CHAPTER V. WORSHIP OF THE HOUSEHOLD
Dead, Family, Genius, Spirits, Deities, Religious
1. The Deities.—The worship of the household seems to have originated, as has been suggested, in the sense of the sacredness of certain objects closely bound up with the family life—the door, the protection against the external world, by which the household went out to work in the morning and returned at evening, the hearth, the giver of warmth and nourishment, and the store-cupboard, where was preserved the food for future use. At first, in all probability, the worship was actually of the objects themselves, but by the time that Rome can be said to have existed at all, 'animism' had undoubtedly transformed it into a veneration of the indwelling spirits, Ianus, Vesta, and the Penates.
Of the domestic worship of Ianus no information has come down to us, but we may well suppose that as the defence of the door and its main use lay with the men of the household, so they, under the control of the pater familias, were responsible for the cult of its spirit. Vesta was, of course, worshipped at the hearth by the women, who most often used it in the preparation of the domestic meals. In the original round hut, such as the primitive Roman dwelt in—witness the models which he buried with his dead and which recent excavations in the Forum have brought to light—the 'blazing hearth' (such seems to be the meaning of Vesta) would be the most conspicuously sacred thing; it is therefore not surprising to find that her simple cult was the most persistent of all throughout the history of Rome, and did not vary from its original notion. Even Ovid can tell the inquirer 'think not Vesta to be ought else than living flame,' and again, 'Vesta and fire require no effigy'—notions in which he has come curiously near to the conceptions of the earliest religion. The Penates in the same way were at first 'the spirits'—whoever they might be—who preserved and increased the store in the cupboard. Then as the conception of individual deities became clearer, they were identified with some one or other of the gods of the country or the state, among whom the individual householder would select those who should be the particular Penates of his family: Ceres, Iuno, Iuppiter, Pales would be some of those chosen in the earlier period. Nor are we to suppose that selection was merely arbitrary: the tradition of family and clan, even possibly of locality, would determine the choice, much as the patron-saints of a church are now determined in a Roman Catholic country.
Two other deities are very prominent in the worship of the early household, and each is a characteristic product of Roman religious feeling, the Lar Familiaris and the Genius. The Lares seem to have been in origin the spirits of the family fields: they were worshipped, as Cicero tells us, 'on the farm in sight of the house,' and they had their annual festival in the Compitalia, celebrated at the compita—places where two or more properties marched. But one of these spirits, the Lar Familiaris, had special charge of the house and household, and as such was worshipped with the other domestic gods at the hearth. As his protection extended over all the household, including the slaves, his cult is placed specially in the charge of the bailiff's wife (vilica). He is regularly worshipped at the great divisions of the month on Calends, Nones, and Ides, but he has also an intimate and beautiful connection with the domestic history of the family. An offering is made to the Lar on the occasion of a birth, a wedding, a departure, or a return, and even—a characteristically Roman addition—on the occasion of the first utterance of a word by a son of the house: finally, a particularly solemn sacrifice is made to him after a death in the family.
The Genius is perhaps the most difficult conception in the Roman religion for the modern mind to grasp. It has been spoken of as the 'patron-saint' or 'guardian-angel,' both of them conceptions akin to that of the Genius, but both far too definite and anthropomorphic: we shall understand it best by keeping the 'numen' notion clearly in mind and looking to the root-meaning of the word (genius connected with the root of gignere, to beget). It was after all only a natural development of the notions of 'animism' to imagine that man too, like other objects, had his indwelling spirit—not his 'soul' either in our sense of moral and intellectual powers, or in the ancient sense of the vital principle—but rather as the derivation suggests, in origin simply the spirit which gave him the power of generation. Hence in the house, the sphere of the Genius is no longer the hearth but the marriage-bed (lectus genialis). This notion growing somewhat wider, the Genius comes to denote all the full powers, almost the personality, of developed manhood, and especially those powers which make for pleasure and happiness: this is the origin of such common phrases as genium curare, genio indulgere, meaning practically to 'look after oneself,' 'to indulge oneself.' Every man, then, has this 'spirit of his manhood' in his Genius, and correspondingly every woman her Iuno, or spirit of womanhood, which are worshipped on the birthdays of their owners. No doubt later the Genius was accredited with powers over the fortune and misfortune of his possessor, but he never really developed anything like the independence of a god, and remained always rather a numen. The individual revered his own Genius, but the household cult was concerned, as one would expect, with the Genius of the master of the house, the pre-eminent Genius of the family. Its special locality was, for the reason just noticed, the marriage-bed and its symbol, the house-snake, kept as a revered inmate and cherished in the feeling that evil happening to it meant misfortune to the master. The festival of the Genius was naturally the master's birthday, and on that day slaves and freedmen kept holiday with the family and brought offerings to the Genius domus. It is a significant fact, and may serve to bring out the underlying notion, that in later paintings, when anthropomorphism and sensuous representation held sway over all Roman religion, though the other gods of the household were depicted after the manner of Greek deities, the Genius is either represented by his symbolic snake or appears with the human features and characteristics of the head of the house, his owner.
The spirit-gods then of the door and the hearth, the specially chosen deities of the store-cupboard, the particular field-power presiding over the household, and the spirit of the master's personality were the gods of the early home, and round their worship centred the domestic religion. We must attempt to see what was its relation to family life.
2. Religion and the Family Life.—We have already noticed the main occasions of regular sacrifice to the deities of the household, the offerings to the Lar on Calends, Nones, and Ides, to the Genius on the master's birthday, and so on, and we are enabled to form a fair picture of the rites from paintings which, although of later date, undoubtedly represent the continuous tradition of domestic custom. In a wall-painting at Herculaneum, for instance, we have a picture of the pater familias, represented with veiled head (according to regular Roman custom) and the cornucopia of the Genius, making sacrifice at a round altar or hearth. Opposite him stands the flute-player (tibicen) playing to drown any unpropitious sound, while on either side are two smaller figures, presumably the sons, acting as attendants (camilli), and both clad (succincti) in the short sacrificial tunic (limus); one carries in his left hand the sacred dish (patera), and in his right garlands or, more probably, ribbons for the decoration of the victim: the other is acting as victimarius and bringing the pig for sacrifice, but the animal is hurrying with almost excessive eagerness towards the altar, no doubt to show that there is none of the reluctance which would have been sufficient to vitiate the sacrifice.
But from our point of view such formal acts of worship are of less importance than the part played by religion in the daily life of the household. There is evidence both for earlier and later periods that the really 'pious' would begin their day with prayer and sacrifice to the household gods, and like Virgil's Aeneas, typically pius in all the meanings of the word, would 'rouse the slumbering flame upon the altar and gladly approach again the Lar and little Penates whom he worshipped yesterday.' But this was perhaps exceptional devotion, and the daily worship in the normal household centred rather round the family meal. In the old and simple house the table would be placed at the side of the hearth, and, as the household sat round it, master and man together, a part of the meal, set aside on a special sacred dish (patella), would be thrown into the flames as the gods' portion. Sometimes incense might be added, and later a libation of wine: when images had become common, the little statuettes of Lares and Penates would be fetched from the shrine (lararium) and placed upon the table in token of their presence at the meal. Even in the luxurious, many-roomed house of the imperial epoch, when the dining-table was far from the kitchen-hearth, a pause was made in the meal and an offering sent out to the household-gods, nor would the banquet proceed until the slave had returned and announced that the gods were favourable (deos propitios): so persistent was this tradition of domestic piety. Prayer might be made at this point on special occasions to special deities, as, for instance, before the beginning of the sowing of the crops, appeal was made to Iuppiter, and a special portion of the meal (daps) was set aside for him. The sanctification of the one occasion when the whole household met in the day cannot fail to have had its effect on the domestic life, and, even if it was no direct incentive to morality, it yet bound the family together in a sense of dependence on a higher power for the supply of their daily needs.
We observed incidentally how the small events of domestic life were given their religious significance, particularly in connection with the worship of Lar and Genius, but to complete the sketch of domestic religion, we must examine a little more closely its relation to the process of life, and especially to the two important occasions of birth and marriage. In no department of life is the specialisation of function among the numina more conspicuous than in connection with birth and childhood. Apart from the general protection of Iuno Lucina, the prominent divinity of childbirth, we can count in the records that have come down to us some twenty subordinate spirits, who from the moment of conception to the moment of birth watched, each in its own particular sphere, over the mother and the unborn child. As soon as the birth had taken place began a series of ceremonies, which are of particular interest, as they seem to belong to a very early stage of religious thought, and have a markedly rustic character. Immediately a sacred meal was offered to the two field-deities, Picumnus and Pilumnus, and then the Roman turned his attention to the practical danger of fever for the mother and child. At night three men gathered round the threshold, one armed with an axe, another with a stake, and a third with a broom: the two first struck the threshold with their implements, the third swept out the floor. Over this ceremony were said to preside three numina, Intercidona (connected with the axe), Pilumnus (connected with the stake, pilum), and Deverra (connected with the act of sweeping). Its object was, as Varro explains it, to avert the entrance of the half-wild Silvanus by giving three unmistakeable signs of human civilisation; we shall probably not be wrong in seeing in it rather an actual hacking, beating, and sweeping away of evil spirits. On the ninth day after birth, in the case of a boy, on the eighth in the case of a girl, occurred the festival of the naming (solemnitas nominalium). The ceremony was one of purification (dies lustricus is its alternative title), and a piacular offering was made to preserve the child from evil influences in the future. Friends brought presents, especially neck-bands in the form of a half-moon (lunulae), and the golden balls (bullae) which were worn as a charm round the neck until the attainment of manhood.
Of the numerous petty divinities which watched over the child's early years we have already given some account. In their protection he remained until he arrived at puberty, about the age of seventeen, when with due religious ceremony he entered on his manhood. At home, on the morning of the festival, he solemnly laid aside the bulla and the purple-striped garb of childhood (toga praetexta) before the shrine of the household gods, and made them a thank-offering for their protection in the past. Afterwards, accompanied by his father and friends and clad now in the toga virilis, he went solemnly to the Capitol, and, after placing a contribution in the coffers of Iuventas—or probably in earlier times of Iuppiter Iuventus—made an offering to the supreme deity Iuppiter Capitolinus. The sacred character of the early years of a young Roman's life could hardly be more closely marked.
Though confarreatio was the only essentially religious form of marriage, and was sanctified by the presence of the pontifex maximus and the flamen Dialis, yet marriage even in the less religious ceremony of coemptio was always a sacrum. It must not take place on the days of state-festivals (feriae), nor on certain other dies religiosi, such as those of the Vestalia or the feast of the dead (Parentalia). Both the marriage itself and the preliminary betrothal (sponsalia) had to receive the divine sanction by means of auspices, and in the ceremonies of both rites the religious element, though bound up with superstition and folk-customs, emerges clearly enough. The central ceremony of the confarreatio was an act partly of sacrifice, partly, one might almost say, of communion. The bride and bridegroom sat on two chairs united to one another and covered with a lambskin, they offered to Iuppiter bloodless offerings of a rustic character (fruges et molam salsam), they employed in the sacrifice the fundamental household necessaries, water, fire, and salt, and themselves ate of the sacred spelt-cake (libus farreus), from which the ceremony derived its name. The crucial point in the more civil ceremony of coemptio was the purely human and legal act of the joining of hands (dextrarum iunctio), but it was immediately followed by the sacrifice of a victim, which gave the ceremony a markedly religious significance. The customs connected with the bringing of the bride to the bridegroom's house—so beautifully depicted in Catullus' Epithalamium—her forcible abduction from her parents, the ribaldry of the bridegroom's companions, the throwing of nuts as a symbol of fecundity, the carrying of the bride over the threshold, a relic probably of primitive marriage by capture, the untying of the bridal knot on the bridal couch—are perhaps more akin to superstition than religion, but we may notice two points in the proceedings. Firstly, the three coins (asses) which the bride brought with her, one to give to her husband as a token of dowry, one to be offered at the hearth to her new Lar Familiaris, one to be offered subsequently at the nearest compitum (a clear sign of connection between the household Lar and those of the fields); and secondly, an echo of the feature so marked all through domestic life, the crowd of little numina, who took their part in assisting the ceremony. There was Domiduca, who brought the bride to the bridegroom's house, Iterduca, who looked after her on the transit, Unxia, who anointed her, Cinxia, who bound and unbound her girdle, and many others.
This sketch of the household worship of the Romans will, I hope, have justified my contention that there was in it an element more truly 'religious' than anything we should gather from the ceremonies of the state. The ideas are simpler, the numina seem less cold and more protective, the worshippers more sensible of divine aid. When we have looked at the companion picture of the farmer in the fields, we shall go on to see how the worship of the agricultural household is the prototype and basis of the state-cult, but first we must consider briefly the very difficult question of the relation of the living to the dead.
3. Relation of the Living and the Dead.—The worship of the spirits of dead ancestors is so common a feature in most primitive religions that it may seem strange even to doubt whether it existed among the Romans, but, although the question is one of extreme difficulty, and the evidence very insufficient, I am inclined to believe that, though the living were always conscious of their continued relation to the dead, and sensitive of the influence of the powers of the underworld, yet there was not, strictly speaking, any cult of the dead. Let us attempt briefly to collect the salient features in ritual, and see to what conclusion they point as to the underlying belief.
One of the most remarkable facts in domestic worship is that, whereas the moment of birth and the other great occasions of life are surrounded with religious ceremony and belief, the moment of death passes without any trace of religious accompaniment: it is as though the dying man went out into another world where the ceremonials of this life can no more avail him, nor its gods protect him. As to his state after death, opinion varied at different times under different influences, but the simple early notion, connected especially with the practice of burial as opposed to cremation, was that his spirit just sank into the earth, where it rested and returned from time to time to the upper world through certain openings in the ground (mundi), whose solemn uncovering was one of the regular observances of the festal calendar: later, no doubt, a more spiritual notion prevailed, though it never reached definiteness or universality. One idea, however, seems always to be prominent, that the happiness of the dead could be much affected by the due performance of the funeral rites; hence it was the most solemn duty of the heir to perform the iusta for the dead, and if he failed in any respect to carry them out, he could only atone for his omission by the annual sacrifice of a sow (porca praecidanea) to Ceres and Tellus—to the divinities of the earth, be it noticed, and not to the dead themselves. The actual funeral was not a religious ceremony; a procession was formed (originally at night) of the family and friends, in which the body of the dead was carried—accompanied by the busts (imagines) of his ancestors—to a tomb outside the town, and was there laid in the grave. The family on their return proceeded at once to rites of purification from the contamination which had overtaken them owing to the presence of a dead body. Two ceremonies were performed, one for the purification of the house by the sacrifice of a sow (porca praesentanea) to Ceres accompanied by a solemn sweeping out of refuse (exverræ), the other the lustration of their own persons by fire and water. This done, they sat down with their friends to a funeral feast (silicernium), which, Cicero tells us, was regarded as an honour rather to the surviving members of the family than to the dead, so that mourning was not worn. Two other ceremonies within the following week, the feriae denicales and the novendiale sacrum, brought the religious mourning to a close. Not that the dead were forgotten after the funeral: year by year, on the anniversaries of death and burial, and on certain fixed occasions known by such suggestive titles as 'the day of roses' and 'the day of violets,' the family would revisit the tomb and make simple offerings of salt cake (mola salsa), of bread soaked in wine, or garlands of flowers: there is some trace, on such occasions, of prayer, but it would seem to be rather the repetition of general religious formulæ than a petition to the dead for definite blessings.
Such are the principal features of the family ritual in relation to their dead; but if we are to form any just notion of belief, we must supplement them by reference to the ceremonies of the state, which here, as elsewhere, are very clearly the household-cult 'writ large.' In the Calendars we find two obvious celebrations in connection with the dead, taking place at different seasons of the year, and consisting of ceremonies markedly different in character. In the gloomy month of February—associated with solemn lustrations—occurs the festival known popularly (though not in the Calendars) as the Parentalia or dies Parentales, that is, the days of sacrifice in connection with the dead members of the family (parentes, parentare). It begins with the note on February 13, Virgo Vestalis parentat, and continues till the climax, Feralia, on February 21. During these days the magistrates laid aside the insignia of their offices, the temples were shut, marriages were forbidden, and every family carried out at the tombs of its relatives ceremonies resembling those of the sacra privata. The whole season closed on February 22 with the festival of the Caristia or cara cognatio, a family reunion of the survivors in a kind of 'love-feast,' which centred in the worship of the Lar Familiaris. Here we seem to have simply, as in the family rites, a peaceful and solemn acknowledgment by the community as a whole of the still subsisting relation of the living and the dead. On the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May occurs the Lemuria, a ceremony of a strikingly different order. Once again temples are shut and marriages forbidden, but the ritual is of a very different nature. The Lemures or Larvae—for there seems to be little distinction between the two names—are regarded no longer as members of the family to be welcomed back to their place, but as hostile spirits to be exorcised. The head of the house rises from bed at midnight, washes, and walks barefoot through the house, making signs for the aversion of evil spirits. In his mouth he carries black beans—always a chthonic symbol—which he spits out nine times without looking round, saying, as he does so, 'With these I redeem me and mine': he washes again, and clanks brass vessels together; nine times he repeats the formula, 'depart, Manes of our fathers' (no doubt using the dignified title Manes euphemistically), and then finally turns round. Here we have in a quite unmistakeable manner the feeling of the hostility of the spirits of the dead: they must be given their appropriate food and got out of the place as quickly as possible. Some scholars have attempted to explain the difference between these two festivals on the assumption that the Parentalia represents the commemoration of the duly buried dead, the Lemuria the apotropaic right for the aversion of the unburied, and therefore hostile spirits; but Ovid has given a far more significant hint, when he tells us that the Lemuria was the more ancient festival of the two.
So far we have had no indication of anything approaching divinity in connection with the dead or the underworld as distinct from the earth-goddesses, but the evidence for it, though vague and shadowy, is not wanting. Certain mysterious female deities, Tarpeia, Acca Larentia, Carna, and Laverna, of whom late ætiological myth had its own explanation, have, in all probability, been rightly interpreted by Mommsen as divinities of the lower world: the commemorative 'sacrifice at the tomb,' which we hear of in connection with the first two, was in reality, we may suppose, an offering to a chthonic deity at a mundus. A rather more tangible personality is Vediovis, who three times a year has his celebration (Agonia not feriae) in the Calendar: he, as his name denotes, must be the 'opposite of Iove,' that is, probably, his chthonic counterpart, a notion sufficiently borne out by his subsequent identification with the Greek Pluto. Finally, of course, there is that vague body, the Di Manes, 'the good gods,' the principal deities of the world of the dead; to them invocations are addressed, and they have their place in the formulæ of the parentalia and the opening of the mundi. In connection with them, acting as a link with the female deities, we have the strange goddess Genita Mana, the 'spirit of birth and death.'
Controversy is acute as to the interpretation of these facts, especially in regard to the question whether or no the spirits of the dead were actually worshipped. I would hazard the following reconstruction of history as consistent with what we otherwise know of Roman religion, and with the evidence before us. From the earliest times the Roman looked upon his dead relations as in some sense living, lying beneath the earth, but capable alike of returning to the world above and of influencing in some vague way the fortunes of the living, especially in relation to the crops which sprung from the ground in which they lay. At first, when his religion was one of fear, he regarded the dead as normally hostile, and their presence as something to be averted; this is the stage which gave birth to the Lemuria. As civilisation increased, and the sense of the unity of household and community developed, fear, proving ungrounded, gave place to a kindlier feeling of the continued existence of the dead as members of household and state, and even in some sense as an additional bond between the living: this is the period which produced the sacra privata and the Parentalia. When the numen-feeling began to pass into that of deus, in the first place a connection was felt between the spirits of the dead and the deities of the earth associated with the growth of the crops, in the second the notion that the underworld must have its gods as well as the world above, produced the shadowy female deities and Vediovis. Lastly, the same kind of feeling which added Parentalia to Lemuria developed the vague general notion of the Di Manes, not the deified spirits of the dead, but peaceful and on the whole kindly divinities holding sway in the world of dead spirits, yet accessible to the prayers of the living. The dead, then, were not themselves worshipped, but they needed commemoration and kindly gifts, and they had in their lower world deities to whom prayer might be made and worship given.
|Written By Cyril Bailey|
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