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Priests and Physical Fitness


In his magisterial Religion und Kultus der Römer Georg Wissowa made the statement that a Roman man or woman seeking a priesthood had, among other things, to be free of physical defects. This has since become the communis opinio, sometimes in the form in which Wissowa expressed it, sometimes involving rather the idea that a priest or priestess could be deposed for such defects acquired after entry into the priesthood, and sometimes embracing both concepts simultaneously.

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page 137 note 1 Wissowa G., Religion und Kultus der Römer2(1912), 491. I wish to thank the anonymous referee for his comments on a draft of this paper. [All dates are B.C. unless stated otherwise.]

page 137 note 2 Wissowa's view is repeated without modification by P. Riewald, R.E. i A (1920), 1643, and G. J. Szemler, The Priests of the Roman Republic (1972), 31. More sweeping views-based on Seneca Rhetor, Controv. 4. 2, to be discussed below—are espoused by Brelich A., ‘II mito nella storia di Cecilio Metello’, S.M.S.R. xv (1939), 34; Bonner S. F., Roman Declamation in the Late Republic and Early Empire (1949), 103 f.; and Köves-Zulauf T., Reden und Schweigen: romische Religion bei Plinius Maior (1972), 75 ff.

page 137 note 3 Rose H. J. (ed.), The Roman Questions of Plutarch (1924), 199; cf. Köves-Zulauf, op. cit. 75.

page 137 note 4 C.I.L. ii. 5439, 66 = I.L.S. 6087. Not that this is enough to prove the existence of the same situation in Rome; there were other differences between the priestly procedures of Urso and Rome, discussed most recently by Crifd G. (Latomus, xxi [1962], 689710) 5 Genius, N.A. I. 12. 3; Fronto, p. 149 Naber.

page 137 note 6 Plutarch, Numa 10. 4–7; Q. R. 96; Dion. Hal., Ant. Rom. 2. 67. 3–4 and 9. 40. 3; cf. Koch C., R.E. viii A (1958), 1747–52.

page 138 note 1 Cf. Hopkins K., ‘On the probable age structure of the Roman Population’, Population Studies, xx (1966), 245–64.

page 138 note 2 Cicero, ad Att. 2. 9. 2, adduced by Rose, loc. cit.

page 138 note 3 Cicero, in Vat. 19–20. Vatinius finally secured his augurate in 47 (see Cicero, ad fam. 5. 10a. 2).

page 138 note 4 Cicero, in Vat. 39: ‘strumae… ab ore improbo demigrarunt et aliis iam se locis conlocarunt.’ Despite Lily Ross Taylor (Athenaeum, xlii [1964], 20), I can see no good reason for thinking that Vatinius' strumae were supposed to have settled on another man.

page 139 note 1 Plutarch, loc. cit. (Rose's translation).

page 139 note 2 Pliny, N.H. 7. 105 (for the thought compare Seneca Rhetor, Controv. 4. 2. 2); T. R. S. Broughton, Magistrates of the Roman Republic, i. 333.

page 139 note 3 Köves-Zulauf , op. cit. 75 and n. 34.

page 139 note 4 Perhaps the first Fabius to take the cognomen ‘Ambustus’ encountered similar difficulties (cf. Münzer, R.E. vi [1907], 1750), and perhaps he took that cognomen to commemorate his overcoming them.

page 139 note 5 Livy 40. 42. 13; cf. I.L.S. 4 = Degrassi, LL.L.R.P., 311. Cicero, Off. I. 121; Brut. 77; de sen. 35 (whence the quotation); cf. Velleius Paterculus I 10. 3.

page 139 note 6 Contra, Broughton, op. cit. i. 407 n. 6; Köves-Zulauf, op. cit. 76 n. 38; Szemler, op. cit. 142 and 180 n. 3.

page 139 note 7 Antonia's description: Suetonius, Claud. 3. 2; cf. Leon Ernestine, ‘The Imbecillitas of the Emperor Claudius’, T.A.P.A. lxxix (1948), 7986. The augurate: Suetonius, Claud. 4. 7; cf. Martha Lewis W. Hoffman, The Official Priests of Rome under the JulioClaudians (1955), 44.

page 139 note 8 Seneca Rhetor, Controv. 4. 2.

page 140 note 1 Nothing is said of injuries by Cicero, pro Scauro 48 and de sen. 30; Ovid, Fasti 6. 437 ff; Dion. Hal., Ant. Rom. 2. 66. 3–4; or Valerius Maximus I. 4. 5 and 8. 13. 2. That he suffered burns is reported by Orosius 4. 11. 9 and Augustine, C.D. 3. 18. 2. The blindness is also reported by Seneca, de pron. 5. 2; Pliny, N.H. 7. 141; Juvenal 6. 265 (cf. schol. in jut. 3. 138); and Ampelius, Lib. mem. 20. II. The tale has been discussed at length by O. Leuze, ‘Metellus caecatus’, Philologus, lxiv (1905), 95–115 and by Brelich, op. cit. 30–41.

page 140 note 2 Seneca Rhetor, Controv. 1. 2; Lanfranchi F., R diritto nei retori Romani (1938), 286; Bonner, op. cit. 104.

page 140 note 3 Gellius, N.A. 10. 15. (It cannot be assumed that Genius took the provision for granted, since he reports it of the Vestals; nor is he likely to have forgotten it, even though he introduces his list with the comment haec ferme sunt quae commeminimus.) Brelich, op. cit. 34, tries to use the story of Pseudo-Plutarch (par. min. 17), that Metellus lost and regained his sight, as an indication that the author was aware of the rule under discussion and was attempting to circumvent the difficulties it raised. But it is not even certain that the subject of the anecdote is Metellus: see Jacoby, F. Gr. Hist. iii A. 380 f.

page 140 note 4 Suetonius, Aug. 20 and 80, with C3:icero, ad Att. I. 16. 135 Pliny, N.H. II. 174. I have discussed this passage in detail elsewhere (Phoenix, xxvii [1973], 35–41)

page 141 note 1 Köves-Zulauf , op. cit. 75 ff.

page 141 note 2 Phoenix, xxvii (1973), 36 f. There is another suspect pontiff, C. Scribonius Curio (cos. 76), a member of the college from ca. 60 to 53 (Broughton, op. cit. ii. 186 f.); him somebody quia corpore et lingua percitum et inquietem nomine histrionic uix sani Burbuleium appellabat (Sallust, Hist. 2. 25 M. with Val. Max. 9. 14. 5)

page 141 note 3 For all its many faults Scarborough's J.Roman Medicine (1969) gives a fair idea of the unhealthy conditions in Rome; which lends point to Cicero's remarks about the need for mental purity (de leg. 2. 24).

page 141 note 4 Cf. Kajanto I., The Latin Cognomina (1965), 62 ff. and 235

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