One of the frequent disputes in any discussion about restoring the Religio Romana is the extent to which restoration allows innovation. The Romans, and their gods, were notoriously conservative. Each ritual had to be performed just so. A single mistake required a piaculum, or additional offering to expiate the mistake. Yet, very little survives concerning the rites. How, then, is it possible to restore a ritual which has been lost, or even just partly lost, without offending the gods? This problem lurks at the base of every dispute over reconstruction.
I think there is no doubt that sacra privata can be revived and practiced, even when little is known about the details of ancient practice. I think we see enough innovation historically in the sacra privata that there can be no real question that innovation in this area has always been possible. I suspect that most of us follow, as I do, some variation of daily lararium ritual published by Nova Roma, a simple invocation to the gods and to unnamed lares and penates. Even if someone were to argue for a using particular reconstruction, the question hardly becomes a matter of public debate when the ritual itself is private. Why worry about the details of someone else’s practice? If he or she is doing it wrong, the gods will intervene (or not) as they choose.
I need to qualify this conclusion. I am merely speculating, but it seems to me that only the novus homo is really at liberty to innovate in the area of the sacra privata. I suspect that the patrician gentes of Roma Antiqua had their own elaborated rites. I am thinking here of the statues of their ancestors kept by patrician households in their atria, with the number of statues indicating the antiquity of the lineage and the many holders of public office. I suspect that the sacra privata of aristocratic households will have included these ancestors by name. I also suspect that the sacra gentilica of patrician households would have been just as traditional and inflexible as the rites of the sacra publica.
I would not want to be one of citizens of Nova Roma, belonging to a prominent historic gens and being expected to reconstruct its sacra. Too much chance of offending not only the gods but also the ancestors!
When Celetrus and I get around to constructing or re-constructing the sacra gentilica of the Ambrosii, I think we will need to include the particular patrons Merlinia has chosen, as well as such ancestors as Ambrosius Aurelianus, and perhaps Constantinius III. (An interesting proposal for the Collegium Pontificum is whether they would allow a flamen for Constantinius. He was, after all, an emperor, if a very minor one.)
Turning from the sacra privata to the sacra publica, I remain convinced that the sacra publica can only be restored if they are as historically authentic as possible, with a piaculum necessarily included. My reasoning runs more or less as follows — the Romans came together in ages past, formed their city, and established their rites. I have to think that they probably elaborated their rites over time, as that would be human nature, but I think more significantly that they added new rites. At some point the formula became invariable.
I am tempted, but not finally persuaded, by Celetrus’ suggestion that restoration could proceed along the lines of reverent formalism. I think that approach works for the Greeks and for any number of ancient peoples, but it feels out of character for the Romans. I see the Romans as superstitious to a remarkable degree and as having in their very souls a deep feeling of inferiority. From the beginning, the Etruscans had them outclassed and they knew it. Then they adopted Greek gods, only to find that they were now outclassed by the Greeks (indeed, more so for having adopted their gods). From this purely conjectural feeling that the Romans felt inferior in religious matters, I proceed to imagining that the Romans will have wanted to get it right, and to have become stubborn on the issue of changing the sacra publica, and even more stubborn after they began succeeding militarily — surely a sign that they had discovered the magic formula that pleased the gods.
Celetrus argues from Plutarch’s Lives: “and Numa, in like manner, wished that his citizens should neither see nor hear any religious service in a perfunctory and inattentive manner, but, laying aside all other occupations, should apply their minds to religion as to a most serious business; and that the streets should be free from all noises and cries that accompany manual labour, and clear for the sacred solemnity.” And further, both Cicero and Pliny were critical of the recitation of rites in languages long forgotten, regarding it as superstitio along with other mechanical procedures in the Religio of their day. I sympathize with the appeal to religious feeling, but I think these examples prove my point. Indeed, it seems that some rituals were so far unchanged that they were offered in “languages long forgotten.”
My own case as Flamen Volturnalis offers some insight into why I am partial to the rationales I’ve presented. In any form of sacra privata, Volturnus must be irrelevant. Who needs to privately worship the god of the River Tiber? I can think of no one. His importance rests with his role as the source of irrigation water for a farming community. That is, he matters only to collective Romans (and now perhaps not even to any of them). In a revived republic, his Volturnalia can (and I think must) be celebrated. Not because irrigation is so essential to Nova Roma, but because the ancient calendar dictates it. In short, to celebrate only the sacra privata leaves some gods homeless. A group of some sort is required in order not to neglect the whole of the religio.
Now, I see a problem with my argument: if the religio undergoes a true revival, someone, somewhere would choose to honor Volturnus for personal reasons. Indeed, I see this weakness so clearly because I would have been one to include him in my sacra privata if Nova Roma did not exist. So, he would not be entirely neglected. Yet, I can think of no private reason why anyone would want to celebrate the Volturnalia in his honor. The Volturnalia was a harvest festival, a community celebration. So, it might have been possible to honor him in some form of private sacra yet his great festival would still be neglected. Only the re-establishment of public rites can fully re-create the worship of Volturnus.
Yet, i see a problem here too. If you concede that collective celebration is a necessary part of worshipping certain gods, we are left with the problem that such worship could come as easily from a social group as from a micronation. Here, I think is a real challenge. When I argued yesterday that the establishment of a Roman republic in the incertus would not offend the gods, I skirted the question of whether such an establishment is necessary. That, amici, is my next challenge to think about — why establish a virtual state to fully revive the religio when a sodality would have been just as effective?
In summary, there is little doubt that the sacra privata can be reconstructed and celebrated but that leaves some gods homeless and their rituals neglected. Although there are problems with reconstruction, a group of some sort — I suggest Nova Roma — must exist in order not to neglect the whole of the religio. I’m not yet certain that a micronation is the only format for re-establishing the sacra publica, but I think the gods will be pleased to accept our piacula as we work toward greater authenticity in the reconstruction of the full ritual calendar.
My future as a Roman
A few days ago, I was thinking that I wanted to wait until after the Volturnalia later this month before thinking about my future in the Religio Romana. To a great extent that’s still true.
But, when Athanasios started his Peace group for Nova Roma I began to feel a lifting of my mood. The group has potential as a forum for all the turbulent personalities who make life in Nova Roma such hell to come together, resolve their differences, and establish a civil dialog. If it fails, I can’t see how Nova Roma could continue to interest any sane person. I have been thinking of Nova Roma as the Virtual Violence list. Despite my resolve to postpone any decision, I have been thinking that I will probably pack my bags later this month and move to my isolated virtual villa where I can practice my Stoic faith in peace and without the temptation to scold people whose only real failing is that they don’t live up to my expectations, that they prefer a game of government simulation when I want to explore Romanitas in the 21st century.
I’ve had some hope that SVR or NRR might be more a more congenial home for me, but frankly, the religio on the web probably rises or falls with Nova Roma. For now, at least. Perhaps the religio will develop as heathenish has. I was interested. I hated the racism, so I left. Then, years later I look around and there are dozens of groups, some racist, some not, but all with something different to offer. That could just as easily happen with the religio. Ten years from now the internet landscape could be filled with dozens of Roman groups, more or less at peace with one another and each of them offering some gradation of historic authenticity.
Encouraged now by developments in Nova Roma, I have been talking to my chum Athanasios: help me think O Athanasi about my future, tell me what you see. His excellent advice has helped me to focus. First, there is no future for me in NRR because any opportunity there would place me in direct conflict with my chum Celetrus. Good to know, and I think I already knew that in my heart of hearts. Athanasios encourages me to get involved in NRR nevertheless, but his advice is the cheer leading of a friend, not the brutal appraisal of a mentor. “On that path lies danger,” as my hero would say.
Second, there could be a future for me in Nova Roma, if I choose. Be content as Flamen Volturnalis. Don’t even think about becoming a Pontiff until I become more active. Think about running for public office, despite my flaky history. Whoa! I’m not the type to be a magistrate. I have so little patience for games or politics. If I were to be elected in our turbulent little republic, I fear that I would either be given the boot or I would resign in disgust. What about serving in a newly civil environment? That might be something to think about; I am nothing if not a competent administrator and all-round mediator of other people’s issues. I floated the idea that one of the magistrates might want to appoint me as a scribe to help me first establish my bona fides. No response on that one. I guess I need to read between the lines — no magistrate is going to take a chance on me just now.
So, interestingly, my exchanges with Athanasios have told me two things. One, he thinks I might have something to offer. Two, if I choose to go this route it’s going to be a slow process. For me, this is an interesting combination. I’m used to rapid promotion based on proven skills. Those don’t count in Nova Roma, or not as much as politics. If I want to advance, I have to prove myself. An interesting choice. I can either be offended that I cannot expect easy promotion, or I can stay and prove myself.
Since it’s clear (to me at least) that I’m not going to bring myself to actually leave Nova Roma, however critical of it I might be, and that I have a strong prejudice in favor of Nova Roma against its competitors, I really only have two possible futures in this area of my life. I can commit to Nova Roma itself, doing the work Athanasios suggests to become a Pontiff and perhaps run for some sort of office someday. Or, I can back off Nova Roma, remain a member but re-formulate my involvement at a lesser level. If the latter, I see myself asking for an appointment as a sacerdos, probably of Britannia or Sulis Minerva or Constantinius III, but ultimately resigning as Flamen Volturnalis. That resignation would, I think, be necessary because the Collegium Pontificum is essentially a political entity of the republic by virtue of being a public institution. A flamenate should scarcely be held by someone who has decided to focus on the religio and to forego the politics. or, perhaps, it would be a mistake to become a sacerdos of any god. Perhaps the gods themselves would prefer that I remain a simple Stoic and give up the idea of serving in some special capacity. More to think about.
These are my thoughts tonight, as I contemplate the future without being clear about where I want to go. I am very pleased to have had Athanasios’ advice, as it has helped delineate the possible futures so that I can choose between them.
Congratulations to my friends
Now comes late breaking news that Athanasios has been appointed Pontifex Maximus and Celetrus has been appointed junior Consul, both in the New Roman Republic. My congratulations to both of them!