Praetextatus – Religion … Ideas and Connections (Ch. 2.5)


Maijastina Kahlos, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus – Senatorial Life in Between. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae no. 26, Roma 2002.


The universal divinity

In this chapter I survey religious and philosophical ideas that floated about in Praetextatus’ time and may have influenced him. The starting point here is the funerary poem of CIL VI 1779 in which Paulina declares that Praetextatus, a holy man and priest of  mysteries, conceals in the secret places of his heart what he has discovered in the sacred initiations and that as a learned man, doctus, he worships the divum numen multiplex:

                 … tu pius m[y]stes sacris

                 teletis reperta mentis arcano premis,

                 divumque numen multiplex doctus colis (v.13-15).

The numen[1] multiplex is a concept of the universal divinity that expresses itself in different forms and is above other inferior deities. This universal divinity appears frequently in late Latin literature, in different expressions, often called simply numen, e.g. by Ammianus,[2] and sometimes mens or mens divina. The mens divina appears in Symmachus’ famous appeal for religious tolerance, in the third relatio, where the mens divina is said to have granted the many religions to different cities as their different guardians, varios custodes urbibus cultus mens divina distribuit.[3] Symmachus’ mens divina resembles the multiplex numen divum in Praetextatus’ funerary poem for the universal divinity, the mens divina, as well as the numen multiplex, is worshipped in its all possible forms, in its multiplicity.[4]

The Latin mens is a translation of the Greek concept of noûs which – referring to the divine agent governing the cosmos – is found in the Greek philosophical tradition, in the writings of the Platonists as well as the Peripatetics and the Stoics.[5] The concept noûs appears as the second hypostasis in the Neoplatonic trinity of theós, noûs and psykhé (deus, mens, anima), God, Mind and Soul.[6] This Neoplatonic dogma of the trinity is clearest in Macrobius’ writings where noûs is called mens mundi and is said to have been born of the highest god, mens, quem Graeci noûn appellant, originales rerum species, quae idéai dictae sunt, continens, ex summo nata est et profecta deo.[7] In his Saturnalia, Macrobius – with Praetextatus as his spokesman – calls the sun the Mind of the Universe but is this mens the same mens divina as in Symmachus’ relatio 3.8?[8] Macrobius refers to the manifold power of the sun, solis multiplex potestas, which resembles the multiple character of the numen multiplex in Praetextatus’ funerary poem.[9]

How should we interpret Praetextatus’ numen multiplex as well as Symmachus’ mens divina? Did Praetextatus (or the writer of the funerary poem) understand his numen multiplex divum as the Neoplatonic noûs and could his religious orientation be called monotheistic? I regard Symmachus’ third relatio as a manifestation of the general pagan monotheistic ideas rather than as a particularly Platonizing work, as several scholars, e.g. P. Courcelle, R. Klein and, more carefully, D. Vera have proposed it to be.[10] These scholars have assumed that Symmachus followed Porphyrian ideas of supreme divinity; Klein even suggests that the Neoplatonic or Porphyrian ideas in the third relatio could have been consulted either by Praetextatus or by one of the erudite Albini (see also ch. 3.2).[11] However, Symmachus was not a Neoplatonist but rather was bound to the religious traditions of Cicero and other Latin writers[12] and articulated his ideas in the theological koine of late antiquity. As a matter in fact, he did not differ much from the monotheistic views of his time, following the general trend of interpreting minor gods as emanations of the supreme god.

Pagan monotheistic tendencies in Graeco-Roman antiquity are too vast and complicated subject[13] to be discussed here in detail and, therefore, I confine myself to some general remarks on the concept of the supreme deity in antiquity. The syncretistic and monotheistic views in religion and philosophy had spread long before the fourth century in the Latin West as well as in the Greek East. Greek philosophers from the Presocratics on had formulated ideas of a supreme principle of all things. Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics as well as the Middle and Neoplatonists had speculated upon one supreme god, whether it was called the first cause, the first principle, the unmoved mover, God or Zeus.[14] The concept of the supreme god and the hierarchy between the supreme god and minor gods appears in the Latin literary tradition from Cicero onwards; Varro, for example, introduced the idea that all divinities could be reduced to one substance. The Stoics had demonstrated that all the divinities worshipped in various religions could be interpreted as components or aspects of one supreme god, and many of these ideas were adopted and developed further by Neoplatonists.[15] This fusion of pagan gods into a single supreme deity did not mean rejection or neglect of the multitude of the separate inferior gods. For many pagans, the idea of one supreme god was perfectly compatible with the plurality of other, minor divinities.[16]

Rufius Festus Avienus’ translation of Aratus’ Phaenomena is an illustrative example of pagan monotheism in late antiquity. At the beginning of the poem Avienus depicts Jupiter, the supreme god – sitting in the ether and representing the both sexes, sexu immixtus utroque – who has started the movement, the beginning of all things, paterni principium motus.[17]

The concept of the universal divinity, the principle of all things and the final cause appears in Plotinus’ Enneads[18] and also in Porphyry’s works where all divinities were reduced to one substance whose visible manifestation was the Sun. Porphyry’s Neoplatonism inspired such educated aristocrats as Cornelius Labeo in the third century who tried to connect the nostalgia for Roman history and the Platonic spirituality. In the second half of the fourth century Porphyry’s works continued to influence the educated aristocratic circles in the West; e.g. Marius Victorinus, Augustine, Ambrose, Servius and Macrobius seem to have known Porphyry either directly or through intermediaries and even in Latin translations.[19] In the Neoplatonic circles of Milan, Ambrose adapted several Platonic ideas, for instance the concept summum bonum.[20] The Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas of supreme being certainly provided inspiration for many pagans and Christians in late antiquity. It remains, however, unclear how much Platonic influence there was in the monotheistic tendencies in late antiquity. The Neoplatonic philosophy, especially Porphyry’s ideas, did not spread widely outside the circles of Neoplatonic specialists while monotheistic ideas, in connection with the solar cult and the soul’s astral origin, were a common feature of late antique culture, Christian as well as pagan, not a particularly Neoplatonic phenomenon. As the example of the poet Claudian shows, Platonic ideas influenced the general monotheistic thoughts in the fourth century. He was not a Neoplatonist but rather the Platonic and Neoplatonic elements in his poetry are typical fragments of late antique culture.[21] Tiberianus, who wrote a hymn to the Creator in the late third century or in the early fourth century, appears as an educated pagan inspired by the henotheistic and Platonic ideas and the religious atmosphere of the Constantinian period rather than a Neoplatonist.[22] The hierarchy among the supreme god and the inferior gods also appears in Firmicus Maternus but he was not a Neoplatonist either though there are Platonic elements in his Mathesis.[23] The divinitas principalis is identified with mens but not as the Plotinian second hypostasis but as the concept of the Latin tradition. The mens divina is present everywhere in the cosmos, moving ignita ac sempiterna agitatione, maintaining and governing everything rationally and benevolently, and is described as omnium pariter ac mater, pater ac filius.[24] In Firmicus’ heliolatric system, the Sun is mens mundi and the visible manifestation of the transcendent supreme god.[25]

In this chapter I have shown with examples that monotheistic and henotheistic ideas in the West in the fourth century were not necessarily particularly Neoplatonic but rather they had been influenced by the long tradition of various philosophical and religious tendencies centuries before Praetextatus. Therefore, what first appears Neoplatonic in Praetextatus’ funerary poem or in Symmachus’ relatio need not be automatically Neoplatonic but were merely articulated in the theological koine of late antiquity and should be regarded as general features of the mentality in the fourth century.


Neoplatonic traditions

Olympiodorus divided the Neoplatonists of the fourth century into two sects according to their attitude to philosophy and religion: first, there were Plotinus, Porphyry and others who preferred philosophy to all other activities and then, there were Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus and other ‘hieratics’ who preferred the hieratic art, hieratikê tékhne.[26] According to this division the Iamblichian views of religion were contrary to the ideas of Porphyry who defended the true philosophy against theurgy and religious pretensions, especially Christian and Gnostic. The philosophical purification and perfection was possible only for the few elect and theurgy was only a partial, inadequate method for achieving the purification of the soul.[27] Iamblichus criticized Porphyry, answering that philosophy, a human art could never reach the union with the gods theoretically because this would thus originate from human intelligence. The union with the gods was achieved through participation in theurgical rites, theîa érga, that were above human intelligence. It was the power of ineffable acts, symbols understood by the gods alone that established the union with them, without human thinking.[28] This division of Neoplatonists between the ‘intellectual’ tradition of Plotinus and Porphyry and the ‘theurgical’ tradition of Iamblichus is of course over-simplified[29] but it still illustrates the differences of attitudes and emphases within the Neoplatonic circles.

P. Hadot has placed Praetextatus in the Iamblichian or hieratic sect because Praetextatus personally knew Emperor Julian, a follower of the Iamblichian Neoplatonism. Therefore, Hadot believes that Praetextatus was influenced by the Eastern Neoplatonism, which regarded theurgy as superior to philosophy, and emphasizes the liturgical and mystic tone of CIL VI 1779 that he connects with the Iamblichian views of the relationship between religion and philosophy.[30] It is true that in Praetextatus’ funerary poem his religious activities are far more important than his philosophical studies in the same way as in the Iamblichian doctrine philosophy is subordinated to pagan religion. Praetextatus’ studies in literature and philosophy are referred to as sed ista parva when compared with his cultic activities. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to label Praetextatus as a Iamblichian Neoplatonist when the question whether he was Neoplatonist at all remains unsolved (see ch. 3.2). Still, in Praetextatus’ funerary poem we can distinguish some germs of a later development, where philosophy became even more subordinated to religion where Philosophia became ancilla Theologiae.


Emperor Julian and the Roman aristocracy

Upon his ascent to the throne at the end of 361 or at the beginning of 362, Emperor Julian appointed Praetextatus as proconsul Achaeae when the latter was on private business in Constantinople.[31] This connection between Praetextatus and Julian, recorded by Ammianus, has made some scholars believe that Praetextatus was influenced by Emperor Julian and his Neoplatonic philosophers while he was in Greece and  Constantinople. Praetextatus’ every activity, the di consentes, solar theology, Mithras, Magna Mater and the support of the Greek mysteries have been interpreted as a connection with Julian and as an important link between Julian’s pagan revival in the East in the 360s and the pagan revival in the West at the end of the fourth century.[32]

R. Herzog found several interesting but hypothetical connections between Praetextatus and Julian, identifying Praetextatus with a philosopher mentioned by Libanius and invited by Julian to Gaul to stay there as his mentor. Herzog also identified Praetextatus with the hierophant who initiated Julian into the Eleusian mysteries in 355 as well as with a hierophant who initiated Eunapius into the mystery of Mithras in Athens after 361, creating a theory of silent co-operation between the pagans in the East and in the West.[33] However, none of his hypotheses is verifiable.

Is it possible that Praetextatus was connected with the Neoplatonic circle around Julian? As the only known connection between Praetextatus and Julian is Ammianus’ account of Praetextatus’ appointment as proconsul Achaeae, unfortunately there is not much foundation for these theories.

Julian attempted to win the Roman aristocracy over to his cause during the struggle against Emperor Constantius, e.g. assisting Rome in a food shortage.[34] He sent a letter to the Roman senate and blamed Constantius for disgraceful acts and errors, bitterly criticizing Emperor Constantine as an innovator and a disturber of the ancient laws and old customs but the reaction of the Roman senators was not quite the one he had expected. When his letter had been read in curia, the senators manifested their loyalty to Constantius with complete agreement because Julian appeared to them to be an ungrateful rebel. They obviously preferred to remain loyal to Constantius who had  remained pontifex maximus and guaranteed the continuity of the Roman cults.[35] In addition, Julian tried to establish good relations with the Roman aristocracy by appointing senators to high posts but it seems that some of his appointments did not satisfy the Roman senators. An embassy of the Roman senate was sent in 363 and consequently the delegates gained high posts, e.g. Volusius Venustus who was given the vicariate of Hispania.[36]

The city of Rome honoured Julian with conventional honours but they do not reveal anything particular of the relations between Julian and the Roman aristocracy. The Roman pagan aristocrats never gave the support that Julian looked for in his religious programme since the relations between Julian and the Roman senators remained cold and remote. Julian – described as “an easterner by birth and education, at home in the informal company of men of letters and soldiers” by P. Athanassiadi – and the Roman aristocrats – filled with “glacial snobbery” and priding themselves “exclusively on their birth and wealth” – represented completely different cultural spheres in late antiquity. Moreover, Julian differed from the traditional image of a late antique emperor and it was probably his levitas, criticized even by his admirer Ammianus, that distanced the Roman aristocrats from him. It seems that Julian’s Neoplatonic speculative religion and the Hellenization of pagan cults did not please the Roman pagan senators who were bound to the Roman religion and traditions.[37]

For Julian, Rome was still the true capital of the Empire, instead of Constantinople, and the symbol of the political and spiritual unity of the Empire. In his panegyric to Constantius in 356 Julian places Rome first in the hierarchy of imperial cities.[38] In his speech to Helios he considers Rome as an Hellenic city because of its Greek origin, laws and gods but this hardly pleased the Roman patriots. J.-P. Weiss finds behind the anti-Roman spirit of Julian’s Caesares an ideological debate between East and West and believes that this contradiction might have been a far more important factor than the contradiction between pagans and Christians. For the Roman senators – both pagan and Christian – religious issues and the religion professed by the emperor probably were not always as crucial as the status of Rome as the centre of the Empire. Julian despised Roman history and tradition, insisting that there was only one good ruler among the Roman emperors, the philhellene Marcus Aurelius.[39]

Because Julian’s Neoplatonic paganism and the paganism of the Roman aristocracy were two different phenomena, I think that they should not be connected too closely with each other. Praetextatus’ religious activities do not necessarily imply Julian’s influence but rather refer to the general religious atmosphere of the fourth-century culture to which they both belonged.


Themistius and religious pluralism

It seems to me that Praetextatus was connected with Eastern paganism and philosophy through the Constantinopolitan philosopher and rhetorician Themistius (c.317-388)[40] whom he probably knew personally; at least he is known to have translated Themistius’ paraphrases of Aristotle’s Analytics (see ch. 3.2). Themistius was not a Neoplatonist but rather an Aristotelian or an eclectic influenced by both Plato and Aristotle and inclined to harmonize Plato with Aristotle.[41] He was a politikós filósofos, a political  philosopher who took actively part in the civil administration and public life and held high state offices in Constantinople, thus differing sharply from other contemporary philosophers, Neoplatonists who withdrew themselves from society.[42]

In a speech to Emperor Jovian in 364 Themistius made an appeal for a more tolerant religious policy in the Empire, trying eloquently to convince the emperor to allow all religions to exist without threat of persecution. He argues that an edict of religious toleration is far more important than the peace with the Persians made by Jovian because the edict of tolerance guaranteed peace within the Empire. “We have been worse enemies to each other than the Persians (to us)”, he asserts.[43] He praises the religious         , religious diversity that seeks the truth in many various ways. God had created religion as an element to be present in every human being while the way in which each person worships god depends on each person’s own will.[44] Themistius asserts that though god is one only, there is not a single road to approach the divine but there are many ways, more difficult and easier ones, all directing towards this same destination. Not all people take the same road, hodós.[45]

Themistius’ appeal for religious plurality, poikilía resembles Symmachus’ arguments for religious tolerance in his third relatio in 384. Symmachus points out that everyone has his own customs and religious practices, suus enim cuique mos, suus ritus est, and that these many cults were created by the supreme deity. He emphasizes the similarities of paganism and Christianity as religions since all religions worship the same deity; thus, all divinities are really to be considered one and the same, aequum est, quicquid omnes colunt, unum putari. What does it matter which system each person uses to seek the truth since the truth, such a great mystery, Symmachus asserts, cannot be reached by one way only, uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum.[46]

Did Themistius’s speech to Jovian influence Symmachus’ third relatio or did Themistius influence Symmachus through Praetextatus? I think that the similarities between Themistius’ oration and Symmachus’ relatio are not coincidental but reflect cultural contacts between the Eastern Themistius and the Western Symmachus as well as a common source and common tendencies of the late fourth century. It is possible that Themistius either used Porphyry as his source and influenced Symmachus or they both used Porphyry as their common source. In any case Porphyry’s ideas of religious relativism were widely spread in the late fourth century.[47] I am inclined to think that Themistius inspired Symmachus during his visit to Rome in 376 since he probably met Symmachus as well as Praetextatus when he visited Rome as the delegate of the senate of Constantinople in 357 and in 376. As I have shown above, Symmachus’ third relatio was a manifestation of the general pagan pluralistic views of his time though he may also follow Porphyrian ideas of supreme divinity and the plurality of cults but only because these Porphyrian ideas were commonplace in the fourth century. He was not a Neoplatonist but rather he was bound to the contemporary traditions of religious tolerance.

The Porphyrian doctrine of religion was syncretistic and relativistic. According to Augustine, Porphyry had stated that no doctrine that would offer a universal way, via universalis for the liberation of the soul, had yet been established; not even the truest philosophy, i.e. Platonism, nor the moral teaching of the Indians nor the initiation of the Chaldaens could offer a universal way for the liberation of the soul. Because there was no universal way towards god, everyone should use different methods.[48] Since all truth was concealed, the human soul could not see the truth with clear and direct vision but with an obscuring veil interposed. In addition, the supreme deity could not be understood and expressed in words of human language.[49]

Marius Victorinus’ views of religion have also been interpreted as pluralistic or relativistic.[50] Similar religious pluralism appears in the letter of the pagan grammaticus Maximus of Madaura to Augustine where Maximus claims that the forces of the Supreme Being scattered around the world are called by different names because the real name of the supreme divinity is unknown to people. People worship the parts of the supreme divinity but in fact they worship him whole.[51] Augustine had previously stated that wisdom could be reached in many ways, sed non ad eam una via pervenitur, echoing the words via and pervenire in Symmachus’ rel. 3, but later retracted his previous views of pluralism: there was no other way to reach wisdom but through Christ who had himself said, ego sum via.[52]


The performance of the Roman civic religion

In this chapter I discuss Symmachus’ views of the public state cult. Nevertheless, I do not claim that Praetextatus’ views would have been identical with Symmachus’ but I simply try to illustrate ideas and values in the aristocratic environment in which Praetextatus lived.

Since the state and religion were inseparable in Roman state life, as we have seen in ch. 2.3, the conservation of the Roman official cults was closely connected with maintaining the traditional state life and the dignity of Rome. Symmachus believed that the Roman civic religion guaranteed the support of the state gods and thus the continuity of the Empire; as he points out in the third relatio, the public well-being was guaranteed by the cult of Vesta. In a similar way the Expositio totius mundi et gentium in 350 also stresses that in Rome the sacred rites of gods were performed by the virgins of Vesta on behalf of the welfare of the state, salus civitatis.[53] Therefore, the Roman civic religion was not a private matter for Symmachus but it was closely connected with the public security; to be faithful to the traditional religion meant faithfulness to the Hellenic culture and the Roman state.[54]

For many Roman polytheists, the ceremonies of the Roman civic religion had to remain public and to be financed by the state because otherwise they would not be correctly accomplished and would not count as valid; otherwise, the gods would not accept the rituals.[55] In a letter to Praetextatus, probably referring to the defeat of the Romans in Hadrianople on Aug. 9, 378, Symmachus points out that a prodigium could be expiated only by a sacrifice in the name of the public, publico nomine, otherwise all sacrifices would be useless even if they were abundant.[56]

Pagan cults had benefited the Empire throughout Roman history, Symmachus asserts in a letter to Praetextatus, but this benevolence of the gods will be lost unless it is retained by the public cult of community, convenit inter publicos sacerdotes, ut in custodiam civium publico obsequio traderemus curam deorum. Benignitas enim superorum, nisi cultu teneatur, amittitur.[57] In a similar way, the Greek orator Libanius claimed that the neglect of the sacrifices to the gods will cause misfortunes to humanity.[58] The connection between the grandeur of the Roman Empire and the Roman civic religion was an old theme in Latin literature; e.g. Cicero had already claimed that the power and success of the Roman state was based on the official Roman cults.[59] In his appeal for the public maintenance of the civic religion, Symmachus argues that the glorious Roman history provided clear evidence for the support of the gods.[60] Even decades after Symmachus’ appeal, pagans and Christians continued debating on whether pagan gods had supported the Roman Empire and which religion protected the Roman people better; Augustine of Hippo’s De civitate Dei is the most well-known example of this dispute.

The public support of the civic religion also guaranteed the fertility of the earth and was an insurance rather than an act of generosity, Symmachus asserts.[61] As the Western part of the Empire suffered from a grave famine in 383, he complained that the gods punished Rome because it had neglected the traditional Roman cults: Dii patrii, facite gratiam neglectorum sacrorum! Miseram famem pellite! Quamprimum revocet urbs nostra, quos invita dimisit![62] In the third relatio he also blames the famine on the neglect of the gods, referring evidently to Emperor Gratian’s withdrawal of the state subsidies for the Roman cults.[63]

The motives of Symmachus and other Roman pagan senators for the conservation of old Roman cults have been under discussion for decades. Symmachus uses the idea of tradition as an argument for pagan cults in his appeal for the restoration of the state subsidies and the altar of Victory,[64] and this is why R. Klein has represented an idealistic interpretation according to which Symmachus wished to conserve pagan cults because they were a part of the Roman tradition, mos maiorum, and the pagan senators were not bound to the pagan cults only because of material reasons; otherwise they would not have supported pagan cults voluntarily and privately after Gratian had removed the state subsidies for pagan cults.[65]

The materialistic interpretation emphasized that Symmachus and other pagan senators were mainly interested in maintaining the economic privileges they had as pagan priests; J.A. McGeachy, for example, asserted that the pagan senators attempted to “conserve the cultural heritage of the past which was the foundation for their dominant place in Roman history”. Their privileged position was connected with the state support of the pagan cults because, as pagan priests, they controlled the landed estates of temples; when the state support was removed, the Roman cults were no longer a source of income and prestige for the Roman aristocracy.[66] F. Paschoud condemns Symmachus and the Roman senators in every respect, interpreting even an anecdote about Praetextatus related by Jerome as an example of the greed and materialistic attitude of pagan senators. For Paschoud, Praetextatus’ words facite me Romanae urbis episcopum, et ero protinus Christianus to Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, illustrate the greedy attitude of the pagan senators.[67] The materialistic aspect of Symmachus’ appeal for the Roman religion was already pointed out by Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan in his answer to the third relatio. As a matter of fact, most of the third relatio is dedicated to the economic privileges of priestly colleges and the revenues of pagan temples which therefore seem to be Symmachus’ main concern. Ambrose remarked that pagan priests benefited from the revenues of temples and Symmachus himself admits elsewhere that a priesthood was excellent insurance against a lack of currency.[68]

In my opinion both idealistic and materialistic interpretations are too simple to describe Symmachus’ mentality or the attitudes and values of Roman pagan aristocrats which – as they concerned humanity – must have been much more intricate. In fact, Matthews and O’Donnell represent the wider view according to which the pagan senators did not defend paganism only because of their properties and privileges but religion was a matter of convenience tied to considerations of class and culture.[69] Because the Roman civic religion and other pagan cults belonged to the senatorial way of life, it was a proper thing for a Roman aristocrat to cherish the cults and traditions connected with paganism.

The cult practices of the Roman civic religion and other pagan cults formed a part of the aristocratic code of life and functioned as a means of senatorial self-expression. Religion is never a unit separable from the social matrix of human life, and therefore, it is neither necessary nor very useful to draw a sharp distinction between the habitus and religious adherence of Roman senators. The defence of senatorial values and the defence of social and economic privileges cannot be distinguished in Symmachus’ traditionalism; he himself was probably not capable of recognizing any distinction.


[1] Numen is defined as divine or supernatural power, divine nature or majesty, the divinity of god, a supernatural force in a place, a deity or a god, OLD 2, ‘numen’, 1202.

[2] Numen, summum numen, deus, deus praesens etc. in Amm. 21.13.14 favore numinis summi praesente; 16.12.62 superni numinis; 25.8.3 favore superi numinis; 29.6.7 favore propitii numinis; 17.13.28 numini sempiterno; 15.8.10 praesente nutu dei caelestis. Den Boeft – den Hengst – Teitler 209.

[3] Symm. rel. 3.8. Cf. Iul. c. Gal. 115D-E where polioúkhoi theoî, the protector gods of the cities assigned by the demiurge resemble the varii custodes, emanations of the supreme divinity. Other examples of divine hierarchy: Aelius Aristides (43.18) and Celsus (apud Orig. c. Cels. 8.35).

[4] A supreme divinity worshipped under many names in Aristot. De mundo 401a12; Apul. met. 11.5: cuius numen unicum multiformi specie, ritu vario, nomine multiiugo totus veneratur orbis; Celsus (apud Origen. c. Cels.) 5.41; Maximus Tyrius 39.5 and Maximus Madaurensis (apud. Aug. epist 16).

[5] Mens divina e.g. in Cic. leg. 1.23. The concept noûs already appears in Anaxagaros 59.B.12 Diels. West 36.

[6] The second hypostasis noûs, mens, Mind or Intellect is the first emanation from the primeval One, the Supreme God, that is also called the Good (tagathón) and the First Cause (prôton aítion): ex summo enata deo, ex deo procreata (Macr. Sat. 1.6.8; 1.2.14; 1.14.6; 1.14.15; 1.17.12). The third hypostasis, psykhé, anima, Soul or the World Soul, anima mundi, toû kósmou psykhé, originates from noûs: ex mente fit, ex mente processerit (Macr. somn. 1.14.15; 1.17.12).

[7] Macr. somn. 1.2.14; cf. 1.6.20: mens ex eo nata, in qua rerum species continetur. Also Macr. somn. 1.2.14; 1.6.8; 1.14.6; 1.14.15; 1.17.12. Macr. somn. 1.14.6-7 derives from Plotinus, perhaps through Porphyry. Moreschini 93 n.22.

[8] Macr. Sat. 1.18.7: Sol mundi mens est; mundi autem mentem solem esse opinantur auctores. Also Macr. Sat. 1.18.15; 1.17.2; 1.17.4; 1.17.66. Mens divina in Macr. somn. 1.2.14; 1.8.10; 1.14.14; mens mundi, sol, Iuppiter 4.2; 1.17.14. See ch. 5.3.

[9] Macr. Sat. 1.22.1; cf. 1.17.7: Apollinis nomen multiplici interpretatione ad solem refertur. Cf. simplex / caelicolum cultus in Avianius Symmachus’ poem in Symm. epist. 1.2.4.

[10] Symm. rel. 3.8; 3.10. Vera 1981, lxxviii, 37, 40; Klein 1972,  32, 36; Klein 1971, 85-86, 91; Courcelle 1963, 158; Fuhrmann 1994, 74-76; criticized by Moreschini 116-117 n.91, n.94.

[11] Klein 1971, 91. It is quite possible that Symmachus presented the third relatio under Praetextatus’ influence since the latter was praetorian prefect in Milan. O’Donnell 1979, 73-74 also believes that Praetextatus might have encouraged Symmachus to write rel. 3.

[12] Mens mundi in Cic. somn. 4: sol dux et princeps et moderator luminum reliquorum, mens mundi et temperatio and in Plin. nat. 2.6.12: sol … hunc esse mundi totius animam ac planius mentem.

[13] For universalist tendencies in late polytheism, see G. Fowden 1993 and the recently published collection of articles Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity edited by P. Athanassiadi and M. Frede.

[14] West 27-39 and Frede 41-57 on monotheistic tendencies in Greek philosophical tradition.

[15] Cic. nat. deor. 2.24-28; Varro antiq. fr. 23 apud Tert. nat. 2.2.14-20; fr. 225-226 apud Aug. civ. 7.5-6. Moreschini 111; Gersh 562; Cardauns 85-86.

[16] E.g. Symmachus recognizes the individual deities and yet in rel. 3 he introduces the idea that both Christians and pagans worship the same divine power.

[17] Avien. Arat. v.7-26.

[18] E.g. Plot. Enn. 5.3.15. For Plotinus’ metaphysics of the One, see e.g. Bussanich 51-63.

[19] Gersh 562; Moreschini 108-109.

[20] Ambr. epist. 11.8: Ipse est ergo Iesus bonum summum; Ambr. epist. 11.18: Vitae igitur fons est summum illud bonum, ex quo vivendi substantia ministratur omnibus, … Cf. Plot. Enn. 1.6.7.

[21] E.g. in Claud. paneg. Honor. cos. IV, 233. Moreschini 113-114, 118-119; Alan Cameron 1970, 323-327. Courcelle 1943, 121 maintains that Claudian was influenced by Neoplatonism.

[22] Moreschini 109-110 claims that Tiberianus’ Hymn does not imply Porphyry but Plato in general while P. Hadot 1968, 83 claims that Tiberianus followed Porphyrian ideas and Mattiacci 11-13, 159 believes that Tiberianus might have been Porphyry’s disciple in Rome in the late third century.

[23] Firm. math. 1.4.1-4; 1.5.11-12; 6.2; 8.1.2-3; 1.8. The astrological work Mathesis was dedicated to the governor of Campania Lollianus Mavortius between 335-337.

[24] Firm. math. 2.30.5; 1.5.10; 5.praef.3-4.

[25] Firm. math. 1.10.14-15; 5.praef.5.

[26] Olympiod. (Damascius) in Phaed. 123.4.

[27] Porph. regr. fr. 2 (Aug. civ. 10.9); Porph. abst. 2.35 against theurgy. P. Hadot 1971, 54-56; Lewy 452-453; Fowden 1986, 131. Penati Bernardini 145 divides the tendencies of the Neoplatonic schools in the fourth and fifth centuries into speculative, theurgic and ‘erudite’ tendencies.

[28] Iambl. de mysteriis Aegyptiorum 2.11 (96.13-97.9). Shaw 10-11, 17; O’Daly 1994, 1249. For Neoplatonic mysteries and theurgy, see Des Places 338-350; Zintzen 1977, 411-418; Fowden 1986, 126-133; I. Hadot 1984, 145-146; Dodds 55-69.

[29] Criticized by Matthews 1989, 122, Sheppard 212-213, Shaw 1-28, Fowden 1986, 126 and Edwards 163.

[30] P. Hadot 1971, 57-58.

[31] Amm. 22.7.6. See ch. 1.2.

[32] Bloch 1945, 204, 208-209 claimed that Praetextatus was closer to Julian than anyone else among the Roman senatorial aristocracy and Klein 1971, 47 proposed that he was the only Roman aristocrat in Julian’s circle while other Roman senators avoided Julian and his eastwards orientated politics; also Roda 1973, 74; Geffcken 137; Wytzes 50.

[33] Liban. or. 12.55: the philosopher not mentioned by name is usually identified with a Neoplatonist called Priscus. Eunap. vit. soph. 475; Herzog 1937, 126-129. Also Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 66 regarded Praetextatus as the hierophant of Eleusis but in my opinion he is rather a hierophant in Hecate’s mysteries (see ch. 2.3).

[34] Paneg. 3.14.1-2.

[35] Amm. 21.10.7-8: … orationem acrem et invectivam, probra quaedam in eum explanantem et vitia, scripserat in senatum. Quae cum Tertullo administrante adhuc praefecturam, recitarentur in curia, eminuit nobilitatis speciosa fiducia, benignitas grata. Exclamatum est enim in unum, cunctorum sententia congruente, ‘auctori tuo reverentiam rogamus’. Tunc et memoriam Constantini, ut novatoris turbatorisque priscarum legum et moris antiquitus recepti, vexavit … Athanassiadi 1981, 83 proposes that the senators were shocked at the irreverent remarks about Constantius, who had impressed them during his visit to Rome.

[36] Senatorial delegations to Julian and his appointments: Amm. 21.12.24; 23.1.4.

[37] Amm. 16.7.6; 25.4.16. Athanassiadi 1981, 83; Weiss 127, 135; Demarolle 93. Klein 1972, 13 claims that Julian honoured the status of Rome though he never visited Rome personally.

[38] Iul. pan. 4.5C calls Rome ‘the queen of all cities’.

[39] Iul. or. 4.153A. Weiss 130-139 with further examples of the anti-Roman tendencies in Julian’s works.

[40] For Themistius, see PLRE I, Themistius 1, 889-894; Vanderspoel; Dagron 1968.

[41] According to Blumenthal 123, Themistius is predominantly a Peripatetic; Vanderspoel 21 suggests that he could also be called ‘a late Middle Platonist’.

[42] Neoplatonists in Athens in the fourth and fifth centuries consciously retreated from public life and political careers in order to avoid corruption and temptations, and escaped into esoteric and apolitical life, theoría, in order to achieve an inner peace of mind,       . Vanderspoel 1, 217; Cracco Ruggini 1993, 42-45; Bowersock 1993, 545-546; Fowden 1982, 56-58.

[43] Them. or. 5.69C. Themistius praises Jovian for toleration but there seems to not have been an edict of toleration by Jovian though some scholars have suggested an edict. His words are a plea for, not praise of an edict.

[44] Them. or. 5.68A. Another appeal for tolerant religious policy by Libanius, or. 30. Cf. Amm. 30.9.5 where Ammianus praises the religious tolerance and neutrality of Emperor Valentinian I.

[45] Them. or. 5.69A. Themistius is known to have also spoken for religious tolerance in a speech to the Arian emperor Valens and to have attempted to deflect Valens’ persecution of non-Arian Christians in the East. The speech is not extant but Socrat. 4.32 summarizes his speech where he used similar arguments as in his speech to Jovian. Themistius is also known to have tried to convince Emperor Julian to abandon his anti-Christian policies. Vanderspoel 24, 178-179.

[46] Symm. rel. 3.8. Aug. de vera relig. 28.51 tam bonum et tam grande secretum probably echoes Symmachus’ words. O’Donnell 1992, 321.

[47] E.g. Marius Victorinus, Augustine, Ambrose, Servius and Macrobius had read Porphyry. P. Hadot 1968, 83, 86; Vanderspoel 24-26, 148-153; Dagron 1968, 163-186; Courcelle 1962, 131.

[48] Aug. civ. 10.32 (= De regressu animae, fr. 12). Cf. Aug. epist. 103.2 where the philosopher Nectarius’ words diversiis viis et tramitibus resemble Symmachus’ views in rel. 3.8. Cf. also Aug. soliloq. 1.13.23.

[49] Macr. somn. 1.3.17-18. Cf. Macr. somn. 1.12.9 and Nectarius in Aug. epist. 103.2: quam loquendo exprimere non possumus, cogitando forsitan exprimere possemus.

[50] Mar. Victorin. in Cic. rhet. 1.29: Inter homines verum latet totumque suscipionibus geritur. P. Hadot 1960, 13. Courcelle 1962, 131-132 believes that before his conversion to Christianity (Aug. conf. 8.2.3) Marius Victorinus was one of the Neoplatonists to whom Augustine alludes in epist. 31.8: adversus nonnullos imperitissimos et superbissimos, qui de Platonis libris Dominum profecisse contendunt. According to P. Hadot 1971, 47-52, 236 his religious pluralism was influenced by Porphyry and it was his sceptic relativism that made him study Christian texts since he may have wanted to learn different ways ad tam grande secretum.

[51] Maximus Madaurensis ad Augustinum, Aug. epist. 16 (in 388/391). In his answer Augustine (epist. 17) refutes Maximus’ views.

[52] Aug. soliloq. 1.13.23 (in 386); Aug. retract. 1.4.3 (in 426-427). The words hodós (used by Themistius), iter (used by Symmachus), trames (used by a pagan Nectarius in a letter to Augustine), via (used by Augustine) may echo the words from the New Testament, Ioh. 14.6.

[53] Symm. rel. 3.11: saluti publicae dicata virginitas; 3.14: saluti publicae castum corpus dicare. Expos. mundi 55: Sunt autem in ipsa Roma et virgines septem (sic!) ingenuae et clarissimae, quae sacra deorum pro salute civitatis, secundum antiquorum morem, perficiunt, et vocantur virgines Vestae. Cf. Cic. de domo sua 1.1 asserting that the Roman state was maintained by the prudent interpretation of religion: ut amplissimi et clarissimi cives rem publicam bene gerendo religiones, religionibus sapienter interpretandis rem publicam conservarent.

[54] Symm. epist. 1.51 (to Praetextatus) calls pontifical duty an officium.

[55] Paul. Fest. p.245M = 284 Lindsay: Publica sacra, quae publico sumptu pro populo fiunt, quaeque pro montibus, pagis, curis, sacellis: at privata, quae pro singulis hominibus, familiis gentibus fiunt. Zos. 4.59.3. Though Zosimus’ account is probably fictional, the religious atmosphere is credible.

[56] Symm. epist. 1.49: Inpendio angor animi, quod sacrificiis multiplicibus et per singulas potestates saepe repetitis necdum publico nomine Spoletinum piatur ostentum. Nam et Iovem vix propitiavit octava mactatio et Fortunae publicae multiiugis hostiis nequiquam undecimus honor factus est. The letter might refer to the defeat in Hadrianople on Aug. 9, 378. Marcone 38-39.

[57] Symm. epist. 1.46.

[58] Liban. or. 24.2. The worship of gods guaranteed the public security: Liban. or. 30.33-35.

[59] Cic. nat. deor. 2.3.(8): Quorum exitio intellegi potest eorum imperiis rem publicam amplificatam qui religionibus paruissent. Et si conferre volumus nostra cum externis, ceteris rebus aut pares aut etiam inferiores reperiemur, religione id est cultu deorum multo superiores.

[60] Symm. rel. 3.8: unde rectius quam de memoria atque documentis rerum secundarum cognitio venit numinum?

[61] Symm. rel. 3.17: Commendabat enim terrarum proventum victus antistitum et remedium magis quam largitas erat. Pagan priests’ prayers also benefited Christian emperors, Symm. rel. 3.19: Faveant clementiae vestrae sectarum omnium arcana praesidia …

[62] Symm. epist. 2.7 to Nicomachus Flavianus. Matthews 1973, 177; Seeck 1883, cxix-cxx.

[63] Symm. rel. 3.16: Non sunt haec vitia terrarum, nihil imputemus austris, nec robigo segetibus obfuit, nec avena fruges necavit: sacrilegio annus exaruit. Necesse enim fuit perire omnibus, quod religionibus negabantur… There had never been such disasters in pagan times, Symm. rel. 3.17 claims.

[64] Symm. rel. 3.2-4. For Symmachus’ traditionalism, see Salzman 1989b, 350-357.

[65] Klein 1972, 14; Klein 1971, 161-165; also Baynes 175-177; Roda 1973, 82; Thrams 154-157.

[66] McGeachy 134, 137-139, 142-151, followed by e.g. Romano 41.

[67] Hier. c. Ioh. 8. Paschoud 1967, 95; Paschoud 1965, 235.

[68] Ambr. epist. 18.6; Symm. epist. 4.61.1; cf. Symm. epist. 1.68.

[69] Matthews 1973, 176; O’Donnell 1979, 72-73.


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