The Spirit of Rome

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Chapter 9: The Holy Spirit in Romans

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T P Queally. Date Course. OR Class. Cult offerings to these Lares were much the same as those to domestic Lares; in the late Republican era, Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes the contribution of a honey-cake from each household as ancient tradition. Tradition required that the Lares Compitalicii be served by men of very low legal and social status, not merely plebeians, but freedmen and slaves, to whom "even the heavy-handed Cato recommended liberality during the festival".

While the supervision of the vici and their religious affairs may have been charged to the Roman elite who occupied most magistracies and priesthoods, [43] management of the day-to-day affairs and public amenities of neighbourhoods — including their religious festivals — was the responsibility of freedmen and their slave-assistants.

The Compitalia was an official festival but during the Republican era, its shrines appear to have been funded locally, probably by subscription among the plebeians, freedmen and slaves of the vici. Their support through private benefaction is nowhere attested, and official attitudes to the Republican Compitalia seem equivocal at best: The Compitalia games Ludi Compitalicii included popular theatrical religious performances of raucously subversive flavour: [44] Compitalia thus offered a religiously sanctioned outlet for free speech and populist subversion.

What happened — if anything — to the Compitalia festivals and games in the immediate aftermath of his public, ritualised murder by his opponents is not known but in 68 BC the games at least were suppressed as "disorderly". As princeps , Augustus reformed Compitalia and subdivided the vici. Statues representing the Genius Augusti were inserted between the Lares of the Compitalia shrines.

The iconography of these shrines celebrates their sponsor's personal qualities and achievements and evokes a real or re-invented continuity of practice from ancient times. Some examples are sophisticated, others crude and virtually rustic in style; taken as a whole, their positioning in every vicus ward of Rome symbolically extends the ideology of a "refounded" Rome to every part of the city.

Probably in response to this, provincial cults to the Lares Augusti appear soon afterwards; in Ostia, a Lares Augusti shrine was placed in the forum, which was ritually cleansed for the occasion. Augustus officially confirmed the plebeian-servile character of Compitalia as essential to his "restoration" of Roman tradition , and formalised their offices; the vici and their religious affairs were now the responsibility of official magistri vici , usually freedmen, assisted by ministri vici who were usually slaves.

Their inscribed names, and those of their owners, are contained within an oak-wreath cartouche. The oak-leaf chaplet was voted to Augustus as "saviour" of Rome; [53] He was symbolic pater father of the Roman state, and though his genius was owed cult by his extended family, its offer seems to have been entirely voluntary. Hardly any of the reformed Compital shrines show evidence of cult to the emperor's genius.

It repaid honour with honours, which for the plebs meant offices, priesthood, and the respect of their peers; [55] at least for some. In Petronius' Satyricon , a magistrate's lictor bangs on Trimalchio's door; it causes a fearful stir but in comes Habinnas, one of Augustus' new priests, a stonemason by trade; dressed up in his regalia, perfumed and completely drunk.

From the Late Republican and early Imperial eras, the priestly records of the Arval Brethren and the speculative commentaries of a very small number of literate Romans attest to a Mother of the Lares Mater Larum. The same name is used by later Roman authors with the general sense of a bogey or "evil spirit". Junius Brutus. Ovid supplies or elaborates an origin-myth for the Mater Larum as a once-loquacious nymph , Lara , whose tongue is cut out as punishment for her betrayal of Jupiter's secret amours. Lara thus becomes Muta the speechless one. Mercury leads her to the underworld abode of the dead ad Manes ; in this place of silence she is Dea Tacita the silent one.

En route, he impregnates her. She gives birth to twin boys as silent or speechless as she. In this context, the Lares can be understood as " manes of silence" taciti manes. Ovid's poetic myth appears to draw on remnants of ancient rites to the Mater Larum, surviving as folk-cult among women at the fringes of the Feralia : an old woman sews up a fish-head, smears it with pitch then pierces and roasts it to bind hostile tongues to silence: she thus invokes Dea Tacita.

If, as Ovid proposes, the lemures are an unsatiated, malevolent and wandering form of Lares, then they and their mother also find their way into Lemuralia , when the hungry Lemures gather in Roman houses and claim cult from the living. The paterfamilias must redeem himself and his family with the offer of midnight libations of spring-water, and black beans spat onto the floor. Any lemures dissatisfied with these offerings are scared away by the loud clashing of bronze pots.

Taylor notes the chthonic character of offerings made to fall — or deliberately expelled — towards the earth. If their mother's nature connects the Lares to the earth they are, according to Taylor, spirits of the departed. Plutarch offers a legend of Servius Tullius, sixth king of Rome, credited with the founding of the Lares' public festival, Compitalia. Servius' virginal slave mother-to-be is impregnated by a phallus-apparition arising from the hearth, [63] or some other divine being held to be a major deity or ancestor-hero by some, a Lar by others: the latter seems to have been a strong popular tradition.

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During the Augustan era, Dionysius of Halicarnassus reports Servius' fathering by a Lar and his pious founding of Compitalia as common knowledge, and the Lar as equivalent to the Greek hero ; semi-divine, ancestral and protective of place. These stories connect the Lar to the hearth, the underworld, generative powers however embodied , nourishment, forms of divine or semi-divine ancestry and the coupling of the divine with the servile, wherein those deprived by legal or birth-status of a personal gens could serve, and be served by, the cults attached to Compitalia and Larentalia. Mommsen's contention that Lares were originally field deities is not incompatible with their role as ancestors and guardians.

A rural familia relied on the productivity of their estate and its soil: around the early 2nd century BC, Plautus's Lar Familiaris protects the house, and familia as he has always done, and safeguards their secrets. The little mythography that belongs to the Lares seems inventive and poetic.

The Spirit of Roman Law

With no traditional, systematic theology to limit their development, Lares became a single but usefully nebulous type, with many functions.