The Roman and Greek Questions, by Plutarch, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, , at sacred-texts.com
80. Why was it that when they gave a public banquet for men who had celebrated a triumph, they formally invited the consuls and then sent word to them requesting them not to come to the dinner? c
Was it because it was imperative that the place of honour at table and an escort home after dinner should be assigned to the man who had triumphed? But these honours can be given to no one else when the consuls are present, but only to them.
81. Why does not the tribune wear a garment with the purple border, d although the other magistrates wear it?
Is it because he is not a magistrate at all? For tribunes have no lictors, nor do they transact business
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seated on the curule chair, nor do they enter their office at the beginning of the year a as all the other magistrates do, nor do they cease from their functions when a dictator is chosen; but although he transfers every other office to himself, the tribunes alone remain, as not being officials but as holding some other position. Even as some advocates will not have it that a demurrer is a suit, but hold that its effect is the opposite of that of a suit; for a suit brings a case into court and obtains a judgement, while a demurrer takes it out of court and quashes it; in the same way they believe that the tribuneship is a check on officialdom and a position to offer opposition to magistracy rather than a magistracy. For its authority and power consist in blocking the power of a magistrate and in the abrogation of excessive authority.
Or one might expound these matters and others like them, if one were to indulge in the faculty of invention; but since the tribunate derives its origin from the people, the popular element in it is strong; and of much importance is the fact that the tribune does not pride himself above the rest of the people, but conforms in appearance, dress, and manner of life to ordinary citizens. Pomp and circumstance become the consul and the praetor; but the tribune, as Gaius Curio used to say, must allow himself to be trodden upon; he must not be proud of mien, nor difficult of access nor harsh to the multitude, but indefatigable on behalf of others and easy for the multitude to deal with. Wherefore it is the custom that not even the door of his house shall be closed, but it remains open both night and day as a haven of refuge for such as need it. The more humble he is
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in outward appearance, the more is he increased in power. They think it meet that he shall be available for the common need and be accessible to all, even as an altar; and by the honour paid to him they make his person holy, sacred, and inviolable. a Wherefore if anything happen to him when he walks abroad in public, it is even customary for him to cleanse and purify his body as if it had been polluted.
82. Why are the rods of the praetors carried in bundles with axes attached?
Is it because this is a symbolic indication that the temper of the official should not be too quick or unrestrained? Or does the deliberate unfastening of the rods, which creates delay and postponement of his fit of temper, oftentimes cause him to change his mind about the punishment? Now since some badness is curable, but other badness is past remedy, the rods correct that which may be amended and the axes cut off the incorrigible.
83. When the Romans learned that the people called Bletonesii, b a barbarian tribe, had sacrificed a man to the gods, why did they send for the tribal rulers with intent to punish them, but, when it was made plain that they had done thus in accordance with a certain custom, why did the Romans set them at liberty, but forbid the practice for the future? Yet they themselves, not many years before, had buried alive two men and two women, two of them Greeks, two Gauls, in the place called the Forum Boarium. It certainly
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seems strange that they themselves should do this, and yet rebuke barbarians on the ground that they were acting with impiety.
Did they think it impious to sacrifice men to the gods, but necessary to sacrifice them to the spirits? Or did they believe that men who did this by tradition and custom were sinning, whereas they themselves did it by command of the Sibylline books? For the tale is told that a certain maiden, Helvia, was struck by lightning while she was riding on horseback, and her horse was found lying stripped of its trappings; and she herself was naked, for her tunic had been pulled far up as if purposely; and her shoes, her rings, and her head-dress were scattered apart here and there, and her open mouth allowed the tongue to protrude. The soothsayers declared that it was a terrible disgrace for the Vestal Virgins, that it would be bruited far and wide, and that some wanton outrage would be found touching the knights also. Thereupon a barbarian slave of a certain knight gave information against three Vestal Virgins, Aemilia, Licinia, and Marcia, that they had all been corrupted at about the same time, and that they had long entertained lovers, one of whom was Vetutius Barrus, a the informer's master. The Vestals, accordingly, were convicted and punished; but, since the deed was plainly atrocious, it was resolved that the priests should consult the Sibylline books. They say that oracles were found foretelling that these events would come to pass for the bane of the Romans, and enjoining on them that, to avert the impending disaster, they should offer as a sacrifice to certain
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strange and alien spirits two Greeks and two Gauls, buried alive on the spot. a
84. Why do they reckon the beginning of the day from midnight? b
Is it because the Roman State was based originally on a military organization and most of the matters that are of use on campaigns are taken up beforehand at night? Or did they make sunrise the beginning of activity, and night the beginning of preparation? For men should be prepared when they act, and not be making their preparations during the action, as Myson, c who was fashioning a grain-fork in wintertime, is reported to have remarked to Chilon the Wise.
Or, just as noon is for most people the end of their transaction of public or serious business, even so did it seem good to make midnight the beginning? A weighty testimony to this is the fact that a Roman official does not make treaties or agreements after midday.
Or is it impossible to reckon the beginning and end of the day by sunset and sunrise? For if we follow the method by which most people formulate their definitions, by their perceptions, reckoning the first peep of the sun above the horizon as the beginning of day, and the cutting off of its last rays as the beginning of night, we shall have no equinox; but that night which we think is most nearly equal to the day will plainly be less than that day by the diameter of
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the sun. a But then again the remedy which the mathematicians apply to this anomaly, decreeing that the instant when the centre of the sun touches the horizon is the boundary between day and night, is a negation of plain fact; for the result will be that when there is still much light over the earth and the sun is shining upon us, we cannot admit that it is day, but must say that it is already night. Since, therefore, the beginning of day and night is difficult to determine at the time of the risings and settings of the sun because of the irrationalities which I have mentioned, there is left the zenith or the nadir of the sun to reckon as the beginning. The second is better; for from noon on the sun's course is away from us to its setting, but from midnight on its course is towards us to its rising.
85. Why in the early days did they not allow their wives to grind grain or to cook? b
Was it in memory of the treaty which they made with the Sabines? For when they had carried off the Sabines’ daughters, and later, after warring with the Sabines, had made peace, it was specified among the other articles of agreement that no Sabine woman should grind grain for a Roman or cook for him.
86. Why do men not marry during the month of May? c
Is it because this month comes between April and June, of which they regard April as sacred to Venus and June as sacred to Juno, both of them divinities of marriage; and so they put the wedding a little earlier or wait until later?
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Or is it because in this month they hold their most important ceremony of purification, in which they now throw images from the bridge into the river, a but in days of old they used to throw human beings? Wherefore it is the custom that the Flaminica, reputed to be consecrate to Juno, shall wear a stern face, and refrain from bathing and wearing ornaments at this time.
Or is it because many of the Latins make offerings to the departed in this month? And it is for this reason, perhaps, that they worship Mercury in this month and that the month derives its name from Maia. b
Or is May, as some relate, named after the older (maior) and June after the younger generation (iunior)? For youth is better fitted for marriage, as Euripides c also says:
[paragraph continues] They do not, therefore, marry in May, but wait for June which comes next after May.
87. Why do they part the hair of brides with the point of a spear? d
Does this symbolize the marriage of the first Roman wives e by violence with attendant war, or do the wives thus learn, now that they are mated to brave and warlike men, to welcome an unaffected, unfeminine, and simple mode of beautification? Even as Lycurgus, f by giving orders to make the
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doors and roofs of houses with the saw and the axe only, and to use absolutely no other tool, banished all over-refinement and extravagance.
Or does this procedure hint at the manner of their separation, that with steel alone can their marriage be dissolved?
Or is it that most of the marriage customs were connected with Juno? a Now the spear is commonly held to be sacred to Juno, and most of her statues represent her leaning on a spear, and the goddess herself is surnamed Quiritis; for the men of old used to call the spear curis; wherefore they further relate that Enyalius is called Quirinus by the Romans. b
88. Why do they call the money expended upon public spectacles Lucar?
Is it because round about the city there are, consecrated to gods, many groves which they call loci, and they used to spend the revenue from these on the public spectacles?
89. Why do they call the Quirinalia the Feast of Fools? c
Is it because, as Juba d states, they apportioned that day to men who did not know their own kith and kin? e Or was it granted to those who, because of some business, or absence from Rome, or ignorance, had not sacrificed with the rest of their tribe on the Fornacalia, that, on this day, they might take their due enjoyment of that festival?
121:c Cf. Valerius Maximus, ii. 8. 6.
121:d The toga praetexta.
123:a p. 122 They entered upon their office December 10th: Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, vi. 89. 2; Livy, xxxix. 52.
125:a Cf. Livy, iii. 55. 6–7; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, vi. 89. 2–3.
125:b Of Bletisa in Spain, according to Cichorius, Römische Studien (Berlin, 1922).
127:a Cf. Cicero, Brutus, 46 (169); Horace, Satires, i. 6. 30, if the emendation is right.
129:a Cf. Life of Marcellus, chap. iii. (299 D); Livy, xxii. 57.
129:b Cf. Pliny, Natural History, ii. 77 (188); Aulus Gellius, iii. 2; Macrobius, Saturnalia, i. 3.
129:c Similar foresight regarding a plough instead of a fork is reported by Diogenes Laertius, i. 106.
131:a p. 130 Long before Plutarch's day the Greeks had calculated the angle subtended by the sun with an accuracy that stood the test of centuries, and was not modified until comparatively p. 131 recent times. Cf. Archimedes, Arenarius, i. 10 (J. L. Heiberg's ed. ii. p. 248).
131:b Cf. Life of Romulus, chap. xv. (26 D), xix. (30 A).
131:c Cf. Ovid, Fasti, v. 489.
133:a p. 132 Cf. 272 B, supra.
133:b The mother of Mercury.
133:c From the Aeolus of Euripides; Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 369, Euripides, no. 23: cf. Moralia, 786 A, 1094 F.
133:d Cf. Life of Romulus, chap. xv. (26 E).
133:e The Sabine women.
133:f Cf. Moralia, 189 E, 227 C, 997 C; and the Life of Lycurgus, chap. xiii. (47 C); cf. also Comment. on Hesiod, 42 (Bernardakis, vol. vii. p. 72).
135:a p. 134 See Roscher, Lexikon der gr. and röm. Mythologie, ii. coll. 588–592.
135:b Cf. Life of Romulus, chap. xxix. (36 a); Dionysius of p. 135 Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, ii. 48; Ovid, Fasti, ii. 475 ff.
135:c Cf. Ovid, Fasti, ii. 513 ff.
135:d Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. iii. p. 470.