The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic
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W. Warde Fowler's The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic provides an commentary on the aetiology of Roman religious festivals, with a special emphasis of their origins in Italian pagan traditions. The author is initially at pains to explain the Roman calendar system, so that he is justified in calling it an introduction. The work is simply structured into twelve chapters, each cataloguing the festivals of each month of the year. Ease of reference is improved by a detailed subject index, and by two others for Latin and Greek authors cited.
He surmises on how legend and ritual have contributed to transform nymphs and daemon into gods. For example, it may surprise his readers to hear that the Roman god of war, Mars, does not derive his name from the Greek Ares-though Fowler does not deign to make any direct parallel with this deity. He is content to link Mars with the spirit of spring, Mamuralia. The Roman campaigning season begins at the same time as the planting season. So perhaps the fetial ritual of rerum repetitio, a request of restitution or reparations, derived from an early prayer for Mamuralia's goodwill in granting a benign season. He also offers insights into Roman religious festivals which had particular to cult sites in the city; and to others, like the prolonged seasonal celebration of Saturnalia which he time could be held anywhere in the Empire, eventually becoming a secular celebration long after it was removed from the official calendar. William Warde Fowler said of the Saturnalia that it "has left its traces and found its parallels in great numbers of medieval and modern customs, occurring about the time of the winter solstice" perhaps being a sly reference to Christmas.
Fowler refers to the importance of the calendar for recognising festival days and profane days, and how they were notated for both priests and secular Romans, and offers insights into public and sometimes non-public worship, such as that of Lares. While the work is titled an introduction to the religion of the Romans, it is written for students with more than rudimentary knowledge of Roman religion, and for scholars of history, literature, anthropology and history of religion. It focuses on Italian gods rather than those imported from the Greek Pantheon, and before the deification of emperors, or cults set up around eastern gods like the Persian Mithras. The book begins with a thorough introduction on the Roman calendar system. In the course of twelve chapters, the author catalogues and presents the festivals of each month of the year.
Fowler treats his subject thematically, calling attention the primitive instinct that seeks explanations in magic to formulate religious or binding beliefs and customs. He observes, with some sense of regret, the elaboration of ritual, though resort to magic recurred in times of crisis: for example, entreaties to Hecate, the Phrygian goddess of warfare during the Second Punic War.
Though Fowler is always ready to candidly disagree with his contemporary scholars he is grateful to those who have provided material and opinions that have stimulated or informed him, including Prof. Wissowa and Dr. J. G. Frazer, and also to Mr. R. R. Marett.