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Of Gods And Romans
History of the Roman Republic/Empire
October 27, 2000
Of Gods and Romans
The Romans during the time of their Republic relied on their advanced technology, social structure, leadership and politics to achieve as much as they did. To these people, their gods affected all of these factors and the relationships mankind had with them. The contractual relationship between mankind and the gods involved each party in giving, and in return receiving services. The Romans believed that spirits residing in natural and physical objects had the power to control the processes of nature, and that man could influence these processes by symbolic action. The first is a primitive form of religious creed; the second a type of magic.
The services by which the Romans hoped to influence the forces that guided their lives were firmly established in ritual - the ritual of prayer and the ritual of offering. In either case, the exact performance of the rite was essential. One slip, and you had to go back to the beginning and start again. The very multiplicity of deities caused problems, as did the gender of some of them: 'wether you be god or goddess' was a common formula in Roman prayers.
The motivations of the sacrifices are what of interest. Most of the time, sacrifices took place for purification, supplication, or celebration. The purification ritual was one that was performed before battle (285). Asking for a deed to be done was very popular as well. One usually asked for victory and good fortune in battle (20). Celebration is the event that seems to be the most spectacular of all. Whether it is in joy of an enemies' death, such as Mithridates (201), the end of illness of a leader like Pompey (218), or simply the merriment that comes after large victory, we see this in Caesar's winnings in Gaul (264). Some sacrificial events took place in order to ask forgiveness and appeasement for defeat of a religious enemy (90 - 91).
Any sacrificial routine was elaborate and messy. The head of the victim was sprinkled with wine and bits of sacred cake made from flour and salt. Then its throat was cut and it was disemboweled to ensure there was nothing untoward about its entrails. If there was, it was not only a bad omen, but the whole process had to be repeated with a fresh animal until it came out right. The vital organs were burnt upon the altar and the carcass cut into pieces and eaten on the spot, or else laid aside. Then the priest, wearing something over his face to shut out evil influences from his eyes, would say prayers, speaking under his breath, while a flute was played to drown any ill-omened noise. Any unintentional deviation from the prescribed ritual meant not only a new sacrifice, but also an additional one to absolve the error. In high occasions, on which a replay of the entire ceremony might be an embarrassment, a sacrifice was performed as a matter of course on the pervious day, to cover for any potential errors during the main ceremony. Multiple sacrifices were commonplace: the word hecatomb, which derives from the Greek, means the sacrifice of a hundred head of oxen.
There was a distinction between signs that were solicited and those that appeared without invitation. At many times, an individual would see an omen that gave him/her confidence to continue a current course of action (52) other incidences produced warnings to change one's itinerary (55, 74 - 75). The more startling or unexpected the sign, for instance a sudden flash of lightning or an epileptic fit on the part of a member of an assembly, the more seriously it was taken. It was not unknown for an interested party to throw a feigned fit in order to obstruct proceedings. Lightning which appeared while auspices were being taken was good news, but not so if it came otherwise. Certain omens such as scorpions fighting (55), sacrificing an animal that does not appear to have a heart (303), or bizarre natural occurrences (74 - 75) were signs of disaster. The gods also produced omens through the actions of men. When a child expressed a particular talent or a ... more
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Funeral Customs of African Americans and American Jews
The chaos of death disturbs the peace of the living. This unsettling fact of life has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for human efforts to find order in disorder, meaning in suffering, eternity in finitude. Religion, culture, social structures, the vitality of these rudimentary elements of communal life depends upon ritually putting the dead body in its place, managing the relations between the living and the dead and providing explanations for the existence of death.
- Gary Laderman - 2003
A melting pot is an accurate description of Americas cultural diversity. Everywhere across the country many people from different countries and cultures have migrated to the United States. Some form subcultures or communities while others are dispersed and isolated. Over time, many of the ceremonies and traditions, such as funerals, associated with a particular culture have been influenced by or mingled with Euro-American customs, causing people to loose touch with the context of their own traditions. For example, some conform to American burial customs and adopt secular attitudes about bereavement, which tend to underestimate the power of grief and the impact of loss. This is particularly true with younger generations born in the United States. Also, K uniquely American is the mass use of embalming, as it is the base of the American economic funeral industry. (Mitford V 1998, Introduction) However, many prideful people keep the traditions and customs of their indigenous cultures alive, retaining their distinct ethnic or religious traditions. This paper will compare the similarities and differences in funeral practices between two large populations and sub-cultures of the United States; African Americans and American Jews, and also how American influences have affected their traditional funeral customs.
In the past, when a person died no one asked, When should we schedule the funeral? or How much would you like to spend on a casket? Members of the community simply appeared and began preparing the body for burial and the mourners would provide comfort to the bereaved. Death itself has become something of a stranger because it used to be that death was an everyday occurrence of life, for example people did not live as long, higher infant mortality rates, etc. People usually died at home, surrounded by loved ones. Funerals, like weddings, were not invitational events, but community-wide gatherings. But today, it is possible to reach the age of forty without ever attending a funeral or visiting a house of mourning. In addition, death and dying are removed from the flow of daily life as most people die in hospitals and nursing homes. Thus death comes as terrifying shock, leaving the bereaved unprepared and adrift. (Diamant - 1998, Page 4)
The funeral service then, in any culture, is a social function in which the deceased is the guest of honor and the center of attention. A funeral service is a ceremony held in the presence of the body, with either an open or closed casket. There is also a ritual called a memorial service. This is a service held after the body has been removed. It can be either a substitute for a funeral service or in addition to it. It performs much the same function as a funeral service but tends to have a more positive atmosphere, because it is focused on the virtues of the person who has died instead of on the dead body. (Morgan - 2001, Page 81) The funeral service, memorial service, or both may be followed by a committal service. A commitment, or committal service is a brief, optional service held at the graveside or in the chapel of a crematory. It is usually in addition to a funeral or memorial service and is the occasion at which the immediate family and possibly a few close friends bid good-bye to the body. (Morgan - 2001, Page 81)
With death we experience loss and with the loss, grief, which is the process by which loss is healed. Therefore no matter what the cultural beliefs or traditions, the funeral or some type of death ceremony is an important function, bringing together the grieving survivors and strengthening the bonds among them. The funeral also inspires a resurgence of the cultural ideals ... more
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