A special day (-agonia-, January 9) was also consecrated to Janus, the god of beginning. The real nature of some other days--that of Furrina (July 25), and that of the Larentalia devoted to Jupiter and Acca Larentia, perhaps a feast of the Lares (December 23)--is no longer known.

This table is complete for the immoveable public festivals; and--although by the side of these standing festal days there certainly occurred from the earliest times changeable and occasional festivals--this document, in what it says as well as in what it omits, opens up to us an insight into a primitive age otherwise almost wholly lost to us. The union of the Old Roman community and the Hill-Romans had indeed already taken place when this table of festivals was formed, for we find in it Quirinus alongside of Mars; but, when this festival-list was drawn up, the Capitoline temple was not yet in existence, for Juno and Minerva are absent; nor was the temple of Diana erected on the Aventine; nor was any notion of worship borrowed from the Greeks.

Mars And Jupiter

The central object not only of Roman but of Italian worship generally in that epoch when the Italian stock still dwelt by itself in the peninsula was, according to all indications, the god Maurs or Mars, the killing god,(3) preeminently regarded as the divine champion of the burgesses, hurling the spear, protecting the flock, and overthrowing the foe. Each community of course possessed its own Mars, and deemed him to be the strongest and holiest of all; and accordingly every "-ver sacrum-" setting out to found a new community marched under the protection of its own Mars. To Mars was dedicated the first month not only in the Roman calendar of the months, which in no other instance takes notice of the gods, but also probably in all the other Latin and Sabellian calendars: among the Roman proper names, which in like manner contain no allusion to any gods, Marcus, Mamercus, and Mamurius appear in prevailing use from very early times; with Mars and his sacred woodpecker was connected the oldest Italian prophecy; the wolf, the animal sacred to Mars, was the badge of the Roman burgesses, and such sacred national legends as the Roman imagination was able to produce referred exclusively to the god Mars and to his duplicate Quirinus. In the list of festivals certainly Father Diovis--a purer and more civil than military reflection of the character of the Roman community--occupies a larger space than Mars, just as the priest of Jupiter has precedence over the two priests of the god of war; but the latter still plays a very prominent part in the list, and it is even quite likely that, when this arrangement of festivals was established, Jovis stood by the side of Mars like Ahuramazda by the side of Mithra, and that the worship of the warlike Roman community still really centred at this time in the martial god of death and his March festival, while it was not the "care-destroyer" afterwards introduced by the Greeks, but Father Jovis himself, who was regarded as the god of the heart-gladdening wine.

Nature Of The Roman Gods

It is no part of our present task to consider the Roman deities in detail; but it is important, even in an historical point of view, to call attention to the peculiar character at once of shallowness and of fervour that marked the Roman faith. Abstraction and personification lay at the root of the Roman as well as of the Hellenic mythology: the Hellenic as well as the Roman god was originally suggested by some natural phenomenon or some mental conception, and to the Roman just as to the Greek every divinity appeared a person. This is evident from their apprehending the individual gods as male or female; from their style of appeal to an unknown deity,--"Be thou god or goddess, man or woman;" and from the deeply cherished belief that the name of the proper tutelary spirit of the community ought to remain for ever unpronounced, lest an enemy should come to learn it and calling the god by his name should entice him beyond the bounds. A remnant of this strongly sensuous mode of apprehension clung to Mars in particular, the oldest and most national form of divinity in Italy. But while abstraction, which lies at the foundation of every religion, elsewhere endeavoured to rise to wider and more enlarged conceptions and to penetrate ever more deeply into the essence of things, the forms of the Roman faith remained at, or sank to, a singularly low level of conception and of insight. While in the case of the Greek every influential motive speedily expanded into a group of forms and gathered around it a circle of legends and ideas, in the case of the Roman the fundamental thought remained stationary in its original naked rigidity. The religion of Rome had nothing of its own presenting even a remote resemblance to the religion of Apollo investing earthly morality with a halo of glory, to the divine intoxication of Dionysus, or to the Chthonian and mystical worships with their profound and hidden meanings. It had indeed its "bad god" (-Ve-diovis-), its apparitions and ghosts (-lemures-), and afterwards its deities of foul air, of fever, of diseases, perhaps even of theft (-laverna-); but it was unable to excite that mysterious awe after which the human heart has always a longing, or thoroughly to embody the incomprehensible and even the malignant elements in nature and in man, which must not be wanting in religion if it would reflect man as a whole. In the religion of Rome there was hardly anything secret except possibly the names of the gods of the city, the Penates; the real character, moreover, even of these gods was manifest to every one.

The national Roman theology sought on all hands to form distinct conceptions of important phenomena and qualities, to express them in its terminology, and to classify them systematically--in the first instance, according to that division of persons and things which also formed the basis of private law--that it might thus be able in due fashion to invoke the gods individually or by classes, and to point out (-indigitare-) to the multitude the modes of appropriate invocation.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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