n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic & Republican Italy, D. Miano - review

Volume 61 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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In the post-war period, a group of French scholars of Roman religion dedicated themselves to the production of a line of monographic studies of individual Roman deities, which were often published by the École Française de Rome. The quality of these books varied, but they tended to offer the same basic formula: a history of the deity concerned (whether Apollo or Mercury or Ops) from Archaic origins through waves of Republican temple building and Hellenisation to an Early Imperial ‘settlement’. As Daniele Miano observes in the introduction of his own monograph on an individual deity (p. 12), this habit died out in the 1990s and 2000s. The problem with the French books on Roman deities, though, had been clear already for some time. As Mary Beard put it in 1983 in a JRS review of two examples, ‘our understanding of Roman religion will not advance far, so long as specialists concentrate on monographs of ill-documented, individual gods and goddesses . . . we ought to think in broader terms about its characteristics as a system, not about its individual symbolic figures’ (p. 216). The central failing was essentialism: the authors tried to pin down the basic character or function of a deity, not infrequently on grounds of Latin etymology, and then explained the often slim evidence in light of that alleged essence.

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