The Roman and Greek Questions, by Plutarch, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, , at sacred-texts.com
10. Why is it that when they worship the gods, they cover their heads, but when they meet any of their fellow-men worthy of honour, if they happen to have the toga over the head, they uncover? a
This second fact seems to intensify the difficulty of the first. If, then, the tale told of Aeneas b is true, that, when Diomedes passed by, he covered his head and completed the sacrifice, it is reasonable and consistent with the covering of one's head in the presence of an enemy that men who meet good
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men and their friends should uncover. In fact, the behaviour in regard to the gods is not properly related to this custom, but accidentally resembles it; and its observance has persisted since the days of Aeneas.
But if there is anything else to be said, consider whether it be not true that there is only one matter that needs investigation: why men cover their heads when they worship the gods; and the other follows from this. For they uncover their heads in the presence of men more influential than they: it is not to invest these men with additional honour, but rather to avert from them the jealousy of the gods, that these men may not seem to demand the same honours as the gods, nor to tolerate an attention like that bestowed on the gods, nor to rejoice therein. But they thus worshipped the gods, either humbling themselves by concealing the head, or rather by pulling the toga over their ears as a precaution lest any ill-omened and baleful sound from without should reach them while they were praying. That they were mightily vigilant in this matter is obvious from the fact that when they went forth for purposes of divination, they surrounded themselves with the clashing of bronze.
Or, as Castor a states when he is trying to bring Roman customs into relation with Pythagorean doctrines: the Spirit within us entreats and supplicates the gods without, and thus he symbolizes by the covering of the head the covering and concealment of the soul by the body.
11. Why do they sacrifice to Saturn with the head uncovered?
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Is it because Aeneas instituted the custom of covering the head, and the sacrifice to Saturn dates from long before that time?
Or is it that they cover the head before the heavenly deities, but they consider Saturn a god whose realm is beneath the earth? Or is it that no part of Truth is covered or overshadowed, and the Romans consider Saturn father of Truth?
12. And why do they consider Saturn father of Truth?
Is it that they think, as do certain philosophers, a that Saturn (Kronos) is Time (Chronos), and Time discovers the truth? Or because it is likely that the fabled Age of Saturn, if it was an age of the greatest righteousness, participated most largely in truth?
13. Why do they also sacrifice to the god called "Honor" with the head uncovered? One might translate Honor as "renown" or "honour."
Is it because renown is a brilliant thing, conspicuous, and widespread, and for the reason that they uncover in the presence of good and honoured men, is it for this same reason that they also worship the god who is named for "honour"?
14. Why do sons cover their heads when they escort their parents to the grave, while daughters go with uncovered heads and hair unbound?
Is it because fathers should be honoured as gods
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by their male offspring, but mourned as dead by their daughters, that custom has assigned to each sex its proper part and has produced a fitting result from both?
Or is it that the unusual is proper in mourning, and it is more usual for women to go forth in public with their heads covered and men with their heads uncovered? So in Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow, for it is usual for men to have their hair cut and for women to let it grow.
Or is it that it has become customary for sons to cover their heads for the reason already given? a For they turn about at the graves, as Varro relates, thus honouring the tombs of their fathers even as they do the shrines of the gods; and when they have cremated their parents, they declare that the dead person has become a god at the moment when first they find a bone. b
But formerly women were not allowed to cover the head at all. At least it is recorded that Spurius Carvilius c was the first man to divorce his wife and the reason was her barrenness; the second was Sulpicius Gallus, because he saw his wife pull her cloak over her head; and the third was Publius Sempronius, because his wife had been present as a spectator at funeral games. d
15. Why is it that they were wont to sacrifice no living creature to Terminus, e in whose honour they held the Terminalia, although they regard him as a god?
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Is it that Romulus placed no boundary-stones for his country, so that Romans might go forth, seize land, and regard all as theirs, as the Spartan said, a which their spears could reach; whereas Numa Pompilius, b a just man and a statesman, who had become versed in philosophy, marked out the boundaries between Rome and her neighbours, and, when on the boundary-stones he had formally installed Terminus as overseer and guardian of friendship and peace, he thought that Terminus should be kept pure and undefiled from blood and gore?
16. Why is it that it is forbidden to slave-women to set foot in the shrine of Matuta, and why do the women bring in one slave-woman only and slap her on the head and beat her? c
Is the beating of this slave but a symbol of the prohibition, and do they prevent the others from entering because of the legend? For Ino d is said to have become madly jealous of a slave-woman on her husband's account, and to have vented her madness on her son. The Greeks relate that the slave was an Aetolian by birth and that her name was Antiphera. Wherefore also in my native town, Chaeroneia, the temple-guardian stands before the precinct of Leucothea and, taking a whip in his hand, makes proclamation: "Let no slave enter, nor any Aetolian, man or woman!"
17. Why is it that in the shrine of this goddess they do not pray for blessings on their own children, but only on their sisters’ children? e
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Is it because Ino was fond of her sister and suckled her sister's son also, but was herself unfortunate in her own children? Or is it that, quite apart from this reason, the custom is morally excellent and produces much goodwill among kindred?
18. Why was it the custom for many of the wealthy to give a tithe of their property to Hercules? a
Is it because he also sacrificed a tithe of Geryon's cattle in Rome? Or because he freed the Romans from paying a tithe to the Etruscans?
Or have these tales no historical foundation worthy of credence, but the Romans were wont to sacrifice lavishly and abundantly to Hercules as to an insatiable eater and a good trencher-man?
Or was it rather in curtailing their excessive wealth, since it was odious to their fellow-citizens, and in doing away with some of it, as from a lusty bodily vigour that had reached its culmination, b did they think that thus Hercules would be especially honoured and pleased by such a way of using up and reducing overabundance, since in his own life he was frugal, self-sufficient, and free from extravagance?
19. Why do they adopt the month of January as the beginning of the new year? c
The fact is that, in ancient days, March was counted before January, as is clear from many different proofs, and particularly from the fact that the fifth month from March is called Quintilis, the sixth Sextilis, and
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so on to the last, which they call December, since it is the tenth in order from March. Wherefore it has also naturally occurred to some to believe and to maintain that the ancient Romans completed their year, not in twelve months, but in ten, by adding more days than thirty to some of the months. Others state that December is the tenth from March, January the eleventh, and February the twelfth; and in this month they perform rites of purification and make offerings to the dead, since it is the end of the year. But the order of these months was altered, so they say, and January was put first because in this month on the day of the new moon, which they call the Kalends of January, the first consuls entered office after the kings had been expelled.
But more worthy of credence are they who maintain that it was because Romulus was a warrior and a lover of battle, and was thought to be a son of Mars, that he placed first the month which bore Mars’ name. But Numa, in turn, who was a lover of peace, and whose ambition it was to turn the city towards husbandry and to divert it from war, gave the precedence to January and advanced the god Janus to great honours, since Janus a was a statesman and a husbandman rather than a warrior. But consider whether Numa may not have adopted as the beginning of the year that which conforms to our conception of the natural beginning. Speaking generally, to be sure, there is not naturally either last or first in a cycle; and it is by custom that some adopt one beginning of this period and others another. They do best, however, who adopt the beginning
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after the winter solstice, when the sun has ceased to advance, and turns about and retraces his course toward us. For this beginning of the year is in a certain way natural to mankind, since it increases the amount of light that we receive and decreases the amount of darkness, and brings nearer to us the lord and leader of all mobile matter.
21:a p. 20 Cf. Pliny, Natural History, xxviii. 17 (60).
21:b p. 21 Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, xii. 16.
23:a p. 22 Cf. Jacoby, Frag. der griech. Hist. 250, Frag. 15.
25:a Cf. Moralia, 363 D; Aristotle, De Mundo, chap. vii. ad init. (401 a 15); Cornutus, chap. vi. (p. 7 ed. Lang); Macrobius, Saturnalia, i. S. 7.
27:a p. 26 The first reason above: The father should be honoured as a god.
27:b Cf. Cicero, De Legibus, ii. 22 (57).
27:c Cf. 278 E, infra; Comparison of Lycurgus and Numa, iii. (77 C); Comparison of Theseus and Romulus, vi. (39 B); Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, ii. 25. 7; Valerius Maximus, ii. 1. 4; Aulus Gellius, iv. 3. 2; xvii. 21. 44; Tertullian, Apol. vi., De Monogamia, ix.
27:d Cf. Valerius Maximus, vi. 3. 10.
27:e This is certainly not true of later times: cf. for example, Horace, Epodes, 2. 59.
29:a p. 28 Cf. Moralia, 210 E with the note (Vol. III. p. 257).
29:b Cf. Life of Numa, xvi. (70 F); Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, ii. 74. 2 ff.
29:c Cf. Life of Camillus, v. (131 B-C); Ovid, Fasti, vi. 551 ff. with Frazer's note.
29:d Ino is the Greek name for the Greek goddess Leucothea before her violent death and deification; Matuta is the supposed Roman equivalent of both Greek names.
29:e Cf. Moralia, 492 D.
31:a p. 30 Cf. Life of Sulla, chap. xxxv. (474 A); Life of Crassus, ii. (543 D), xii. (550 D).
31:b Probably an allusion to the Hippocratic maxim quoted in Moralia, 682 E, 1090 B, and often by Galen.
31:c Cf. Life of Numa, xviii., xix. (71 E ff.); Lucian, Pseudologista, 8; Varro, De Lingua Latina, vi. 33; Ovid, Fasti, iii. 99–166.
33:a Cf. 269 A, infra.