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Fabriquer du divin

Nicole Belayche
Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge

The Role of Priests in Constructing the Divine in Ancient Rome1

Jörg Rüpke

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  • 1 Research on this article has been supported by the 7th Framework Programme of the EU under contract (...)
  • 1 Rüpke (2010) with further literature.

1The many axes of research of FIGVRA have been developed from questioning any easy notion of “representation”. Right from the start, we have been aware of the fact that the notion of “representation” is too simple, as it presupposes or at least powerfully suggests the existence, an ontological prior of what is – in a second step, so to speak – “represented”. At the same time the notion is far too complex, as it works with so many different emic and etic theories of signification, that is, semantics, that it tends to cover rather than uncover the many differences in indigenous practices and theories. Statues for example are certainly one of the most widespread and effectives strategies of visualizing the divine, but to speak of “representation” could easily ignore that against the widespread modes of talking about “the divine” or “the gods” in an unspecified plural, to produce statues is probably the primary strategy to create differentiated gods at all, paralleled only by the designation of specific sites, with or without architecture. Thus “construction” has been a central term in the description of our project ; I have tried to substitute “representation” by the concept of “picturing” for the employment of statues within a talk at the Collège de France.1

2Given the alterity of the gods, which is of prior importance for the gods to be gods in difference to just powerful humans, we have employed the notion of “control” to denote the fact that strategies of domestication need, by necessity, a correlate in stressing the otherness, the wildness of the gods. “Control” of the gods in that sense is always a task to never be achieved, but into which much energy is employed.

3I do stress these general reflexions, as I will fall back on “representation” as an easy starting point to a phenomenon the importance of which I have claimed in earlier papers, but never tackled. Thus, in one of my earlier progress reports on FIGVRA I claimed that “strategies of representation by priests, by their clothing, behaviour, by their norms, could, as John Scheid has demonstrated for the vestals and the Flamen Dialis, form important elements in the configuration of the respective gods”. From that claim I have developed the title of my paper and my starting point.

  • 2 For Roman priests in general see SZEMLER (1972) ; Scheid (1984), see also Schied (2001) ; Porte (19 (...)
  • 3 Van Haeperen (2005), quoting Scheid (2001), p. 61.

4The most recent encyclopaedic treatment of Roman priests2 is quite straightforward:3

Les flamines représentent le dieu dont ils portent, chacun, le nom […]. On peut les considérer comme « incarnation d’une fonction divine ». Les quinze flamines sont ordonnés selon une hiérarchie correspondant à celle de leurs dieux (Fest. 144 L. ; 198 L).

  • 4 Plut. q.R. 111, trans. by Frank Cole Babbitt, Plutarch’s Moralia 4 (Loeb Classical Library), New Ha (...)

5This interpretation goes back to Plutarch, to whom the author refers in the following. The statement is part of the Roman question no. 111, one of a series of questions (109-113) at the very end of the treatise, dealing with the Flamen Dialis and the many restrictions he or his surroundings are subjected to:4

Why did they bid the priest avoid the dog and the goat, neither touching them nor naming them ?
Did they loathe the goat’s lasciviousness and foul odour, or did they fear its susceptibility to disease ? For it is thought to be subject to epilepsy beyond all other animals, and to infect persons who eat it or touch it when it is possessed of the disease. The reason, they say, is the narrowness of the air passages, which are often suddenly contracted ; this they deduce from the thinness of its voice. So also in the case of men, if they chance to speak during an epileptic fit, the sound they make is very like a bleat.
The dog has, perhaps, less of lasciviousness and foul odour. Some, however, assert that a dog may not enter either the Athenian acropolis nor the island of Delos because of its open mating, as if cattle and swine and horses mated within the walls of a chamber and not openly and without restraint ! For these persons are ignorant of the true reason : because the dog is a belligerent creature they exclude it from inviolable and holy shrines, thereby offering a safe place of refuge for suppliants. Accordingly it is likely that the priest of Jupiter also, since he is, as it were, the animate embodiment and sacred image of the god, should be left free as a refuge for petitioners and suppliants, with no one to hinder them or to frighten them away. For this reason his couch was placed in the vestibule of his house, and anyone who fell at his knees had immunity from beating or chastisement all that day ; and if any prisoner succeeded in reaching the priest, he was set free, and his chains they threw outside, not by the doors, but over the roof. So it would have been of no avail for him to render himself so gentle and humane, if a dog had stood before him frightening and keeping away those who had need of a place of refuge.
Nor, in fact, did the men of old think that this animal was wholly pure, for it was never sacrificed to any of the Olympian gods ; and when it is sent to the cross-roads as a supper for the earth-goddess Hecatê, it has its due portion among sacrifices that avert and expiate evil. In Sparta they immolate puppies to the bloodiest of the gods, Enyalius ; and in Boeotia the ceremony of public purification is to pass between the parts of a dog which has been cut in twain. The Romans themselves, in the month of purification, at the Wolf Festival, which they call the Lupercalia, sacrifice a dog. Hence it is not out of keeping that those who have attained to the office of serving the highest and purest god should be forbidden to make a dog their familiar companion and housemate.”

  • 5 Vanggaard (1988) ; Simón (1996).
  • 6 Scheid (2001). Cf. Scheid (1986) for the original development of the hypothesis.

6I do not intend to repeat the many behavioural norms and ritual prescriptions that must be quoted to fully sketch the exceptional position of the Flamen Dialis or Flamines in general – sometimes the latter generalization is explicit in the sources, sometimes it could be hypothesized, sometimes it seems to be excluded. Two monographs of the late 1980s and mid 1990s have adduced every bit of source relevant to the Flamen Dialis.5 It was, however, John Scheid, who systematized and generalized Plutarch’s interpretation most clearly and who formed the basis for van Haeperen’s interpretation:6

À considérer l’ensemble des fonctions sacerdotales romaines, il nous semble pouvoir déceler en gros deux types de prêtres : d’un côté ceux qu’on peut appeler, à la suite de Plutarque, les ‘prêtres-statues’, incarnation du dieu, du principe d’une fonction divine, de l’autre les maîtres des sacra, exerçant leur maîtrise sur le double domaine des rites et de la légitimité.

  • 7 Scheid (2003).
  • 8 Rüpke (2005).

7The “god’s ‘double’”, as the Flamen is called elsewhere,7 is marked out in a way that would leave no doubt of his special status for any observer. In a recent article I have called attention to the fact that many other priests were hardly discernible as such to even close observers. Wearing the toga praetexta did not make any difference to magistrates taking part in the same ceremony. As John Scheid has shown in the same book, in many instances, priestly and other offices shared many characteristics. Being called sacerdotes like the highly visible flamines, shed a generic light on these office-holders that did not imply all the burdens to be carried by the prototype.8 All the more it is important to clarify the status of those conceptually interacting in such a manner and to further the research of FIGVRA by inquiring into the concept of “representation” applicable here.

The status of the Flamen Dialis in Latin sources

  • 9 E.g. from Varro ling. 5.83-86 down to Ps. Aur. Vict. vir. ill. 3.1 (on Numa’s foundation of priesth (...)

8I shall now and later come back to the fundamental source. Do we find any reflection of Plutarch’s interpretation in Latin sources ? The classical collection of the norms regarding the Flamen Dialis is the treatment by Gellius in his “Attic Nights” (10.15). Here I do not find the slightest indication of any special ontological status — “incarnation” — or any specific semiotic relationship to Iuppiter, that is “representation”. The wording of the interdictions — religio est, nefas, ius non est — is of an astonishing variety ; it betrays different sources or the problem to precisely indicate the legal or religious status of the norms to do or not to do anything. In a multitude of sources, the Flamen Dialis is addressed like any other priest as sacerdos. Without any special attention given to him, he is included in a number of general treatments of sacerdotes and lists of their different types or colleges.9 If there is any specific characteristic, it is his duty to stay at Rome. Livy calls him adsiduus sacerdos in the narrative of Numa’s founding of priesthoods (1.20.2) ; later on some incidences related to conflicts arising from this duty form part of his narrative (e.g. 39.45.4). Whether correctly or not, he is told to share characteristics invoked for his special quality in modern research with other priests. Gellius claims that his “being taken” to the office (capi) also applies to pontiffs and augurs (1.12.15-16) ; according to Arnobius he shares a special relationship with Iuppiter as the Curio and Pontifex maximus (1.51, 7.43). His being cottidie feriatus, in a permanent state of holidays, holds true for every other flamen, thus cannot be related to Iuppiter (Fest. 292.3-7 L) ; his cultic duties could be replaced by a pontiff according to Tacitus (Ann. 3.58 f.).

9If there is a special ontological or semiotic status to him, one would expect this to be made explicit or a matter for a pun when the incidence of the Flamen Dialis L. Cornelius Merula inside the temple of Iuppiter is related. But there is no indication in the narratives. Valerius Maximus (7.12.5) points to the fact that from Iuppiter’s point of view, Merula was “his priest” (sacerdotisque sui). The same incidence is related by Velleius Paterculus (2.22.2) and – certainly taken from Valerius – Florus (3.21.16) without any further dramatization.

  • 10 See e.g. Gai. Inst. 3.114 and Ulp. 10.5 on him being excepted from patria potestas.
  • 11 Simón (1996).

10To sum up. With the very exception of Plutarch, the image of the Flamen Dialis in ancient sources is one of a priest, who in some aspects is more intensively bound to ritual service than others, in spatial as well as temporal terms. We have to wait for the Carolingian writer Paulus Diaconus to see the flamineum, a piece of red cloth of the flaminica, as being explained by reference to the colour of Iuppiter’s lightnings (Paul. Fest. 82.6-7 L). If there is any other implicit stress, it is on being free from other bindings in a legal as well as literal sense.10 Here, I would follow the cautious summary of Francisco Marco Simón.11

The status of Sacerdotes in general

11These findings invite to broaden the inquiry. What is the status of sacerdotes as conceptualized in Latin sources ? I will start with a short review of republican authors before I turn to the first book of Valerius Maximus, which offers the unique possibility of seeing into the thinking of an educated public well below the ranks of priests and those aspiring to public priesthoods in the early Principate.

  • 12 CIL 6.1288 : Qui apice insigne Dial<is fl>aminis gesistei. See also AE (1987), 163 with Rüpke (2008 (...)
  • 13 E.g. Hor. carm. 1.34.14 f. ; see Rüpke (2010).

12Relevant Latin sources are scarce before the first century BC. The sacerdos of Plautus’ Rudens should not be violated (646, 655, 671), but is bare of any other characteristic. In the earliest epigraphic attestation, the honour of “bearing the flamen’s apex”, his special head dress, is stressed.12 This is surprisingly close to the speeches composed by Livy for the arguments about the admission of plebeians to the consulate and the Xviri sacris faciundis in 367 BC (6.41.9). It is the loss of this hairdress which causes or metaphorically signifies the loss of the priesthood in incidences from the end of the third century BC in Augustan authors.13

  • 14 Varro, ling., 5.83-86, trans. by Roland G. Kent, Varro, On Latin Language, Loeb Classical Libary, C (...)

13In Varro’s etymological treatment of priests in his “On Latin Language”, priests in general are defined by their ritual activities:14

Sacerdotes universi a sacris dicti. pontufices, ut [a] Scaevola Quintus pontufex maximus dicebat, a posse et facere, ut po[n]tifices. ego a ponte arbitror : nam ab his sublicius est factus primum ut restituts saepe, cum ideo sacra et uls et cis Tiberim non mediocri ritu fiant. (84) curiones dicti a curiis, qui fiunt ut in his sacra faciant. flamines, quod in Latio capite velato erant semper ac caput cinctum haebant filo, filamines dicti. horum singuli cognomina habent ab eo deo cui sacra faciunt; sed partim sunt aperta, partim obscura : aperta ut Martialis, Volcanalis; obscura Dialis et Furinalis, cum Dialis ab Iove sit (Diovis enim), Furinalis a Furrina, cuius etiam in fastis feriae Furinales sunt. sic flamen Faleacer a divo patre Falacre. (85) Salii ab salitando, quod facere in comitiis in sacris quotannis et solent et debent. Luperci, quod Lupercalibus in lupercali sacra faciunt. fratres arbales dicti qui sacra publica faciunt propterea ut fruges ferant arba : a ferendo et arvis fratres arvales dicti. sunt qui a fratria dixerunt. fratria est graecum vocabulum partis hominum, ut Neapoli etiam nunc. sodales Titii dicti… quas in auguriis certis observare solent. (86) fetiales, quod fidei publicae inter populos praeerant : nam per hos fiebat ut iustum conciperetur bellum et +inde desitum, ut foedere fides pacis constitueretur. ex his mittebantur, ante quam conciperetur, qui res repeterent, et per hos etiam nunc fit foedus, quod fidus Ennius scribit dictum.

(83). The priests collectively were named from the sacred rites. The pontiffs, Quintus Scaevola the Pontifex Maximus said, were named from “to be able“and ”to do”, as though potentifices. For my part I think that the name comes from “bridge” ; for by them the Bridge-on-Piles was made in the first place, and it was likewise repeatedly repaired by them, since in that connexion rites are performed on both sides of the Tiber with no small ceremony. The curiones were named from the curiae ; they are created for conducting sacred rites in the curiae.
(84) The “flamens”, because in Latium they always kept their heads covered and had their hair girt with a woollen “band”, were originally called filamines. Individually they have distinguishing epithets from that god whose rites they perform ; but some are obvious, others obscure : obvious, like Martialis and Volcanalis ; obscure are Dialis and Furinalis, since Dialis is from Jove, for he is called also Diovis, and Furinalis from Furrina, who even has a Furinal Festival in the calendar. So also the Flamen Falacer from the divine father Falacer.
(85) The Salii were named from salitare, “to dance”, because they had the custom and the duty of dancing yearly in the assembly-places, in their ceremonies. The Luperci were so named because they make offerings in the Lupercal at the festival of the Lupercalia. “Arval Brothers” was the name given to those who perform public rites to the end that the ploughlands may bear fruits : from ferre (to bear) and arva (ploughlands) they are called Fratres Arvales. But some have said that they were named from fratria (brotherhood) : fratria is the Greek name of a part of the people, as at Naples even now. The Titian Comrades are so named from the twittering birds which they are accustomed to watch in some of their augural observations.
(86) The herald-priests, because they were in charge of the state’s word of honour in matters between peoples ; for by them it was brought about that a war that was declared should be a just war, and by them the war was stopped, that by a treaty that “honesty” of the peace might be established. Some of them were sent before war should be declared, to demand restitution of the stolen property, and by them even now is made the “treaty” which Ennius writes was pronounced fidus.

  • 15 Varro, ant. rer. div. fr. 51 Cardauns : Is solum album habet galerum, vel quod maximus, vel quod Io (...)

14Again, it is the head-dress that offers a possibility of an etymology for the flamines ; the sequence and the wording do not point to any further categorizing of the priests. In the Antiquitates rerum divinarum, it is the first triad (books 2-4) which is dealing with the priesthoods as “humans”, following the structure men – places – times – things (now : sacra) of the Antiquitates rerum humanarum proceeding (fr. 4 Cardauns). One of the few fragments of these books, and one explicitly related to book 2, addresses the Flamen Dialis as member of the pontifical college.15

  • 16 Rüpke (2005).

15In Varro’s Antiquitates, however, we can detect a trait, which is very prominent in a contemporary writer, too. The priests are responsible for public cult, but they do not only have to administer it. They are also responsible for knowledge about it (fr. 9 Cardauns). Both, knowledge and ritual, form the third type of theology, the theologia civilis:16

Tertium genus est … quod in urbibus cives, maxime sacerdotes, nosse atque administrare debent. In quo est, quos deos publice † sacra ac sacrificia colere et facere quemque par sit.

  • 17 Varro ant. rer. div. fr. 2, see Rüpke (2012), p. 174 f.

16In the beginning of the same, the first book, Varro compares himself to a famous priest, Caecilius Metellus, who had rescued the sacred objects from the burning sanctuary of Vesta. The component of knowledge, the preservation of knowledge is even more valuable than mere ritual continuity.17

  • 18 Rüpke (2011), p. 44-47. Cicero was probably inspired by the systematics of magistrates developed in (...)

17The contemporary, I have referred to, is Cicero. In his attempt at a systematical ruling on religion in the second book of his On the laws, probably written a few years earlier than Varro’s Antiquities, knowledge is paramount and most peculiar to the sacerdotes publici. It is here, where his norms and commentary aim at completedness, it is here where he tries to define the intersection of public and the vast area of private cult and tries to establish control of the later. Only if the sacerdotes publici know all about the private cults entertained they could be helpful resources for private people in religious matters.18 The figure of Attus Navius in his “On Divination” is a prototype of that, projected into earliest times (1.32).

Priests in Valerius Maximus19

  • 19 The following arguments are taken from Rüpke (2015, forthcoming).
  • 20 Skidmore (1996) ; Lucarelli (2007).
  • 21 Krasser (2005).

18Writing under the emperor Tiberius, in a huge effort Valerius Maximus collected “memorable deeds and sayings” by sifting through a large amount of late republican and Augustan literature. Aiming at moral improvement,20 by the examples of earlier virtuous people history offered a powerful resource for contemporary society. The careful arrangements in topical books and chapters, in Roman and foreign examples reflects the spread of historical argumentation beyond aristocrats who had full control over what their maiores had done or would not have done.21

19Surely, the exemplary behavior is that of those persons, but there is a shift in authority. In the very first sentence Valerius stresses that those interested in first hand documents (documenta sumere uolentibus) are spared the trouble of any long research (1, pr.). Foreign examples are referred to a second place in every class of examples, but urbis Romae exterarumque gentium facta simul ac dicta memoratu digna, as the whole work starts, are both documented as a series of domesticae peregrinaeque historiae, as a treasure of “a history made at home and immigrated”, as one might render the phrase shortly following afterwards (1, pr.). For the empire of the early principate, only universal history (omnis aeui gesta) could be adequate. It is such a historical work which is dedicated to him with whom hominum deorumque consensus maris ac terrae regimen, the “consensus of men and gods and the ruling of sea and land” lies, to Caesar (1, pr.), to Tiberius.

  • 22 Val. Max. 1, pr., end : Et quoniam initium a cultu deorum petere in animo est, de condicitone eius (...)
  • 23 Val. Max. 1.1.1, trans. Henry John Walker, Indianopolis, Hackett, 2004.

20Religion plays an important role for Valerius’ enterprise, “the condition of the cult of the gods”, as one could rearrange the introductory, title-giving sentence of the author,22 is the topic of the first volume. Keeping up with the spatial orientation, the opening passage is much about space. Religion, for Valerius, is not confined to the city of Rome or ager Romanus, it is universal:23

Maiores statas sollemnesque caerimonias pontificum scientia, bene gerendarum rerum auctoritates augurum obseruatione, Apollinis praedictiones uatum libris, portentorum depulsi<one>s Etrusca disciplina explicari uoluerunt. prisco etiam instituto rebus diuinis opera datur, cum aliquid conmendandum est, precatione, cum exposcendum, uoto, cum soluendum, gratulatione, cum inquirendum uel extis uel sortibus, inpetrito, cum sollemni ritu peragendum, sacrificio, quo etiam ostentorum ac fulgurum denuntiationes procurantur.
Tantum autem studium antiquis non solum seruandae sed etiam amplificandae religionis fuit, ut florentissima tum et opulentissima ciuitate decem principum filii senatus consulto singulis Etruriae populis percipiendae sacrorum disciplinae gratia traderentur, Cererique, quam more Graeco uenerari instituerant, sacerdotem a Velia, cum id oppidum nondum ciuitatem accepisset, nomine Calliphanam peterent [uel, ut alii dicunt, Calliphoenam], ne deae uetustis ritibus perita deesset antistes.
Cuius cum in urbe pulcherrimum templum haberent, Gracchano tumultu moniti Sibyllinis libris ut uetustissimam Cererem placarent, Hennam, quoniam sacra eius inde orta credebant, X uiros ad eam propitiandam miserunt. item Matri deum saepe numero imperatores nostri conpotes uictoriarum suscepta uota Pessinuntem profecti soluerunt.

Our ancestors organized the regular annual festivals by means of the traditional science of the pontiffs ; they guaranteed success in public affairs through the observations of the augurs ; they interpreted the predictions of Apollo from the books of the seers ; and they averted evil portents by the rites of the Etruscans. It has been our ancient custom to resort to religious rites such as prayer when we want to entrust some matter to the gods ; a religious vow when we have to request something ; a formal thanksgiving when we have to repay the gods ; a search for favorable signs, either from animal organs or from lots, when the future has to be ascertained ; and sacrifice when we want to perform a solemn rite. We also use sacrifice to avert evil when portents are reported or places are struck by lightning.
Our ancestors were very eager not just to preserve religious observance but even to expand it, so when the state was already very powerful and prosperous, the Senate voted to send ten sons from their foremost families to the various peoples of Etruria, so that the young men might learn the Etruscan science of ritual.
Our ancestors had from the very beginning worshiped Ceres in the Greek manner, so in choosing a priestess of Ceres, they brought Calliphana in from Velia, even though that city had not yet obtained the right of Roman citizenship. They wanted the goddess to have a priestess trained in her ancient rituals.
Our ancestors had a very beautiful temple for this goddess in the city, but when, during the Gracchan troubles, they were warned by the Sibylline Books to placate most ancient Ceres, they sent the committee of ten to propitiate her at Henna, since they believed that this place was the origin of her cult.
Our generals likewise often went all the way to Pessinus after gaining a victory so as to fulfill their religious vows to the Mother of the Gods.

21With regard to the status of priests, another observation is more important. There is a stress on knowledge. Pontificum scientia, “the knowledge of the pontiffs”, the keen “empirical attentiveness of the augurs” (augurum obseruatione), the “books of the prophets” (uatum libris), and finally the “Etruscan science” (Etrusca disciplina) set the tone. Despite a traditionalist orientation visible in many phrases, innovation is built into the system. It was always an ancient habit, not only to preserve, but to enlarge religion. Innovation is driven by knowledge. The priests care for it.

22If this is the message, it is driven home by the following examples. The very next example teaches that caerimoniis Martis is more important than Martio certamini, cultic duties to Mars at home are more important than Martial competition on the battlefield (1.1.2). It is the pontifex maximus — a role at Valerius’ time held by Caesar, as we have to remind ourselves —, who is in charge of these priorities, even against a fellow-priest.

23It is, however, not the person of the priest, but the role of knowledge, which is of paramount importance. To drive home that message again is the task of the next example, frequently quoted for its factual content only (1.1.3) : by reading books about public cult, Tiberius Gracchus detected a ritual mistake that was made in an act, for which he was responsible ; in an exemplary manner he did not only read, but wrote to the college of augurs, the deliberations of which resulted in a report to the senate who ordered the consuls to come back from the provinces in order to abdicate.

24Another famous incident is related after (1.1.8). The effort to parallel and further the expansion of the empire by religious activities has to be checked by the even laudable attention to religious details. This is achieved by the college of the pontiffs, even in conflict with somebody, who was consul for the fifth time, successful in the field and pious. Neither the huge prestige of the man nor the additional costs hindered the realization of the college’s “admonition”. Marcellus, victor at Clastidium and Syracuse, built two cellae in his temple to Honour and Virtue.

  • 24 Cf. Rosenberger (2003).

25Such knowledge is effective knowledge only when controlled. The famous story of the sarcophagus of Numa, which was found in the early second century, is related by Valerius in the peculiar form that the seven Latin books on pontifical law were carefully preserved, the seven Greek books on philosophy burnt, as they might induce people to stop their cultic efforts (1.1.12).24 The example immediately following gives even more profile to the management of knowledge : it needs not only preservation, but unduly proliferation, too, has to be curbed.

  • 25 Cf. the standard handbooks on Roman religion : Wissowa (1912) ; Bayet (1957) ; Latte (1960) ; Schei (...)

26Valerius presents a selection and construes his image of religion by his very choices. Self-critically and horrified, I have to admit that Valerius’ selection is the fundament for many accounts of Roman republican religion. It is an account of religious ruling taking precedence against anything else, an account of public priests being in the very centre of religion by virtue of total control of knowledge, and it is an account lacking chronological indications : there is change, but it is change in quantity and territorial expansion, not in quality. Modern historiography of religion has rather neglected the existence of the first and rather accepted the suppression of the second.25 With regard to our topic and the dimension of change this volume is interested in, we are not entitled in repeating this.

  • 26 See Rüpke (2011) and Rüpke (2012) on processes of rationalization in late republican religion ; cf. (...)

27Valerius’ knowledgable priests are the priests of Ciceronian times, but they are not the priests of the period before the second, maybe late-second century.26 Ritual care, surely a trait much older than Cicero and one still very important in Valerius Maximus, has been radicalized by the introduction of the concept of knowledge.

Status instead of knowledge

  • 27 Cf. Varro, ant. rer. div. fr. 3 : pro ingenti beneficio… iactat praestare se civibus suis, quia non (...)

28In the very beginning of my paper I have stressed the fact that “representation” is a good starting point rather than a precise concept for an ending. I have rejected the notion of some Roman priests “representing” their respective deities, three flamines maiores, or fifteen flamines or more, including the Vestal virgins, for instance. This does not include that Roman priests were not important in the construction of the divine. From the point of view of observers in the very late republican and early imperial period the complexities of the divine were a matter of knowledge. And knowledge was the basis to successfully tap the religious resources offered by the divine in the shape of numerous propitious deities. The gods are present as agents about one could know something. They continue to be present in the form of narratives, but they could be multiplied, be pinned down, given better shape by “knowing” about them.27 In contrast to mere mythological narrative the new forms of knowledge could assimilate different types of discourses and integrate distributed knowledge about gods. Varro’s three types of theology offered one possibility to organize such knowledge. More generally put, even very graspable forms of representation, ritual for instance or images, could form rallying points for the production or elaboration of knowledge.

29Priestly discourse shaped this knowledge, communication with the general populace, in particular with magistrates, popularized it and made it available to religious agents who in principle did not need the help of priests as “mediators” for successful ritual communication with the divine. It is this image encoded in our extant sources, which has shaped our image of the religion of the period.

  • 28 Mémoire perdue (1998).

30Yet there is another complication. The producers of the image, Cicero, Varro, Valerius Maximus (and one might add an Ovid or Verrius Flaccus or Cincius), were not priests or, in the case of Cicero not yet or only very, very recently priests by the time of their writings. Whence, then, the authority ? Their own construction of religious knowledge was legitimized by reference to a supposed body of priestly knowledge, encoded in books that are not only unknown by us, but hardly known by their contemporaries, too. The bookish religion of republican Rome is an invention by some ancient authors of books — and happily accepted by many modern, too, as an earlier table ronde at Rome on the mémoire perdue has made clear and has criticized.28

31My conclusion still falls short of an explanation of Plutarch’s interpretation. Does he indicate a next step in a history of interpretations, earlier parts of which I had try reconstruct ? In order to understand Plutarch, we have to return to Valerius Maximus. An important part of his construction of religion of his time has been neglected so far. The last but one sentence of his introduction is :

Reliquos enim deos accepimus, Caesares dedimus.

  • 29 See more recently among others : Liertz (1998) ; Clauss (1999) ; North (2000) ; Gradel (2002) ; Can (...)
  • 30 Mueller (2002).

32The emperor is a new, and very dynamic figure in Roman religion.29 A recent study by Hans-Friedrich Mueller has demonstrated the central position of the emperor in Valerius’ framework.30 For now, the only important point is that the emperor was the foremost example of the presence of the divine in all its power and glory. It is against this backdrop that we have to read the passage in Plutarch anew. The whole passage of the living statue is framed by the question, why the dog should not be in the Flamen’s presence. The answer is clear : the Flamen cannot effectively serve as an asylum, if a terrifying dog prevents anybody from approaching. The image of the living statue is restricted to this context. Plutarch is paralleling the function of the Flamen with a statue or altar in a temple. I suppose that he is thinking of imperial temples in particular. It is Caesar’s statue which is offering the opposite end of the comparison, a deified Caesar perhaps, but not necessarily. Plutarch’s interpretation is neither a survival of republican thinking nor a new development in imperial theology on the status of the Flamen Dialis. It is, as I would like to claim at the end of my paper, an ad hoc comparison, imaginable in a Greek’s experience of religion in the imperial age only. If this is disappointing for the notion of representation, it should not be so for the relevance of the priests in a religion that is not any longer a mere “Roman religion”.


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1 Rüpke (2010) with further literature.

2 For Roman priests in general see SZEMLER (1972) ; Scheid (1984), see also Schied (2001) ; Porte (1989) ; Beard – North (1990) ; Rüpke (2005) ; Richardson – Santangelo (2011) ; for Greece see most recently DIGNAS – Trampedach (2008) ; HOrster (2012).

3 Van Haeperen (2005), quoting Scheid (2001), p. 61.

4 Plut. q.R. 111, trans. by Frank Cole Babbitt, Plutarch’s Moralia 4 (Loeb Classical Library), New Haven, 1936, p. 163-167 ; my emphasis.

5 Vanggaard (1988) ; Simón (1996).

6 Scheid (2001). Cf. Scheid (1986) for the original development of the hypothesis.

7 Scheid (2003).

8 Rüpke (2005).

9 E.g. from Varro ling. 5.83-86 down to Ps. Aur. Vict. vir. ill. 3.1 (on Numa’s foundation of priesthoods).

10 See e.g. Gai. Inst. 3.114 and Ulp. 10.5 on him being excepted from patria potestas.

11 Simón (1996).

12 CIL 6.1288 : Qui apice insigne Dial<is fl>aminis gesistei. See also AE (1987), 163 with Rüpke (2008), n° 2129.

13 E.g. Hor. carm. 1.34.14 f. ; see Rüpke (2010).

14 Varro, ling., 5.83-86, trans. by Roland G. Kent, Varro, On Latin Language, Loeb Classical Libary, Cambridge, Mass., 1938.

15 Varro, ant. rer. div. fr. 51 Cardauns : Is solum album habet galerum, vel quod maximus, vel quod Iovi immolata hostia alba id fieri oporteat.

16 Rüpke (2005).

17 Varro ant. rer. div. fr. 2, see Rüpke (2012), p. 174 f.

18 Rüpke (2011), p. 44-47. Cicero was probably inspired by the systematics of magistrates developed in book 3 (ibid., p. 33-37).

19 The following arguments are taken from Rüpke (2015, forthcoming).

20 Skidmore (1996) ; Lucarelli (2007).

21 Krasser (2005).

22 Val. Max. 1, pr., end : Et quoniam initium a cultu deorum petere in animo est, de condicitone eius summatim disseram.

23 Val. Max. 1.1.1, trans. Henry John Walker, Indianopolis, Hackett, 2004.

24 Cf. Rosenberger (2003).

25 Cf. the standard handbooks on Roman religion : Wissowa (1912) ; Bayet (1957) ; Latte (1960) ; Scheid (1998) ; Beard et al. (1998) ; Rüpke (2007).

26 See Rüpke (2011) and Rüpke (2012) on processes of rationalization in late republican religion ; cf. Beard et al. (1998), p. 108-113.

27 Cf. Varro, ant. rer. div. fr. 3 : pro ingenti beneficio… iactat praestare se civibus suis, quia non solum commemorate deos, quos coli oporteat a Romanis, verum etiam dicit, quid ad quemque pertineat.

28 Mémoire perdue (1998).

29 See more recently among others : Liertz (1998) ; Clauss (1999) ; North (2000) ; Gradel (2002) ; Cancik – Hitzl (2003) ; Hekster et al. (2009) and many works analysing provincial cult.

30 Mueller (2002).

Notes de fin

1 Research on this article has been supported by the 7th Framework Programme of the EU under contract no. 295555, “Lived Ancient Religion”.

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