Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Taboo, Magic, Sprits: A Study of Primitive Elements in Roman Religion


"So in the old Roman days Titus Manlius, having killed a gigantic Gaul in a hand-to-hand conflict, cut off the Gaul's head, 'wrenched off his necklace and placed it, reeking with blood, on his own neck.' From that time on he and his descendants bore the surname Torquatus (torques--a chain or necklace). 1 The family of Torquatus had the necklace as a device down to the time of the Emperor Caligula, who forbade its use. 2 Again, in a much later time, during one of the pagan persecutions, a Christian, Saturus, was thrown to the leopards. A single gnash of the wild beast bathed him in blood. Turning to a soldier who was also, but in secret, a Christian, he asked for the ring which he was wearing; and when the soldier gave it to him, he smeared it with his own lifeblood and handed it back. 3

These are not merely the actions of a bloodthirsty soldier, crazed with victory, and of a religious fanatic. It was the inability to think correctly that caused Torquatus to place the gory necklace of his slain opponent about his own neck, and that impelled Saturus to smear the ring of his fellow Christian with his own blood and hand it back to him.
The curious twist in thinking which produced these actions has been considered a characteristic of the so-called age of magic;"

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