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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


V. The Establishment of the Military Monarchy

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter XII - Religion, Culture, Literature, and Art


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

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Page 7

The whole system obtained its consecration--political, religious, and national--from the name of Pythagoras, the ultra-conservative statesman whose supreme principle was "to promote order and to check disorder," the miracle-worker and necromancer, the primeval sage who was a native of Italy, who was interwoven even with the legendary history of Rome, and whose statue was to be seen in the Roman Forum. As birth and death are kindred with each other, so--it seemed--Pythagoras was to stand not merely by the cradle of the republic as friend of the wise Numa and colleague of the sagacious mother Egeria, but also by its grave as the last protector of the sacred bird-lore.

But the new system was not merely marvellous, it also worked marvels; Nigidius announced to the father of the subsequent emperor Augustus, on the very day when the latter was born, the future greatness of his son; nay the prophets conjured up spirits for the credulous, and, what was of more moment, they pointed out to them the places where their lost money lay. The new-and-old wisdom, such as it was, made a profound impression on its contemporaries; men of the highest rank, of the greatest learning, of the most solid ability, belonging to very different parties--the consul of 705, Appius Claudius, the learned Marcus Varro, the brave officer Publius Vatinius-- took part in the citation of spirits, and it even appears that a police interference was necessary against the proceedings of these societies. These last attempts to save the Roman theology, like the kindred efforts of Cato in the field of politics, produce at once a comical and a melancholy impression; we may smile at the creed and its propagators, but still it is a grave matter when even able men begin to addict themselves to absurdity.

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