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Bill Thayer

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 p995  Robigalia

Unsigned article on p995 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ROBIGA′LIA, a public festival in honour of the god Robigus to preserve the fields from mildew, is said to have been instituted by Numa, and was celebrated a. d. VII. Kal. Mai. (April 25th) (Plin. H. N. XVIII.29 s69; Varro, de Re Rust. I.1 p90, ed. Bip., de Ling. Lat. VI.16, ed. Müll.; Festus, s.v.).a The sacrifices offered on this occasion consisted of the entrails of a dog and a sheep, accompanied with frankincense and wine: a prayer was presented by a flamen in the grove of the ancient deity, whom Ovid and Columella make a goddess (Ovid. Fast. IV.907‑942; Colum. X.342). A god Robigus or a goddess Robigo is a mere invention from the name of this festival, for the Romans paid no divine honours to evil deitiesb (Hartung, Die Religion der Römer, vol. II p148).


Thayer's Notes:

a Some folks like to find in Christmas a survival of the Saturnalia (which is not the case), and in Valentine's Day a survival of the Lupercalia (an even more bizarre fabrication which has long ago been firmly debunked) — but here we have a true instance of the phenomenon. The Robigalia, surprisingly, are one of the few feasts of Roman religion to have survived into our own times, adapted by Christianity, or more correctly instituted by the church by way of corrective, as the Rogation Day of April 25th: see the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Rogation Days"; or better if you can find a print copy, L. Duchesne, Origines du culte chrétien5 (Paris, E. de Boccard, 1920), pp304‑305.

b It is extremely hard to agree with this statement. First, it is easy to argue, as moderns, that they most certainly did: Pluto, the god of the underworld, received worship, for example. Also, even the Romans themselves admitted to paying divine honors to some of the nastier forces in this world: Pliny the Elder (H. N. II.V.16) appears to find it astonishing, and tries to explain it away, but says that "there is actually a shrine to Fever, consecrated by the state on the Palatine, one to Orbona [a goddess of stillbirths and dead babies] near the temple of the Lares [who themselves don't seem to have been so hot], and an Altar to Ill Fortune on the Esquiline".

Secondly, Smith's statement is a sort of anachronism; an attempt to clear the Romans of a charge that would not have occurred to anyone back then, but that is a product of a later religion: viz., that some forces are indeed evil, and that mere force should not be worshipped. In sum, Smith seems to have admired the Romans and to want to make them at least somewhat Christian; historically, that hasn't been an unusual tendency.


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Page updated: 24 Nov 19