Image Map for WLGR (12k)

Religion



412. A divine portent. Rome, 63 B.C. (Plutarch, Life of Cicero 19.3, 20.1-2, 2nd cent. A.D. G)

Plutarch records a story which demonstrates how Cicero had divine support in his prosecution of the Catilinarian conspirators.

(19.3) It was now evening and a crowd had gathered. Cicero came forward and told the citizens what had happened. He was then escorted to the house of a friend and neighbour; his own was occupied by women who were celebrating the secret rites of the goddess whom the Romans call 'Good' (Agathe, i.e. in Latin, Bona) and the Greeks the 'Women's Goddess' (Gynaikeia). Sacrifice is offered to this goddess annually in the house of the consul by his wife or mother, in the presence of the Vestal Virgins. Cicero went to his friend's house, and began to deliberate with himself (since he had only a small entourage with him) how he should deal with the conspirators ... (20.1) While he still did not know what to do, a sign was given to the women holding the sacrifice. Although the fire on it seemed to have died out, a large bright flame shot forth from the ash and burnt bark on the altar. The rest of the women were frightened, but the Vestals told Cicero's wife Terentia to go to her husband as quickly as possible and tell him to do what he had decided to do on behalf of his country, because the goddess had sent a light to him to lead him to salvation and glory. Terentia - who was not meek or fearful by nature, but a particularly ambitious woman, as Cicero himself says, who was inclined to take a share in his political concerns rather than involve him in household affairs[1] - gave him the message and strengthened his determination against the conspirators.Return to the

top


413. Desecration of the rites of the Bona Dea. Rome 62 B.C. (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 9-10. 2nd cent. A.D. G)

In this 'unfortunate incident' during Caesar's praetorship Clodius managed to spy on the secret rites.

(9.1) Publius Clodius was a man of noble birth and notable for his wealth and reputation, but not even the most notorious scoundrels came close to him in insolence and audacity. Clodius was in love with Caesar's wife Pompeia, and she was not unwilling. But a close watch was kept on the women's apartment, and Caesar's mother Aurelia followed the young wife around and made it difficult and dangerous for the lovers to meet. [2] (9.3) The Romans have a goddess whom they call Good, whom the Greeks call the Women's Goddess. The Phrygians say that this goddess originated with them, and that she was the mother of their king Midas. The Romans say that she was a Dryad nymph who married Faunus, and the Greeks say that she was the Unnameable One among the mothers of Dionysus. For this reason the women who celebrate her rites cover their tents with vine-branches, and a sacred serpent sits beside the goddess on her throne, as in the myth. It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony.

(9.4) As a result, when the time for the festival comes, and a man is consul or praetor or general, he goes away and takes every male with him, and his wife takes over the house and decorates it for the festival. Most of the rites are celebrated at night, and with great amounts of festivity in the revels and music as well.

(10.1) At the time [that the incident occurred] Pompeia was celebrating this ritual; Clodius did not yet have a beard and for this reason thought that he would escape detection if he were dressed up as lyre-player, and went into the house looking like a young woman. He found the doors open and was led in without difficulty by a slave-woman who was in on the plot; this woman went to Pompeia and told her, and some time passed, but Clodius could not bear to wait, and as he was wandering around the large house and trying to avoid the lights, one of Aurelia's attendants got hold of him, and asked him to play with her, as one woman might with another, and when he refused, she dragged him before the others and asked who he was and where he came from.

(10.3) Clodius said that he was waiting for Pompeia's slave Abra (which happened to be the woman's name), and gave himself away by his voice. The attendant dashed away from him towards the lights and the crowd, shouting that she had caught a man. The women were terrified, and Aurelia called a halt to the rites of the goddess and hid the sacred objects; she ordered the doors to be shut and went around the house with torches, looking for Clodius. He was found in the room that belonged to the girl where he had gone in an attempt to escape. When he was discovered, he was taken through the doors by the women and thrown out of the house. That night the women went right off and told their husbands about the affair, and during the day the story spread through the city that Clodius had been involved in sacrilege and had committed injustice against not only those he had insulted, but the city and the gods.

(10.5) Clodius was indicted for sacrilege by one of the tribunes, and the most influential senators joined forces against him and testified about other dreadful outrages he had committed and his incest with his sister, who was married to Lucullus. [3] But the common people strenuously opposed these senators' efforts, and defended Clodius, and the mob helped him considerably by terrifying and frightening the jury.

(10.6) Caesar immediately divorced Pompeia, but when he was summoned as a witness in the trial said that he knew nothing about the accusations against Clodius. The prosecutor asked him about the apparent contradiction: 'why then did you divorce your wife?' He answered, 'because I thought my wife should be above suspicion'. Some say that that was what Caesar really thought; others that he was eager to save Clodius in order to gratify the common people. Clodius was acquitted because most of the jurors handed in their opinions in illegible writing, so that they would not endanger themselves with the common people by voting against him, or disgrace themselves with the nobility by letting him off. Return to the top


Notes:

1. Unfortunately Cicero's own description of Terentia does not survive.

2. Compare no. 88, where the husband trusts his wife, and her lover is able to gain entry into the women's quarters.

3. The youngest of his three sisters; in no. 71 (56 B.C.) Cicero accuses him of committing incest with his second sister, the wife of Q. Metellus Celer.