Presented by Calgary Institute for the Humanities.
Did Romans feel anxious about their gods? Roman philosophers tended to insist that the gods were benign. The first-century BCE polymath Varro averred: ‘The gods are feared by the superstitious person. By the religious person, however, the gods are honoured like parents, not feared like enemies. The religious person describes all the gods as so good, that it would be easier for them to spare the guilty than to hurt someone innocent.’ Many scholars of Roman religion have followed this lead, holding that most Romans considered their gods benevolent by default. Yet some ancient texts tell a different story. This lecture explores some of the evidence for Roman anxieties about the reliability, morality, and loyalty of the gods. The goal is to recover a different strand of Roman theology and to develop a more accurate understanding of ancient religious experience.