Page:The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus.djvu/262

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212
CHAP.
LIFE OF ELAGABALUS

to an entirely different religious foundation. The Vestals were a community of high-born Roman ladies, whose duty it was to tend and preserve the sacred fire which symbolised Rome's existence, and, while they worshipped the Phallus, to keep themselves unspotted from the world, not otherwise from its contact. In the performance of their public functions they were admirable and most punctilious, but they were not cloistered virgins, as we know the race to-day. They were women of the world, with a value enhanced by an often (according to Suetonius) supposititious virginity; women who, clad in the white linen garments of a blameless life, their hair arranged in the six braids which symbolised chastity, were the chief figures at all public functions, the leaders of feeling at the games and gladiatorial shows, and the arbiters of public opinion in all that touched religion and morals, at a time when religion and morals meant courage, bravery, patriotism, and hardihood.

It would be as absurd to impute to these women Christian ideas of religion and morals as it would be to transfer the same neuroticism to the Spartan communities of a still earlier age. The ideal was not then suffering for suffering's sake, not even suffering to appease an offended deity, but suffering for the sake of virility, patriotism, and strength.

As we have said, Roman religion was in the third century what it always had been, purely political. It was the prosperity of the Empire, its peace and immortality, for which sacrifices were made; with the individual, his happiness and prosperity, it con-