Chapter 24.—Concerning the Surnames of Tellus and Their Significations, Which, Although They Indicate Many Properties, Ought Not to Have Established the Opinion that There is a Corresponding Number of Gods.
The one earth, then, on account of this fourfold virtue, ought to have had four surnames, but not to have been considered as four gods,—as Jupiter and Juno, though they have so many surnames, are for all that only single deities,—for by all these surnames it is signified that a manifold virtue belongs to one god or to one goddess; but the multitude of surnames does not imply a multitude of gods. But as sometimes even the vilest women themselves grow tired of those crowds which they have sought after under the impulse of wicked passion, so also the soul, become vile, and prostituted to impure spirits, sometimes begins to loathe to multiply to itself gods to whom to surrender itself to be polluted by them, as much as it once delighted in so doing. For Varro himself, as if ashamed of that crowd of gods, would make Tellus to be one goddess. “They say,” says he, “that whereas the one great mother has a tympanum, it is signified that she is the orb of the earth; whereas she has towers on her head, towns are signified; and whereas seats are fixed round about her, it is signified that whilst all things move, she moves not. And their having made the Galli to serve this goddess, signifies that they who are in need of seed ought to follow the earth for in it all seeds are found. By their throwing themselves down before her, it is taught,” he says, “that they who cultivate the earth should not sit idle, for there is always something for them to do. The sound of the cymbals signifies the noise made by the throwing of iron utensils, and by mens hands, and all other noises connected with agricultural operations; and these cymbals are of brass, because the ancients used brazen utensils in their agriculture before iron was discovered. They place beside the goddess an unbound and tame lion, to show that there is no kind of land so wild and so excessively barren as that it would be profitless to attempt to bring it in and cultivate it.” Then he adds that, because they gave many names and surnames to mother Tellus, it came to be thought that these signified many gods. “They think,” says he, “that Tellus is Ops, because the earth is improved by labor; Mother, because it brings forth much; Great, because it brings forth seed; Proserpine, because fruits creep forth from it; Vesta, because it is invested with herbs. And thus,” says he, “they not at all absurdly identify other goddesses with the earth.” If, then, it is one goddess (though, if the truth were consulted, it is not even that), why do they nevertheless separate it into many? Let there be many names of one goddess, and let there not be as many goddesses as there are names.
But the authority of the erring ancients weighs heavily on Varro, and compels him, after having expressed this opinion, to show signs of uneasiness; for he immediately adds, “With which things the opinion of the ancients, who thought that there were really many goddesses, does not conflict.” How does it not conflict, when it is entirely a different thing to say that one goddess has many names, and to say that there are many goddesses? But it is possible, he says, that the same thing may both be one, and yet have in it a plurality of things. I grant that there are many things in one man; are there therefore in him many men? In like manner, in one goddess there are many things; are there therefore also many goddesses? But let them divide, unite, multiply, reduplicate, and implicate as they like.
These are the famous mysteries of Tellus and the Great Mother, all of which are shown to have reference to mortal seeds and to agriculture. Do these things, then,—namely, the tympanum, the towers, the Galli, the tossing to and fro of limbs, the noise of cymbals, the images of lions,—do these things, having this reference and this end, promise eternal life? Do the mutilated Galli, then, serve this Great Mother in order to signify that they who are in need of seed should follow the earth, as though it were not rather the case that this very service caused them to want seed? For whether do they, by following this goddess, acquire seed, being in want of it, or, by following her, lose seed when they have it? Is this to interpret or to deprecate? Nor is it considered to what a degree malign demons have gained the upper hand, inasmuch as they have been able to exact such cruel rites without having dared to promise any great things in return for them. Had the earth not been a goddess, men would have, by laboring, laid p. 137 their hands on it in order to obtain seed through it, and would not have laid violent hands on themselves in order to lose seed on account of it. Had it not been a goddess, it would have become so fertile by the hands of others, that it would not have compelled a man to be rendered barren by his own hands; nor that in the festival of Liber an honorable matron put a wreath on the private parts of a man in the sight of the multitude, where perhaps her husband was standing by blushing and perspiring, if there is any shame left in men; and that in the celebration of marriages the newly-married bride was ordered to sit upon Priapus. These things are bad enough, but they are small and contemptible in comparison with that most cruel abomination, or most abominable cruelty, by which either set is so deluded that neither perishes of its wound. There the enchantment of fields is feared; here the amputation of members is not feared. There the modesty of the bride is outraged, but in such a manner as that neither her fruitfulness nor even her virginity is taken away; here a man is so mutilated that he is neither changed into a woman nor remains a man.