Monday, January 9, 2012
Temple of Vesta
Ques. Who was Vesta?
Ans. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops or Rhea, and was, therefore, the sister of Jupiter. She was considered the guardian of homes and firesides, and was a household divinity. Statues of Vesta were placed by the Romans at the entrance of their houses; hence the word vestibule, which we still use.
Ques. How is Vesta usually represented?
Ans. As seated on the ground, and leaning upon a drum, while various domestic animals are grouped about her.
Ques. What was the character of this goddess?
Ans. She was esteemed very holy, and was the patroness of household virtues. When Jupiter asked her to choose whatever gift she would, Vesta desired that she might remain always a virgin, and receive the first oblations in all sacrifices. Fire was the emblem of this goddess, and in her temple, at Rome, a sacred fire was suspended in [the air, and watched by the Vestal Virgins. If this fire chanced to be extinguished, all public and private business was suspended until the accident had been expiated.
Ques. What laws existed with regard to the Vestal Virgins?
Ans. The penalties for neglect of their duties were severe. If the sacred fire was extinguished through their negligence, they were sometimes cruelly punished, and if any Virgin infringed the rule which forbade her to marry, she was buried alive; being shut up in a vault underground, with a lamp, and a little bread, wine, water and oil. The sacred fire of Vesta was watched by these priestesses for nearly eleven centuries. We are told that during this period, twenty Vestals were condemned to death. Of these, seven were permitted to take their own lives, thirteen suffered the terrible punishment we have described. The last execution of this kind took place in the reign of the emperor Domitian.
Ques. What were the privileges of the Vestal Virgins?
Ans. In recompense for these severe laws, the Vestals were treated with extraordinary respect. They had the most honorable seats at games and festivals, and even the consuls and magistrates gave them precedence; their testimony was taken in trials without any form of oath, and if they happened to meet a criminal going to execution, he was immediately pardoned. Public documents of great importance were generally entrusted to their care.
A striking instance of the respect felt for these Virgins, is related by a Roman historian. Appius Claudius Audax, a consul who had rendered himself obnoxious to the people, was attacked in the midst of a triumphal procession by the plebeian tribunes, who endeavored to pull him from his chariot. His daughter, who was a Vestal Virgin, ascended the triumphal car, and took her place by her father’s side. The tumult immediately subsided, and the procession proceeded quietly to the capital.
Ques. How many Vestal Virgins were there?
Ans. The number has been variously stated. Some authors mention six, others seven, as the number actually in office. They were chosen between the ages of six and ten; for ten years they were employed in learning their duty; they remained in office for ten, and ten other years were employed in instructing the novices. If there were seven Vestals always in office, the entire number must have been twenty-one. The thirty years being ended, the Vestals returned to their families. The law then permitted them to marry, but it was considered discreditable to do so
Ques. Who was Cyb´ele?
Ans. This goddess, sometimes called by the Greeks, Rhea, and by the Latins, Ops, is considered to be a personification of the earth. She is goddess, not of cities only, but of all things which the earth contains. She was the daughter of Cœlum, and the wife of Saturn.
Ques. How was Cyb´ele represented?
Ans. Generally as riding in a chariot, drawn by lions. She wears a turreted crown, and is clothed in a many-colored mantle, on which are represented the figures of various animals. In her right hand she holds a sceptre, and in her left, a key. This last emblem seems to signify that the earth locks up her treasures in the winter season. Cyb´ele is always represented with the dignified and matronly air which distinguishes Juno and Ceres.
Ques. How was she worshipped?
Ans. Sacrifices were first offered to this goddess in Phrygia and Lydia. Her temples were generally [built on the summits of mountains; that on Mount Dindymus near Pessi´nus, in Galatia, was particularly celebrated. Her statue in this temple was simply a large aerolite which had fallen in the vicinity, and was regarded by the people as the heaven-sent image of their great goddess. At the close of the second Punic war, the Romans, directed, it is said, by the Sibylline books, sent an embassy to Attalus, king of Pergamus, requesting that he would permit the so-called image to be removed to Rome. The monarch consented, and the sacred stone was carried in triumph to the Italian capital. There it was placed in a stately temple built for the purpose, and a solemn festival, called Megalesia, was celebrated annually, in honor of Cyb´ele. During these solemnities, priests called Galli and Corybantes ran about like madmen, with cries and howlings, making, at the same time, a terrific noise with the clashing of cymbals, the sound of pipes and other instruments. In their frenzy, they cut their flesh with knives, and performed many other extravagances, but the people regarded them with reverence, as they were believed, while in this state, to possess the gift of prophecy.
The divinity worshipped by the Roman women under the name of Bona Dea, or Good Goddess, is believed to be the same as Cyb´ele.
Ancient writers relate an extraordinary incident connected with the arrival of the image of Cyb´ele in Rome. The ship which bore the sacred stone was stranded on a shoal in the Tiber. Claudia, a Vestal Virgin who was suspected of having violated her vow, attached her girdle to the prow, and drew the ship safely into port. Her innocence was established by this prodigy.
Ques. Who was Ceres?
Ans. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, and was worshipped as the goddess of fruits and corn. It is supposed that she first invented and taught the art of tilling the earth, and sowing wheat and other grains, so that men ate wholesome bread, where before they had lived on roots and acorns.
Ques. How is Ceres represented?
Ans. As a beautiful and majestic woman, with golden hair, and crowned with ears of wheat; in her right hand she holds poppies and ears of corn, and in her left, a flaming torch.
Ques. Explain these emblems.
Ans. The hair of Ceres is golden, to represent the color of ripe corn; she holds a lighted torch, because when her daughter Proser´pine was stolen by Pluto, Ceres kindled a torch from the flames of Mount Etna, to light her on her search throughout the world. She holds a poppy, because when she was so grieved that she could [neither rest nor sleep, Jupiter gave her a poppy to eat.
Ques. Relate the story of Proser´pine (Perse´phone).
Ans. None of the goddesses were willing to marry Pluto, or share his gloomy kingdom. He determined, nevertheless, to obtain a wife, even if he had to do so by violence. Proser´pine, the daughter of Jupiter and Ceres, was gathering daffodils with her companions in the plains of Enna, when Pluto suddenly appeared among them in a chariot drawn by black horses. As the maidens fled in terror, he seized Proser´pine, and striking the waters of the fountain Cy´ane with his trident, he opened a passage, through which he descended with his prize. Ceres, ignorant of what had occurred, wandered through the world in search of her daughter. At length, arriving at the fountain of Cy´ane, she perceived the girdle of Proser´pine still floating on its waters; and the nymph Arethusa informed her of what had taken place. Ceres repaired immediately to Olympus, where she made her complaint to Jupiter, and demanded that Pluto should restore her daughter. Jupiter promised to grant her request, in case Proser´pine should not have tasted food in the infernal regions. Ceres descended thither, and Proser´pine prepared joyfully to accompany her mother, when Ascal´aphus reported that he had seen her eat some seeds of pomegranate. The hopes of Ceres were thus destroyed, but Proser´pine was so indignant at the treachery of Ascal´aphus, that she changed him immediately into an owl. Jupiter endeavored to appease the resentment of Ceres by permitting Proser´pine to divide the year, spending six months with her mother on earth, the other six with Pluto in the infernal regions.
Ques. What were the most famous solemnities instituted in honor of Ceres?
Ans. The Eleusian or Eleusinian Mysteries. They were named from Eleusis, a town in Greece where they were celebrated.
Ques. What rites were practiced during these mysteries?
Ans. We cannot tell with any certainty. The penalty of death was decreed against any one who should betray the secret, or even witness the ceremonies without having been regularly initiated. Disclosures were made, however, which seem to prove that the person to be initiated was first introduced into a dark subterranean cave, where he was terrified with the most fearful sights and sounds. After this, if his courage did not fail, he was suddenly introduced into a lovely garden, and the ceremonies concluded with feasting and dancing.
Ques. Who were admitted to these rites?
Ans. Athenians only; but Hercules, to whom no one dared refuse anything, was initiated, and after him, other distinguished foreigners were admitted to what were called the Lesser Mysteries. The Athenians were eager to be admitted to these rites, because they believed that the souls of those who had not been initiated were left to wallow in mud and filth in the lower regions.
Ques. What do the early Christian writers say of these mysteries?
Ans. They speak of them as being almost as immoral as the festivals held in honor of Bacchus.
Ques. Who is said to have instituted them?
Ans. Triptol´emus, the foster-child of Ceres.
Ques. What sacrifices were offered to Ceres?
Ans. Young heifers, swine and ears of corn, wine, milk and honey were used in the libations.
Ques. What were the Ambarvalia?
Ques. Who was Themis?
Ans. She instructed both gods and men, and was generally considered the goddess of law and justice. Her origin is uncertain; but she is said to have been a Titaness.
Ques. Who was Astræ´a?
Ans. She was also goddess of justice; according to some, she was the daughter of Jupiter and Themis. When the Titans took up arms against Jupiter, Astræ´a descended to earth, and mingled with the human race. This intercourse was uninterrupted during the Golden Age; in the Silver Age, Astræ´a dwelt in the mountains, and descended only amid the shades of evening, when she was unseen by men. When the Brazen Age commenced, she fled altogether from the human race, being the last among the Immortals to abandon the earth. Jupiter then changed her into the constellation Virgo, one of the signs of the zodiac. This constellation is represented by the figure of a woman holding scales in one hand, and a sword [in the other. The scales have been variously explained, but they are generally supposed to be an emblem of justice. According to some, Erigo´ne, a maiden who hung herself in despair, at the death of her father, was changed into the constellation Virgo.
Ques. Who was Nem´esis?
Ans. She was the daughter of Night, and the goddess of just vengeance. It was her office to follow and punish guilty men. She had wings, but generally went on foot, which signifies that the punishment of crime, although sure, is generally slow. An ancient poet says:
“Vengeance divine to punish sin moves slow;The slower is its pace, the surer is its blow.”
Ques. What do you say of the temple of Nem´esis at Rhamnus?
Ans. This temple was but a short distance from the plain of Marathon. The Persians had brought with them a great block of Parian marble for the trophy which they intended to erect in honor of their expected victory. This marble fell into the hands of the Athenians, and a sculptor, said by some to have been Phidias, afterwards carved from it a beautiful statue of Nem´esis, which was placed in the temple of Rhamnus. A fragment was found in the ruins of this edifice, which is supposed to be the head of this statue; and has been presented as such to the British Museum.