The Roman and Greek Questions, by Plutarch, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, , at sacred-texts.com
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110. Why is this priest also forbidden to touch raw flesh?
Is this custom intended to deter people completely from eating raw meat, or do they scrupulously repudiate flesh for the same reason as flour? For neither is it a living creature nor has it yet become a cooked food. Now boiling or roasting, being a sort of alteration and mutation, eliminates the previous form; but fresh raw meat does not have a clean and unsullied appearance, but one that is repulsive, like a fresh wound.
111. Why did they bid the priest avoid the dog and the goat, neither touching them nor naming them?
Did they loathe the goat's lasciviousness and foul odour, or did they fear its susceptibility to disease? For it is thought to be subject to epilepsy beyond all other animals, and to infect persons who eat it a or touch it when it is possessed of the disease. The reason, they say, is the narrowness of the air passages, which are often suddenly contracted; this they deduce from the thinness of its voice. So also in the case of men, if they chance to speak during an epileptic fit, the sound they make is very like a bleat.
The dog has, perhaps, less of lasciviousness and foul odour. Some, however, assert that a dog may not enter either the Athenian acropolis b or the island of Delos c because of its open mating, as if cattle and swine and horses mated within the walls of a chamber
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and not openly and without restraint! For these persons are ignorant of the true reason: because the dog is a belligerent creature they exclude it from inviolable and holy shrines, thereby offering a safe place of refuge for suppliants. Accordingly it is likely that the priest of Jupiter also, since he is, as it were, the animate embodiment and sacred image of the god, should be left free as a refuge for petitioners and suppliants, with no one to hinder them or to frighten them away. For this reason his couch was placed in the vestibule of his house, and anyone who fell at his knees had immunity from beating or chastisement all that day; and if any prisoner succeeded in reaching the priest, he was set free, and his chains they threw outside, not by the doors, but over the roof. So it would have been of no avail for him to render himself so gentle and humane, if a dog had stood before him frightening and keeping away those who had need of a place of refuge.
Nor, in fact, did the men of old think that this animal was wholly pure, for it was never sacrificed to any of the Olympian gods; and when it is sent to the cross-roads as a supper for the earth-goddess Hecatê, a it has its due portion among sacrifices that avert and expiate evil. In Sparta they immolate puppies to the bloodiest of the gods, Enyalius; and in Boeotia the ceremony of public purification is to pass between the parts of a dog which has been cut in twain. The Romans themselves, in the month of purification, b at the Wolf Festival, which they call the Lupercalia, sacrifice a dog. Hence it is not out of keeping that those who have attained to the office of serving the
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highest and purest god should be forbidden to make a dog their familiar companion and housemate.
112. For what reason was it forbidden the priest of Jupiter to touch ivy or to pass along a road overhung by a vine growing on a tree? a
Is this second question like the precepts: "Do not eat seated on a stool," "Do not sit on a peck measure," "Do not step over a broom"? For the followers of Pythagoras b did not really fear these things nor guard against them, but forbade other things through these. Likewise the walking under a vine had reference to wine, signifying that it is not right for the priest to get drunk; for wine is over the heads of drunken men, and they are oppressed and humbled thereby, when they should be above it and always master this pleasure, not be mastered by it.
Did they regard the ivy as an unfruitful plant, useless to man, and feeble, and because of its weakness needing other plants to support it, but by its shade and the sight of its green fascinating to most people? And did they therefore think that it should not be uselessly grown in their homes nor be allowed to twine about in a futile way, contributing nothing, since it is injurious to the plants forming its support? Or is it because it cleaves to the ground? c Wherefore it is excluded from the ritual of the Olympian gods, nor can any ivy be seen in the temple of Hera at Athens, or in the temple of Aphrodite at Thebes; but it has its place in the Agrionia d and the Nyctelia, e the rites of which are for the most part performed at night.
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Or was this also a symbolic prohibition of Bacchic revels and orgies? For women possessed by Bacchic frenzies rush straightway for ivy and tear it to pieces, clutching it in their hands and biting it with their teeth; so that not altogether without plausibility are they who assert that ivy, possessing as it does an exciting and distracting breath of madness, deranges persons and agitates them, and in general brings on a wineless drunkenness and joyousness in those that are precariously disposed towards spiritual exaltation. a
113. Why were these priests not allowed to hold office nor to solicit it, yet they have the service of a lictor and the right to a curule chair as an honour and a consolation for holding no office? b
Is this similar to the conditions in some parts of Greece where the priesthood had a dignity commensurate with that of the kingship, and they appointed as priests no ordinary men?
Or was it rather that since priests have definite duties, whereas officials have duties which are irregular and undefined, if the occasions for these duties happened to coincide, it was impossible for the same man to be present at both, but oftentimes, when both duties were pressing, he had to neglect one of them and at one time commit impiety against the gods, and at another do hurt to his fellow-citizens?
Or did they observe that there is implicit in the government of men no less constraint than authority, and that the ruler of the people, as Hippocrates c said
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of the physician, must see dreadful things and touch dreadful things and reap painful emotions of his own from the ills of other men? Did they, then, think it impious for a man to offer sacrifice to the gods, and to take the lead in the sacred rites, if he was concerned in pronouncing judgements and sentences of death upon citizens, and often upon kinsmen and members of his household, such as fell to the lot of Brutus? a
163:a Contrast Pliny, Natural History, xxviii. 16 (226), who says that goat's meat was given for epilepsy.
163:b Cf. Comparison of Demetrius and Antony, chap. iv. (9597 B); Dionysius of Halicarnassus, De Dinarcho, 3.
163:c Cf. Strabo, x. 5. 5, p. 684 (Meineke).
165:a Cf. 277 B, 280 C, supra; Life of Romulus, xxi. (31 E).
165:b February; cf. 280 B, supra.
167:a p. 166 Cf. Aulus Gellius, x. 15. 12.
167:b p. 167 Cf. 281 A, supra; Moralia, 727 C.
167:c It clings to the earth, unless it finds support, and is therefore unacceptable to the higher gods.
167:d Cf. 299 F, infra.
167:e Cf. Moralia, 364 F.
169:a Plutarch's fullest treatment of the properties of ivy will be found in Moralia, 648 B–649 F.
169:b Cf. Aulus Gellius, x. 15. 4.
169:c In the De Flatibus: vol. vi. p. 213 (ed. Chartier); vol. i. p. 569 (Kühn); cf. Lucian, Bis Accusatus, 1.
171:a The first consul, who condemned his own sons to death; cf. Livy, ii. 5; Life of Publicola, chap. vi. (99 E–F).