ROMAN religion, as we meet it in historical times, is a congeries of many elements. One of the problems of the modern scholar is to separate and interpret these various elements--primitive, Latin, Etruscan, Greek, Oriental. Even the casual student of comparative religion, who is also familiar with Latin literature, cannot fail to recognize, running through the enormous mass of facts and ideas about religion and superstition, elements which are common to all religions, past and present, whether among savages or civilized men. Such elements, when discovered in a developed religion, may fairly be called primitive. In the study of the religion of any people, the starting point should be with these common elements.
However, it has usually been the habit of scholars to trace the development of gods and goddesses, rites and priesthoods, to their historical sources, and to describe and interpret the Roman calendar with its many festivals; and if primitive elements have been treated at all, they have formed part of a larger work, or have been rather cursorily dismissed to clear the way for a study of the religion of the organized Roman State. Thus W. Warde Fowler, in The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic, and Georg Wissowa, in his Religion und Kultus der Romer, were concerned primarily with the facts of historical Roman religion. Fowler, to be sure, devoted two chapters in The Religious Experience of the Roman People to a study of primitive elements, but he was clearly anxious to hurry on to his main theme. H. J. Rose, in his Primitive Culture in Italy, has discussed briefly, but with sound scholarship, primitive elements in Roman religion as part of the general subject of primitive culture in Italy; and Jesse Benedict Carter, following afar his master Wissowa, seems to have had slender knowledge of comparative religion. To Sir J. G. Frazer scholars owe much for his valuable collection of rites and ideas parallel to those of the Romans. The Golden Bough is a veritable mine of such information; and the author's more recent work, his edition of the Fasti of Ovid, is indispensable to the student of the subject. The latter reached my hands after I had completed the first draft of my manuscript for publication. Because of the pertinence of his notes on the passages from Ovid's Fasti which I have used in this work, I have included in the footnotes references to Frazer's work wherever possible.
No one has as yet, so far as I know, made an attempt to gather from the ancient sources those elements in the Roman State religion and in the popular religious life of the Roman people which are commonly termed primitive. Eugene Tavenner, in his Studies in Magic from Latin Literature, has given us a valuable body of facts about magic, but has made little effort to interpret the material.
It is obviously difficult, and in many cases impossible, to determine what elements are truly primitive and what are not. There are certain traces which are unmistakably primitive. These I have treated at length: positive and negative mana, the principles of sympathetic magic, naturalism, and animism. I shall discuss more fully certain subjects which have grown out of my study of the primitive elements, and of which a knowledge is necessary for the understanding of these elements.
Most of the excerpts in this work have been obtained from a first-hand reading, over a period of five years, of the original sources. Some of this material was published, perhaps prematurely, in various periodicals, Classical Philology, The Classical Journal, The Classical Weekly, The Biblical Review, Art and Archaeology. It was only after I had gathered and classified and interpreted as best I could alone that I turned to the secondary sources. My debt both to these and to the original is indicated in the footnotes.
The translations are, except in one case, my own. I have adopted Frazer's practice of translating into English the names of festivals wherever these names could not be readily understood by the reader who was not classically trained.
It remains to thank my associates, Professor Casper J. Kraemer, Jr., and Miss Catherine Ruth Smith, for many helpful suggestions in preparing the manuscript.
E. E. B.