Moral code of the Religio Romana

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Moral code of the Religio Romana

Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Nov 01, 2004 3:29 pm


I have a quick question. Often when we talk about antique religions, I have the feeling that there's not as strong a moral code attached to them, or a very loose one (à la Wiccanism). Is this really true? And did the Roman dieties have exemplary functions, or were they just larger-than-life manifestations of cosmic forces? E.g. in ancient Norse religion it is interesting to note that the lower classes were more into the worshipping of the warrior gods Thor and Tyr, who were recognised as being good gods, whilst the aristocracy preferred the morally ambiguous Odin. Did the Romans, too, attach moral qualities to certain gods?

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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Mon Nov 01, 2004 5:10 pm

Salve Draco

good question. It is one that usually is brought up by a newbie (no offense i'm not taliking about you) or someone interested in Greek and roman mythology. What is lost to many people whn reading these myths is that they forget that they reading stories about Gods and Gods do have a different set of rules, morales than humans do. gods can do things that humans can not do like incest, patricide and matricide. These things are severly punished by Gods and should also be punished by humans for what they did. Orestes killed his mother and her lover, but when he commited this act, he was driven mad by the Furies and Apollon came to his rescue. Oedipus was also punished by the Gods for marrying his mother, killing his father and getting his own mother pregnant.
There is a certain moral code attached to it, not the same one like you find in monotheistic faiths, but its there. The Delphic maxims and Solon's tenets come to mind. Instead of the Gods giving us a certain moral code or codes to live by, we have to create them ourselves and I think in origin, the Delphic maxims were partially divine, and partially human inventing. Zeus and Jupiter do expect from people to be hospitable towards anyone. I think that the moral code or codes can be found in the myths, although not always, sometimes they do show up there.
I don't see the Gods as manifestations of cosmic or natural forces. Those forces might be a part of them, it is however what they truly are. To me the Gods are eternal, immortal. They don't have a beginning, nor do they have an end. So I don't see them as Gods who only have exemplary functions. The Norse Gods aren't like that either. I doubt that the Romans saw their Gods like that. Gods are just to complex to put them in certain corners. The Romans and Greeks probably knew this as do most modern pagans. At least those who are reconstructionists and eclectics.
The aristocracy will probaby hold certain Gods in the pantheon higher in esteem than other Gods. Most aristocratic families did held high profile religious functions. At Eleusis, a aristocratic family was in charge as the priests of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It could partially explain why there isn't much known about certain cults of Haides, Hekate and probably other Gods like Morpheus, etc...
hope it kind of answered your questions.

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Thu Nov 04, 2004 5:55 am

Salve mi Draco

"Everything that is fortunate comes to those who follow the Gods, adversity to those who scorn Them." ~Livy 5.51.5

It can be argued the Livy's work is not a record of historical facts, but was written as a moral tale. Such stories as Livy told, and the many versions of these stories as told by others, did act as moral examples to Romans. Just take a look at Valerius Maximus. They are in that tales of humans, but also stories of how people related to the Gods and what rewards and punishments came upon them from the Gods for their actions. In this Livy's work is comparable to parts of the Vedas and to the Jewish texts. The other great body of work on morality, even for the Romans, was that of the Iliad, and to a lesser extent the Odyssey. Ovid used the myths to tell a moral tale too, if you follow through his Metamorphoses as a single story as he intended. There was not a single version of any myth, and there was not a single way of interpreting any myth. There in lies the real power of myth, instructing through its allegories on what are human affairs rather than divine matters. "What old woman today," asked Cicero, "actually still believes in the chimera?" Myths with a literal uderstanding were meant only for children and those of childish minds, while the Romans and Greeks knew them to be allegories. Morality in an adult world is never so simple, thus the myths reveal moral questions from several different angles at the same time. "How often, Jove, have You wept over the loss of a lover?" That is not a question you can ask of a child, while how it resonates with an adult delivers a very powerful moral lesson.

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