Classics Department
Skidmore College



Kendra Eshleman
Ladd 209, x5462


CC 265: ROMAN RELIGIONS



ESSAY TOPICS


M 9/12, Gods & Goddesses I

1. What did Minucius Felix and Augustine think was wrong with the Roman view of the gods (RoR II.2.1d & 2.2c)? Do their criticisms seem fair to you? If not, what are they missing (or deliberately ignoring)?

W 9/14, Gods & Goddesses II

1. Based on your readings for today, how did the Romans imagine their gods? For example, were they corporeal or incorporeal? Universal or confined to the specific locality where they lived? If the gods are universal, what was the point of the ceremony of evocatio (RoR II.2.6a) or the importation of Cybele (RoR II.2.7a)? If they're strictly local, how could Julius Caesar find the Roman gods being worshipped in Gaul (RoR II.2.9a)?

F 9/16, Religion in Early Rome

1. Can we learn anything about archaic Roman religion from Livy's account of Numa's reforms (RoR II.1.2)? If so, what? If not, why not? Does this passage have any value for us?


M 9/19, The Republic: No essay

W 9/21, Priests

1. How are Roman priests different from modern priests (e.g. Catholic priests)? What difference do those differences make?

F 9/23, Ritual Space

1. Compare the plans of Roman temples given at RoR II.41b, 2a, 7, 9 & 10, with either the synagogues of Ostia & Dura (II.4.14), or the Christian churches at II.4.15a & c. What important similarities & differences do you see? What does the layout of each suggest about the religious activity that took place there?


M 9/26, Ritual Time I: The Calendar

1. Compare and contrast the calendars at RoR II.3.3a & b with this fairly generic American calendar, paying particular attention to the place of religion in each. What does the modern calendar suggest about the religious landscape of 21st cen. America and the place of religion in our public life? What significant differences or similiarities do you see between us and the Romans of the late Republic/early Empire in this regard?

W 9/28, Ritual Time II: Festivals

1. Consider the various ancient and modern theories about the Lupercalia surveyed at RoR II.5.2. Which seems most plausible explanation of the rite to you? (Or could they all be right?) Why?

F 9/30, Sacrifice

1. Do Roman sacrificial rituals seem to you to confirm or challenge the dominant political and social order of the Roman state? How?

2. Agree or disagree: The primary purpose of Roman sacrifice was to appease angry/unhappy gods. Explain and defend your position based on your primary readings for today (or for previous classes).


M 10/3, Divination

1. What can you learn about the Roman practice of divination from Cicero's (deeply bizarre) story about Ti. Gracchus (RoR II.7.2).? For example, who's involved? How does it work? How do the gods communicate with humans, and what do they have to say? How easy is it do understand them?

W 10/5, Private Divination

1. Why do you think there's so much hostility to private methods of divination, especially astrology, in your readings for today? What was the big deal? (In your answer, try to go beyond the suggestions offered by Scheid and BNP.)

F 10/7, Religion in the Home

1. What was the relation between public and private religion at Rome? What similarities do you see? Any differences? Did they intersect at all? Was one more authentic than the other? (What would that mean, anyway?)


M 10/10, Late Republic: No essay

W 10/12, Religion & Politics in the late Republic

1. According to Lily Ross Taylor, politicians in the late Republic cynically exploited the state religion for political purposes, to the detriment of the confidence of the people in their religion. By contrast, B-N-P argue that, far from abusing or neglecting religion, the late Republican elite took religion very seriously, and the late Republic is actually marked by "a striking consensus of religious ideology" (p. 138). Based on your reading of the evidence, which view is closer to the truth?

F 10/14, Belief

1. Agree or disagree: Based on the evidence of Polybius (RoR II.13.1b) and Livy (Warrior 2.5) , it's obvious that the Roman elite didn't really believe in their gods or rites, and just used religion as a means of social and political control. Explain, citing evidence from today's (or any other) primary readings in support of your view.


M 10/17, Religion & Myth

1. In your opinion, which of the following passages contain myths: a) Ovid, Fasti 1.461-586 (the Carmentalia), b) Horace, Ode 1.12, c) the story of Romulus & Remus (e.g. Livy 1.6.3-7.3; W. 2.1), d) Augustine's description of minor Roman gods (CD 6.9; RoR II.2.2c), e) the account of the portents before the battle of Lake Trasimene (Livy 22.1.8-13; W. 7.8)? Explain: what counts as 'myth', and why do or don't these texts fit into that category?

W 10/19, Augustus

1. If, as Beard, North & Price argue, Roman religion wasn't really neglected in the late Republic or revived under Augustus, why do Augustan writers like Horace and Livy say that it was?


W 10/26, The Empire: No essay

F 10/28, Imperial Cult I

1. Based on your primary reading, do you agree with Nock's view that the imperial cult was "of the nature of homage and not of worship in the full sense" — that is, that the Romans didn't think of or treat the deified emperors in the same way as the other gods?


M 10/31, Imperial Cult II

1. If you were a citizen of Narbo or a member of the provincial assembly of Asia Minor, do you think you'd have been in favor of the honors for Augustus described in your reading for today? Why or why not?

W 11/2, Magic I

1. Is Cato the Elder's cure for a dislocation (Warrior 12.6) medicine or magic? What's the difference?

F 11/4, Magic II

1. What's the difference between "magic" as represented by the amulets, curses and binding spells (Warrior 12.10-5, RoR II.11.5, & on the UM website) and "religion" at Rome, as we've seen it so far? Should we classify magic as part of religion, as fundamentally opposed to it, or something in between?

2. Based on the sources for today, how did ancient magic work — at least, how was it supposed to work? Do you think it did work? If so, how?


M 11/7, New religions

1. What similarities do you see between the activities of the Society of Diana and Antinous (RoR II.12.2) and Roman public cult? What's different? Does this text belong in a textbook on Roman religion?

W 11/9, Bacchanalia

1. Based on the primary readings, do you agree with BNP that "however much the ritual activity of the [Bacchic] groups may have seemed unacceptable in itself... it was the form and structure within which that ritual took place that [the Roman authorities] sought to control"? Explain. If you agree, why was that such a problem? If not, what do you think the real problem was?

F 11/11, Cybele

1. Why did priests and some worshippers of the Magna Mater castrate themselves? Try to come with an explanation that fits the available evidence and that makes sense of this bizarre (to us) practice.


M 11/14, Isis

1. Based on your primary readings, what do you think drew (Roman) people to worship Isis? What did it mean to join her cult? Was it more like adding a new god to the Roman pantheon, like becoming a gallus, like converting to Christianity or some other modern cult, or none of the above?

2. Like many ancient goddesses, Isis has often been heralded as a feminist deity (Google Isis + feminist and you'll see what I mean). Based on your primary readings, is this view justified? Why or why not (or in what sense)?

W 11/16, Mithras

1. Based on the texts presented at RoR II.12.5, what do you think drew men to the cult of Mithras?

F 11/18, Jews in the Roman World

1. Based on your primary readings, do you agree or disagree with Cohen's thesis that there was essentially no perceptible outward difference between Jews and non-Jews in antiquity?


M 11/21, Christians in the Roman World

1. How different were pre-Constantinian Christians from other people in the Roman world? What made them different, and in what ways did they resemble their non-Christian neighbors?

W 11/23, Review: No essay


M 11/28, Christianity & the Mysteries

1. At a party, someone asks you, "Was ancient Christianity basically just a mystery religion?" (This happens to me all the time!) How do you respond? Your answer should touch on a few specific points or pieces of evidence that you find particularly significant; you might also want to address the ideological implications of the question itself.

W 11/30, The Limits of Toleration

1. Compare the documents describing the suppression of the Roman Bacchanalia (RoR II.12.1a-b) with Pliny's letter to Trajan about Christians in his province (RoR II.11b). To what extent does the perceived threat posed by Christians and the official Roman response to them resemble the Bacchanalia scandal? Do you see any significant differences?

F 12/2, Constantine I: No essay


M 12/5, The Christian Emperor?

1. Based on the evidence available to you, was Constantine a Christian after 312? In your answer, you should carefully review the major evidence for and against seeing Constantine as a genuine convert, and consider what exactly you think it means to be a "genuine convert."

W 12/7, Christianity after Constantine

1. Choose one of the following themes from today's readings: a) religious toleration & persecution, b) religion & politics, c) sacred places & things, d) asceticism & withdrawl from the world. How does post-Constantinian Christianity compare on this point to the traditional religion(s) of pre-Constantinian Rome?

F 12/9, Traditional Religion after Constantine

1. From the evidence available to you, what happened to traditional Roman religion(s) after Constantine? What effect did the Christianity of the emperors have on the religious landscape of the Roman empire?