Handout for Today’s Numa Lecture

Handout link

Update 10/27/22:

Relevant Bibliography

Corre, Nicolas. “La prière secrète du pontife ou Silence et murmure, des gestes vocaux signifiants dans la tradition religieuse romaine.” Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire = Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Filologie en Geschiedenis 95, no. 1 (2017): 39-58. Doi: 10.3406/rbph.2017.8988

Plutarch evokes, on the subject of the punishment of an incestuous vestal, the “secret prayers”, εὐχάς τινας ἀπορρήτους, pronounced by the great pontiff (Num. 10, 12). This is a public rite officiated by a state executive, whereas “secret” prayers are usually associated with private and magical rites. The prayers ἀπορρήτοι of the pontiff are not ineffable but inaudible because pronounced in a low voice; they can be compared to the “murmur” of the haruspex or the “ignorata” prayer of the pontiff during the burial of lightning and are associated with gestural communication. The “secret” prayers take place in a rite of inversion, of setting aside the pontiff from the rest of the citizens and of separating the vestal virgin from the world of the living, in an evocation of the “funus”. The rite is part of the “sacra occulta” which fall completely within the scope of Roman public religion.

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