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The Roman Questions. 90 99

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

p. 136 p. 137


Why is it that, when the sacrifice to Hercules takes place, they mention by name no other god, and why is a dog never seen within his enclosure, a as Vargo has recorded?

Do they make mention of no other god because they regard Hercules as a demigod? But, as some b relate, even while he was still on earth, Evander erected an altar to him and brought him sacrifice. And of all animals he contended most with a dog, for it is a fact that this beast always gave him much trouble, Cerberus, for instance. And, to crown all, when Oeonus, Licymnius's son, had been murdered by the sons of Hippocon c because of a dog, Hercules was compelled to engage in battle with them, and lost many of his friends and his brother Iphicles.

Why was it not permitted the patricians to dwell about the Capitoline?

Was it because Marcus Manlius, d while he was dwelling there, tried to make himself king? They say that because of him the house of Manlius was bound by an oath that none of them should ever bear the name of Marcus.

Or does this fear date from early times? At any rate, although Publicola e was a most democratic man, the nobles did not cease traducing him nor the commoners fearing him, until he himself razed his house, the situation of which was thought to be a threat to the Forum.

p. 138 p. 139

Why do they give a chaplet of oak leaves to the man who has saved the life of a citizen in time of war? a

Is it because it is easy to find an abundance of oak leaves everywhere on a campaign?

Or is it because the chaplet is sacred to Jupiter and Juno, whom they regard as guardians of the city?

Or is the custom an ancient inheritance from the Arcadians, who have a certain kinship with the oak? For they are thought to have been the first men sprung from the earth, even as the oak was the first plant.

Why do they make most use of vultures in augury?

Is it because twelve vultures appeared to Romulus at the time of the founding of Rome? Or is it because this is the least frequent and familiar of birds? For it is not easy to find a vulture's nest, but these birds suddenly swoop down from afar; wherefore the sight of them is portentous.

Or did they learn this also from Hercules? If Herodorus b tells the truth, Hercules delighted in the appearance of vultures beyond that of all other birds at the beginning of any undertaking, since he believed that the vulture was the most righteous of all flesh-eating creatures; for, in the first place, it touches no living thing, nor does it kill any animate creature, as do eagles and hawks and the birds that fly by night; but it lives upon that which has been killed in some other way. Then again, even of these

p. 140 p. 141

it leaves its own kind untouched; for no one has ever seen a vulture feeding on a bird, as eagles and hawks do, pursuing and striking their own kind particularly. And yet, as Aeschylus a says,

How can a bird that feeds on birds be pure?

[paragraph continues] And we may say that it is the most harmless of birds to men, since it neither destroys any fruit or plant nor injures any domesticated animal. But if, as the Egyptians fable, the whole species is female, and they conceive by receiving the breath of the East Wind, even as the trees do by receiving the West Wind, then it is credible that the signs from them are altogether unwavering and certain. But in the case of the other birds, their excitements in the mating season, as well as their abductions, retreats, and pursuits, have much that is disturbing and unsteady.

Why is the shrine of Aesculapius b outside the city?

Is it because they considered it more healthful to spend their time outside the city than within its walls? In fact the Greeks, as might be expected, have their shrines of Asclepius situated in places which are both clean and high.

Or is it because they believe that the god came at their summons from Epidaurus, and the Epidaurians have their shrine of Asclepius not in the city, but at some distance?

Or is it because the serpent came out from the trireme into the island, c and there disappeared, and thus they thought that the god himself was indicating to them the site for building?

p. 142 p. 143

Why is it the customary rule that those who are practising holy living must abstain from legumes? a

Did they, like the followers of Pythagoras, b religiously abstain from beans for the reasons which are commonly offered, c and from vetch and chickpea, because their names ("lathyros" and "erebinthos") suggest Leth and Erebus?

Or is it because they make particular use of legumes for funeral feasts and invocations of the dead?

Or is it rather because one must keep the body clean and light for purposes of holy living and lustration? Now legumes are a flatulent food and produce surplus matter that requires much purgation.

Or is it because the windy and flatulent quality of the food stimulates desire?

Why do they inflict no other punishment on those of the Holy Maidens d who have been seduced, but bury them alive? e

Is it because they cremate their dead, and to use fire in the burial of a woman who had not guarded the holy fire in purity was not right?

Or did they believe it to be against divine ordinance to annihilate a body that had been consecrated by the greatest of lustral ceremonies, or to lay hands upon a holy woman? Accordingly they devised that she should die of herself; they conducted her underground into a chamber built there, in which had been placed a lighted lamp, a loaf of bread,

p. 144 p. 145

and some milk and water. Thereafter they covered over the top of the chamber with earth. And yet not even by this manner of avoiding the guilt have they escaped their superstitious fear, but even to this day the priests proceed to this place and make offerings to the dead.

Why is it that after the chariot-race on the Ides of December a the right-hand trace-horse of the winning team is sacrificed to Mars, and then someone cuts off its tail, and carries it to the place called Regia and sprinkles its blood on the altar, while some come down from the street called the Via Sacra, and some from the Subura, and fight for its head?

Is it, as some b say, that they believe Troy to have been taken by means of a horse; and therefore they punish it, since, forsooth, they are

Noble scions of Trojans commingled with children of Latins. c

Or is it because the horse is a spirited, warlike, and martial beast, and they sacrifice to the gods creatures that are particularly pleasing and appropriate for them; and the winner is sacrificed because Mars is the specific divinity of victory and prowess?

Or is it rather because the work of the god demands standing firm, and men that hold their ground defeat those that do not hold it, but flee? And is swiftness punished as being the coward's resource, and do they learn symbolically that there is no safety for those who flee?

p. 146 p. 147

Why do the censors, when they take office, do nothing else before they contract for the food of the sacred geese a and the polishing of the statue? b

Is it that they begin with the most trivial things, matters that require little expense or trouble? Or is this a commemoration of an old debt of gratitude owed to these creatures for their services in the Gallic wars? c For when in the night the barbarians were already climbing over the rampart of the Capitol, the geese perceived the invaders, although the dogs were asleep, and waked the guards by their clamour.

Or is it because the censors are guardians of the most important matters, and, since it is their duty to oversee and to busy themselves with sacred and State affairs and with the lives, morals, and conduct of the people, they immediately take into account the most vigilant of creatures, and at the same time by their care of the geese they urge the citizens not to be careless or indifferent about sacred matters?

But the polishing d of the statue is absolutely necessary; for the red pigment, with which they used to tint ancient statues, rapidly loses its freshness.

Why is it that, if any one of the other priests is condemned and exiled, they depose him and elect another, but the augur, as long as he lives, even if they find him guilty of the worst offences, they do not

p. 148 p. 149

deprive of his priesthood? a They call "augurs" the men who are in charge of the omens.

Is it, as some say, because they wish no one who is not a priest to know the secrets of the holy rites?

Or, because the augur is bound by oaths to reveal the sacred matters to no one, are they unwilling to release him from his oath as would be the case if he had been reduced to private status?

Or is "augur" a name denoting, not a rank or office, but knowledge and skill? Then to prevent a soothsayer from being a soothsayer would be like voting that a musician shall not be a musician, nor a physician a physician; for they cannot deprive him of his ability, even if they take away his title. They naturally appoint no successor since they keep the original number of augurs.


:a p. 136 "Cf". Pliny, "Natural History", x. 29 (79).

:b Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities", i. 40. 2; Livy, i. 7. 12.

:c p. 137 "Cf". Apollodorus, ii. 7. 3 with Frazer's note (L.C.L. vol. i. p. 251).

:d "Cf". "Life of Camillus", chap. xxxvi. (148 D); Livy, vi. 20. 13-14.

:e "Cf". "Life of Publicola", chap. x. (102 C-d).

:a p. 138 "Cf". "Life of Coriolanus", chap. iii. (214 E-f); Pliny, "Natural History", xvi. 4 (11-14); Polybius, vi. 39. 6; Aulus Gellius, v. 6.

:b Mller, "Frag. Hist. Graec." ii. p. 31: "cf". "Life of" p. 139 "Romulus", ix. (23 A-b); Pliny, "Natural History", x. 6 (19); Aelian, "De Natura Animalium", ii. 46.

:a p. 140 "Suppliants", 226.

:b "Cf". Pliny, "Natural History", xxix. 1 (16); 4 (72); Livy, x. 47, "Epitome", xi.

:c "The Insula Tiberina".

:a p. 142 "Cf". Pliny, "Natural History", xviii. 12 (118-119); Aulus Gellius, x. 1.5. 12.

:b "Cf"., for example, Juvenal, xv. 9 "porrum et caepe nefas violare et frangere morsu"; Horace, "Satires", ii. 6. 63; "Epistles", i. 12. 21.

:c The numerous reasons suggested may be found in Pauly-Wissowa, "Real-Encyclopdie", vol. iii. coll. 619-620.

:d Plutarch elsewhere uses a similar expression ( p. 143 ) for the vestal virgins, "e.g." in his "Life of Publicola", chap. viii. (101 B) or "Moralia", 89 E.

:e "Cf". "Life of Numa", chap. x. (67 A-c); Ovid, "Fasti", vi. 457-460; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities", ii. 67. 4, viii. 89. 5; Pliny, "Epistles", iv. 11. 6.

:a Presumably an error of Plutarch's: he means the tenth month, October: "cf". Festus, "s.v. October equus", p. 178. 5.

:b Such as the historian Timaeus: "cf". Polybius xii. 4b.

:c A verse made in imitation of Homer, "Il". xviii. 337 (or xxiii. 23), blended with a part of x. 424.

:a p. 146 "Cf". Pliny, "Natural History", x. 22 (51).

:b The statue of Jupiter Capitolinus: Pliny, "Natural History", xxxiii. 7 (112).

:c p. 147 "Cf". 325 C-d, \"infra"; "Life of Camillus", xxvii. (142 D ff.); Livy, v. 47; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities", xiii. 7-8: Diodorus, xiv. 116.

:d The high polish of the Roman statues is very noticeable in contrast with the duller surface of Greek statues. This is one of the factors in the controversy over the genuineness of the Hermes of Praxiteles at Olympia.

149:a "Cf". Pliny, "Letters", iv. 8. 1.

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