nooj wrote:Reading Seneca Epistle 41. The Romans and the Greeks liked to build their shrines in certain places in nature where divinity or a sense of awe (not to be taken in the Romantic sense) impressed upon them.Si tibi occurrerit vetustis arboribus et solitam altitudinem egressis frequens lucus et conspectum caeli densitate ramorum aliorum alios protegentium summovens, illa proceritas silvae et secretum loci et admiratio umbrae in aperto tam densae atque continuae fidem tibi numinis faciet. Si quis specus saxis penitus exesis montem suspenderit, non manu factus, sed naturalibus causis in tantam laxitatem excavatus, animum tuum quadam religionis suspicione percutiet. Magnorum fluminum capita veneramur; subita ex abdito vasti amnis eruptio aras habet; coluntur aquarum calentium fontes, et stagna quaedam vel opacitas vel immensa altitudo sacravit.
If you run into a grove that is thick with ancient trees reaching up to an unusual height and which leaves you bereft of the sight of the heavens because of how some of its boughs overlap with others, the bearing of that forest, the solitude of the place and the wondrousness of its shade, so thick and unbroken, will engender your belief in the divine. If a cave holds up a mountain, although the rocky interior has been deeply eaten away, and not formed by hand but hollowed out by natural causes into its great spaciousness, it will impress itself upon your mind with some sort of notion of awe. We venerate the sources of the mighty rivers; the sudden eruption of a broad river from its hiding place - there you will find altars; the fonts of hot springs are worshipped, and the unplumbable depth or darkness sets some pools apart as sacred.
Nice passage. I am reminded of this other passage in Lucan's Pharsalia (book III, 399-426), which shows those Romans could be similarly creeped out by shrines like those, instead of feeling awe:
- Lucus erat longo numquam uiolatus ab aeuo / obscurum cingens conexis aera ramis / et gelidas alte summotis solibus umbras. / Hunc non ruricolae Panes nemorumque potentes / Siluani Nymphaeque tenent, sed barbara ritu / sacra deum; structae diris altaribus arae / omnisque humanis lustrata cruoribus arbor. / Siqua fidem meruit superos mirata uetustas, / illis et uolucres metuunt insistere ramis / et lustris recubare ferae; nec uentus in illas / incubuit siluas excussaque nubibus atris / fulgura: non ulli frondem praebentibus aurae / arboribus suus horror inest. Tum plurima nigris / fontibus unda cadit, simulacraque maesta deorum / arte carent caesisque extant informia truncis. / Ipse situs putrique facit iam robore pallor / attonitos; non uolgatis sacrata figuris / numina sic metuunt: tantum terroribus addit, / quos timeant, non nosse, deos. Iam fama ferebat / saepe cauas motu terrae mugire cauernas, / et procumbentis iterum consurgere taxos, / et non ardentis fulgere incendia siluae, / roboraque amplexos circum fluxisse dracones. / Non illum cultu populi propiore frequentant / sed cessere deis. Medio cum Phoebus in axe est / aut caelum nox atra tenet, pauet ipse sacerdos / accessus dominumque timet deprendere luci. /
Hanc iubet inmisso siluam procumbere ferro.
A prose (not to mention prosaic) translation:
- 'There was also a grove that had never been defiled since ancient times, enclosing an ice-cold utter darkness by removing the Sun with its intertwined tree branches. No rural Pan nor forest-ruling Sylvanus nor nymph occupied it, but the vessels of gods from a barbarous cult. The altars held hideous offerings, and every tree had been ritually applied human blood. And if you ever had doubts about whether antiquity and its love for the gods deserved to be believed, even the birds and the beasts were afraid of perching on the branches or lying down under the shade. No wind blew against that forest, nor thunderbolts struck it when shot by black clouds. The foliage of the trees rustled even when exposed to no breeze; water ran down from dark springs in abundance. The grim, appalling statues of the gods had been made without skill from felled tree trunks. The horror of seeing such neglected, rotting timber troubled the men enough, but, although they would not have feared consecrated deities in more common forms, not being able to recognize the gods they dreaded added true terror. It was widely reported that underground caves would make loud noises during a tremor, that yew trees leaning down would rise upright again, that woods that were not on fire would glow as if they were, and that serpents would slither around by hugging the stems. The people did not normally approach the place to worship nearby, leaving it to the gods. When Apollo [the Sun] is in the middle of the axis, or when dark night holds the sky, the priest himself is frightened of coming close and finding the lord of the grove.
He [Julius Caesar] ordered that the forest be cut down by the stroke of the axe.'