The duties of the Flamen Dialis

Readers of Lindsay Davis’ “Falco” detective novels, set in Vespasian’s Rome, will remember One Virgin too many.  This novel was the last good one in the series, after which they deteriorated.  It featured murders in the family of the Flamen Dialis, the priest of Jupiter in the state cults.  Much is made of the restrictions on the holder of the office.

While reading Aulus Gellius Attic Nights today — an easy book to dip in and out of, for an invalid of classical tastes — , in book 10, chapter 15, I stumbled across what is probably the source for all that information.  Here it is, from the Loeb translation.  Note that the chapter heading is ancient and authorial.  All of the sources referenced are lost today.

15. Of the ceremonies of the priest and priestess of Jupiter; and words quoted from the praetor’s edict, in which he declares that he will not compel either the Vestal virgins or the priest of Jupiter to take oath.

Ceremonies in great number are imposed upon the priest of Jupiter and also many abstentions, of which we read in the books written On the Public Priests; and they are also recorded in the first book of Fabius Pictor. Of these the following are in general what I remember: It is unlawful for the priest of Jupiter to ride upon a horse; it is also unlawful for him to see the “classes arrayed” outside the pomerium, that is, the army in battle array; hence the priest of Jupiter is rarely made consul, since wars were entrusted to the consuls; also it is always unlawful for the priest to take an oath; likewise to wear a ring, unless it be perforated and without a gem. It is against the law for fire to be taken from the flaminia, that is, from the home of the flamen Dialis, except for a sacred rite; if a person in fetters enter his house, he must be loosed, the bonds must be drawn up through the impluvium to the roof and from there let down into the street. He has no knot in his head-dress, girdle, or any other part of his dress; if anyone is being taken to be flogged and falls at his feet as a suppliant, it is unlawful for the man to be flogged on that day. Only a free man may cut the hair of the Dialis. It is not customary for the Dialis to touch, or even name, a she-goat, raw flesh, ivy, and beans.

The priest of Jupiter must not pass under an arbour of vines. The feet of the couch on which he sleeps must be smeared with a thin coating of clay, and he must not sleep away from this bed for three nights in succession, and no other person must sleep in that bed. At the foot of his bed there should be a box with sacrificial cakes. The cuttings of the nails and hair of the Dialis must be buried in the earth under a fruitful tree. Every day is a holy day for the Dialis. He must not be in the open air without his cap; that he might go without it in the house has only recently been decided by the pontiffs, so Masurius Sabinus wrote, and it is said that some other ceremonies have been remitted and he has been excused from observing them.

“The priest of Jupiter” must not touch any bread fermented with yeast. He does not lay off his inner tunic except under cover, in order that he may not be naked in the open air, as it were under the eye of Jupiter. No other has a place at table above the flamen Dialis, except the rex sacrificulus. If the Dialis has lost his wife he abdicates his office. The marriage of the priest cannot be dissolved except by death. He never enters a place of burial, he never touches a dead body; but he is not forbidden to attend a funeral.

The ceremonies of the priestess of Jupiter are about the same; they say that she observes other separate ones: for example, that she wears a dyed robe, that she has a twig from a fruitful tree in her head-dress, that it is forbidden for her to go up more than three rounds of a ladder, except the so called Greek ladders; also, when she goes to the Argei, that she neither combs her head nor dresses her hair.

I have added the words of the praetor in his standing edict concerning the flamen Dialis and the priestess of Vesta: “In the whole of my jurisdiction I will not compel the flamen of Jupiter or a priestess of Vesta to take an oath.” The words of Marcus Varro about the flamen Dialis, in the second book of his Divine Antiquities, are as follows: “He alone has a white cap, either because he is the greatest of priests, or because a white victim should be sacrificed to Jupiter.”

I find that the Loeb translation is at Perseus, here, in the uncomfortable form that make searching so difficult and reading so hard, but is probably most useful for other purposes.

More on early French travellers to Libya

A year ago I posted a photo of the circus at Leptis Magna, and queried whether the circus — now reduced to foundations — really was standing to some height back when the first explorers arrived in the 17th century.

A commenter has directed me to an article with a figure from Durand’s article, from Le Mercure Galant of 1694.  I think it is worth seeing.  The top is his plan of the harbour; the bottom of the circus.

I’d still like to see the whole article, tho.

How much has changed in a year.  I doubt that I shall be going back to Leptis Magna soon.  How I wish that I had been able to go to Syria last year, as I had planned!  A travel company is using the following song for an advert at the moment.

You’re gonna take that ocean trip
No matter come what may.
You got your reservations
But you just can’t get away.
Next year, for sure, you’ll see the world,
You’ll really get around;
But how far can you travel
When you’re six feet underground?

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by, as quickly a as wink.
Enjoy yourself, Enjoy yourself
It’s later than you think.

True advice, I fear.

From my diary

Still busy with dull stuff, but I have been revising the Wikipedia article on Areimanios

“Who he?” I hear you cry?  Well Areimanios is the Greek name for Ahriman, the Persian evil spirit, used in descriptions of Zoroastrianism in Plutarch and the like.

Except … there’s more.  There are some odd traces of a non-evil Areimanios.  And there are five Latin inscriptions which seem to be all to a deity associated with Mithras, saying things like “To the god Arimanius in fulfilment of a vow”.

Some of the commentary I have read has said that it is fairly unlikely that anyone would set up altars to an evil god in their temples dedicated to good gods.  But I’m not so sure about this, because, in a dualist world view, you might well say that both need to exist.  We’ve all heard enough smelly hippies talking about “Yin and Yang, man”.  Won’t a true dualist see both as a part of the world, necessary in their own way?  Rather like having a toilet in the vestry, if you like?

I can see such a person making offerings and vows to the “dark side”, when in mortal danger — “let me off this time and I’ll give you a nice altar”?

We need to remember that we do not understand how ancient religion worked.  We can only guess at much of it.  I claim nothing for what I have just suggested — it is pure imagination — but we must avoid being too positive about what “must not” have happened.

On the other hand, maybe the critics are right.  Maybe the name of Ahriman was transferred (in its Latin form) to a different deity, the lion-headed god found in Mithraea and usually anonymous.  The name “Areimanios” appears (I am told) on the foot of one such statue, although that interpretation relies on expanding abbreviations and might be a personal name of a donor, not of the god. 

If so, then perhaps there is a pattern.  Roman Mithras, born from a rock and killing the bull, is not really at all like Persian Mithra, although they share the same name.  Rather someone took the name of the Persian god and applied it to their “export version” religion, rather like the Hari Krishna’s did for Krishna.  Did that same someone take the nice, authentic Persian “Areimanios” and apply it to their own made-up lion-headed god too? Is that how the cult was created?

A curious quote from one of the Greek magical papyri

I happened to see this claim in an online puff for the curious theories of Acharya S:

The salvific death and resurrection at Easter of the god, the initiation as remover of sin, and the notion of becoming “born again,” are all ages-old Pagan motifs or mysteries rehashed in the later Christianity. The all-important death-and-resurrection motif is exemplified in the “Parisian magical papyrus,” a Pagan text ostensibly unaffected by Christianity:

“Lord, being born again I perish in that I am being exalted, and having been exalted I die; from a life-giving birth being born into death I was thus freed and go the way which Thou has founded, as Thou hast ordained and hast made the mystery.”

This followed remarks about Easter being celebrated in pagan Mexico (!).

It is a golden rule, when dealing with supposed quotations in twaddle, always to verify those quotations.  A look in Google books shows that these two paragraphs are quoted verbatim  from Acharya S, Suns of god, 2004, p.503.  A reference ’18’ is given, but unfortunately the preview does not include the references.

A quick search in Betz, The Greek Magical papyri in translation, reveals no matches for “born again”.  Hmm.

Searching for the words reveals a possible source: the “Pagan Background of Early Christianity”, p.244 by W. R. Halliday (London, 1925: not a headbanger source) might be the source.  I’ve not been able to find this book online, tho.  But in a Google books preview it seems to refer to Dieterich’s publication of the so-called “Mithras liturgy”, so the words should be at the end of this.  But I can find nothing relevant in Meyer’s translation here.

UPDATE: It is indeed in Meyer:

O Lord, while being born again, I am passing away; while growing and having grown, I am dying; while being born from a life-generating birth, I am passing on, released to death– as you have founded, as you have decreed, and have established the mystery…

Did Basil of Caesarea attack science

In my post yesterday I discussed an online quotation from Eusebius in an anti-Christian diatribe:

#Noted Catholic Bishops declare science to be of no interest to Christians
The attitude of most of the Church Fathers towards science, however, was one of indifference or hostility. Bishop Eusebius, the noted historian of the early Christian Church, says of scientists: “It is not through ignorance of the things admired by them, but through contempt of their useless labor, that we think little of these matters, turning our souls to better things“.  Basil of Caesarea declares it “a matter of no interest to us whether the earth is a sphere or a cylinder or a disk, or concave like a fan”. Lactantius calls the study of astronomy “bad and senseless”. Like many other churchmen, he combats the pagan Greek notion that the earth is round and argues on scriptual grounds that it must be flat.

The Eusebius I traced back to an article in Popular Science, Vol. 8, No. 25, Feb. 1876.  Pp.385-409, by Andrew D. White, and it turns out to be from the Praeparatio Evangelica book 15, chapter 1.  It has, of course, no relation to science at all, but rather to the endless noodlings on all sorts of subjects of the sophists.

This morning I decided to search for the Basil quotation.  And immediately I turned up another article in Popular Science!  It turns out to be a revised version of the earlier article, by the same Andrew D. White, now an “ex-president of Cornell university”.  On p.447-8 of the August 1892 issue, we find the following:

But as civilization was developed, there were evolved, especially among the Greeks, ideas of the earth’s sphericity. The Pythagoreans, Plato, and Aristotle especially cherished them. These ideas were vague, they were mixed with absurdities, but they were germ ideas, and even amid the luxuriant growth of theology in the early Christian Church these germs began struggling into life in the minds of a few thinking men, and these men renewed the suggestion that the earth is a globe.+

The footnote fails to note who these “few thinking men” of the first to fourth centuries might be, however.  The footnote is worth giving, as indicating the real sources that White had at his disposal:

+ The agency of the Pythagoreans in first spreading the doctrine of the earth’s sphericity is generally acknowledged, but the first clear and full utterance of it to the world was by Aristotle. Very fruitful, too, was the statement of the new theory given by Plato in the Timaeus; see Jowett’s translation, New York edition, 62, c. Also Phaedo, pp. 449 et seq. See also Grote on Plato’s doctrine of the sphericity of the earth; also Sir G. C. Lewis’s Astronomy of the Ancients, London, 1802, chap, iii, section i, and note. Cicero’s mention of the antipodes, and his reference to the passage in the Timaeus are even more remarkable than the original, in that they much more clearly foreshadow the modern doctrine. See his Academic Questions, ii; also Tusc. Quest., i and v, 24. For a very full summary of the views of the ancients on the sphericity of the earth, see Kretchmer, Die physische Erdkunde im christlichen Mittelalter, Wien, 1880, pp. 85 et seq.; also, Eicken, Geschichte der mittelalterlichen Weltanschauung, Stuttgart, 1887, Dritter Theil, chap. vi. For citations and summaries, see Whewell, Hist. Induct. Sciences, vol. i, p. 189, and St. Martin, Hist. de la Geog., Paris, 1873, p. 96; also, Leopardi, Saggio sopra gli errori popolari degli antichi, Firenze, 1851, chapter xii, pp. 184 et seq.

I think we may suppose that White did not consult much of this.  But on he goes:

A few of the larger-minded fathers of the Church, influenced possibly by Pythagorean traditions, but certainly by Aristotle and Plato, were willing to accept this view, but the majority of them took fright at once. To them it seemed fraught with dangers to Scripture, by which, of course, they meant their interpretation of Scripture. Among the first who took up arms against it was Eusebius. In view of the New Testament texts indicating the immediately approaching end of the world, he endeavored to turn off this idea by bringing scientific studies into contempt. Speaking of investigators, he said, “It is not through ignorance of the things admired by them, but through contempt of their useless labor, that we think little of these matters, turning our souls to better things.” Basil of Cassarea declared it “a matter of no interest to us whether the earth is a sphere or a cylinder or a disk, or concave in the middle like a fan.” Lactantius referred to the ideas of those studying astronomy as ” bad and senseless,” and opposed the doctrine of the earth’s sphericity both from Scripture and reason. St. John Chrysostom also exerted his influence against this scientific belief; and Ephrem Syrus, the greatest man of the old Syrian Church, widely known as the “lute of the Holy Ghost,” opposed it no less earnestly.

But the strictly Biblical men of science, such eminent fathers and bishops as Theophilus of Antioch in the second century, Clement of Alexandria in the third, and others in centuries following, were not content with, merely opposing what they stigmatized as an old heathen theory; they drew from their Bibles a new Christian theory…*

* For Eusebius, see the Praep. Ev., xv, 61. For Basil, see the Hexameron, Hom, ix, cited in Peschel, Erdkunde, p. 96, note. For Lactantius, see his Inst. Div., lib. iii, cap. 3; also, citations in Whewell, Hist. Induct. Sciences, London, 1867, vol. i, p. 194, and in St Martin, Histoire de la Geographie, pp. 216, 217. For the views of St John Chrysostom Eph. Syrus, and other great churchmen, see Kretschmer as above, chap. i.

It’s worth remembering that the Praeparatio Evangelica did not exist in English at this date, and I suspect that it is a safe bet that all the sources referenced are being quoted at second hand.  The error in the reference (xv, 61 instead of xv, 1) is preserved here, for instance.  Indeed White does not conceal that his knowledge of Basil is second hand.

We are not concerned with White’s foolish and slightly unpleasant attempt to demonise the better element among his contemporaries by proving that their coreligionists of 18 centuries earlier did not happen to have attended Cornell University, and — worse! — did not share the shibboleths of the late 19th century, views which White himself held only because he lived when he did. 

But it would be most interesting to see what Basil actually said.  Fortunately these homilies are online in the NPNF series 2.  Homily 9 begins as follows:

1. How did you like the fare of my morning’s discourse? It seemed to me that I had the good intentions of a poor giver of a feast, who, ambitious of having the credit of keeping a good table saddens his guests by the poor supply of the more expensive dishes. In vain he lavishly covers his table with his mean fare; his ambition only shows his folly. It is for you to judge if I have shared the same fate. Yet, whatever my discourse may have been, take care lest you disregard it. No one refused to sit at the table of Elisha; and yet he only gave his friends wild vegetables.

I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to snake them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

Those who have written about the nature of the universe have discussed at length the shape of the earth. If it be spherical or cylindrical, if it resemble a disc and is equally rounded in all parts, or if it has the forth of a winnowing basket and is hollow in the middle; all these conjectures have been suggested by cosmographers, each one upsetting that of his predecessor. It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us.

Shall I then prefer foolish wisdom to the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Shall I not rather exalt Him who, not wishing to fill our minds with these vanities, has regulated all the economy of Scripture in view of the edification and the making perfect of our souls? It is this which those seem to me not to have understood, who, giving themselves up to the distorted meaning of allegory, have undertaken to give a majesty of their own invention to Scripture. It is to believe themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and to bring forth their own ideas under a pretext of exegesis. Let us hear Scripture as it has been written.

Does Basil attack science?  It seems not: surely he is attacking the allegorical interpretation of scripture? 

Is he attacking scientists, having viewed and rejected the science of late 19th century America, or so White suggests, doubtless by time-machine?  Again, the answer is no: he writes against contemporary Christians who get tangled up in the speculations of the philosophers, rather than concentrating on what the bible has to say.

It is, in fact, the words of a preacher, declining to involve himself with issues other than the text before him.  And surely that is a praiseworthy habit, rather than the reverse?

Life on the edge of the forum

When I read the epigrams of Martial or the satires of Juvenal, what strikes me more than anything else is the sheer discomfort of living in ancient Rome.  Martial himself had no running water laid on at his home.  Juvenal describes the risk of a poor man on his way home being crushed in the mass of people, making their way through the streets, and how his slaves — everyone has slaves, it seems — await him in vain while he sits shivering on the banks of the Styx, without a copper to pay the ferryman.

The abuse of those enslaved is endless, as Martial makes plain, yet, as in a modern office, the human element breaks through.  Some “owners” are in fact under the thumb of their slaves; others again refuse to allow their slaves even to sleep at night. 

At the other extreme, we read the letters of the younger Pliny, of a life of retirement in one of a number of rural farms, interspersed with a public career.  Even Martial, who wears a bad cloak, acquires a farm of some kind from a benefactor.

None of us, I suppose, would truly choose to live in ancient Rome.  And yet … the fascination with it is endless.

Cybele in the fables of Phaedrus

I was looking at the talk page of the Wikipedia Cybele article and a reference to Phaedrus 3:20 caught my eye.  I thought this must be the fabulist, rather than the dialogue of Plato, and so it proved. 

A translation of all the fables is at Gutenberg here.  Apparently there is some question as to how to number the first fables of book IV, or whether they are at the end of book III.   But here is what is clearly intended:


He who has been born to ill luck, not only passes an unhappy life, but even after death the cruel rigour of destiny pursues him.

The Galli, priests of Cybele, were in the habit, on their begging excursions, of leading about an Ass, to carry their burdens. When he was dead with fatigue and blows, his hide being stripped off, they made themselves tambourines therewith. Afterwards, on being asked by some one what they had done with their favourite, they answered in these words: “He fancied that after death he would rest in quiet; but see, dead as he is, fresh blows are heaped upon him.”

The notes on this are:

Priests of Cybele)—Ver. 4. During the Festival of Cybele, the Galli or eunuch-priests of the Goddess went about with an image of her seated on an ass, and beating a tambourine, for the purpose of making a collection to defray the expenses of the worship. They were called by the Greeks μητραγύρται, “Collectors for the Mother.” See the Fasti of Ovid, B. iv., l. 350, vol. i., p. 149, of Bohn’s Translation.Tambourines)—Ver. 7. “The tympana,” which were almost exactly similar to our tambourines, were covered with the skin of asses or of oxen, and were beaten with the hand or a small stick.

Not that this helps the perplexed Wikipedian, but it is a useful reference all the same.

Origen on unnatural vice

I was reading through Origen’s Dialogue with Heracleides and came across the following interesting comment on sin:

The things that are liable to punishment, therefore, are not merely the terrible and fearful sins which should not even be named, whether sins of life or of thought, but also sins commonly thought to be of less importance.

That is why, it seems, the apostle puts side by side with acts which are abominable, infamous, and revolting (if I may so say) things which are regarded by most people as of little significance.

What does he say? “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate men, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

You see that together with such gross sinners as the homosexual person, the effeminate man, the adulterer, the fornicator, he enumerates the drunkard, the reviler—sins thought by all of us to be of small account, so that we may be taught that it is not for the great sins alone that we are excluded from the kingdom of God, but also for these which are commonly supposed to be of minor significance.

Therefore, let us not revile, nor be drunkards, nor extort, nor steal, nor do anything wrong, even if we are “deceived.”

Dies sanguinis – what do we know about this?

There are some pretty adventurous claims out there, about the Roman holiday of the “dies sanguinis” or “day of blood”.   This article from is rather better than most, in that it is referenced, but it includes one of the odder claims I have seen:

In ancient Roman history, the 24th of March (VIII Kal Apriles) was the Dies sanguinis ‘day of blood,’ possibly a precursor of Good Friday.

Today I have been attempting to find out what, if anything, the ancient sources actually tell us.  I even looked in the RealEncyclopadie in vain.

In the Chronography of 354, part 6 (the Philocalian calendar), I recall an entry for the 24th March, IX kal. April. — sanguem.


Web searches suggest a festival of Bellona.  Others suggest that this is the day on which the priests of Cybele castrated themselves.  So … what are the facts?

Looking at Duncan Fishwick, “The Cannophori and the March Festival of Magna Mater”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 97 (1966), pp. 193-202, we get something on p.201:

The earliest direct allusion to the dies sanguinisis in connection with the death of Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 18o (Tertullian, Apolog. 25), but a passage in Valerius Flaccus (ob. A.D. 92 or 93) seems to make clear reference to the sanguinary rites of the day as early as the Flavian period (Argonautica. 239-42):

sic ubi Mygdonios planctus sacer abluit Almo
laetaque iam Cybele festaeque per oppida taedae
quis modo tam saevos adytis fluxisse cruores
cogitet aut ipsi qui iam meminere ministri?

With this may be compared a text of Martial (ca. A.D. 40-104) suggesting that the lavatio served also to purge the instruments used on the dies sanguinis (3.47.1-2):

Capena grandi porta qua pluit gutta
Phrygiumque Matris Almo qua lavat ferrum.

OK.  Let’s turn those quotes into English.  Tertullian, Apologeticum 25:5 is online here

[5]  Why, too, even in these days the Mater Magnahas given a notable proof of her greatness which she has conferred as a boon upon the city; when, after the loss to the State of Marcus Aurelius at Sirmium, on the sixteenth before the Kalends of April, that most sacred high priest of hers was offering, a week after, impure libations of blood drawn from his own arms, and issuing his commands that the ordinary prayers should be made for the safety of the emperor already dead.

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica, book 7 contains this:

And just as the anger of the mournful Mother29rends every year the frenzied Phrygians, or as Bellona lacerates the long-haired eunuchs,…

29. Cybele mourning for Attis; Bellona, goddess of war, whose priestesses and votaries, eunuchs called Bellonarii, cut themselves with knives at her festival (Juvenal, 4. 123; Lucan, 1. 565).

But book 8 is our reference:

So when the holy Almo washes away Mygdonian sorrows,10 and Cybele now is glad and festal torches gleam in the city streets, who would think that cruel wounds have lately gushed in the temples? or when of the votaries themselves remember them?

10. The festival of Cybele, the Great Mother, on March 27th (Ovid, Fasti4. 337); the image of the goddess was washed in the Almo, a tributary of the Tiber.

Martial, book 3, epigram 47:

Yonder, Faustinus, where the Capene Gate drips with large drops, and where the Almo cleanses the Phrygian sacrificial knives of the Mother of the Gods, …

Michelle Salzman’s On Roman Time is accessible to me and page 167 says:

The mourning became more violent on the following day, 24 March, Sanguem, when the devotees flagellated themselves until they bled, sprinkling the altars and effigy with their blood. This was also the day when certain devotees of the goddess, carried away by their emotion, would perform self-castration. During the “sacred night” of the twenty-fourth, Attis was ritually laid to rest in his grave and the new galli were inducted into the priesthood(presumably symbolizing the god’s rebirth); at dawn, then, a day of rejoicing Hilaria could begin.

Note the lack of footnotes, tho. 

And so it goes on.  How do we know that this day is associated with these events?  Which source says so?

I suspect that we are looking at the backwash of some early 20th century textbook, in which the statement was made as a theory to explain these references, and has thereafter been taken as fact.  Perhaps it is sound.  Perhaps not.  It would be interesting to know its origins.

The resurrection of Dionysus every spring?

From time to time I come across curious claims online, which seem worth investigation to me.  At this link I find the following post, evidently responding critically — but perhaps not critically enough? — to some nonsense from the film “Zeitgeist” by quoting from this page:

Dionysus died each winter and was resurrected in the spring. Again, this is hardly December, much less the 25th of said month [23].

(The reference is merely to a webpage of no special interest here with no references). This drew the following belligerent response:

So both the Classical playwright Euripedes, Robert Graves – who translated numerous Classical Latin and Ancient Greek texts – and most 20th Century historians of the Classical period, are wrong, and your internet blogger is right? I doubt it.

No reference was given, and we may fairly suppose that the respondent never looked up any of what he states with such certainty.

So is it true?  Was there such a resurrection of Dionysus in ancient mythology?

My first possible reference for the resurrection of Dionysius is Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 35.  But if you look, you don’t find our starting point.  Where next?

Many of these legends have some kind of link to J. G. Frazer’s Golden Bough.  In vol. 1 of the 1894 edition — later editions seem to omit this material — on p.318 I find a claim that Herodotus (book ii. 49) “found the similarity between the rites of Osiris and Dionysus so great, that he thought it impossible the latter could have arisen independently” — perhaps so — and then mention of Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 35.  Do these give us what we want? 

But the Plutarch passage is not really the same idea.  On p.322 of Frazer we read:

Like the other gods of vegetation whom we have been considering, Dionysus was believed to have died a violent death, but to have been brought to life again ; and his sufferings, death, and resurrection were enacted in his sacred rites.

But no reference is given.  This follows on p.323-4.

Thus far the resurrection of the slain god is not mentioned, but in other versions of the myth it is variously related. One version, which represented Dionysus as a son of Demeter, averred that his mother pieced together his mangled limbs and made him young again. [5] In others it is simply said that shortly after his burial he rose from the dead and ascended up to heaven ;[1] or that Zeus raised him up as he lay mortally wounded ; [2] or that Zeus swallowed the heart of Dionysus and then begat him afresh by Semele,[3] who in the common legend figures as mother of Dionysus. Or, again, the heart was pounded up and given in a potion to Semele, who thereby conceived him.[4]

Turning from the myth to the ritual, we find that the Cretans celebrated a biennial [5] festival at which the sufferings and death of Dionysus were represented in every detail.[6] Where the resurrection formed part of the myth, it also was enacted at the rites, [7] and it even appears that a general doctrine of resurrection, or at least of immortality, was inculcated op the worshippers; for Plutarch, writing to console his wife on the death of their infant daughter, comforts her with the thought of the immortality of the soul as taught by tradition and revealed in the mysteries of Dionysus.[8]

[5] Diodorus, iii., 62. [See below]
[1] Macrobius, Commentarium in Somnium Scipionis i, 12, 12; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini tres Romae nuper reperti (commonly referred to as Mythographi Vaticani), ed. G. H. Bode (Cellis, 1834), iii. 12, 5, p. 246 [actually vol. 1 – RP [*]]; Origen, c. Cels. iv. 17 1 [see below], quoted by Lobeck, Aglaophamus, p. 713.
[2] Himerius, Orat. ix. 4.  [*]
[3] Proclus, Hymn to Minerva, [*] in Lobeck, Aglaophamus, p. 561 ; Orphica, ed. Abel, p. 235. [See below].
[4] Hyginus, Fabulae, 167. [See below]
[6] Firmicus Maternus, De err. prof. relig. 6. [*]
[7] Mythog. Vat. ed Bode, l.c.[*]
[8] Plutarch, Consol. ad uxor. 10.  Cp. id. Isis et Osiris, 35; id., De ei Delphico, 9; id., De esu carnium, i. 7. [*]

(Subsequent posts examining a particular reference are linked with [*]).

There are further related claims, but I think that’s enough for now. 

The references are quite a collection of obscure sources.  But then on this blog, we do obscure sources!  We treat references as an opportunity to read stuff that no-one ever reads.

Now if we look at the first reference, to Diodorus, we get a long series of legends about Dionysus.  But there is nothing in this about a death and resurrection; he undergoes three births, and he gets identified with vegetation as well as with the Earth-mother.  The labours of Bill Thayer have made the translation available to us all:

Furthermore, the early men have given Dionysus the name of “Dimetor,” reckoning it as a single and first birth when the plant is set in the ground and begins to grow, and as a second birth when it becomes laden with fruit and ripens its clusters, the god, therefore, being considered as having been born once from the earth and again from the vine.  And though the writers of myths have handed down the account of a third birth as well, at which, as they say, the Sons of Gaia tore to pieces the god, who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him, but his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time, such accounts as this they trace back to certain causes found in nature. For he is considered to be the son of Zeus and Demeter, they hold, by reason of the fact that the vine gets its growth both from the earth and from rains and so bears as its fruit the wine which is pressed out from the clusters of grapes; and the statement that he was torn to pieces, while yet a youth, by the “earth-born” signifies the harvesting of the fruit by the labourers, and the boiling of his members has been worked into a myth by reason of the fact that most men boil the wine and then mix it, thereby improving its natural aroma and quality. Again, the account of his members, which the “earth-born” treated with despite, being brought together again and restored to their former natural state, shows forth that the vine, which has been stripped of its fruit and pruned at the yearly seasons, is restored by the earth to the high level of fruitfulness which it had before. For, in general, the ancient poets and writers of myths spoke of Demeter as Gê Meter (Earth Mother).

On to the next bunch of references.  Origen, in Contra Celsum iv, 17 is plainly comparing the resurrection of Christ with the rebirth of Dionysus.

But will not those narratives, especially when they are understood in their proper sense, appear far more worthy of respect than the story that Dionysus was deceived by the Titans, and expelled from the throne of Jupiter, and torn in pieces by them, and his remains being afterwards put together again, he returned as it were once more to life, and ascended to heaven?

We’re used to talking about the Saturnalia when we mention Macrobius, but he also wrote a commentary on the dream of Scipio.  An English translation does exist, but I don’t have access to it.  However an 1848 edition of the works of Macrobius is online, and in vol. 1, p.73, we find book 1, chapter 12, verse 12.

12. Ipsum autem Liberum patrem Orphaici νοῦν ὑλικὸν qui ab illo individuo natus in singulos ipse dividitur. Ideo in illorum sacris traditur Titanio furore in membra discerptus et frustis sepultis rursus unus et integer emersisse, quia νοῦς quem diximus mentem vocari, ex individuo praebendo se dividendum et rursus et diviso ad individuum revertendo et mundi inplet officia et naturae suae archana non deserit.

This seems to be discussing the cutting up of his body and reassembly and the return of his νοῦς, i.e. soul or mind.

On to the next claim that “Zeus raised him up as he lay mortally wounded”.  The reference is Himerius, Orat. ix. 4.  Unfortunately I can’t find a way to access this.  The Greek with a Latin translation is linked above.

Hyginus, Fabulae 167, is simple enough, and also died in AD 17 so is definitely pre-Christian and pre-dates the syncretism of later antiquity:

Liber, son of Jove and Proserpine, was dismembered by the Titans, and Jove gave his heart, torn to bits, to Semele in a drink. When she was made pregnant by this, Juno, changing herself to look like Semele’s nurse, Beroe, said to her: “Daughter, ask Jove to come to you as he comes to Juno, so you may know what pleasure it is to sleep with a god.” At her suggestion Semele made this request of Jove, and was smitten by a thunderbolt. He took Liber from her womb, and gave him to Nysus to be cared for. For this reason he is called Dionysus, and also “the one with two mothers.”

The Orphica edited by Abel (1885) gives the numeral ‘235’.  But this is not the page number, but the fragment number.  Fragment no. 235 is … merely a quotation of 4 verses from Macrobius, Sat. I. 23. 22.  Here they are.  They don’t relate to the claim made.

[22]. And in the following verses Orpheus too bears witness to the all-embracing nature of the sun:

Hear, O Thou who dost, wheeling afar, ever make the turning, circle of thy rays to revolve in its heavenly orbits, bright Zeus Dionysus, Father of sea, Father of land, Sun, source of all life, all-gleaming with thy golden light.

There’s still quite a number of references to verify there.  But this post has hung around long enough — almost two weeks — and I think I’ll post now, and return to this material later.