Rome. And so it came to pass that again under the influence of the fateful books, though exactly when or how we cannot say, the Greek Poseidon came into Rome. The sea had always meant much
to the Greeks, and the joyful shout of Xenophon's troops "The sea! the sea!" finds an echo all through the centuries of Greek history before and after the Anabasis. But the multitude of islands and harbours in Greece is in marked contrast to the dearth of them in Italy, where even to-day there is no good port of call on the west coast between Naples and Civitavecchia--and the latter would be useless, were it not for Trajan's mole. In Italy accordingly the sea-god Poseidon was worshipped only in the Greek colonies, where however he had two famous cults, one at Tarentum, later called Colonia Neptunia, and one at Paestum, whose old name was Poseidonia. The Romans had worshipped deities of water in abundance, as became an agricultural people, for water meant life, and drought, death; but their deities were those of the sweet waters of springs and rivers, they knew no god of the sea. But when the oracles brought Poseidon to Rome he was identified with an old Roman water-god Neptune, whose cult henceforward included the sea. We do not know where the shrine of the old sweet-water Neptune had been, but his old festival had occurred on July 23. The new Poseidon-Neptune was given a temple outside the pomerium in the Campus Martius, but the new was connected with the old in so far at least that the dedication day of the new temple was July 23, the day of the old Neptune festival.
With the introduction of Neptune, the sea-god,
the state had accomplished, as it were, a sort of divine marine insurance; the transport of the grain was now watched over by a Roman god; but it was not to be expected that the cult of a sea-god would ever mean very much to the Romans. The maritime commerce of the Eternal City was very slow in developing, and it grew to its subsequent proportions, not because the Romans of Italy engaged in it, but because those foreigners who took to the sea by nature later became Romans. Nor did naval warfare fall to her lot until the First Punic War, and even then her victories were gained by the tactics of land fighting transferred to the decks of two ships, her own and the enemy's, fastened together by landing-bridges, and the glory of victory was due not to Neptune but to Mars. It was not until the civil wars at the close of the republic that real naval battles occurred, and that Neptune received his share of glory for the victory at Actium in B.C. 31, and later over Sextus Pompeius, in a temple erected by Agrippa in the Campus Martius, behind the beautiful columns of which the Roman Stock-Exchange transacts its business to-day.
In the first decade of the republic therefore, as we have seen, a group of Greek gods was introduced by the Sibylline oracles, no one of whom can be said to have been really needed, no one of whom except the sea-element in Neptune represented any new and vital principles not already present in the
religious world, if not of Numa, at least of Servius. The best that can be said of these gods is that one or two of them, notably Mercury and Neptune, exerted no positively detrimental influences on later generations. For the next two centuries our chronicles are silent, so far as the actual introduction of new deities by the aid of the books is concerned, and it is not until B.C. 293 that the narrative of new gods begins again. But in other ways the oracles were not idle during these two hundred years. We must rid ourselves of the idea that it was necessary that their consultation should always result in the importation of some new Greek deity. The oracles might order the carrying out of some new religious rite regarding the deities already present, and these religious rites, especially the public processions so frequently performed, feed the ever-growing superstition of the populace. It is essential to a charm or incantation that it should contain something strange or foreign, it is above all things help from without; and when the gods send prodigies and portents, when their statues weep and sweat blood, when cattle speak, and meteors fall from the sky, something strange and unusual must be done to counteract these things. Among the foreign acts thus ordered the sacred procession occurs frequently. It started from the temple of Apollo in the Campus Martius and passed into the city through the Porta Carmentalis, went across the Forum and then outside
the pomerium again to the temple of Ceres, and then to the temple of Juno Regina on the Aventine. It was therefore a power from without which came into their city to purify them and to carry away out of the city again the impurities of which it had rid the community.
It is also characteristic of such semi-magical things that they lose their effects after a few applications, and other things must be sought always more complicated and more strange. Thus from the beginning of the republic down through the Second Punic War we have a series of extraordinary measures, growing more and more complicated until in the religious frenzy of the years after Cannae even human sacrifices are performed at the command of the books. In this the third century before Christ deities begin again to be introduced, and it is to this century that we now turn.
It is probable that the Romans had always worshipped certain powers of healing, but what their names were under the old regime we do not know, except that possibly they were connected with the gods of water. At the close of the kingdom they received, as we have seen, Apollo the divine healer, Apollo Medicus, and this was originally the only side of his activity which he exercised at Rome. At various seasons of plague during the early centuries of the republic they called on him for help, and on one such occasion (B.C. 431) they built him
a temple. But in the course of time men began to think lightly of the old family physician who had stood by the Romans during more than two centuries; his methods were too conservative, they were felt not to be thoroughly up to date. A new god of healing had appeared in Rome, the Greek god Asklepios, whom myth called Apollo's son, though originally he had had no connection with Apollo. His great sanctuary was at Epidauros, and from there his cult spread over all the Greek world. At first he was known at Rome only in the worship of private individuals, who had brought him up from the Greek colonies of Southern Italy, probably Tarentum or Metapontum; but his cult was contagious, and the stories of his miraculous cures were eagerly heard. It is no wonder then that in the presence of a great pestilence in B.C. 293, when the Sibylline books were consulted, "it was found in the books," as Livy says, "that Aesculapius must be brought to Rome from Epidauros." The war with Pyrrhus however was on, and nothing could be done that year except the setting apart of a solemn day of prayer and supplication to Aesculapius. It is interesting to observe how much the Romans have changed since the time exactly two centuries before (B.C. 493), when Ceres and her companions, the first gods introduced by the books, received their temple. That was the acknowledgment of gods well known at Rome, and even then they were
immediately identified with already existing Roman gods; now they actually send an expedition not only outside of Rome but of Italy itself to bring in the cult of a god whom they accept by his Greek name. In the following year (B.C. 292) the expedition started for Epidauros to bring back the god, that is the sacred snake which was both his symbol and his visible presence. Such an importation of a sacred snake from Epidauros is not unique in the case of Rome, but was the normal method of establishing a branch cult. Snakes were kept at Epidauros for just this purpose, and many branches were thus established. It is an extremely interesting question as to the practical medical value of the methods of healing practised at Epidauros and its branches. For a long time those best fitted to express a technical opinion, modern physicians who examined the matter, found nothing good in them, and their opinion seems to receive confirmation from some of the inscriptions recently discovered at Epidauros, which tell the most extraordinary tales of miraculous cures. And yet many of these tales are not intended as actual facts, but rather as pious legends, proclaimed for the edification of the devout, in order that their faith might be quickened. Before we condemn the whole affair, we must realise two facts; one is that some of the most able minds of Greece, men who were otherwise by no means remarkable for their religious faith, believed implicitly in Epidauros and
went there to be cured; and the other is that the miraculous action of the god was always supplemented by medicines, in which there may well have been some real value.
We are told too much rather than too little about this embassy to Epidauros, for the atmosphere of this third century is different from that of the early republic. Greek literature was beginning to influence Rome, and those generations were being born who were to be the pioneers in Roman literature. Thus Roman mythology was commencing along Greek lines and with Greek models, and one of the points where legend grew thickest and fastest is in this coming of Aesculapius. The plain facts are evidently that the committee went to Epidauros, obtained the snake, brought it back safely to Rome, and established the sanctuary on the island in the Tiber, where a temple was built and dedicated January 1, B.C. 291. Probably this was the first use to which the island had ever been put, and from this time dates the first bridge connecting it with the city; the other bridge, to the right bank, was much later. The Romans had always considered the island a disadvantage rather than an advantage. Even in legend it was cursed, for it sprang from the wheat of the Tarquins. They had always desired to be cut off from it, and had always feared lest it might act as a means of approach for the enemy from the opposite bank. The few real facts of
[paragraph continues] Aesculapius's coming grew into a romantic account of how, to the great surprise and terror of the sailors, the snake went of its own accord into the Roman ship; and how it stayed aboard until they reached Antium, and then suddenly swam ashore and coiled itself up in a sacred palm tree in the enclosure of the temple of Apollo there; and how, when they were in despair of ever getting it back again, it returned peaceably to them at the end of three days, and all went well on the journey to Ostia and up the Tiber until they were passing the island, when the snake went ashore to make its permanent home there.
It was a pretty fancy which at a later date formed the island into the likeness of a boat by building a prow and stem of travertine at either end, the traces of which may still be seen; and it is a curious instance of the many survivals of ancient Rome in the modern city, that the Hospital of S. Bartolommeo stands on the site of the old Aesculapius sanctuary, and so far as we can tell, twenty-two centuries of suffering humanity have had the burden of their pain lightened there, in uninterrupted succession since that new year's day, above three hundred years before Christ, when the hospital of Aesculapius of Epidauros was formally opened.
The coming of the god of healing in the opening years of the third century may well be regarded as
an omen of the great suffering which that century was to bring to Rome. It was a century of almost uninterrupted warfare: first the Samnite war; then the war with Pyrrhus and Rome's conquest of Southern Italy; then after a breathing spell of about a decade the first war with Carthage, and Rome's bitter apprenticeship in fighting at sea; then campaigns in Cisalpine Gaul; and finally the war with Hannibal roughly filling the last two decades, the most fearful contest in all Rome's history, with her most terrible enemy in her own land of Italy. It is little to be wondered at therefore that this was in the main a century of religious depression, a time when the fear of the gods filled every man's heart and when every trifling apparent irregularity in the course of nature was exaggerated into a portent declaring the wrath of the gods and needing some immediate and extraordinary propitiation. It is in just such a moment as this in the middle of the century (B.C. 249) that the next recorded instance of new gods occurs. The first war with Carthage was in progress, Rome had just suffered a terrible defeat off the north-western point of Sicily, at Drepana, a defeat all the more hideous because it was supposed to have been caused by the impiety of the Consul Clodius, who, hearing that the sacred chickens would not eat, perpetrated his grim jest by saying "let them drink then instead," and drowning them all. But to cap it all the wall of Rome was
struck by lightning. Then action was necessary and the books were consulted. They ordered that sacrifice should be made to Dis and Proserpina, a black steer to Dis, and a black cow to Proserpina, three successive nights, out on the Campus Martius, at an altar which was called the Tarentum, and that the ceremony should be repeated at the end of a hundred years. Here the myth-makers of later times have been even more busily at work than they were in the case of Aesculapius. The Aesculapius story was fitted out by them merely with a few miraculous details, a few legendary ornaments, but the story of Dis and Proserpina was so covered with their fabrications that it has only recently been freed from them and seen in its true light, and certain phases were so absolutely perverted that there are still a number of very difficult points. To get a clear understanding of the situation we must begin quite a distance back.
Taken as a whole, religious beliefs are among the most conservative things in the world; the individual may grow as radical as you please, but his effect on the general religious consciousness of his time is extremely slight. Occasionally the number of radical individuals grows larger and certain classes of society are affected by their views, but even, in the periods of religious development which we are apt to think of as most iconoclastic, society taken in the large, and on the average of all classes, is not much more
radical than in apparently normal times. And while religion as a whole is conservative, there is one section of it more conservative than all the rest, a section from which change is almost excluded, that is the beliefs concerning the dead. In our discussion of the religion of Numa we saw the very primitive character of Roman beliefs in this field, the firm retention of the old animistic idea of the dead, the tendency to class the dead together as a mass and to believe in a collective rather than an individual immortality, and above all the abhorrence of the dead and the disinclination to dwell on their condition and to paint imaginary pictures of life beyond the grave. In view of these feelings it is not strange that we have great difficulty in finding any old Roman gods of the dead, aside from the dead who are themselves all gods. These dead as gods (Di Manes) and possibly Mother Earth (Terra Mater) are the only rulers in the Lower World. In Greece on the contrary death was almost as natural as life, and though the conditions in early times were not unlike those in Rome, as Rohde in his Psyche has so wonderfully described them, the Greek soon grew beyond this, and the world of the dead became almost as well known to him as the world of the living. There was a kingdom of the dead, and a king and queen ruled over them. These rulers were called by different names in different parts of Greece, but the names which they had in certain parts of
the Peloponnesus, Hades the king of the dead and Persephone his bride, were destined to survive the rest. The cult of this royal pair travelled far and wide, but its most notable development occurred in Attica, where Persephone became Kore the daughter of Demeter, stolen by Hades to become his bride, while Hades himself under the sunny skies of Athens lost some of his terrors and became Pluto, the god of riches, especially the rich blessings of the earth. But all this was very foreign to Rome, and while the Greeks were thinking these thoughts, the Romans were going quietly along, content with their simple Di Manes. No better proof of this can be desired than the one accidentally given us in the introduction of Demeter and her daughter Kore into Rome as Ceres and Libera in B.C. 493, and the absolute colourlessness and pointlessness of Libera, in a word the entire lack of connexion in the religious consciousness of Rome between Libera and Persephone. But in B.C. 249, almost two and a half centuries later, matters were on a different basis; Rome had been learning a great deal that was foreign to her old beliefs, and there was no longer anything impossible to her in the idea of individual rulers of the dead. Thus at the command of the books Pluto and Persephone were received into the state-cult, though the strangeness of the situation was acknowledged, at least in so far that they translated Pluto into the Latin Dis; Persephone to be sure was left
alone, or more strictly speaking was accommodated to the Latin tongue by being changed to Proserpina. It is of course impossible that the Romans of B.C. 249 were entirely ignorant of Pluto and Persephone until the Sibylline books bade them be brought in. Here again the traders from Southern Italy had been their teachers; and the name Tarentum of the altar where the sacrifice was to be made may possibly indicate the town of Tarentum as the source of the cult. The Romans knew Tarentum only too well since the eventful war with Pyrrhus, which lay only a generation back in their history.
And so the Romans adopted the Greek gods of the dead, and thus, at least theoretically, put their dead ancestors into subjection to the Greeks just as they themselves, the descendants, were sitting at the feet of the Greeks in this life. But though the enactment of the Senate gave these gods Roman citizenship, and the priests of the Sibylline books were in duty bound to perform the ritual of the cult, be it said to the credit of the Romans, the gods themselves never took a very deep hold of the religious life of the people in general. Their names, to be sure, crept into a few of the old formulae and stood side by side with the older deities, and Proserpina was made much of by the Roman poets; but the real tests of devotion, dedicatory inscriptions, are almost entirely absent. Strangely enough the only thing which seems to
have caught their fancy was the weird ritual of the nightly sacrifice at the Tarentum, and especially its repetition after one hundred years. This idea of the hundred years is Roman rather than Greek, and it is at least open to question whether it may not have been added to the instructions in the oracle to give the whole matter an added Roman colour. Thus in B.C. 249 were instituted the Secular Games, which were repeated with approximate accuracy in B.C. 146, and would doubtless have been again between B.C. 49 and 46, had not the Civil War completely filled men's minds and made human sacrifices to the dead, in battle, an almost daily occurrence. Meantime the Roman annalists were working backwards in their own peculiar fashion, and building out into the past a series of fictitious celebrations preceding B.C. 249, one hundred years apart, back into the time of the kingdom. On the other hand we shall have occasion later to speak of the restoration of the games and their reorganisation by Augustus.
Under the test of adversity nations are very much like individuals, and a national weakness, which is often entirely concealed in normal conditions, comes prominently and disastrously to the surface in the hour when strength is most needed. The war with Hannibal was just such a crisis in Rome's history, and under its influence Rome's dependence upon the Sibylline books was more
pronounced than ever. The seeds of superstition sown during the earlier centuries burst now into full blossom, destined to produce the fruit, the gathering of which was to be the bitter task of the closing centuries of the republic. The story of the Second Punic War, regarded merely from the military standpoint, reads for Rome almost like a nightmare, with its long succession of apparently easy victories turning one by one into defeats; but when we add to this that other chronicle, of which Livy is equally fond, the long lists of portents and prodigies sent by the angered gods, and when we realise that to the masses of the people the wrath of the gods was more terrible and just as real as the hostility of Hannibal, then we have not the heart to reproach them for their religious frenzy. Seen by themselves, the jumping of a cow out of a second-story window, or the images of the gods shedding tears, do not seem very serious matters, but endow us with three hundred years of hereditary dread of these things, give us the instinctive interpretation of them as the turning away from us of the powers upon which we rely for help, nay their positive opposition to us and our hopes--and our condition in the presence of these phenomena would be very different.
Thus almost every year between B.C. 218 and 201 had its share of religious ceremonial, and the Sibylline books, which had hitherto been, in theory
at least, merely an alternative method of religious procedure permitted to exist alongside of the older and more conservative forms, became now the order of the day. Like a Homeric picture in which the quarrels of the gods in Olympus run parallel to the battles of Greeks and Trojans on the plains of Troy, so every victory which Rome won over Hannibal on the field of battle was bought at the price of a victory of Greek gods over Roman gods in the field of religion; and further, although Rome succeeded in keeping Hannibal outside of her own walls, her gods did not succeed in defending the pomerium against the Greek gods, and it is during this Second Punic War that this, the greatest safeguard of old Roman religion and customs, was broken down, and the new gods gained entire possession of the city, placing their temples on the spots hitherto held most sacred. From now on all distinction ceases, and it is scarcely possible to speak of a Roman in contrast to a Graeco-Roman cult. It is important however to observe that this breakdown occurred because of excess of religious zeal rather than through neglect and indifference, and though we may indeed notice a gradual deterioration of the deities introduced by the books, all the way down from the busy working gods like Ceres and Mercury and Neptune to the more miraculous Aesculapius, and the cult of Dis or Proserpina with its possibilities of weird fantastic
worship, there have been however as yet only scanty traces of the orgiastic element. But this was the next step, and it was not long in coming. The rapid campaigns of the earlier years of the war with Hannibal had passed, Cannae (B.C. 216) had been somewhat retrieved by Metaurus (B.C. 207), where the reinforcements for Hannibal, led by Hasdrubal, had been cut to pieces, but the result was not what had been hoped for, and Hannibal had not left Italy, but entrenched in the mountains of the south he seemed to be preparing to pass the rest of his life there. It was in this the year B.C. 205 that the help of the books was again sought, if peradventure they might show the way to drive Hannibal out of the country. The reply came that, when a foreign-born enemy should wage war upon the land, he could be conquered and driven from Italy, if the Great Mother of the gods should be brought to Rome from Phrygia. The rest of the story is so quaintly and withal so truthfully told by Livy (Bk. xxix.) that it will not be amiss to quote his words:--"The oracle discovered by the Decemviri affected the Senate the more on this account because the ambassadors who had brought the gifts [vowed at the battle of Metaurus] to Delphi reported that when they were sacrificing to the Pythian Apollo the omens were all favourable, and that the oracle had given response that a greater victory was at hand for the Roman people
than that one from whose spoils they, were then bringing gifts. And as a finishing touch to this same hope they dwelt upon the prophetic opinion of Publius Scipio regarding the end of the war, because he had asked for Africa as his province. And so in order that they might the more quickly obtain that victory which promised itself to them by the omens and oracles of fate, they began to consider what means there was of bringing the goddess to Rome. As yet the Roman people had no states in alliance with them in Asia Minor; however they remembered that formerly Aesculapius had been brought from Greece for the sake of the health of the people, though they had no alliance with Greece. They realised too that a friendship had been begun with King Attalus [of Pergamon] . . . and that Attalus would do what he could in behalf of the Roman people; and so they decided to send ambassadors to him, . . . . and they allotted them five ships-of-war in order that they might approach in a fitting manner the countries which they desired to interest in their favour. Now when the ambassadors were on their way to Asia they disembarked at Delphi, and approaching the oracle asked what prospect it offered them and the Roman people of accomplishing the things which they had been sent to do. . It is said that the reply was that through King Attalus they would obtain what they sought, but that when
they brought the goddess to Rome they should see to it that the best man in Rome should be at hand to receive her. Then they came to Pergamon to the king [Attalus], and he received them graciously and led them to Pessinus in Phrygia, and he gave over to them the sacred stone which the natives said, was the Mother of the gods, and bade them carry it to Rome. And Marcus Valerius Falto was sent ahead by the ambassadors and he announced that the goddess was coming, and that the best man in the state must be sought out to receive her with due ceremony." In the next year (B.C. 204) after recounting new prodigies Livy continues:--"Then too the matter of the Idaean Mother must be attended to, for aside from the fact that Marcus Valerius, one of the ambassadors who had been sent ahead, had announced that she would soon be in Italy, there was also a fresh message that she was already at Tarracina. The Senate had to decide a very important matter, namely who was the best man in the state, for every man in the state preferred a victory in such a contest as this to any commands or offices which the vote of the Senate or the people might give him. They decided that of all the good men in the state the best was Publius Scipio. . . . He then with all the matrons was ordered to go to Ostia to meet the goddess and to receive her from the ship, to carry her to land and to give her over to
the women to carry. After the ship came to the mouth of the Tiber, Scipio, going out in a small boat, as he had been commanded, received the goddess from the priests and carried her to land. And the noblest women of the land . . . received her . . . and they carried the goddess in their arms, taking turn about while all Rome poured out to meet her, and incense-burners were placed before the doors where she was carried by, and incense was burned in her honour. And thus praying that she might enter willingly and propitiously into the city, they carried her into the temple of Victory, which is on the Palatine, on the day before the Nones of April [April 4]. And this was a festal day and the people in great numbers gave gifts to the goddess, and a banquet for the gods was held, and games were performed which were called Megalesia." This extraordinary picture is probably in the main historically correct. The most striking part of it, the enthusiasm of the Roman populace, is certainly not overdrawn. Thus was introduced into Rome the last deity ever summoned by means of the books, the one whose cult was destined to outlast that of all the others, and to do more harm and produce more demoralisation than all the other cults together. To understand why this was so, we must go back for a moment.
The influence of Greece on Rome was progressive, and we are able to indicate at least three distinct
periods and phases of it, so far as religion is concerned: first, the informal coming of a few Greek gods who adapted themselves more or less completely to the old Roman character; such are Hercules and Castor and even Apollo, though Apollo was indirectly responsible for the second period, because he was the cause of the coming of the Sibylline books. The influence of these books produced the second period, with its characteristics of ever-growing superstition, and greater pomp in cult acts, but though the sobriety of the old days had changed into a restless activity, the new gods who came in and the new cult acts introduced were still of such a character that Romans could take part in the worship without shame. But just as the staid Apollo had produced the books, so now as their last bequest the books brought in the Great Mother, and the third period had begun, the period of orgiastic Oriental worship, which prevailed, at least among certain classes, until the establishment of Christianity. We may well ask who this Great Mother was, and why this one Greek cult should be so different from all the rest.
At different points in Asia Minor and in Crete a goddess was worshipped, originally without proper name, as the great source of all fertility, the mother of all things, even of the gods. Mount Dindymos in Phrygia was one of the chief centres of the cult, and there the Great Mother was known also as
[paragraph continues] Cybele. From these various centres the cult spread over all the Greek world, but wherever it went, it always gave evidence of its birthplace by certain strange Oriental elements both in its myths and in its rites. Its devotees were a noisy orgiastic band, who filled the streets with their dances, and the air with their singing and the clashing of their symbols, to the accompaniment of the rattling of coin in the money box--for the collection of money from the bystanders was always a part of the performance.
This then was what the "best man in the state and the grave Roman matrons went forth from Rome to receive--a sacred stone representing the goddess, and a band of noisy emasculated priests, and this was what they opened their gates to, and took up into their holy of holies, the Palatine hill, the birthplace of Rome. The Greeks had again come bearing gifts, and like the Trojans who broke down their walls and took the wooden horse up into their citadel, Romans, the reputed descendents of these Trojans, were carrying up to their most sacred hill another gift of Greece which was to capture their city. They put the image in the temple of Victoria on the Palatine until such time as its own temple was ready to receive it, and the goddess of Victory seemed to respond to its presence, for did not Hannibal leave Italy the very next year? And who would be so impious as to suggest that to Scipio and not Cybele belonged the glory, and that
a strong Roman army in Africa affected Hannibal more than a sacred stone on the Palatine?
It may well be doubted whether anything but such a great exigency would ever have induced Rome to accept such an utterly foreign cult; and when the nightmare of the war was past, the Senate awoke to the realisation that a very serious act had been committed. To their credit be it said that they did what they could to minimise the evil. The goddess had brought her own priests with her, the cult was in their hands, and there the law decreed it must stay, and no Roman citizen could become a priest. That this law was really enforced is shown by several cases where punishment, even transportation across the sea, was meted out to transgressors. Then too the worship must be in the main confined to the precincts of the temple on the Palatine, and only on certain days of the year were the priests allowed to perform in the streets of the city. It is significant of the strength of Roman law that these enactments held good for three and a half centuries, and were not changed until the reign of Antoninus Pius.
In the introduction of the Great Mother the Sibylline books performed their last and most notable achievement. Hereafter they introduced no new deities, and were consulted only occasionally, chiefly for political purposes, for example in B.C. 87 against the followers of Sulla, and in B.C. 56 in connexion
with a scheme of purely political import. Their work was done, and we have seen in what it consisted. For three hundred years they had been encouraging the growth of superstition. From their vantage ground of the temple of Juppiter Optimus Maximus, the essence of all that was most patriotically Roman in Rome, they had been giving forth these infallible oracles which seemed so much superior to the simple "yes and no" answers with which the old Romans had been content in their dealings with the gods. In times of peril by pestilence and by battle they had given advice, and the pestilence had ceased and the battle had turned to victory. It seemed indeed that the Sibyl deserved the gratitude of Rome. Time alone could teach them what the books had really given them. It was only in the coming generations that it became evident that the abuse of faith, the substitution of incantation for devotion, was destructive of true religion. It is the effect of this substitution on the various classes of society under the new and trying social conditions of the last two centuries of the republic that forms the theme of our next chapter.