Sunday, 6 July 2014

Livy 29.10: good omens!



My previous post had a reference to Cybele or Magna Mater. This post is about why she came to Rome. In 206 the Second Punic War was dragging on. The Romans recently gained some victories, but the Carthaginians were not defeated yet. What to do? The sibylline oracles were consulted and it appeared that the statue and the cult of an Anatolian Mother goddess should be brought to Rome in order to defeat the enemy. As a historian of religion, I do not believe in oracles and there certainly must have been some manipulation, but it is impossible to say how and why this goddess was chosen. It could be that, as such a cult was lacking in Roman religion, there were sentiments for such a cult, especially under the given circumstances. The cult of this goddess was already adapted by Greek cities and colonies and the Romans were certainly acquainted with this goddess.
Mother goddesses are thought be originated in the Neolithic period and this seems quite likely, but another claim, namely that these goddesses prove that at that time there was a matriarchate, is highly questionable. The worship of a goddess does not necessarily imply reverence for her mortal counterparts: in large parts of India Kali Durga is worshipped, but the plight of women in rural areas and amongst the lower casts in the cities is far from ideal.
We all know the outcome of the Second Punic War: leaning Latin instead of Punic. Thanks to Cybele?

[10] Iam comitiorum appetebat tempus cum a P. Licinio consule litterae Romam allatae se exercitumque suum graui morbo adflictari, nec sisti potuisse ni eadem uis mali aut grauior etiam in hostes ingruisset; itaque quoniam ipse uenire ad comitia non posset, si ita patribus uideretur, se Q. Caecilium Metellum dictatorem comitiorum causa dicturum. exercitum Q. Caecili dimitti e re publica esse; nam neque usum eius ullum in praesentia esse, cum Hannibal iam in hiberna suos receperit, et tanta incesserit in ea castra uis morbi, ut, nisi mature dimittantur,  nemo omnium superfuturus uideatur. ea consuli a patribus facienda ut e re publica fideque sua duceret permissa. ciuitatem eo tempore repens religio inuaserat, inuento carmine in libris Sibyllinis propter crebrius eo anno de caelo lapidatum inspectis, quandoque hostis alienigena terrae Italiae bellum intulisset, eum pelli Italia uincique posse si mater Idaea a Pessinunte Romam aduecta foret. id carmen ab decemuiris inuentum eo magis patres mouit, quod et legati, qui donum Delphos portauerant, referebant et sacrificantibus ipsis Pythio Apollini omnia laeta fuisse et responsum oraculo editum, maiorem multo uictoriam, quam cuius ex spoliis dona portarent, adesse populo Romano. in eiusdem spei summam conferebant P. Scipionis uelut praesagientem animum de fine belli, quod depoposcisset prouinciam Africam. itaque quo maturius fatis ominibus oraculisque portendentis sese uictoriae compotes fierent, id cogitare atque agitare, quae ratio transportandae Romam deae esset.

comitiorum tempus: time of the elections (for consuls)
litterae Romam allatae (sunt): a letter was brought to Rome from
se: saying that he
nec sisti potuisse: impersonal use `it would have been impossible to hold’  (lit: to be holding)
uis mali = morbus
ingruo ingrui: to fall upon
ipse: the elections for consuls for the coming year were normally hold under the leadership of one of the then ruling consuls.
patribus: the senators
dictatorem dicturum: that he shall nominate as dictator (A dictator was a magistrate with far reaching powers, appointed for a period of 6 months.)
dimitti:  to be broken up, dissolved
e re publica esse: it was in the interest of the republic that
in hiberna (castra): in his winter camp
in ea castra: of Metellus
nisi mature dimittantur: unless the camp would be quickly dissolved
ut e re publica fideque sua duceret permissa: according to what he thought to be allowed in the interest of the republic and  his own honour
repens religio: an unexpected (i.e. new, foreign) cult
inuento carmine in libris Sibyllinis propter crebrius eo anno de caelo lapidatum inspectisL Livy loves expanding an abl. abs. constructions)  a song being found in the Sibylline books, inspected because of the frequent falling of stones from heaven that year. (lapidatum is an impersonal passive construction form lapido `to throw stones’, used as a noun `the falling of stones’)
hostis alienigena: an enemy as someone born elsewhere  (i.e. outside Italy.  alienigena is substantive here and not the adjective alienigenus, as hostis is masculine.)
bellum infero (+dat.): bring war to
(ex) Italia
mater Idaea; Mother of Mount Ida (A mountain near Troy.)
Pessinus (acc.  Pessinuntem): City in Asia Minor
decemuires: a college of ten priests presiding over the Sibylline Books
sacrificantibus ipsis Pythio Apollini omnia laeta fuisse: all things to have been favourable for the sacrifiers to Pythian Apollo
(ex) oraculo
quam cuius ex spoliis dona portarent: than (the victory) of which spoils they had brought gifts
in eiusdem spei summam conferebant P. Scipionis:  they (the senators)  brought (the outcome of these two good omens) to the amount of hope of P. Scipio (As if spes is something material.
uelut praesagientem animum de fine belli: as if (he had) an predicting mind about the outcome of the war (explained in the following part of the sentence)
deposco, depoposci: to demand (So now there were three good omens: the new cult, the prediction by Apollo and the demand of Africa by Scipio.)
quo maturius…portendentis victoriae sese compotes fierent: the sooner they would become masters of the victory indicated by
agito: to ponder
ratio: way, manner



Translation by Rev. Canon Roberts (1905)

The date of the elections was approaching, when a despatch was received from the consul P. Licinius. In it he stated that both he and his army were suffering from serious illness, and they could not have held their position if the enemy had not been visited with equal or even greater severity. As, therefore, he could not himself come, he would, if the senate approved, nominate Quintus Caecilius Metellus as Dictator to conduct the elections. He suggested that it would be advisable in the public interest for Q. Caecilius' army to be disbanded, as there was no immediate use for them now that Hannibal had gone into winter quarters and the epidemic had attacked their camp with such violence that unless they were soon disbanded, not a single man, judging from appearances, would survive. The senate left it to the consul to take such steps as he thought most consistent with his duty to the commonwealth. About this time the citizens were much exercised by a religious question which had lately come up. Owing to the unusual number of showers of stones which had fallen during the year, an inspection had been made of the Sibylline Books, and some oracular verses had been discovered which announced that whenever a foreign foe should carry war into Italy he could be driven out and conquered if the Mater Idaea were brought from Pessinus to Rome. The discovery of this prediction produced all the greater impression on the senators because the deputation who had taken the gift to Delphi reported on their return that when they sacrificed to the Pythian Apollo the indications presented by the victims were entirely favourable, and further, that the response of the oracle was to the effect that a far grander victory was awaiting Rome than the one from whose spoils they had brought the gift to Delphi. They regarded the hopes thus raised as confirmed by the action of Scipio in demanding Africa as his province as though he had a presentiment that this would bring the war to an end. In order, therefore, to secure all the sooner the victory which the Fates the omens and the oracles alike foreshadowed, they began to think out the best way of transporting the goddess to Rome.

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