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Home arrow Religion arrow On Roman Religion: Lived Religion and the Individual in Ancient Rome
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Visionary Individuality

Here I point to individual revelations and the biographies of authors. Thousands of inscriptions, often in the very reduced form ex visu, “from a vision,” attest to dreams and visions in which gods appeared, spoke, and gave commands. Formulas and atypical formulations are both in evidence. The large number of deities thus credited is astonishing, more than a hundred according to Gil Renberg.[1] Individual religious action, usually dedication, is legitimized by pointing to individual communication with a deity. Such a strategy is known on a larger scale from the aforementioned venerator of Asclepius, Aelius Aristides.[2] In his case, far beyond incidental legitimization, it is the autobiography as such that results from the transmission of a divine message.[3] The production of the text is a drama in itself.[4] Divine intervention is made plausible by the detailed narrative construction of the author and his individuality. John of Patmos was the first to use the term “apocalypsis” for a revelatory genre and the first author of such a text, giving himself an individual face and autobiographical history. At Rome, a person addressed as Hermas in his text, The Shepherd of Hermas, followed these lines, causing his audience to witness even his sinful thoughts and the reproaches they earned from the revelatory figure. I will return to this text in the final chapter.[5] Following models of Hellenistic authorial self-presentation, Hermas, Aristides, and later Augustine create their divine interlocutor and hence a dialogue in order to open a space for narrating their own individuation, their own becoming a specifically religious individual.

Such texts were intended for recitation in institutionalized discursive spaces, meetings of religious groups as described above. The complex interaction of individualization and institutionalization as two interrelated processes are visible here. But temples, the regular infrastructure of ancient religions, should not be forgotten as places for religious individuality. Astonishingly, many texts and regulations concern individual differences if not deviances in the use of these sacred spaces and their resources (divine presence primarily in the form of divine images),[6] as we will also see in a later chapter.

  • [1] See Renberg 2010.
  • [2] See, for instance, Hieroi Logoi 4.45—46.
  • [3] See Hieroi Logoi 2.4; Petridou 2015.
  • [4] Petsalis-Diomidis 2006, 201.
  • [5] See Osiek 1999; Rupke 1999, 2003a, 2013b.
  • [6] Rupke 2010c.
 
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