Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XXII.—Who was the author of the vanities before described in Italy among the Romans, and who among other nations
Chap. xxii.—who was the author of the vanities before described in italy among the romans, and who among other nations.
The author and establisher of these vanities among the Romans was that Sabine king who especially engaged 102 the rude and ignorant minds of men with new superstitions: and that he might do this with some authority, he pretended that he had meetings by night with the goddess Egeria. There was a very dark cavern in the grove of Aricia, from which flowed a stream with a never failing spring. Hither he was accustomed to withdraw himself without any witnesses, that he might be able to pretend that, by the admonition of the goddess his wife, he delivered to the people those sacred rites which were most acceptable to the gods. It is evident that he wished to imitate the craftiness of Minos, who concealed himself in the cave of Jupiter, and, after a long delay there, brought forward laws, as though delivered to him by Jupiter, that he might bind men to obedience not only by the authority of his government, but also by the sanction of religion. Nor was it difficult to persuade shepherds. Therefore he instituted pontiffs, priests, Salii, and augurs; he arranged the gods in families; and by these means he softened the fierce spirits of the new people and called them away from warlike affairs to the pursuit of peace. But though he deceived others, he did not deceive himself. For after many years, in the consulship of Cornelius and Bebius, in a field belonging to the scribe Petilius, under the Janiculum, two stone chests were found by men who were digging, in one of which was the body of Numa, in the other seven books in Latin respecting the law of the pontiffs, and the same number written in Greek respecting systems of philosophy, in which he not only annulled the religious rites which he himself had instituted, but all others also. When this was referred to the senate, it was decreed that these books should be destroyed. Therefore Quintus Petilius, the prætor who had jurisdiction in the city, burnt them in an assembly of the people. This was a senseless proceeding; for of what advantage was it that the books were burnt, when the cause on account of which they were burnt—that they took away the authority due to religion—was itself handed down to memory? Every one then in the senate was most foolish; for the books might have been burnt, and yet the matter itself have been unknown. Thus, while they wish to prove even to posterity with what piety they defended religious institutions, they lessened the authority of the institutions themselves by their testimony.
But as Pompilius was the institutor of foolish p. 38 superstitions among the Romans, so also, before Pompilius, Faunus was in Latium, who both established impious rites to his grandfather Saturnus, and honoured his father Picus with a place among the gods, and consecrated his sister Fatua Fauna, who was also his wife; who, as Gabius Bassus relates, was called Fatua because she had been in the habit of foretelling their fates to women, as Faunus did to men. And Varro writes that she was a woman of such great modesty, that, as long as she lived, no male except her husband saw her or heard her name. On this account women sacrifice to her in secret, and call her the Good Goddess. And Sextus Claudius, in that book which he wrote in Greek, relates that it was the wife of Faunus who, because, contrary to the practice and honour of kings, she had drunk a jar of wine, and had become intoxicated, was beaten to death by her husband with myrtle rods. But afterwards, when he was sorry for what he had done, and was unable to endure his regret for her, he paid her divine honours. For this reason they say that a covered jar of wine is placed at her sacred rites. Therefore Faunus also left to posterity no slight error, which all that are intelligent see through. For Lucilius in these verses derides the folly of those who imagine that images are gods: “The terrestrial 103 Lamiæ, which Faunus and Numa Pompilius and others instituted; at and these he trembles, he places everything in this. As infant boys believe that every statue of bronze is a living man, so these imagine that all things feigned are true: they believe that statues of bronze contain a heart. It is a painters gallery; 104 there is nothing true; all things are fictitious.” The poet, indeed, compares foolish men to infants. But I say that they are much more senseless than infants. For they (infants) suppose that images are men, whereas these take them for gods: the one through their age, the others through folly, imagine that which is not true: at any rate, the one soon ceased to be deceived; the foolishness of the others is permanent, and always increases. Orpheus was the first who introduced the rites of father Liber into Greece; and he first celebrated them on a mountain of Bœotia, very near to Thebes, where Liber was born; and because this mountain continually resounded with the strains of the lyre, it was called Cithæron. 105 Those sacred rites are even now called Orphic, in which he himself was lacerated and torn in pieces; and he lived about the same time with Faunus. But which of them was prior in age admits of doubt, since Latinus and Priam reigned during the same years, as did also their fathers Faunus and Laomedon, in whose reign Orpheus came with the Argonauts to the coast of the Trojans.
Let us therefore advance further, and inquire who was really the first author of the worship of the gods. Didymus, 106 in the books of his commentary on Pindar, says that Melisseus, king of the Cretans, was the first who sacrificed to the gods, and introduced new rites and parades of sacrifices. He had two daughters, Amalthæa and Melissa, who nourished the youthful Jupiter with goats milk and honey. Hence that poetic fable derived its origin, that bees flew to the child, and filled his mouth with honey. Moreover, he says that Melissa was appointed by her father the first priestess of the Great Mother; from which circumstance the priests of the same Mother are still called Melissæ. But the sacred history testifies that Jupiter himself, when he had gained possession of power, arrived at such insolence that he built temples in honour of himself in many places. For when he went about to different lands, on his arrival in each region, he united to himself the kings or princes of the people in hospitality and friendship; and when he was departing from each, he ordered that a shrine should be dedicated to himself in the name of his host, as though the remembrance of their friendship and league could thus be preserved. Thus temples were founded in honour of Jupiter Atabyrius and Jupiter Labrandius; for Atabyrius and Labrandius were his entertainers and assistants in war. Temples were also built to Jupiter Laprius, to Jupiter Molion, to Jupiter Casius, and others, after the same manner. This was a very crafty device on his part, that he might both acquire divine honour for himself, and a perpetual name for his entertainers in conjunction with religious observances. Accordingly they were glad, and cheerfully submitted to his command, and observed annual rites and festivals for the sake of handing down their own name. Æneas did something like this in Sicily, when he gave the name of his host 107 Acestes to a city which he had built, that Acestes might afterwards joyfully and willingly love, increase, and adorn it. In this manner Jupiter spread abroad through the world the observance of his worship, and gave an example for the imitation of others. Whether, then, the practice of worshipping the gods proceeded from Melisseus, as Didymus related, or from Jupiter also himself, as Euhemerus says, the p. 39 time is still agreed upon when the gods began to be worshipped. Melisseus, indeed, was much prior in time, inasmuch as he brought up Jupiter his grandson. It is therefore possible that either before, or while Jupiter was yet a boy, he taught the worship of the gods, namely, the mother of his foster-child, and his grandmother Tellus, who was the wife of Uranus, and his father Saturnus; and he himself, by this example and institution, may have exalted Jupiter to such pride, that he afterwards ventured to assume divine honours to himself.
Terricolas. Another reading is terriculas, bugbears.38:104
Pergula. The word properly means a projection attached to a house. Apelles is said to have placed his pictures in such an adjunct, and to have concealed himself behind them, that he might hear the comments of persons passing by.38:105
Cithæron, from “cithara,” a lyre.38:106
Didymus. A celebrated Alexandrian grammarian, a follower of the school of Aristarchus. He is distinguished from other grammarians who bore the name of Didymus, by the surname Chalcenteros, which he is said to have received from his unwearied diligence in study. Among his productions, which are all lost, was one on the Homeric poems. He also wrote a commentary on Pindar, to which allusion is made in the text. See Smiths Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography.38:107
Cf. Virg., Æneid, v. [verse 718].
Next: Chap. XXIII.—Of the ages of vain superstitions, and the times at which they commenced
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