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Critical Review Of Cults Of The Roman Empire

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“Greek civilization was the daughter f the east, and Roman civilization was the product of Greek education” (Turcan, 2). The Cults of the Roman Empire by Robert Turcan tells the history of the cults of ancient Rome, ho they came into being, why people worshiped within their constraints and how they eventually branched out into new cults with borrowed deities and rules worship. This particular study is important and relevant today because it is an example of how everything in history evolves from something else and how good ideas are perpetuated and shared. Rarely if ever do ideas spring up out of complete void… with the obvious exception of creation, But even that religious myth seems to have been borrowed from another. Conflict, osmosis and symbiosis are part of the descriptive language Robert Turcan uses in his attempt to explain it is important to investigate the mystery cults of Rome. By examining differing cultures and civilizations as a collective rather than individual as well as the time and region in which they flourished, the author is better able to convey the religious syncretism that led to the development of other sister cults throughout ancient times. “Every ancient city defended its identity by imposing gods” (Turcan, 10).

The cult of Isis traces its origins back to the delta region of the Nile River in Egypt. She was the goddess of corn and the earth. The wife and sister of Osiris, God of the dead, and mother to the link between the living and the dead Horus, Isis was deified because her role in the resurrection of Osiris and consequentially Egyptians’ chance at an eternal life after death. She “offered worshippers who were uneasy about their fate in this world, and the next, the pledge of a victorious omnipotence of over evil and death” (Turcan, 80). She tended to assume the universal sovereignty of her husband, therefore making her goddess of the stars, heavens, earth and sea. It was just this type of powerful plurality that attracted the Greeks of ancient times (Turcan, 80,81). For them she was Aphrodite, Rhea, Hestia and most notably Demeter collectively in one deity. The description of her likeness to Demeter is the most detailed, comparing Isis’ search for Osiris with that of Demeter’s for Persephone. Other likenesses include what earthly realm they represent, both being goddesses of the grain and Mother Goddess. For a brief moment she may also he compared to the Goddess Persephone, who is wife to the God of the underworld. It is important to note the role of Isis in the Egyptian culture as well as her influence on that of the Greeks and main others, because it helps to convey the mindset of the citizens of these cultures in the given time period. Some were the conquerors, some the conquered in a foreign land, but nature, war, life, and death were universal, unpredictable forces for all. In order to give meaning to theses forces within the context of their lives, they were personified with Gods who seemed to control them. They prayed and sacrificed to the gods in an attempt to wield some control over their destiny. Why else would such things happen if someone or something had not willed it to be so?

Dionysus was a Greek god. He disquieted, tormented and released pent up feelings. As the god of dance and vital spirit he also embodied lethargy and languor (Turcan, 291). Women devoted to him were liberated from the harsh reality of the confining four walls of the home, husband, crying baby and the awful cooking pot and for a brief moment able to run wild in the mountains and live with the animals. In a new version of Dionysism there were two ways of reaching the state of Bacchus: asceticism and Maenadism rather than the original mystery ritual which included wine, dancing, and liberation from one’s responsibilities. It was adapted to meet the needs and anguish of the Hellenistic community. These enabled the cult to become more accessible. Asceticism is described as the personal discipline to change ones life in order to attain the divine life, those who were in daily perseverance, in constant effort to liberate the “Id” (Turcan, 296). The latter form of worship involved dancing, drinking and the eating of raw meat. This example of cultism is discussed because of the opposite effect it had on members of particular cultures and why its traditions were not continued. It was an escape from the reality of a life of daily struggle of the mundane act of household duties, and poverty but one in which individuals consumed raw flesh and disregarded all worldly responsibilities as if they had been possessed.



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