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Religion (2000) 30, 245258

doi:10.1006/reli.2000.0269, available online at on

Walter Burkert In Partibus Romanorum


Unlike his other books, Walter Burkerts Homo Necans and Creation of the Sacred both
explicitly utilise evidence from Roman religion to reach their interpretive goals. But
Burkerts use of that evidence is at variance with the meticulousness which has
characterised his use of Hellenic evidence throughout his academic career. This article
demonstrates how his use of Roman materials is at best impressionistic and incomplete;
important evidence is too often missing, and too often a Hellenists orientation
apparently compromises what does appear. More detailed attention to Roman
materials could sometimes improve and sometimes undercut the interpretation.
Consequently, Burkerts large-scale conclusions are less inevitable than he, and his
admirers, might like. Finally, explanations for these circumstances appear in the larger
context of the traditional tension between Greek and Roman in the field of classical
studies even today. A tacit assumption of those who specialise in Greek religion is that
expertise there automatically becomes expertise in Roman religion.
 2000 Academic Press

What has Rome to do with Burkert?1 Pre-eminent in the study of Greek religion,
notable for a magisterial command of evidence coupled with an evangelising willingness
to utilise methodological guidelines from other disciplines to counteract the traditional
positivism of classical studiesis that not enough? If I may quote myself, Very much in
the nineteenth-century classical tradition of a scholarly Titan identified with a particular
specialty, so most classicists would equate Burkert with the study of Greek religion
(Phillips 1998a, p. 93). It is true that Roman material sometimes illuminates earlier
Greek material, but that has never been a sine qua non for the study of Greek religion,
in contrast to the study of Roman religion, which regularly needs Greek material. Is it
not ungenerous to expect a specialist in Greek religion constantly to plumb the
Nachleben of Greek religion in Roman religion?2
But Burkert himself has raised expectations for Roman religion. First, there is his
Homo Necans (hereafter HN). While its subtitle limits the subject to The Anthropology
of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, there is more: The Greek tradition will
hold center stage, though it is hoped that we will illuminate important stages in the
mainstream of human development as well (p. xxiii). Again: We shall examine religion
as an historical and social phenomenon, as the medium of tradition and communication
among men (p. xxii). HN, although focusing on Greek religion, is thus intended to
contribute to the general study of religion.3 In an afterword to the reprint of the
German edition (see Burkert 1997, pp. 33352) Burkert too shows continuity with his
Creation of the Sacred (hereafter CS). CS combines sociobiology with comparative
material, from the ancient Mediterranean and elsewhere, to discover why homo is homo
religiosus. Witness its subtitle Tracks of Biology in Early Religions. Witness its flyleaf,
which invokes religions from the Near East, Israel, Greece, and Rome. Witness,
indeed, the entire book. HN thus promotes a general theory of sacrifice and ritual
inspired by Hellenic material. CS proers that wider relevance and thus represents an
expansion of the generalising claim made for HN. Rome should have a not inconsid-
erable amount to do with HN, and a considerable amount to do with CS. But does it?
An answer to that question requires, at the outset, clarification of two issues. First, HN
and CS utilise comparative material extensively. Now, in many quarters, comparative

 2000 Academic Press

0048721X/00/030245+14 $35.00/0
246 C. Robert Phillips III

material in classical studies acquired a bad odour earlier in the century, principally,
although not entirely, as a result of the perceived excesses of the Cambridge Ritualists
especially Jane Harrison, Gilbert Murray and Francis Cornford. More generally, there
remains a lack of consensus about the heuristic value of comparative material (see Boas
1896; Smith 197172). Put dierently, a parallel, like love, is where you find it (West,
p. viii). Thus I accept comparativism as one of Burkerts procedures but do not here
question it as a procedure.
Second, there is the repression thesis of both books: the claim that ritualisation is the
controlled displacement of chaotic and aggressive impulses and is central to culture as
the means to dominate nature and the natural violence within human beings.4 I have
previously noted that Burkerts focus on the repression thesis leads him to shun other
theoretical guidelines such as the sociology of knowledge and conflict sociology
guidelines which might undercut the thesis (see Phillips 1998a, p. 93). For better or for
worse, then, Burkert utilises comparative material and the repression thesis in both
books, and I take both as given. But since the agenda of both books implicitly and
explicitly requires the use of Roman material, I now discuss how adequately Burkert has
done so.

A Roman Homo Religiosus?

Let us begin with a major controversy in Roman religion. Some specialists have
vigorously utilised the conception of numen. Others have just as vigorously sought to
liquidate it conceptually. Its impact on the study of Roman religion began late in the last
Early Roman evidence suggested that the seemingly old Latin term numen denoted
a combination of divine power and the divinitys exercising of that power.5 The word
suggests that the Roman divine beings were functional spirits with will-power, their
functions being indicated by their adjectival names. Proper names they had not as a rule
(Fowler, p. 119). Scholars then pressed into service various well-known lists of
apparently minor divinities, lists usually preserved in antiquarian authors rather than in
actual religious records. Some of those lists were of demonstrable antiquity, while the
antiquarian lists still seemed often to preserve reliable early information.6 Scholars also
wrestled with the relation between such divinities in the lists and apparently native
Roman categories for them such as Di Indigites and Di Novensides. Sometimes scholars
accepted an equation, sometimes they modified it, and sometimes they invoked the
synthetic category of Sondergtter.7 But the story does not end there.
Enter the fascination of the late nineteenth century with comparative contemporary
materials, particularly in the United Kingdom, whose colonial empire guaranteed a
virtual flood of material. Enter an Anglican cleric, R. H. Codrington, with a study of
the Melanesians (1891). He noted a native category, mana, the definition of which he
borrowed from Max Mller: what works to eect everything which is beyond the
ordinary power of men, outside the common processes of nature; it is present in the
atmosphere of life, attaches itself to persons and to things, and is manifested by results
which can only be ascribed to its operation (Codrington, pp. 1189 and n. 1). Thus he
explicated the eects of poisoned arrows. First, what is sought, and as they firmly
believe obtained, is an arrow which shall have supernatural power, mana, to hurt, in the
material of which it is made (p. 307). Then, observing the arrowhead, made from a
dead mans bone, he wrote that a punctured wound in the tropics is often followed by
tetanus, that the breaking o of a fine point of bone in a wound is sure to be dangerous
Walter Burkert In Partibus Romanorum 247

and likely to be fatal. . . . The point is of a dead mans bone, and has therefore mana
(p. 308).
The implications seemed patent. The Melanesians apparently believed in a super-
natural power that was impersonal, inexplicable, not always tied to a particular divinity,
and yet was ecacious. Melanesian mana clarified Roman numen, or so it seemed.
Speculations on the etymology of the Latin word religio seemed to add support since
they suggested that religio meant a feeling of awe before inexplicable supernatural
Finally, this numen thesis addressed an issue which had troubled specialists in
Roman religion. In the latter third of the nineteenth century the interpretive category
concept of animism, notably in Tylors formulation, had swept through the fields of
classical studies, religious studies and anthropology, the more readily because all three
fields were then considered more similar than dissimilar. Although animism seemed a
valuable heuristic tool, it could not entirely account for the numen material of Roman
religion. It could account for the multitude of spirits (Sondergtter) but could not fully
explain passages such as a god lives in this grovewhich god we do not know (Vergil,
Aeneid 8.3512).9 Or, as one classicistanthropologist summarised the theoretical
problems, Tylors animism is too narrow because too intellectualistic. Psychologically,
religion involves more than thought, namely, feeling and will as well (Marett, p. 1).
Codringtons introduction of mana in 1891 initiated two decades of vigorous theorising
that led to the postulation of a stage before animism, variously named preanimism or
dynamism (see Alles). Dynamism, as the specialists in Roman religion preferred to
call it, rapidly gained ground, aided by the appearance in 1947 of the enormously
influential Roman Dynamism (Wagenvoort, esp. pp. 7, 100).
Despite Wagenvoorts authority, and the added imprimatur of H. J. Rose, some
began, and many continued, to question the value of dynamism for conceptualising
Roman religion.10 For example, Kurt Latte disliked animism and thus excluded
everything apparently related to it: dynamism, the numen-thesis, and the concept of
Sondergtter (see Latte, pp. 94 n. 1, 100 n. 2). Nevertheless, he tacitly kept the idea, albeit
not the name, of numen in his chapter on the beginnings of Roman religion, in a kind
of dynamism without dynamism (see Latte, p. 43). More commonly, specialists have
taken polarised positions. On the one hand we are told that There is no evidence that
there was a stage in early Roman religion when men believed in undierentiated spirits
(numina) inhabiting woods, springs, rivers, lakes, caves and the like (Ogilvie 1969,
p. 13).11 On the other hand we are told that a widespread but vague mana appears
gradually to have been envisaged as localized impersonal forces, dwelling in stones,
springs, rivers, groves or trees. These are often referred to nowadays as numina
(Scullard, p. 16).12
Whatever one makes of the reception of the numen thesis, in studies of Roman
religion that thesis and its theoretical justification of dynamism could have supported
Burkerts interest in homo religiosus. But he has not used it. There is only a brief
discussion of the conceptual problems of animism and pre-animism, which are
supposedly characterized by formless notions of Mana and simple magical rites (HN,
p. 73). He could have said more in HN, and much more in CS.

Burkert and the Sources for Roman Religious Knowledge

One did not choose to be a Roman pagan. One was born a Roman pagan. There was
no catechism apart from general reverence for tradition (mos maiorum), and no set of
canonical books.13 So many gods, and so much information from so many sources about
248 C. Robert Phillips III

them. Herein are the source problems for the study of Roman religion. There are
extant, relatively complete literary sources in both major prose authorsfor example,
Ammianus Marcellinus, Cicero, Livy, Seneca and Tacitusand major poetsfor
example, Horace, Juvenal, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus and Vergil. There is valuable
information to be gleaned from various specialised treatises on philosophy, lexicography
and even surveying. There are fragmentary treatises of all these kinds and more; some
are extant in substantial remains, some extant in insubstantial remains, and some known
only by reputation. Finally, there is the archaeological record, including inscriptions.14
Thus the specialist in Roman religion must cobble. A notice in a major extant author
may be supplemented or contradicted by a fragmentary source; a fragmentary source
may oer unique testimony. Some information comes from fragmentary minor authors,
but some comes from fragmentary major authors. How to choose? Because of the
necessity of selection, disagreements arise over the reliability of the sources, especially
when they are fragmentary or lost; one scholars fundamental passage will be anothers
superfluous passage. Consequently, it is easy to carp pedantically, to promote ones own
views of the sources and to sponsor the impression that a scholar with whom one
disagrees has erred egregiously. Still, it remains possible to agree on the value of any
number of sources.
Walter Burkerts scholarship on Greek religion needs no further encomium than the
following: Few know the ancient literary and archaeological evidence for Greek
religion as well as he, and none know it better (Phillips 1998a, p. 92). But the picture
becomes more gloomy for Roman religion. Burkert usually privileges major extant
sources; information from other kinds of sources appears less often and, when it does,
less reliably. Two examples, one of fragmentary evidence, one of privileging major
sources, will clarify the issue. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to compile a long list from
which to choose these examples.
In HN, Burkert devotes a chapter to the Eleusinian mysteries, and in the section on
initiation he observes that A curious parallel to the Eleusinian myesis comes from a
Roman initiation custom, that of the most solemn form of marriage contract, the
confarreatio (p. 273). That was one way to bring the bride and her property into legal
control (manus) of the husband and paterfamilias; it was required only for members of
certain priesthoods, and other methods of creating manus were more common during
the early period at Rome when manus mattered. To support the parallel (p. 273 n. 33),
Burkert rightly cites the legal author Gaius, according to whom (Institutes 1.112), during
the ritual of confarreatio a cake of far (coarse wheat, farreus panis) was oered to Jupiter
Farreus (Iovi Farreo). But the capitalised Farreo gives Jupiter a specific cult, which is
questionable. The word may more plausibly be read uncapitalised, thus associating
Jupiter with the far without a formal cult.15 In accepting capitalisation, Burkert has
implicitly invented a new cult for Jupiter as he strives to make the connection to the
Eleusinian grain goddess. Gaius also speaks of a formula of fixed and most pious words
(certa et sollemnia verba). Although this formula would parallel the Eleusinian liturgies,
Burkert omits it. Then Burkert adduces Festus 102 as parallel to the principal ritual
description preserved in Servius commentary on Aeneid 4.374 (p. 272 n. 34).16 But
even though that passage is important, add Festus 65 on diarreatio, a ritual which
dissolved confarreatio. This addition undercuts confarreatio as a comparison for the
Eleusinian material since the apparent initiation ritual could be reversed.17
There are larger issues. Confarreatio began as a private institution of the elite, and so it
remained despite evidence of state intervention. Moreover, it was not much used for
Roman marriage in historical times. Major extant authors mention it only out of
Walter Burkert In Partibus Romanorum 249

sentimental respect rather than out of the regularity of performance required for
Burkerts comparison to be eective.18
Burkert also privileges the major extant sources. In chapter 7 of CS (The Validation
of Signs), in a section on validating oaths by rituals (p. 174), there appears the ritual of
throwing away the oaths object. After referencing Achilles oath (Iliad 1.23444),
Burkert adduces the Roman oath by Jupiter the stone (per Iovem lapidem; to Dia lithon
in Polybius) and concludes that In a strange way, by its name this oath seems to identify
stone and god. He gives the source Polybius 3.25.79, but it makes no such
identification. Is Burkerts reading of the oath preferable to Polybius? Compare Festus
102 on another stone oath (lapis silex): If I am knowingly swearing falsely, may Jupiter
expel me from the undamaged city and citadel and good people, as I hurl this stone.
Here Festus has preserved provably archaic information from his source, Verrius Flaccus,
information paralleling Polybius. The apparent identification of stone with Jupiter falls.
Likely, there were two traditions: swearing by Jupiter (cf. Festus 81) and taking the
stone oath.19

Of Puppets, Romans and Repression

The previous section discussed Roman material which appears in Burkert but does not
work. But there is also Roman material which would work but does not appear in
Burkert.20 Why is this so? Until recently, classicists did not assign to Roman ritual and
myth the same evidential value as that assigned to Greek ritual and myth. Indeed, as the
next section will demonstrate, classicists traditionally dismissed Roman ritual as empty,
and questioned whether the Romans even had myth. Put dierently, the evidence of
Roman religion seemed irrelevant for the study of ancient religion. Although specialists
in Roman religion now challenge this position, many specialists in Greek religion
continue to assume it.
First consider the sacra Argei: On 16 and 17 March in Rome a procession went to the
shrine of the puppets . . . situated at various points in the four Servian regions of Rome.
On 14 May the celebrants hurled the puppets from the pons Sublicius [Sublician Bridge]
into the Tiber. This much is clear, but uncertainty surrounds almost all else (Phillips
1996). Even the ancients saw a surrogate for human sacrifice, while moderns have seen
a symbolic burial of Romes enemies (Wissowa 1896, cols 68993), a pacification of the
river god (Frazer, IV, pp. 91109), a distortion of traditions about the Vestals (Holland,
pp. 31331), or a general pollution ritual (Latte, pp. 4124). Regardless of these
possibilities, the ritual supports the repression thesis. And yet Burkert does not utilise
it. Interestingly, the sacra Argei appear in a major extant source, Ovids Fasti (3.7912,
5.62162), and since I have just characterised Burkert as privileging the major extant
sources, his omission is thus all the more puzzling. It may be that since sacra Argei do not
appear with a Hellenic-styled myth, they do not fit Burkerts privileging of the
traditional collocation of Greek myth and ritual. But what could be more supportive of
the repression thesis than the human surrogates of puppets?
Again, the Romans had a singular group of divinities, the Lares. Familiar to
generations of Latin students as private household gods (Lares familiares), they were also,
in historical times, considered guardians of crossroads (Lares compitales), of travellers
(Lares viales) and of the state (Lares praestites), and they also appear in a variety of often
enigmatic assocations (see Roscher, II, cols 18857). There has been a long controversy
whether the Lares had ghostly or agrarian origins, and here I endorse Burkerts
scepticism of the search for origins generally (see Hamerton-Kelly, pp. 2123). But if
we substitute associations for origins, matters become interesting.
250 C. Robert Phillips III

At the festival of the Lares Compitales, it was customary to hang up a male or female
puppet for each free member of the household and a ball for each slave so that they
spare the living.21 On the ghostly view, the puppets substituted for human sacrifice. On
the agrarian view, they were part of a purification ritual. On either view, they were
human surrogates. Here lies more support for the repression thesis, and its omission can
be explained, just as in the case of the sacra Argei. But there is more. An inscription from
archaic Latium may support the ghostly connection through invocation of the Lar of
Aeneas, which implies a deified ancestor. Although that reading remains controversial,
it still has plausibility.22 It links puppets with ghosts and the repression thesis as actual
Roman usage. Moreover, it makes deified ancestors a native Roman concept rather
than one borrowed from the Greeks, and this point inevitably aects Burkerts views of
Romulus, which the next section will discuss.

Myth and Ritual

Burkert asserts that The most exciting themes in myth come from the realm of sexuality
and aggression, and these are also prominent in ritual communication (HN, p. 33).
Although he does not explicitly say so, by myth he means Greek myth, in chapter 3
of CS (The Core of a Tale). There (pp. 5863) he evaluates Vladimir Propps
Morphology of the Folktale in the context of Greek mythology, beginning with the
statement that In Greek mythology, which had not been included in Propps study
(p. 59). The remainder of the section, plausibly enough, considers evidence from the
ancient Near East (see West). Where are the Romans?
Among the many notorious problems of Roman religion, that of myth has probably
been the most notorious. Earlier generations remarked on the apparent absence of
myth in Roman religious information, and by myth they invariably meant Greek
myth (see Phillips 1991). There has been no lack of explanation for the absence. Some
argued that the Romans never had myth. Others maintained that they had had it and
lost it.23 More recent explanations seem more subtle. Thus Georges Dumzil posited
Roman myths, but his tripartite scheme forced the recovered Roman myths into the
Greek model. Some have noted that the Romans liked myth, to judge from the
enormous number of Greek mythologies present in literary works. On this view,
Roman myth becomes an amalgam of various native Roman mythic information with
the Hellenic material (see Bendlin; Feeney; Wiseman 1998), while others have seen
literary mythmaking as late and hence not proper myth, since on their view real myth
is collective, spontaneous and pre-literate (see Horsfall).
The problem may be the category. Although classicists have regularly conceived of
myth on the Greek model, the ancients were less sure (see Gale, pp. 626). Now only
a doctrinaire positivist would question the heuristic utility of a modern category. But all
can object to a category that is internally contradictory (see Kirk 1970, pp. 141).24 And
if a definition is expanded too far in the interests of inclusiveness, the result becomes
positively unwieldy (see Doty, p. 11). At the least, Burkert seems to equate myth with
Greek myth, thus implying that Roman myth is a contradiction in terms.25
It may be that the explanation for this curious omission, and for refusal even to
polemicise about it, lies in the connection of myth with ritual. It is scarely news that the
older myth and ritual school, which saw myths and rituals as mutually explanatory in
various ways, is undercut by, e.g., the observation that not all Greek rituals have a
known myth and that many known myths are devoid of any known ritual (see Kirk
1970, pp. 831).26 Still, there continues to be a preference for seeing myths as
explaining something, rituals as explaining something and, on occasion, both myth and
Walter Burkert In Partibus Romanorum 251

ritual as explaining something. Outside of classical studies, not all share that preference.
Some have attacked the notion that ritual contains meaning (see Staal). Others have
asserted that ritual represents a text to be decoded (see Boyer). That is, Burkerts
repression thesis relies on the idea that myth and ritual contain encoded information,
and so, inevitably, the thesis requires evidence that fits.
The tendency to view myth as encoded information can seem new when it appears
in the guise of modern decoding theories, especially when, as often, those theories
utilise the sciences of psychology and sociobiology. But it can also seem old. The
anthropologists of the nineteenth century spun their theories on the principle that
primitives could not think clearly about crucial philosophical and religious issues and
thus did the best they could by way of myth. The nature myth school was a prominent
example of this view, but by no means the only one. But there is another problem of
like ilk. In Burkerts view, information becomes myth when its origins have been
forgotten, and thus literary myth such as Ovids (infra) cannot by definition be proper
myth.27 This position parallels the view that recent Roman literary myth is not proper
myth (see Horsfall). In both cases there lies an evolutionist, in illo tempore presupposition,
that myth arose back then but not now. And of course, back then is when
primitives could not think clearly. I would in no way imply that Burkert or Horsfall
commends this earlier, patronising view of non-Western and non-modern cultures. But
I would assert that for all guise of modern scholarship and modern methodology, many
classicists thinking about myth still remains beholden to the last century.
Certainly there are many accounts of Roman rituals, and sometimes literary sources
present what seem their authors own mythic explanations of the rituals. These accounts
fail by Burkerts stipulated terms. Accounts of ritual without a myth fail because they do
not manifest the myth-ritual connection. Accounts of ritual with myth fail because the
author has contrived the myth, and thus it cannot, on Burkerts definition, be myth
since its origins are patent rather than forgotten.28 That is, the Roman material
compromises Burkerts Greek-based evidence for myth and ritual. It is an uncomfort-
able reminder that the myth and ritual connection, as usually described, may not matter
so much after all. In a polytheistic system, whose cultic dierentiation satisfies both
public and individual needs without having to oer complementary mythologies, we
ought to regard myths rather as determining mental processes and only in exceptional
cases as charters for cultic action (Bendlin, p. 265).
Whatever one says of the issues of Burkerts view of myth, that view does not appear
when he turns to the Roman example par excellence: Romulus and Remus.29 He has
seen Hellenic influence in the Roman development of Romulus (see Burkert 1962,
pp. 3589), but he has also come close to the universalising repression thesis by relating
Romulus and Remus to Cain and Abel (Burkert 1983, pp. 201).30 He has called it a
myth (Burkert 1983, p. 21) which contradicts his position that the origin of
information must be forgotten for a story to be a myth, since he has identified the
literary origins of much of that information. Certainly a good case can be made for the
Romulus and Remus material fitting the repression thesis in light of the almost Greek
miasma which the Romans traced both from Aeneas ancestor Laomedon and from
Romulus and Remus through to their own civil wars after the assassination of Julius
Caesar.31 There is another theological dimension, too. If one accepts the Lar of Aeneas
inscription as evidence for a native Roman category of deified ancestors, and if one
combines that evidence with Livys reports of arguments over Romulus apotheosis (see
Livy 1.16), one faces the uncomfortable position of gods being created (which implies
the mythic) at known times (which cannot, in Burkerts view, be mythic).32 Likewise
252 C. Robert Phillips III

for the development of the Imperial Cult from the Lares: its origins are known
(Burkert), and it is modern mythmaking (Horsfall) and therefore cannot, for Burkert,
be myth. Once again, for all the apparent modern sophistication, there lurks the old
view of Romans without myth. It does not seem mere coincidence that Romulus and
Remus have minor roles in HN and CS.33
Since in Burkerts view a story can only be myth if its origins are forgotten, much
Roman material, material which would support his repression thesis, does not appear.
For example, there is the story of Pomona and Vertumnus (see Ovid, Metamorphoses
14.622771) which stops just short of sexual violence. The mythology is patently
Ovids, despite both divinities ancient antecedents.34 Some might dismiss it as late
mythmaking. Some might dismiss it as no myth since, in their view, the Romans by
definition had no myth. At the same time, some might take it as valid mythmaking in
the context of poetry and I would take it as an example of Ovids inversion of the locus
amoenus mythology of the countryside into a singularly unpleasant place (see Segal). But
the myth lacks a ritual and is late, both of which make it, along with much other
Ovidian material, apparently of no interest to Burkert.35
Then there are rituals which have no apparent myth of any kind. Consider briefly,
in addition to the puppets of the previous section, two major festivals. There is the
notoriously problematic October Horse which Burkert briefly dismisses because of his
apparent idiosyncratic reaction to a major modern study (see HN, p. 159 n. 112).36
There is the Lupercalia, a February festival which puzzled the historical Romans and
continues to puzzle scholars today. Nevertheless, its naked youths striking pregnant
women with switches in a fertility ritual, and a very plausible connection with ghosts,
seem obvious for HN and CS.37 Can it be that Burkerts use of the mythritual
connection has led him to shun apparently mythless rituals to his theorys detriment?

An Explanation
Polytheism oers enormous freedom of choice among both old and new divinities. No
canonical definitions exist for divinities, as information about divinities comes not
merely from religious specialists but from anyone. Too, there exists a tension between
the apparent universalising quality of major divinities, and the particularising of aspects
of that divinity which appear in the various specific cults. Here may lie an explanation
for the relative lack of emphasis which Burkert places on the Roman evidence: the
dierent weights of universalising and particularising as they appear in Greek and
Roman religious information. That is, the lesser emphasis on universalising in the
Roman material renders the evidence far less amenable to Burkerts large-scale views of
the homo religiosus than does the Greek.38
A trajectory of universal identity always ran through the particular diversity of Greek
religious information. One has the patent feeling for, say, the same Aphrodite, whether
in Iliad 3, Hesiods Theogony, Sappho or Euripides Hippolytus. One feels the same Zeus
throughout the Homeric poems, Hesiod and even Aeschylus.39 Of course, the nature of
the evidence may explain some of that continuity, in particular the normative role of the
Homeric poems in Greek culture and hence their influence on all later authors. But
consider whether, say, Zeus Meilichios is fundamentally the same god as Zeus Basileus.
The same author, Xenophon, can posit no (Anabasis 7.8.16) and yes (Symposium
8.9). Still, it is yes writ large rather than no which permeates the Greek material.40
Larger considerations support yes. The Athenian Empire required its revolted members
to utilise leading Athenian divinities (see Parker, pp. 1429). There is the Dorian myth
of Herakles, which acquired such popularity throughout Greece that Athens attempted,
Walter Burkert In Partibus Romanorum 253

with only moderate success, to oer a competitive myth of Theseus.41 That is, there was
a pull to the universal, a kind of concordat on the major gods, and thus Themistius,
admittedly a very late source, remarked of Asclepius that if we ailed . . . and the god was
present here in his temple . . . would it be necessary . . . to sail to Epidaurus instead of
taking two steps to be rid of our illness? (Oration 27 p. 402.1218 Dindorf ).
What of the Romans? Vergils Aeneid, for example, shows a universalising Jupiter, but
that does not reflect directly on Roman religion since generic and thematic consider-
ations required Vergil to work in the shadow of Homers universalising Zeus. Consider,
rather, probably the nearest to universal of Roman Jupiter cults, that of the Capitoline
Jupiter. Nails were driven into the walls of the temple at Rome on occasion (Livy
7.3.7), a practice derived from worship of the goddess Nortia, who never came to
Rome.42 What to make of the apparent absence of nail driving at other sites? Further
examples could be multiplied ad libitum. Put dierently, Roman religion seems removed
from the tension of the two Xenophon passages which betoken unity in diversity.
Roman religion seems a polytheism with a strong current of regional in even the most
apparently supra-regional divinities.43 Some cults, such as that of Jupiter Optimus
Maximus and Jupiter Dolichenus, might have received widespread recognition
throughout the Roman Empire. At the same time, the Romans regularly respected local
divinities and sometimes even imported them back home.44
For Burkert, then, the often less universalising Roman religion might pose embar-
rassing counter-examples to the universalising Hellenic material on which his theses
rely. Recall the Cambridge Ritualists. For them, the Hellenic amalgam of ritual and
myth worked, whereas the Roman material, based on their understanding of it, did not
work, and thus did not feature in their theorising. Although classical studies has
generally transcended earlier views of Roman civilization as derivative from the
Hellenic, it has not successfully done so for religion. Myth studies still utilise
Greek-inspired definitions of mythology, myth and ritual studies still rely on Greek-
inspired conceptualisations. Of course, it is tricky to place the Romans fairly in Hellenic
context, without allowing that context to swamp them. It is far more common, and
easier, too, to show the Roman as a subset of the Hellenic, the allegedly real homines
religiosi of classical antiquity.45 This will not do.

1 My thanks to Larry Alderink and Robert Segal for valuable advice on content and presentation.
2 Consider two ways to treat the vexed problem of whether the testimonia on the Athenian
festival of the Anthesteria contain a ritual exclamation for the banishment of either Carians (a
people) or Keres (evil spirits). HN (pp. 2268) uses Roman material only in passing (p. 226
n. 4), in contrast to Robertson (pp. 2035). There are other exceptions. Kurt Latte, author of
a major handbook on Roman religion, began his scholarly career in 1913 with a dissertation
on a Hellenic topic and contributed to the study of Hellenic religion throughout his career: see
his bibliography in Gigon, pp. 9118.
3 Elsewhere Burkert characterizes HN as a book about Greek sacrificial rituals (1983, p. 21).
4 Bell, p. 173, noting (p. 174) that few ritual theorists pursue this now and that many, including
Burkert, are now more likely to embrace the scientism of ethological and ecological
5 Wagenvoort, pp. 735, introduces the early literary material.
6 The flamen list of Varros Lingua Latina 5.84 is antiquarian but reliable (see Latte, pp. 367),
while Servius on Vergils Georgics 1.21 attributes a list of agricultural divinities to the first
Roman historian, Fabius Pictor. Varros antiquarian activity in his Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum,
preserved in fragments, oers many more: see Cardauns, I, pp. 6495, with notes in II.
Although some have seen them as antiquarian speculation rather than early evidence, compare
Beard, North and Price, I, pp. 1011. Consider too the records of the Arval Brethren, one of
254 C. Robert Phillips III

the oldest Roman priesthoods. While tidying their sacred grove in A.D. 224, they made
oerings to, among others, Adolenda and Coinquenda (Tree-burner and Tree-feller). Was
this but antiquarian speculation? See the text in Beard, North and Price, II, pp. 1512.
7 For a balanced introduction, see Scheid 1996a.
8 Latte, p. 39 and n. 3 summarises the scholarship.
9 Cf. Ovid, Fasti 2.6412: O Terminus, whether you are a stone or stump buried in the field,
you also have numen from olden times.
10 Weinstock 1949; for Roses response, see Rose 1951.
11 His view may come from Weinstock: see p. vii.
12 Of course, mana has a legitimate native context: see Swain and Trompf, pp. 1011, 1434;
Trompf, pp. 134, 81, 84. Interestingly, the numen thesis still percolates from classical studies
into other disciplines, as in North, pp. 20811.
13 Implications, with valuable cautions, in Beard 1991.
14 In general, see Rawson.
15 Linderski, p. 250 n. 19.
16 I cite Festus by page numbers in Lindsay, the standard edition; Burkert uses the older edition of
Mller (p. 114), and this apparent lack of concern for the best editions of Roman authors, in
contrast to a scrupulous concern for the Greek authors, supports this sections arguments.
17 See Servius on Vergil, Georgics 1.31. I summarise the discussion of Linderski, pp. 2501;
interested readers should turn to it for further particulars on materials in Festus and Servius
which Burkert neglects.
18 See Treggiari, p. 24, with a list of principal passages.
19 See Walbank on Polybius 3.25.69; Latte, pp. 1223.
20 Work means material which supports Burkerts repression thesis.
21 See Paulus Festus 273, 272, cf. 108; Scholiast to Persius 4.28 with Pauly, Wissowa and Kroll,
vol. IIA, cols. 22789; cf. Macrobius 1.10.24, 11.49 for puppets at the Saturnalia.
22 Weinstock 1960, pp. 1148, is the most accessible publication; Kolbe marked the start of the
revisionist view.
23 Beard 1993, pp. 467, cites the principal examples.
24 For critiques of Kirks view, see Versnel, p. 43 and n. 81. Methodological eclecticism may be
a solution: see Buxton.
25 Graf 1993 is a valuable anthology on aspects of Roman myth.
26 For further discussion of lack of connection, see Versnel, p. 76 n. 77.
27 See Burkert 1979, p. 2; more expansive on Rome, Burkert 1993, pp. 1921.
28 Cf. previous note. The influence of Hellenistic poetry on Roman literature has begotten much
scholarship; for an introduction, see Clausen.
29 Bremmer 1987 introduces the range of ancient material and modern interpretations; he
criticizes Burkert 1962 at pp. 467.
30 Compare the implications in light of the revisionist view of Romulus and Remus (see Wiseman
1995) as the start of a political mythology.
31 For Laomedon, see Vergil, Georgics 1.502, with Mynors, p. 97; for Romulus, see Jal,
pp. 40710.
32 See Beard 1989 for important theological implications.
33 The index of CS, s.v. Romulus, gives two entries. The first (p. 72) mentions his birth and
exposure in light of the birth of the hero pattern. The second (p. 159) involves the omen of the
birds at the founding of Rome, and appears in a section on the universal of birdwatching for a
religious sign. Has Burkert selected just the parts of the Romulus tradition which fit his
universalising agenda?
34 In general, see Scheid 1996c, 1996d. For Ovids literary methods here, see Littlefield. There is
a related issue. For example, in Fasti 4.679712, Ovid recounts ritual information from a local
informant. Some dismiss this as a poetic device, but it is hard to ignore the possibility of actual
transmission of information.
35 Compare the Cippus episode of Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.565621. The mythology has but one
other extant source: see Galinsky.
36 See Scholz with Ogilvie 1973.
37 The variety of interpretations of this confusing (to moderns) festival appears in Michels, p. 35
n. 1. For the principal passages with commentary, see Beard, North and Price, II, pp. 11924.
Walter Burkert In Partibus Romanorum 255

38 I thank Professor Robert Parker, New College, Oxford, for stimulating discussion of these
points; this does not imply his nil obstat for my elaborations.
39 See Burkert 1985, pp. 120, 123, 219. For Zeus, see Lloyd-Jones.
40 Compare Sourvinou-Inwood 1997, p. 165 n. 15. Of course, there are nuances. Thus Argive
Hera is both a local god and the subject of worship outside of Argos, while at Locri the
Persephone myth provided an exemplum for bridges through deemphasis on rape: see
Sourvinou-Inwood 1974; 1991, pp. 15180.
41 See Huxley, pp. 99112 (Heracles), 11322 (Theseus); Kirk 1974, pp. 176212 (Heracles and
the traditions); Parker, pp. 856 (Theseus in the sixth century). In general, see Walker.
42 See Varro, Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum 33a Cardauns=Tertul. Nat. 2.8.6. Cf. Lucius Aelius
Sejanus, the emperor Tiberius minister, and his private devotions to Nortia: see Juvenal, Satires
43 Ciceros philosophical works are often taken as evidence for a unified system. More plausibly,
the unity comes from presentation: see Denyer; Lloyd, pp. 123; 1369; Long.
44 The tension between Greek and Roman usage appears in many ways in the Greek provinces of
the Roman Empire. Andreas Bendlin organised a conference, Religion and Society in the
Eastern Part of the Roman Empire, 68 April 1998, at Brasenose College, Oxford University;
Clarendon Press will publish the revised conference papers.
45 One example of many: Mercury, the god of trade and commodities, with a bulging money-bag
in his hand, was a purely Roman metamorphosis of Hermes (Burkert 1985, p. 159). If the
Romans were so indebted, why did they ignore Hermes stone cairns, of which Burkert makes
so much (p. 156)? What of the Italic evidence, which shows a native collocation of Mercury and
commerce initially unbeholden to the Greek (Scheid 1996b)? Burkert is not alone in modern
day Hellenocentism: see Graf 1997 with Phillips 1998b.

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C. ROBERT PHILLIPS, III, is Professor of Classics and Ancient History in the

Department of History, Lehigh University. He has published widely on Latin literature,
Greek religion and his specialty, Roman religion. His monograph-length study, The
Sociology of Religious Knowledge in the Roman Empire to A.D. 284 appeared in
Aufstieg und Niedergang der rmischen Welt 2.16.3 (Walter de Gruyter, 1986). He has
contributed forty-four articles on Roman religion to the third edition of the Oxford
258 C. Robert Phillips III

Classical Dictionary, and will contribute thirty-four articles to Der Neue Pauly. He is
finishing The Religious Knowledge of the Roman People (Johns Hopkins University Press)
and is beginning a commentary Festus on Roman Religion (Clarendon Press).

Department of History, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015, U.S.A. E-mail: