It was not the province of the individual burgess, or even of the wholly powerless priest, to carry into effect such a divine curse. Primarily the person thus accursed became liable to the divine penal judgment, not to human caprice; and the pious popular faith, on which that curse was based, must have had power even over natures frivolous and wicked. But the banning was not confined to this; the king was in reality entitled and bound to carry the ban into execution, and, after the fact, on which the law set its curse, had been according to his conscientious conviction established, to slay the person under ban, as it were, as a victim offered up to the injured deity (-supplicium-), and thus to purify the community from the crime of the individual. If the crime was of a minor nature, for the slaying of the guilty there was substituted a ransom through the presenting of a sacrificial victim or of similar gifts. Thus the whole criminal law rested as to its ultimate basis on the religious idea of expiation.

But religion performed no higher service in Latium than the furtherance of civil order and morality by such means as these. In this field Hellas had an unspeakable advantage over Latium; it owed to its religion not merely its whole intellectual development, but also its national union, so far as such an union was attained at all; the oracles and festivals of the gods, Delphi and Olympia, and the Muses, daughters of faith, were the centres round which revolved all that was great in Hellenic life and all in it that was the common heritage of the nation. And yet even here Latium had, as compared with Hellas, its own advantages. The Latin religion, reduced as it was to the level of ordinary perception, was completely intelligible to every one and accessible in common to all; and therefore the Roman community preserved the equality of its citizens, while Hellas, where religion rose to the level of the highest thought, had from the earliest times to endure all the blessing and curse of an aristocracy of intellect. The Latin religion like every other had its origin in the effort of faith to fathom the infinite; it is only to a superficial view, which is deceived as to the depth of the stream because it is clear, that its transparent spirit-world can appear to be shallow. This fervid faith disappeared with the progress of time as necessarily as the dew of morning disappears before the rising sun, and thus the Latin religion came subsequently to wither; but the Latins preserved their simplicity of belief longer than most peoples and longer especially than the Greeks. As colours are effects of light and at the same time dim it, so art and science are not merely the creations but also the destroyers of faith; and, much as this process at once of development and of destruction is swayed by necessity, by the same law of nature certain results have been reserved to the epoch of early simplicity--results which subsequent epochs make vain endeavours to attain. The mighty intellectual development of the Hellenes, which created their religious and literary unity (ever imperfect as that unity was), was the very thing that made it impossible for them to attain to a genuine political union; they sacrificed thereby the simplicity, the flexibility, the self-devotion, the power of amalgamation, which constitute the conditions of any such union. It is time therefore to desist from that childish view of history which believes that it can commend the Greeks only at the expense of the Romans, or the Romans only at the expense of the Greeks; and, as we allow the oak to hold its own beside the rose, so should we abstain from praising or censuring the two noblest organizations which antiquity has produced, and comprehend the truth that their distinctive excellences have a necessary connection with their respective defects. The deepest and ultimate reason of the diversity between the two nations lay beyond doubt in the fact that Latium did not, and that Hellas did, during the season of growth come into contact with the East. No people on earth was great enough by its own efforts to create either the marvel of Hellenic or at a later period the marvel of Christian culture; history has produced these most brilliant results only where the ideas of Aramaic religion have sunk into an Indo-Germanic soil. But if for this reason Hellas is the prototype of purely human, Latium is not less for all time the prototype of national, development; and it is the duty of us their successors to honour both and to learn from both.

Foreign Worships

Such was the nature and such the influence of the Roman religion in its pure, unhampered, and thoroughly national development. Its national character was not infringed by the fact that, from the earliest times, modes and systems of worship were introduced from abroad; no more than the bestowal of the rights of citizenship on individual foreigners denationalized the Roman state. An exchange of gods as well as of goods with the Latins in older time must have been a matter of course; the transplantation to Rome of gods and worships belonging to less cognate races is more remarkable. Of the distinctive Sabine worship maintained by the Tities we have already spoken.(14) Whether any conceptions of the gods were borrowed from Etruria is more doubtful: for the Lases, the older designation of the genii (from -lascivus-), and Minerva the goddess of memory (-mens-, -menervare-), which it is customary to describe as originally Etruscan, were on the contrary, judging from philological grounds, indigenous to Latium. It is at any rate certain, and in keeping with all that we otherwise know of Roman intercourse that the Greek worship received earlier and more extensive attention in Rome than any other of foreign origin. The Greek oracles furnished the earliest occasion of its introduction. The language of the Roman gods was on the whole confined to Yea and Nay or at the most to the making their will known by the method of casting lots, which appears in its origin Italian;(15) while from very ancient times--although not apparently until the impulse was received from the East--the more talkative gods of the Greeks imparted actual utterances of prophecy.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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