Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume II/City of God/Book III/Chapter 12

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Chapter 12.—That the Romans Added a Vast Number of Gods to Those Introduced by Numa, and that Their Numbers Helped Them Not at All.

But though Pompilius introduced so ample a ritual, yet did not Rome see fit to be content with it.  For as yet Jupiter himself had not his chief temple,—it being King Tarquin who built the Capitol.  And Æsculapius left Epidaurus for Rome, that in this foremost city he might have a finer field for the exercise of his great medical skill.[1]  The mother of the gods, too, came I know not whence from Pessinuns; it being unseemly that, while her son presided on the Capitoline hill, she herself should lie hid in obscurity.  But if she is the mother of all the gods, she not only followed some of her children to Rome, but left others to follow her.  I wonder, indeed, if she were the mother of Cynocephalus, who a long while afterwards came from Egypt.  Whether also the goddess Fever was her offspring, is a matter for her grandson Æsculapius[2] to decide.  But of whatever breed she be, the foreign gods will not presume, I trust, to call a goddess base-born who is a Roman citizen.  Who can number the deities to whom the guardianship of Rome was entrusted?  Indigenous and imported, both of heaven, earth, hell, seas, fountains, rivers; and, as Varro says, gods certain and uncertain, male and female:  for, as among animals, so among all kinds of gods are there these distinctions.  Rome, then, enjoying the protection of such a cloud of deities, might surely have been preserved from some of those great and horrible calamities, of which I can mention but a few.  For by the great smoke of her altars she summoned to her protection, as by a beacon-fire, a host of gods, for whom she appointed and maintained temples, altars, sacrifices, priests, and thus offended the true and most high God, to whom alone all this ceremonial is lawfully due.  And, indeed, she was more prosperous when she had fewer gods; but the greater she became, the more gods she thought she should have, as the larger ship needs to be manned by a larger crew.  I suppose she despaired of the smaller number, under whose protection she had spent comparatively happy days, being able to defend her greatness.  For even under the kings (with the exception of Numa Pompilius, of whom I have already spoken), how wicked a contentiousness must have existed to occasion the death of Romulus’ brother!


Footnotes[edit]

  1. Livy, x. 47.
  2. Being son of Apollo.