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From Greek and Roman Mythology & Heroic Legend, by Professor H. Steuding, Translated from the German and Edited by Lionel D. Barnett. The Temple Primers, London: J. M. Dent; 1901; pp. 106-108.


I.  Indeterminately conceived beings.   § 188.  By the side of the true divinities we find in Roman belief a series of figures which have neither developed into uniform conceptions nor grown into complete personalities, but have remained in the sphere of ancestor-worship and daemonism.

(1)  Among them the ghosts in the proper sense — Manes, Lemures, and Larvae — take the first-place. The souls of the departed in later times are usually designated by the flattering name of manes, ‘pure’ or ‘good ones,’ or generally as inferi, ‘infernal ones.’ Of these, each family paid especial reverence to the spirits of its own ancestors as the di inferum parentium, and as di parentes or patrii. A conscientious 107 observance of all the rules of ceremonious burial was rigidly insisted upon; even after cremation of the dead had become usual, the old customs applicable to burial were kept unaltered. On the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May were celebrated the Lemuria, on which the souls were believed to arise from their graves in the form of goblins (Lemures or Larvae). As a universal festival of atonement and worship of the dead, men also celebrated at the end of the old Roman year the dies parentales from the 13th to the 21st of February, and especially the Feralia on the last of these days, by presenting offerings of food and drink at the graves. The resemblance of the dead to a sleeper led on the other hand, as the grave-inscriptions shew, to a belief in later times that he slumbers in the grave in everlasting tranquillity and happiness (compare § 213, Deities of Death).

(2)  Closely allied to the ghosts are the Genii, representing the man’s powers of life and reproduction, and the Iunones of the women, which in their character exactly correspond to them. On birth they enter into human beings, on death they leave them; then they become Manes, and, exactly like the souls of the departed, they are depicted under the form of a snake. At the same time however the Genius or the Iuno is a deity worshipped as guardian spirit in the human being, by which men swear and to which an offering is presented on birthdays.

Starting from this conception of a personal guardian spirit with powers of reproduction, men later came to attribute Genii to the family, the city, the state, and finally to any place wheresoever a creative energy might display itself, and thus actually assigned to them the part of true nature-spirits.

§ 189.  (3)  A midway position like that of these Genii is occupied by the kindred Lares, who were regarded as guardian spirits of meadows, vineyards, roads, and groves, as well as of the house itself, but at the same time were honoured by various rites corresponding exactly to the worship of the dead. In earlier times, as a rule, mention is made only of a single lar familiaris, who guards and represents the hearth and home; 108 later however they always appear in pairs. Their exactly similar pairs of little wooden images were set up over the hearth in the Atrium; at every meal, and especially on the Calends, Nones, and Ides, and at all family feasts the housewife offered to them a little food and a fresh crown.

(4)  Under the title Di Penates, the figures of whom were likewise set up on the hearth, were comprised again all the gods which were looked upon as guardians of the store-room (penus) in the house, although apparently the same deities were not everywhere understood by the name; Ianus, Iuppiter, and Vesta are mentioned among them. From the individual house their worship was translated, like that of the Genius, to the civic community, and hence these Penates Publici were honoured on the State Hearth in the temple of Vesta.

§ 190.  (5)  Quite peculiar to Roman religion, and conceived without any traits of personal character, are the Indigetes or ‘Workers Within,’ the spirits bringing to pass any particular activity in certain persons or things. To each of these beings was ascribed one single strictly limited sphere of operation, which was exactly determined by the spirit’s name; hence heed had to be paid that the right Indiges should be called upon for aid at the right moment. The priestly college of the Pontifices, which had supreme functions of superintendence in these matters as well as in other questions of cult, was inspired by a striving for accuracy and definiteness to construct — especially, as it would seem, in the course of the fourth century B.C. — an almost endless series of these Spirits of Actions, on the model of older single figures of this sort. But as a natural result of this exaggeration these Indigetes soon lost their importance; at any rate their whole cult had already fallen into decay by the time of the Second Punic War. How artificial these distinctions were is proved e. g. by the fact that it was necessary to invoke Abeona when a child first walked out of the house and Adeona when it returned, as well as Domiduca and Iterduca.

Next :
Mythology and Religion of the Romans :

I.  Nature-Spirits and Deities closely akin to the Spirits of Actions.

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