Gods and Politics: Civics from the Romans

At this time of the year, I ponder what is citizenship and good government. At the Ides (13th) of September, an epulum (feast) is given to the Capitoline Triad. For my epulum, I lay out food for Jupiter, Brightest and Best (Iuppiter Optimus Maximus), Juno Regina (Iuno Regina) and Minerva Augusta. (These Three Gods comprise the Capitoline Triad.) It is also the Day of the Epulum Iovis (The Feast of Jupiter). In Ancient Rome, sacrifices would be made and the feast attended by Roman Senators. (The ceremony was called a lectisterium, a ceremonial meal that is offered to the Gods, Who attended through their statues.)

During the time of Roman Kings, the Archaic (Original) Triad, was Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. Jupiter guided the State, while Mars defended the borders. Quirinus promoted civic responsibility. (Roman citizens were addressed as “Quirites.”) I see this Triad today teaching new nations how to govern themselves.

Under Etruscan influence, the Gods of the Archaic Triad were changed to represent The Republic. Jupiter and Juno protected the State and guided the Senators. Meanwhile, Minerva, as the Patron of the Arts, promoted excellence in society. I see the Capitoline Triad advising today’s democracies.

The counterbalance to the Capitoline Triad is the Aventine Triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. Formed after a plebeian riot, the Aventine Triad protected the rights of the common citizens from government overreach. Ceres maintained the food supplies. Liber and Libera, both Gods of Fertility, protected the male and female seed, respectively. The Aventine Triad protects the rights of citizens today.

I consider civic action to be in the province of the Triads. The Capitoline Triad asks “does the conduct of the government warrant a response of some kind.” Were the representatives bribed into allowing fracking in their district? Did they deliberately enact these laws in the dead of night to avoid public outrage? Meanwhile, the Aventine Triad asks “is this new law fair and sensible.” Is there something out of balance? Did government overreach happen? The answers to these questions form the proper civic response.

I view civic action differently from politics. Civic action is based on what will benefit the community (commonweal). Politics is based on what the person determines to be right and wrong. Since everyone has different ideas on that, no one person can decide what is good for the whole of the community. Civic actions entail whether the citizens are disenfranchised by a law or practice. Are the rights of the minority protected while the will of the majority is being carried out? Are only the wishes of the minority implemented while the desires of the majority are ignored?

The Capitoline and Aventine Triads encourage citizenship and community participation, with deliberate and thoughtful actions. My response to the insistence by some that polytheism must be political is “what does that mean.” Civic action encourages the betterment of the community. Politics stresses one viewpoint over another. Being apolitical is also a duty and right of citizenship. For a society to function well, apolitical people are necessary. They are good judges and mediators, since they view things differently than others.

Whenever various controversies facing polytheists erupt, I always ask the Triads “what would benefit the community.” And I wait for the answer and pray for understanding. Sometimes the answer is to do nothing. Not every controversy requires or deserves a response.

Of the list of Private Roman virtues relevant to political action would be dignitas (a sense of self-worth), firmitas (tenacity), gravitas (a sense of the importance of the matter), prudentia (personal discretion), severitas (self-control) and finally veritas (honesty). These particular virtues both guide the conduct of the Roman Polytheist in politics, as well as define how to be an effective advocate. Following these virtues ensures that one does not degrade those for whom they advocate nor the Gods Themselves.

Public Roman virtues provide a structure on what to advocate for. Abundantia is enough food for all. Aequitas is fair dealing between the government and the people. When conducting affairs let concordia (harmony between nations and between people) and fides (good faith in contracts) be the guides. Iustitia points to having sensible laws, and salus, the concern for public welfare. In the throes of advocacy, bonus eventus (remembering positive events) and fortuna (acknowledging positive events) should not be forgotten.

Roman Virtues who are Gods:
Abundantia: With her cornucopia, this Goddess distributes grain and money to all.
Aequitas: Aequitas is the God of Equity.
Bonus Eventus: Depicted with a patera (cup) in his right hand and a wheat shaft in the left, this God ensures good harvests and successful enterprises.
Concordia: This important Goddess has a festival on July 22.
Felicitas (Prosperity): This Goddess represents the best aspects of communities.
Fides: This Goddess oversees oral contracts between people.
Libertas (Liberty): This Goddess personifies liberty in all its aspects – personal and political.
Pax (Peace): When Augustus re-established peace after the Roman Civil War, he made Pax a Goddess.
Pietas: This Goddess is usually portrayed with a stork, a symbol of filial duty.
Pudicita (Modesty): This Goddess, once represented the modesty of women, but later oversaw the moral uprightness of citizens.
Salus: This ancient Goddess also preserves public health.
Spes (Hope): Depicted about to depart, this Goddess holds an opening flower.
Virtus (Virtue) and Honos (Honor): These two Gods are usually worshipped together. They are also Gods of Military Courage and Honor.

One comment

  1. Keith McCormic · 4 Days Ago

    Thank you for this. We definitely need to consider Their standpoints, especially given how much influence certain deities exercised in the formation of our modern nation-states.

    Liked by 1 person

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