- Volcanus: Recherches comparatistes sur les origines du culte de Vulcain
In the last twenty years the French School has published every two years one book on Roman religion: monographs dealing with Fortuna, Mercurius, Ops, Penates, Providentia Deorum, Fratres Arvales, l’Association Dionysiaque (cf. JRS 78  207–8), the Bacchanalia, religious architecture (Aurea templa), La vie religieuse des matrones, Le délit religieux (cf. CP 79  174–77). Now we have a book about Volcanus. First let us remark on what this book is not: it is not a study of the cult of Volcanus, an encyclopedia that would systematically list and discuss all the literary, iconographic, and epigraphical evidence in Rome, Italy, and the provinces. It would be very pleasing to have such a book; perhaps pedestrian, but useful. For information we still have to turn to Georg Wissowa, to his ageless Religion und Kultus der Römer (2d ed. Munich 1912, 229–32); also informative is W. Eisenhut, “Volcanus,” RE Suppl. 14 (1974) 948–62. A rather balanced account of the origines appears in G. Camassa, “Sull’origine [End Page 644] e le funzioni del culto di Volcanus a Roma,” RSI 96 (1984) 811–54. Capdeville’s book we have for speculations, a paradise for those eager to delve into murky origins, and those who are transposed by the dazzling and uncertain art of comparativistic pleading. If bibliography (fifty-one pages, 425–75) stands for learning, it is a learned monograph; it ranges from Rome through Etruria to Crete and Cyprus. Surprisingly we find no Hittites or Turks (the relevance of the latter the reader will see revealed at the end of this piece).
The book opens with an evocation of Georges Dumézil. Where do his manes lead the author? They lead to the fish. The monograph “est né . . . d’une interrogation sur les pisciculi des Volcanalia” (1), a subject which intrigued Dumézil himself (REL 36  121–30). At the feast of Volcanalia on 23 August (see the references in A. Degrassi, Fasti anni Numani et Iuliani (5 Inscr. It. XIII.2 [Rome 1963] 500–502), populus pro se in ignem animalia mittit (Varr. LL 6.20). On 7 June (cf. Degrassi 466) the Ludi Piscatorii were celebrated a praetore urbano pro piscatoribus Tiberinis, quorum quaestus non in macellum pervenit, sed fere in aream Volkani, quod id genus pisciculorum vivorum datur ei deo pro animis humanis (Festus 274–76 L); but at the Ludi Piscatorii the offering was not pro animis but rather pro quaestu piscantium (Festus 232 L); cf. J. Le Gall, Recherches sur le culte du Tibre (Paris 1953) 48–50; J. Linderski, Ktema 17 ( 1996) 58. Agni, the Indian god of fire, hated water and fish; this explains the Roman ritual (so Dumézil). Most scholars tacitly assume that pisciculi vivi were offered also on the Volcanalia, but Varro speaks generally of animalia: if he wanted to say pisces he would have said so. Volcanus was a god of destructive fire (so Wissowa, Dumézil, and many other scholars); it makes sense that to propitiate him not only fish, a symbol of water, were burnt, but also other animals (perhaps as a substitute offering; cf., on that sort of sacrifices, G. Capdeville, MEFRA 83  283–323). In the context of incendia arcenda an inscription of the Domitianic time (ILS 4914) records an offering on the Volcanalia of vitulus robeus and verres r(obeus). This calls to mind the sacrifice of the rutilae canes to protect the crops from the burning sun (Festus 358 L).
Of all of this Capdeville, surprisingly, does not write at all: after their debut on page 1 the pisciculi and the Volcanalia feebly reappear at the very end of the book (420–23), only to be disregarded. Capdeville claims that Volcanus was not at all, and never, a god of “feu destructeur.” But Dumézil too...