I #amreading Religions of Rome by Mary Beard, et al. It's a highly academic text lent to me by a friend, intended for undergraduate religious studies students, I suspect. Once upon a time, I was once such student -- I still enjoy delving into the topic, so I think I'm going to #liveblog my reading of the text.
"Writing down and recording was a significant function on the part of the priests." -- Too often we overlook the role of historic (I hesitate to say "ancient" because the Catholic Church's influence extended well past the "ancient" era) religions in being the *educated* sphere of public life historically, whereas kings more typically dealt with civic issues (city planning, diplomacy) and especially warfare. Too many people dismiss the role of the priesthood; and, of course, of records.
On page 15, Beard (et al) deconstructs the idea of a triumvirate of socio-political and religious roles in Rome; "farmer / warrior / citizen" is indeed a silly dichotomy for a people who were fundamentally all three.
One of the things I try (but probably struggle) to convey as a Social Studies #teacher is that #history and society is MESSY. The urge is always to neatly categorize and organize information, but reality does not fit nicely into tiny boxes.
The complexity of the Roman "priesthood" is fascinating; apparently there were large numbers of priests of several different categories, with varying restrictions and roles. All appear to have been part of the patrician class, but it's hard to make heads of tails of how the "priests" interrelate with the political leaders; in some cases they are clearly the same people, in others, clearly and by definition different.
That said, it seems to me that the priests took on the role of EXPERTS for the senate -- they made relatively few decisions, but were consulted often. Many of the "priests" were also, in their secular lives, politicians; the divide is not nearly so strong as it is in the modern day. The text warns against comparing too closely to modern day political life -- but they too clearly are able to relate this to a congressional subcommittee, so how can I resist?
Sometimes I read things like "The gods could not be reliably controlled or predicted, but they could be negotiated with" in the context of "Generals say they'll build a temple if they win" (etc) and am amazed at the seriousness with which scholars take these statements just because they were uttered by "the ancients" -- it does not seem so different from things said by modern leaders, which are of highly varying sincerity and significance, after all. So much gets extrapolated from so little.
When I was young I used to think that things "sacrificed to the gods" weren't actually used, and were being sort of wasted -- like pouring a libation out on the ground, but for all of it. A nice thing about this book is that it reinforces that "ritual sacrifice" is mostly of /style of slaughter/ and small (unfit for humans for some reason) portions. It makes TOTAL sense to me (by contrast) that you might want to have a FEAST with religious overtones to celebrate something during a "ritual time."
"From a functional & political point of view, the system has been interpreted as a means of coping with crises, by focusing fears into an area within which the ruling class could claim special inherited expertise -- the remedy might offer an opportunity for holding elaborate ceremonies [...] boosting public morale by civic display."
It's a fancy (but not condescending!) way of saying "religion is the opiate of the masses" and makes SENSE in a way that Marx's dismissive attitude never did.
The text also calls deliberate attention to #Jewish requirements about the appropriate ways to slaughter animals as a comparison point for the Roman religious rules, which only emphasizes why you might want an expert being the one to do the slaughtering and cutting and sausage-making -- #food contamination is bad, yo, especially at a big public feast.
I'm inclined to liken it to how modern restaurants have public health inspections, and our other food safety rules. Food safety is important!
Mary Beard is amazing!
@eleanor from a Jewish perspective—people sometimes say the kosher rules were made to prevent food-borne infections; I personally doubt it but they definitely created…standardization? like if you buy bread or meat you know exactly how it's been produced.
@nev I am NOT an expert on Judaism in any form, I cannot speak to the practicalities of slaughterhouse norms, but I suspect (given what I know of history, law, and social norms) it's def. not as clear cut as "food safety!"
@nev That said, -- I would be surprised if at least SOME things that aren't kosher weren't outlawed due to food safety concerns, historically. Like... pigs are gross. Shellfish are the most common thing for people to be allergic to. But some rules are about proper tithing, so, it's def. not always food safety.
But I doubt the Hindu rules about cows (of which I also know relatively little) don't have at least some practical component, like Roosevelt's warnings about slaughtering milch cows.
@eleanor what's the thing with slaughtering milch cows?
@nev Roosevelt uses slaughtering milch cows as an analogy for excessive logging.
Excerpt from T. Roosevelt's speech on Conservation:
"[excessive logging] is like providing for the farmer’s family to live sumptuously on the flesh of the milch cow. Any farmer can live pretty well for a year if he is content not to live at all the year after."
@eleanor ohhh, I see!
I don't really know much about this but am enjoying your toots on the book
@nev It is surprisingly fun to live-toot academic texts, and I suspect I will continue doing so. I really enjoy READING them but it's hard to justify during the regular school year. Now that it's summer, though, I've got this book on Roman Religion to get through, and one on the Phoenician impact on the Iberian peninsula that is quite interesting.
Stay tuned! (though I'm taking a break soon, the guy who lent me the book and his wife are coming over for lunch with my husband and I.)
@nev I doubt it was always food SAFETY for the Romans, too -- but I am super interested by the supposition that standardization played a role, because I can see that too. Like modern restaurants, trying to make sure that the soup tastes the same day in day out, I imagine attendees of ceremonies would want the ceremonial sausage to, you know, taste right.
I'm going to pick up today's #livetoot session of Mary Beard's Religions of Rome with a (relatively) well-known anecdote about #Rome; the doors of the temple of Janus closing only during peacetime. I have 2 thoughts about this:
1. What about in winter? Is this more referencing a "state" of war that continued year after year despite not always being actively fought?
2. Rome took pride in its constant state of warfare, and I wonder how this compares to modern states at constant war.
A thought: most of the sources that modern scholars use to determine information about Rome are either urban or explicitly patrician -- I like that Mary Beard's book about Religion in Rome acknowledges that and tries to break down the assumptions of the private religious experiences of the farmers.
Oh, here's a reason for the complexity of the #Roman religious system: "authority over religious matters was widely diffused. The result was that no individual or family could construct a monopoly of religious, any more than of political, power."
The text appears to find it puzzling that priestly "appointments" were for life, but I wonder if -- because priests were experts -- it served a function like modern judges. Beholden to #knowledge, not popularity.
As I read about how the Roman ludi (Games) were "held in honor" of particular god/desses, preceded by religious processions, and the importance of the Roman state religion, I can't help but think of #NASCAR & the #NFL and all the pre-game rituals and parades and wonder how "religious" these Games really were... or were they a lot like ours, where some people go full-on Gods, Guns and Glory but a large subset of American culture... doesn't.
It occurs to me that all these temples being dedicated as a result of a prayer being answered tie in really nicely to the role of religion in record-keeping; each temple dedicated as a result of winning an important battle or overcoming a brutal epidemic is a #memorial to an important victory, and no wonder they'd be willing to spend time and resources on that. So do we, with our statues and road signs and obelisks, etc. That the Romans used buildings for their memorials is hardly strange.
I'm struggling to see how the "practice of incubation" (i.e. sleeping overnight at a temple when you're ill) is that different from quarantine or the ICU. Even considering the state of Roman medical science, it makes total sense to me that -- ignoring the role the gods might play in things -- someone who's sick might want to go away from their family (whether they understood contagions or not) and be watched by a priest overnight somewhere ritually clean and easily cleansed.
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