Iustitia

Gerechtigkeit, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1537

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In Roman philosophy, Iustitia, or Justice, was very much tied to Pietas. Beyond holding up the notions of fairness and impartiality as good character traits, Justice was seen as the earthly manifestation of Pietas.  As Cicero explains it, Pietas is all about giving the Gods their due, while Iustitia is the same concept, but with human laws and fellow men instead of divine laws and the gods. Livy, on the other hand, firmly denounced replacing Fides with Iustitia, as his understanding of Justice is that of a somewhat one-sided virtue.

Unlike Fides, which has to do with mutual right relationships, Justice is about being fair to the people who one has power over.  The Roman state wished to appear just to its conquered territories, much as a father wishes to appear just in his dealing with his various children.  Iustitia depends very much on hierarchical relations and Fides does not.  Livy found Fides to be a more Roman virtue and thought of Iustitia as a Greek interpolation of weaker value. Even so, I think Livy would have to admit that Roman society was indeed patriarchal and hierarchical, and in those circumstances it is very important for the powers that be to be perceived as just.

As a personal virtue, Iustitia is a little hard for me to navigate. I of course wish to be just with my children and fair to my friends, but my children are only under my sphere of influence for a limited time and my friends are peers, not people I lord over in some way.  Other situations where I personally might think of applying Iustitia are more matters of Wisdom or Integrity.

On a societal level, however, Justice is absolutely vital to a healthy state and culture. Injustice harms those it favors as much as it harms those it pushes down.  We should always pay attention to how our authority is treating the least among us, and not simply because one day something might happen to make us the least. Our civic virtuous life is reflected in how our society treats the people on the bottom. Without a solid foundation of Justice, our state cannot stand and present itself as a right, moral, legitimate power.

And this is the last of my Roman virtues series. It took me a bit longer to finish than the ADF virtues, but it was time well spent. I’ve learned quite a bit about what I consider virtuous and have a lot of new material to help me live a self-examined life. I’ll be thinking very heavily on the virtues that I’ve rejected; why I rejected them, what it says about me, and how embracing might or might not improve my life.

  • Amicitia (titarufiaprisca.wordpress.com)
  • Severitas (titarufiaprisca.wordpress.com)
  • Courage (dragonflyhouse.wordpress.com)
  • Virtue (olmwsimpletruths.wordpress.com)

Pudicitia

Istanbul Archaeological Museum - Portrait of C...

Cornelia Antonia as Pudicitia. Istanbul Archaeological Museum

“The loveliest form of beauty. . .the greatest adornment. . .pudicitia”, said Seneca to his mother Helvia. Seneca was especially close to his mother and aunt, and considered his mother to be one of the most chaste and modest women that he knew. Chastity and modesty were extremely important virtues for a Roman woman, to the point that Pudicitia was made into a goddess with her own cult following. Married women above all wished to radiate pudicitia, or chaste and modest sexual virtue. In an era when a woman could be divorced simply for being the target of evil gossip even if she had done nothing wrong, pudicita was a fragile and elusive virtue that could mean the difference between life and death.  To belong to the cult of pudicitia, a woman had have only slept with one man, her husband, and only one husband. If her husband died, she would have to choose between Pudicitia and remarriage.

Boys still wearing their bullas also were considered to be protected by Pudicitia, making them off limits to older men who might like to have homosexual relations with them. Pueri Romani, Roman boy citizens, were absolutely off-limits, unlike slave boys or non-citizens. And so pudicitia was not simply a female virtue,  but definitely mostly a virtue of the weak.  Though some writers refer to men when they speak of pudicitia, they’re mainly speaking of how men ought to make sure that their women and children are protected by and practice Pudicitia, and how they should reward them for this by being chaste themselves. Rome was very much the patriarchy.

Wealthy Roman women of high status could afford to no mind to pudicitia, as far as it actually governing their sex lives. But even the elite could get into trouble if public opinion turned against them, and lack of pudicitia could suddenly become desperately important. Historically, pudicitia was mainly a weapon to govern women’s behavior and punish those who didn’t play by the rules or who simply fell out of favor or were inconvenient in some way. I view any supposed virtue that is very hard to prove or disprove, and that is used to control women, as being a very poor virtue.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for not using sex as a purely recreational activity or bodily intoxicant. Even so, I return to the knowledge that pudicitia was mainly about controlling women and their bodies. I’ll have to pass on this ancient Roman “virtue”.

Apollo Medicus

Your healing light shines

brighter than sunshine

Cleansing warmth

enveloping compassion

You give us the tools to heal each other, heal ourselves.

Radiant Apollo

preserving protector

slayer of dark ills

giver of life and health

I salute you.

Σας χαιρετώ.

Saluto Vos.

Severitas

Herman Saftleven landscape

Herman Saftleven: Landscape with Roman Ruin

Severitas: a justifiable and necessary strictness

For Roman society, severitas was an absolutely necessary social control. To display too much indulgentia would make one seem weak, especially if you were the (male) head of household, a leader or politician, you had to be strict and yet fair and moderate. Even mothers well-stereotyped for their indulgent natures had to practice severitas if they wanted to raise up worthy sons and modest daughters for their houses.

But Seneca says that the opposite of severitas is not clementia, because virtues cannot be in opposition to each other. For Seneca, the opposite of severitas is  saevitia, cruelty, because for severitas to be true it must be justifiable and necessary.  Cicero, on the other hand, thought that sometimes both severitas and saevitia were required for control, though I don’t think he would have elevated cruelty to a virtue.

All the philosophical discussions of severitas reveal a very important thing about severitas– it is a very delicate virtue indeed. If it isn’t applied with the utmost control and delicacy, it becomes cruelty, crudity and oppression. So should it be a virtue for modern Roman pagans at all?

The thing is, if we have no ability at all to be strict with ourselves, it’s likely we won’t get much done. Setting a schedule and sticking to it, eating one cupcake and not the whole tray, saving money for a future purpose instead of spending it all on a whim– these are all perfectly necessary applications of severitas. Likewise exercising when required, practicing, and doing chores that are repetitive but necessary.

One area where the issue of severitas versus cruelty versus indulgentia comes up a lot is parenting. We want to be kind to our kids, give them great things and experiences, but we also want them to grow up to be responsible, healthy adults. And so we don’t let them eat a gallon of ice cream and stay up until 2 am on a school night. It seems very cruel to the kid at the time, but later they’ll thank us for our severitas.

Numa Tradition: Juno

Let no pélex touch the altar of Juno or enter the temple precinct of Juno; if she touches it, let her, with her hair unbound, make sacrifice to Juno.”

A pelex was a mistress established as an unofficial rival wife. This seems to come from Festus, but again I haven’t been able to track down the exact quote.  Danet’s “Complete Dictionary” seems to think this was a clause forbidding polygamy, as women would touch Juno’s altar as part of their wedding vows.

The important thing here is that a pelex threatened home life, unlike a prostitute or more casual love affair.  We’re talking about the mores of Ancient Romans here and not modern convention, where a single indiscretion can be cause for divorce. Though Romans could and did get divorced on as little provocation as unseemly public behavior, usually divorces were motivated by extended family dynamics and political factors. The greater family good was more important than any single couple’s marriage, and anything that threatened the carefully arranged alliances between Roman families was deeply frowned upon.

Juno, as the guardian of family harmony, would have little sympathy for a second, unofficial wife or mistress set up in her own household.  But even a pelex could make sacrifice in expiation if she did wrong, so all is not hopeless for her.

As a modern pagan, I married for love and not political connections. I’m going to take this as a general admonition to not let relationships with others, including friendships, disrupt home life.

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Amicitia

The Young Cicero Reading, 1464 fresco, now at ...

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Amicitia translates literally as friendship. In Roman times it meant something a bit more subtle and political than what we consider friendship– the casual, social relations that we have with people who we enjoy associating with. We see some very good examples of amicitia in HBO Rome, between Atia of the Julii and Servilia of the Junii. These women don’t at all like each other in any sense that we understand and are in fact constantly plotting against each other, but officially they are “friends”. The benefits of the association outweigh their personal distaste.

In modern society we decry this sort of behavior, and indeed I’ve no desire to be nice to people in public while carving up defixiones for them at night. But being cordial to people and being friendly with people because we share common goals and worldviews is not a bad thing, even if I don’t especially want to invite them over for dinner. Not so much the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”, more “the friend of my worldview is my friend”.

Of course Romans did have different, deeper thoughts on friendship. Cicero wrote a whole dialogue on the subject “Laelius de Amicitia“, much of which would sound quite familiar by modern standards of what makes a good and “true” friend. Most interesting to me is his exploration of what friends should not ask of each other, such as to commit or cover for immoral acts.  Also interesting are his notions of the “false limits of friendship”, which goes along with a very Pagan statement that Cicero makes, that generosity is a natural condition of human nature. If we act as though we believe this is true, or if we really do believe this is true, then it makes the entire notion of friendship and close friendship possible. Without this philosophy, where would we ever find Cicero’s “good person” to be friends with?

 

 

Happy Vestalia

Temple of Vesta

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This is Vesta’s day. Today we honor the goddess of the living flame who makes domestic life possible. Though Vesta is very much a household goddess as she is the goddess of the hearth, Vestalia was a state celebration in Roman times.  The temple of Vesta, attended to by the Vestal Virgins, served as the hearth for the Roman empire. You can see a reenactment on the state holiday, done at the temple of Vesta:

I honor Vesta at my morning devotions by lighting a flame and asking for her blessing with my take on a common prayer: “Salve, Mother Vesta, may your flames always guide us. Mother Vesta, may all be well this morning in our house.” Today, I’ll bring her flowers and bread and mola salsa and say thank you to her for looking after us so well. Below you can find a link to White Moon Gallery’s suggestions on ways to honor Vesta.  Though it’s not Mos Maiorum, it is very nice indeed with many helpful suggestions.

Ten Roman Women You Should Know About

Aldegrever, Heinrich 1502-1555/61: Rhea Silvia...

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  1. Egeria, the nymph who gave Numa Pompilius the gifts of wisdom and prophecy, and who acted as his guide and counsel while he established the traditions of Rome. Give her libations of water or milk in a sacred grove and see what gifts of wisdom or prophesy she might give to you!
  2. Rea Silvia, first of the Vestal Virgins. Legendary mother of Romulus and Remus, by way of a visit from the god Mars. Yes, Romans had myths with immaculate conceptions in them too.
  3. Julia Domna, Empress of Rome.  Born in Syria around 170 B.C.E., she was wife to the Emperor Severus. A patron of learning and the arts, she also went on campaign with her husband during war time, earning her the title of “mater castrorum”–”mother of the camps”.
  4. Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, often held up as the perfect example of Roman womanhood in ancient times. Besides giving birth to 12 children, she also used her social position to further her sons political careers, and went on to study in both Latin and Greek later in life. Her letters are some of the only surviving writing by Roman women.
  5.  Amazon and Achillia, two gladiatrix women honored in a relief carving in Halicarnassus after their retirement from the gladiatorial games
  6. Cornelia Metella, wife of Pompey Magnus. Said to be well-educated in geometry, music, and philosophy, she was a caring step-mother for Pompey’s children from his previous marriages.
  7. Livia Julia Augusta, Empress of Rome. Wife of Octavian, Julius Augustus Caesar, she was a power in her own right and well known for her forceful opinions.
  8. Clodia, best known as Catullus’s lover. Known for her beauty, wit, and wild ways, she inspired quite a lot of tortured poetry from Catullus before disapproving society and jealous rivals brought her down.
  9. Sulpicia, Roman poet and niece of Valerius Messalla Corvinus,  Roman statesman and legendary ancestor of the Hungarian aristocracy.
  10. Hypatia of Alexandria, premier woman scholar of Roman Alexandria.  Mathematician, Astronomer and philosopher, she was well loved and admired by her community until she was murdered in a political conflict with the Christian church.

Numa Tradition: Turn Around and Sit

Turn round to pay adoration to the Gods; sit after you have worshipped.

Plutarch says:

One of the delights of Plutarch is how prosaic he is. He often comes up with very mundane and logical reasons for things that might or might not originate in common sense and logic. And even if we turn around because it’s a matter of architecture, humans tend to elaborate and embroider meaning onto such acts, especially in a religious context. That we are mimicking the turning of the universe (a sort of Pythagorean thought) fits well with the rest of the doctrine, so why not?

Sitting after worship, according to Plutarch, is both a sign of good omen and lets the blessing of the gods come upon you, but also is a punctuation in worship, allowing the gods to spur the worshiper into more worship or move on as the situation requires. This is not as prosaic as the turning round because the room requires it, but is again Plutarch interpreting by way of the least complicated explanation. For those of us who meditate, the idea of a quiet time to sit after praying seems natural. Also it amuses me how many things from my Roman Catholic religious education, such as purifying with water and this notion of sitting and standing for different religious emphasis, come straight from pagan Rome.

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Rome: Season 1, Episode 11–The Spoils

Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo (left) and Kevin ...

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This episode’s theme was redemption, but of course there will be no redemption for Gaius Julius Caesar. Several characters hit rock bottom– Vorenus is reduced to bribing his fellow former brother soldiers into submission to Caesar’s plans, Pullo is out being a killer for hire and Brutus has finally realized what a total puppet he is.

Pullo’s redemption starts when he sacrifices and prays in his cell before being led away to the gladiatorial ring to pay for his crimes. Vorenus’s redemption comes full circle there, when he throws himself into the ring for the honor of the Legio XIII, and to support his brother Pullo. The scene where they leave the gladiatorial ring together is one of the most touching moments in the series. Brutus, meanwhile, is pushed beyond his ability to cope by Caesar’s “request” that he quit the city and become mayor of some far off place. He realizes that Caesar does not trust him because he has become untrustworthy, not because he has acted against Caesar but because he hasn’t acted in accordance with his own conscience. Of all the redemptive moments, I think Brutus’s is the weakest because Brutus of HBO Rome is a weak man. He has principals, but he doesn’t truly have the virtus to support them.

Pullo’s redemption is fullest because he can admit to himself where he’s gone wrong. His last prayer in the cell is for his friends and the woman he loves, not for himself.  However far away from the light he’s wandered, he is at heart a truly good guy, perhaps one of only two characters in the series (the other being Octavia) who has that interior nobility. Vorenus is still very conflicted between honor and duty, and that conflict will most likely destroy him.

Octavian, who I have been worrying about, got his moment too when he goes against Caesar’s wishes to try to hire a lawyer for Pullo.  This bit of defiance and doing what’s right instead of what’s politically expedient makes me think much more highly of this character. He’s still a bit problematic in certain aspects compared to the actual Octavian Augustus Caesar, but he’s coming along. Only one episode to go for Season One!

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