The Roman and Greek Questions, by Plutarch, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, , at sacred-texts.com
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50. Why did the priest of Jupiter (Flamen Dialis) resign his office if his wife died, as Ateius has recorded? a
Is it because the man who has taken a wife and then lost her is more unfortunate than one who has never taken a wife? For the house of the married man is complete, but the house of him who has married and later lost his wife is not only incomplete, but also crippled.
Or is it because the wife assists her husband in the rites, so that many of them cannot be performed without the wife's presence, and for a man who has lost his wife to marry again immediately is neither possible perhaps nor otherwise seemly? Wherefore it was formerly illegal for the flamen to divorce his wife; and it is still, as it seems, illegal, but in my day Domitian once permitted it on petition. The priests were present at that ceremony of divorce and performed many horrible, strange, and gloomy rites. b
One might be less surprised at this resignation of the flamen if one should adduce also the fact that when one of the censors died, the other was obliged to resign his office c; but when the censor Livius Drusus died, his colleague Aemilius Scaurus was unwilling to give up his office until certain tribunes ordered him to be led away to prison.
51. Why is a dog placed beside the Lares that men call by the special name of praestites, and why are the Lares themselves clad in dog-skins? d
Is it because "those that stand before" are termed
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praestites, and, also because it is fitting that those who stand before a house should be its guardians, terrifying to strangers, but gentle and mild to the inmates, even as a dog is?
Or is the truth rather, as some Romans affirm, that, just as the philosophic school of Chrysippus a think that evil spirits stalk about whom the gods use as executioners and avengers upon unholy and unjust men, even so the Lares are spirits of punishment like the Furies and supervisors of men's lives and houses? Wherefore they are clothed in the skins of dogs and have a dog as their attendant, in the belief that they are skilful in tracking down and following up evil-doers.
52. Why do they sacrifice a bitch to the goddess called Geneta Mana b and pray that none of the household shall become "good"?
Is it because Geneta is a spirit concerned with the generation and birth of beings that perish? Her name means some such thing as "flux and birth" or "flowing birth." c Accordingly, just as the Greeks sacrifice a bitch to Hecatê, d even so do the Romans offer the same sacrifice to Geneta on behalf of the members of their household. But Socrates e says that the Argives sacrifice a bitch to Eilioneia by reason of the ease with which the bitch brings forth its young. But does the import of the prayer, that none of them shall become "good," refer not to the human members of a household, but to the dogs? For dogs should be savage and terrifying.
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Or, because of the fact that the dead are gracefully called "the good," are they in veiled language asking in their prayer that none of their household may die? One should not be surprised at this; Aristotle a in fact, says that there is written in the treaty of the Arcadians with the Spartans: "No one shall be made good b for rendering aid to the Spartan party in Tegea"; that is, no one shall be put to death.
53. Why do they even now, at the celebration of the Capitoline games, proclaim "Sardians for sale!", c and why is an old man led forth in derision, wearing around his neck a child's amulet which they call a bulla d?
Is it because the Etruscans called Veians fought against Romulus for a long time, and he took this city last of all e and sold at auction many captives together with their king, taunting him for his stupidity and folly? But since the Etruscans were originally Lydians, and Sardis was the capital city of the Lydians, they offered the Veians for sale under this name; and even to this day they preserve the custom in sport.
54. Why do they call the meat-markets macella and macellae?
Is this word corrupted from mageiroi (cooks) and has it prevailed, as many others have, by force of habit? For c and g have a close relationship in
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[paragraph continues] Latin, and it was only after many years that they made use of g, which Spurius Carvilius a introduced. And l, again, is substituted lispingly for r when people make a slip in the pronunciation of r because of the indistinctness of their enunciation.
Or must this problem also be solved by history? For the story goes that there once lived in Rome a violent man, a robber, Macellus by name, who despoiled many people and was with great difficulty caught and punished; from his wealth the public meat-market was built, and it acquired its name from him.
55. Why is it that on the Ides of January the flute-players are allowed to walk about the city wearing the raiment of women b?
Is it for the reason commonly alleged? They used to enjoy, as it seems, great honours, which King Numa had given them by reason of his piety towards the gods. Because they were later deprived of these honours by the decemviri, who were invested with consular power, c they withdrew from the city. There was, accordingly, inquiry made for them, and a certain superstitious fear seized upon the priests when they sacrificed without flutes. But when the flute-players would not hearken to those sent to summon them to return, but remained in Tibur, a freedman secretly promised the officials to bring them back. On the pretext of having sacrificed to the gods, he prepared a sumptuous banquet and invited the flute-players. Women were present, as well as wine, and a party lasting all the night was being celebrated with merriment and dancing, when
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suddenly the freedman interrupted, saying that his patron was coming to see him, and, in his perturbation, he persuaded the flute-players to climb into wagons, which were screened round about with skins, to be conveyed back to Tibur. But this was a trick, for he turned the wagons around, and, without being detected, since the flute-players comprehended nothing because of the wine and the darkness, at dawn he had brought them all to Rome. Now the majority of them happened to be clad in raiment of feminine finery because of the nocturnal drinking-bout; when, therefore, they had been persuaded and reconciled by the officials, it became their custom on that day to strut through the city clad in this manner.
56. Why are the matrons supposed to have founded the temple of Carmenta originally, and why do they reverence it now above all others?
There is a certain tale repeated that the women were prevented by the senate from using horse-drawn vehicles a; they therefore made an agreement with one another not to conceive nor to bear children, and they kept their husbands at a distance, until the husbands changed their minds and made the concession to them. When children were born to them, they, as mothers of a fair and numerous progeny, founded the temple of Carmenta.
Some assert that Carmenta was the mother of Evander and that she came to Italy; that her name was Themis, or, as others say, Nicostratê; and that because she chanted oracles in verse, she was named Carmenta by the Latins, for they call verses carmina.
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But others think that Carmenta is a Fate, and that this is the reason why the matrons sacrifice to her. The true meaning of the name is "deprived of sense," a by reason of her divine transports. Wherefore Carmenta was not so named from carmina, but rather carmina from her, because, in her divine frenzy, she chanted oracles in verse and metre. b
57. Why do the women that sacrifice to Rumina pour milk over the offerings, but make no oblation of wine in the ceremony?
Is it because the Latins call the teat ruma, and assert that Ruminalis c acquired its name inasmuch as the she-wolf offered its teat to Romulus? Therefore, as we call wet-nurses thelonai from thele (teat), even so Rumina is she that gives suck, the nurse and nurturer of children; she does not, therefore, welcome pure wine, since it is harmful for babes.
58. Why did they use to address some of the senators as Conscript Fathers, others merely as Fathers? d
Is it because they used to call those senators originally assigned to that body by Romulus fathers and patricians, that is to say "well-born," since they could point out their fathers, e while they called those who were later enrolled from the commoners conscript fathers?
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59. Why did Hercules and the Muses have an altar in common?
Is it because Hercules taught Evander's people the use of letters, as Juba a has recorded? And this action was held to be noble on the part of men who taught their friends and relatives. It was a long time before they began to teach for pay, and the first to open an elementary school was Spurius Carvilius, b a freedman of the Carvilius c who was the first to divorce his wife.
83:a p. 82 Cf. Aulus Genius, x. 15.
83:b p. 83 Cf. Cambridge Ancient History, vol. vii. p. 422.
83:c Cf. Livy, v. 31. 6, 7; vi. 27. 4, 5; ix. 34.
83:d Cf. Ovid, Fasti, v. 129 ff.
85:a p. 84 Cf. Moralia, 361 s, 419 A, 1051 C.
85:b Cf. Pliny, Natural History, xxix. 4 (58).
85:c p. 85 An attempt to derive the name from genitus (-a, -um) and manare.
85:d Cf. 280 C, infra.
85:e Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. iv. p. 498.
87:a p. 86 Frag. 592 (ed. V. Rose); cf. Moralia, 292 B, infra.
87:b Cf. χρηστὲ χαῖρ on Greek tombstones.
87:c p. 87 So apparently Plutarch; but the Latin Sardi venales can mean nothing but "Sardinians for sale." Plutarch, or his authority, has confused Sardi with Sardiani (Sardians).
87:d Cf. Life of Romulus, xxv. (33 E).
87:e This is quite contrary to the traditional account (cf. for example, Livy, vi. 21–23), according to which Veii was not captured until 396 B.C.
89:a p. 88 Cf. 278 E, infra.
89:b Cf. Livy, ix. 30; Ovid, Fasti, vi. 653 ff.; Valerius Maximus, ii. 5. 4; see also Classical Weekly, 1921, p. 51.
89:c Consulari potestate.
91:a p. 90 Cf. Livy, v. 25. 9, and xxxiv. 1 and 8.
93:a That is, carens mente.
93:b Cf. Life of Romulus, xxi. (31 A); Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, i. 31; Strabo, v. 33, p. 230; Ovid, Fasti, i. 619 ff.
93:c Cf. 320 D, infra, and Life of Romulus, iv. (19 D); Ovid, Fasti, ii. 411 ff.
93:d Cf. Life of Romulus, xiii. (25 A).
93:e Cf. Livy, x. 8. 10.
95:a Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. iii. p. 470.
95:b Cf. 277 D, supra.
95:c Cf. the note on 267 C, supra.