Numa Pompilius; conversing with the gods

Here we present selected excerpts from Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ book ‘The Roman Antiquities‘ (The Loeb Classical Library). Dionysius informs us here about Numa Pompilius’ interaction with a deity and how this story relates to some older Greek ones.


“The Romans say that he* undertook no military campaign, but that, being a pious and just man, he passed the whole period of his reign in peace and caused the State to be most excellently governed. They relate also many marvellous stories about him, attributing his human wisdom to the suggestions of the gods. For they fabulously affirm that a certain nymph, Egeria, used to visit him and instruct him on each occasion in the art of reigning, though others say that it was not a nymph, but one of the Muses. And this, they claim, became clear to every one; for, when people were incredulous at first, as may well be supposed, and regarded the story concerning the goddess as an invention, he, in order to give the unbelievers a manifest proof of his converse with this divinity, did as follows, pursuant to her instructions. He invited to the house where he lived a great many of the Romans, all men of worth, and having shown them his apartments, very meanly provided with furniture and particularly lacking in everything that was necessary to entertain a numerous company, he ordered them to depart for the time being, but invited them to dinner in the evening. And when they came at the appointed hour, he showed them rich couches and tables laden with a multitude of beautiful cups, and when they were at table, he set before them a banquet consisting of all sorts of viands, such a banquet, indeed, as it would not have been easy for any man in those days to have prepared in a long time. The Romans were astonished at everything they saw, and from that time they entertained a firm belief that some goddess held converse with him.

*(Numa Pompilius)


But those who banish everything that is fabulous from history say that the report concerning Egeria was invented by Numa, to the end that, when once the people were possessed with a fear of the gods, they might more readily pay regard to him and willingly receive the laws he should enact, as coming from the gods. They say that in this he followed the example of the Greeks, emulating the wisdom both of Minos the Cretan and of Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian. For the former of these claimed to hold converse with Zeus, and going frequently to the Dictaean mountain, in which the Cretan legends say that the new-born Zeus was brought up by the Curetes, he used to descend into the holy cave; and having composed his laws there, he would produce them, affirming that he had received them from Zeus. And Lycurgus, paying visits to Delphi, said he was forming his code of laws under the instruction of Apollo.”

NovoScriptorium: Apparently, there are many similarities among the stories mentioned. What we need to focus on is that in all of them the Justice system, the Law, is involved. For the ancients, it must have been a standard belief that Men cannot really govern themselves properly without the aid of the Divine. People recognised the great inability of Man to discover, invent, apply an ‘ultimate and perfect’ solution/system for everything. They have recognised, already in deep Antiquity, the absolute superiority of the Divine and, because of this, and because of an inner need, they developed the various cults and systems of worshipping. In fear and for honour/gratitude at the same time.

Another parameter we would like to touch is that the various Greek stories concerning ‘Men meeting up with gods’, mostly somewhere up in the mountains, have another explanation, too. After the Cataclysm(s), as we are informed by many ancient writers, the majority of the surviving people came from the mountainous areas. Additionally, ‘Museums’ were mostly build on the mountains. But before continuing, let’s explain what a ‘Museum’ was for the ancients. Every ‘Muse’ was considered a daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, i.e. of the supreme God and of Memory (the translation of the name Mnemosyne). Every ‘Muse’ was considered the protector of a certain field of Knowledge. Hence, the reader can now answer alone what a ‘Museum’ really was: a place where Knowledge, from various fields, was gathered there for protection (to keep the ‘memory’ alive) and, later on, for evolution. So far, we have found a respectable number of such references in ancient Greek literature. In the ‘historical times’, Museums still exist for analogous purposes, but now, they are not build on mountains. They also appear to act as ‘think tanks’ of philosophical and scientific thought. In our opinion, the core of the ‘Egeria’ Myth could indicate an analogous background.

Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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