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The Roman Questions. 60 69

"The Roman and Greek Questions", by Plutarch, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, [1936],


Why, when there are two altars of Hercules, do women receive no share nor taste of the sacrifices offered on the larger altar?

Is it because the friends of Carmenta came late for the rites, as did also the clan of the Pinarii? Wherefore, as they were excluded from the banquet while the rest were feasting, they acquired the name "Pinarii" (Starvelings). d Or is it because of the fable of Deianeira and the shirt? e

Why is it forbidden to mention or to inquire after or to call by name that deity, whether it be male or female, whose especial province it is to preserve and watch over Rome? f This prohibition they connect with a superstition and relate that Valerius Swamis came to an evil end because he revealed the name.

Is it because, as certain Roman writers have

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recorded, there are certain evocations and enchantments affecting the gods, by which the Romans also believed that certain gods had been called forth a from their enemies, and had come to dwell among themselves, and they were afraid of having this same thing done to them by others? Accordingly, as the Tyrians b are said to have put chains upon their images, and certain other peoples are said to demand sureties when they send forth their images for bathing or for some other rite of purification, so the Romans believed that not to mention and not to know the name of a god was the safest and surest way of shielding him.

Or as Homer c has written,

Earth is yet common to all,

so that mankind should reverence and honour all the gods, since they possess the earth in common, even so did the Romans of early times conceal the identity of the god who was the guardian of their safety, since they desired that not only this god, but all the gods should be honoured by the citizens?

Why, among those called "Fetiales", or, as we should say in Greek, peace-makers or treaty-bringers, was he who was called "pater patratus" considered the chief? The "pater patratus" d is a man whose father is still alive and who has children; even now he possesses a certain preferment and confidence, for the praetors entrust to him any wards whose beauty and youth require a careful and discreet guardianship.

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Is it because there attaches to these men respect for their children and reverence for their fathers? Or does the name suggest the reason? For "patratus" means, as it were, "completed" or "perfected," since he to whose lot it has fallen to become a father while he still has a father is more perfect than other men.

Or should the man who presides over oaths and treaties of peace be, in the words of Homer, a one "looking before and after"? Such a man above all others would be he that has a son to plan for and a father to plan with.

Why is the so-called "rex sacrorum", that is to say "king of the sacred rites," forbidden to hold office or to address the people? b

Is it because in early times the kings performed the greater part of the most important rites, and themselves offered the sacrifices with the assistance of the priests? But when they did not practise moderation, but were arrogant and oppressive, most of the Greek states took away their authority, and left to them only the offering of sacrifice to the gods; but the Romans expelled their kings altogether, and to offer the sacrifices they appointed another, whom they did not allow to hold office or to address the people, so that in their sacred rites only they might seem to be subject to a king, and to tolerate a kingship only on the gods' account. c At any rate, there is a sacrifice traditionally performed in the forum at the place called Comitium, and, when the "rex" has performed this, he flees from the forum as fast as he can. d

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Why did they not allow the table to be taken away empty, but insisted that something should be upon it? a

Was it that they were symbolizing the necessity of ever allowing some part of the present provision to remain over for the future, and to-day to be mindful of to-morrow, or did they think it polite to repress and restrain the appetite while the means of enjoyment was still at hand? For persons who have accustomed themselves to refrain from what they have are less likely to crave for what they have not.

Or does the custom also show a kindly feeling towards the servants? For they are not so well satisfied with taking as with partaking, since they believe that they thus in some manner share the table with their masters. b

Or should no sacred thing be suffered to be empty, and the table is a sacred thing?

Why does the husband approach his bride for the first time, not with a light, but in darkness?

Is it because he has a feeling of modest respect, since he regards her as not his own before his union with her? Or is he accustoming himself to approach even his own wife with modesty?

Or, as Solon c has given directions that the bride shall nibble a quince before entering the bridal chamber, in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant, even so did the Roman legislator, if there was anything abnormal or disagreeable connected with the body, keep it concealed?

Or is this that is done a manner of casting infamy

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upon unlawful amours, since even lawful love has a certain opprobrium connected with it?

Why is one of the hippodromes called Flaminian?

Is it because a certain Flaminius a long ago bestowed some land upon the city and they used the revenues for the horse-races; and, as there was money still remaining, they made a road, and this they also called Flaminian? b

Why do they call the rod-bearers "lictors"? c

Is it because these officers used both to bind unruly persons and also to follow in the train of Romulus with straps in their bosoms? Most Romans use "alligare" for the verb "to bind," but purists, when they converse, say "ligare". d

Or is the "c" but a recent insertion, and were they formerly called "litores", that is, a class of public servants? The fact that even to this day the word "public" is expressed by "leitos" in many of the Greek laws has escaped the attention of hardly anyone.

Why do the Luperci sacrifice a dog? e The Luperci are men who race through the city on the Lupercalia, lightly clad in loin-cloths, striking those whom they meet with a strip of leather.

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Is it because this performance constitutes a rite of purification of the city? In fact they call this month February, and indeed this very day, "februata"; and to strike with a kind of leather thong they call "februare", the word meaning "to purify." Nearly all the Greeks used a dog as the sacrificial victim for ceremonies of purification; and some, at least, make use of it even to this day. They bring forth for Hecat a puppies along with the other materials for purification, and rub round about with puppies b such persons as are in need of cleansing, and this kind of purification they call "periskylakismos" ("puppifrication").

Or is it that "lupus" means "wolf" and the Lupercalia is the Wolf Festival, and that the dog is hostile to the wolf, and for this reason is sacrificed at the Wolf Festival?

Or is it that the dogs bark at the Luperci and annoy them as they race about in the city?

Or is it that the sacrifice is made to Pan, and a dog is something dear to Pan because of his herds of goats?

Why on the festival called Septimontium c were they careful to refrain from the use of horse-drawn vehicles; and why even to this day are those who do not contemn ancient customs still careful about this? The festival Septimontium they observe in commemoration of the addition to the city of the seventh hill, by which Rome was made a city of seven hills.

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Is it, as some of the Roman writers conceive, because the city had not yet been completely joined together in all its parts?

Or has this "nothing to do with Dionysus" a? But did they imagine, when their great task of consolidation had been accomplished, that the city had now ceased from further extension; and they rested themselves, and gave respite to the pack-animals, which had helped them in their labours, and afforded the animals an opportunity to enjoy the general festival with no work to do?

Or did they wish that the presence of the citizens should adorn and honour every festival always, and, above all, that one which was held in commemoration of the consolidation of the city? Wherefore in order that they might not leave the City, in whose honour the festival was being held, it was not permitted to make use of vehicles on that day.


:d An attempt to derive the word from Greek , "be hungry": see further Livy, i. 7; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities", i. 40.

:e p. 95 The shirt anointed with the blood of Nessus which Deianeira supposed to be a love charm. She sent the shirt to Heracles and thereby brought about his death; hence Heracles may be supposed to hate all women; see Sophocles, "Trachiniae", or Ovid, "Heroides", ix.

95:f "Cf". Macrobius, "Saturnalia", iii. 9. 3; Pliny, "Natural History", xxviii. 4 (18).

:a p. 96 "Cf"., for example, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities", xiii. 3; Livy, v. 21 (the "evocatio" of Juno from Veii); Macrobius, "Saturnalia", iii. 9. 7 and 14-16.

:b p. 97 "Cf". Diodorus, xvii. 41. 8; Quintus Curtius, iv. 3. 21.

:c "Il". xv. 193.

:d Plutarch here mistakenly explains "patrimus" instead of "patratus": contrast Livy, i. 24. 6; Tacitus, "Hist". iv. 53.

:a p. 98 "Il". i. 343, "Od". xxiv. 452; "cf". Shakespeare, "Hamlet", iv. iv. 37; Shelley, "Ode to a Skylark" (18th stanza).

:b p. 99 "Cf". Livy, ii. 2. 1-2; ix. 34. 12; xl. 42.

:c "Ibid". iii. 39. 4.

:d The "Regifugium": "cf". Ovid, "Fasti", ii. 68.5 ff.: see the "Cambridge Ancient History", vol. vii. p. 408.

:a p. 100 "Cf". "Moralia", 702 D ff.

:b "Cf". Horace, "Satires", ii. 6. 66-67.

:c p. 101 "Cf". "Moralia", 138 D; "Life of Solon", chap. xx. (89 C).

:a p. 102 The consul defeated at Trasimene. The circus was built circa 221 B.c.; \"cf". Varro, "De Lingua Latina", v. 154.

:b The Via Flaminia ran from the Pons Mulvius up the p. 103 Tiber Valley to Narnia in Umbria; later it was extended over the Apennines to the Port of Ariminum.

:c "Cf". "Life of Romulus," chap. xxvi. (34 A); Aulus Gellius, xii. 3.

:d "Cf". Festus, "s.v. lictores"; Valgius Rufus, frag. 1 ("Gram. Rom. Frag." i. p. 484).

:e "Cf". 290 n, "infra"; "Life of Romulus," chap. xxi. (31 B ff.); "Life of Numa", chap. xix. (72 E); \"Life of Caesar", chap. lxi. (736 D); \"Life of Antony", chap. xii. (921 B-c); Varro, "De Lingua Latina", vi. 13; scholium on Theocritus, ii. 12.

:a p. 104 "Cf". 277 a, "supra", and 290 n, "infra".

:b That the puppies were later sacrificed we may infer from the practice elsewhere and on other occasions.

:c p. 105 On this festival see J. B. Carter, "American Journal of Archaeology" (2nd Series), xii. pp. 172 ff.; H. Last in the "Cambridge Ancient History", vol. vii. pp. 355 ff.

:a "Nothing to do with the case": "cf". "Moralia", 615 A, and Lucian, "Dionysus", 5, with Harmon's note (L.C.L. vol. i. p. 55); see also "Moralia" 388 E and 612 E.
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