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  • The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire
  • Karl Galinsky
Clifford Ando . The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire. The Transformation of the Classical Heritage, 44. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008. Pp. xxiv, 239. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-520-25083-3.

Ando's most recent book on Roman religion offers the intelligent and probing perspectives we have come to expect from him. Owing to the challenging material, most of the book is densely written, but it repays close reading. Three of the seven chapters have appeared previously and the whole does not constitute a tightly unified work with an argumentation converging on a central thesis. Instead, as Ando takes up various aspects of Roman religion, there are some recurring themes. Because of the highly technical style of writing and the intricacy of its argumentation, the book will appeal mostly to experts in the field.

Besides more specialist issues, such as the connection between religion and ius publicum (ch. 4), Ando deals with some central questions that are of more general interest. The first chapter, for instance, is a discursive overview of the relation between Roman religion and knowledge, among other topics, and discusses basic concepts like religio and cultus. While updated, the information is not entirely new, nor is the basic conclusion that Roman religion privileged knowledge rather than faith. Ando does not pursue further implications, in Foucault's terms, of the power resulting from that knowledge and of its practitioners, but stays focused on his central view, following Scheid, of Roman religion as orthopraxy: "Roman religion was thus founded upon an empirical epistemology: cult addressed problems in the real world, and the effectiveness of rituals—their tangible results—determined whether they were repeated, modified, or abandoned" (13). Again, while this notion is hardly unfamiliar, it is a good example of Ando's precision of formulation and is embedded, as is the case throughout this book, in a rich and sophisticated argument.

Another topic that will be of wider interest is the dividing line, if any, between idols of a deity and the deity itself. Ando investigates this issue in connection with the transfer of the black stone from Pessinus to Rome. Was it the goddess herself or just a representation? Our sources, Livy in particular, vacillate on this point. Ando ranges back in time to Plato and forward to Augustine to rehearse various metaphysical and epistemological views and winds up concluding that, as for Cybele, the matter remains in-conclusive: the cult in her home city continued for centuries while she also resided on the Palatine.

Here again, further connections could have been made that would have given the book greater unity. In one of the book's new and key chapters, Ando endeavors mightily to make a case that evocatio, the "calling out" of the main deity of a conquered city by offering her better digs in Rome, was a common procedure and part of Rome's imperialism. While Pliny has a reference, ultimately based on unknown authors, to that effect (NH 28.18), the evidentiary problems abound, as only two instances are actually attested. One is the marquee case of the Juno of Veii, which Livy is careful to characterize as fabula (5.22.6). The other is an inscription from Isaura Vetus in [End Page 264] Asia Minor from the first century B.C.E. that most likely refers to the vow of the Roman commander to transfer the deity not to Rome, but another place in the Roman province. The latter instance shows that, if anything, the ritual evolved, as did so much else in Roman religion. Might it not have been enough for a Roman commander to transfer an icon of the deity while the cult continued at the original site? This would make sense, for instance, for Propertius' reference (4.2.1–4) to the changeable signa of Vertumnus, who came from Etruria and had a temple in Rome, although it is uncertain whether an evocatio took place. There is simply very little evidence on the ground here and despite Ando's best efforts we are looking mostly at an argumentum...


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