Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 16.

Hans-Friedrich Mueller, Roman Religion in Valerius Maximus. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. Pp. xv + 266. ISBN 0-415-27108-8. US$80.00

Alex Nice
University of the Witwatersrand/Reed College

The last decade has been kind to Valerius Maximus.[[1]] In the latest offering Hans-Friedrich Mueller argues that the rhetoric of virtue observable in the exempla of the Facta et Dicta Memorabilium is saturated with the vocabulary of ritual and 'traditional' Roman religion. This, he suggests, has implications for the intersection of morality in imperial Rome and demonstrates that Roman religion, for Valerius and the Roman populace of Tiberius' day, has a strong emotional content. Mueller, therefore, also contributes to recent debates regarding Roman religion and supports views which would argue that the Livian depiction of Roman religion as somewhat static and strictly controlled by the mechanisms of the Republican state conceals a far richer vein of religious and divinatory activity.[[2]]

The introductory chapter stresses the importance of Valerius' preface and invocation of Jupiter for Tiberius. Mueller argues that the alacritas towards the Emperor is not simply a rhetorical standpoint. This is the kind of enthusiasm likely to be bestowed on a pre-eminent political figure who was also pontifex maximus. Tiberius is regarded as a god on earth, created by men to be sure, but one whose close connection with the other deities ensures the survival of Rome and its people. In turn this divine status is closely associated with Tiberius' promotion of virtus and the punishment of vice (vitia). From the outset then Mueller establishes his central theme that 'religion and virtue in Valerius are inextricably linked' (p. 20).

Chapter One, 'Juno Valeriana' (pp. 21-43), is the first of three to consider exempla pertinent to the state deities: Juno, Vesta, and Jupiter. The Valerian Juno is one concerned with pudicitia in particular, which for Valerius was essential to the political stability of the state. She has the power to punish and even to kill as in the case of Q. Fulvius Flaccus who had marble tiles brought from the temple of Juno Lacinia in Locri to Rome (Val. Max. 1.1.20, pp. 35-39). This episode also reveals something about Mueller's (and Valerius') methodology. The confusion over the temple of Juno at Locri with that at Croton, in addition to the topographical confusion over the temple of Juno Moneta is not of significance since it is the exemplum that matters and what Juno could mean rhetorically. The emphasis is on how people should respond. In this case the Senate, on behalf of the Roman State, correct the irreligious act of Flaccus and ordered Juno's property restored circumspectissima sanctitate. Valerius expects himself and his audience to act with the same reverence and regard for the gods (which include Tiberius).

In Chapter Two, 'Vesta Mater: Mother Vesta' (pp. 44-68), the concept of pudicitia is also important but especially so since Vesta's power revolves around the chaste conduct of her priestesses who maintained Vesta's hearth. Of the ten examples the first five examine the conduct of individual Vestals, the latter five Vesta herself. Through the examples we see the importance of duty, piety and reverence through prayer for the goddess. Mueller is also careful to exploit the contemporary relevance of Vestal chastity, equating it with the chastity of Livia and women of the imperial household. Vesta's power also extends to the protection of the state and the liberty of its male citizens. The example of the plebeian L. Albinius who ordered his family from his cart so that the flamen Quirinalis and the Vestal Virgins might ride in it is a case in point (Val. Max.1.1.9; pp. 63-65). He sacrifices his private concerns for the religion of the state just as Metellus sacrificed his eyesight to save the Palladium (Val. Max. 1.4.4; pp. 56-59). Furthermore in the case of Clodius, the Lentuli and Cicero social harmony is regarded as better than political enmity (Val. Max. 3.5.4 and 4.2.4; pp. 59-63). Clodius acts as a friend to his former enemy Lentulus while gazing on the shrine of Vesta, which is an indication, in Mueller's view, of the kind of stabilizing religious force necessary for good political and legal practice.

Some thirty-four of Valerius' exempla refer to Jupiter. Chapter Three, 'In Iovis Sacrario: In Jupiter's Inner Sanctuary' (pp. 69-107), is partly divided between Roman and foreign Jupiters. The main focus of the chapter, however, is Jupiter's special relationship with Scipio Africanus. This allows Valerius to relate Scipio's pretended relationship to his contemporary situation and Tiberius' association with divinity. Religion, politics and virtue are intertwined. Even if Scipio simulates his religious relationship the people have a duty to follow him just as they have a duty to Tiberius in Valerius' own day. In a sense Scipio is a proto-Tiberius. Jupiter is Tiberius' special protector and Tiberius is portrayed accompanying the gods (Val. Max. 5.5.3), gods that include Piety, Virtue and Jupiter. For Mueller this is a 'lonely' ride (p. 89) but given the strong connection between this portrayal and the invocation of the preface we might legitimately wonder if another interpretation is not possible. In this portrait Tiberius is a man removed from the mortal realm taking his rightful place in the company of those with whom he is most inextricably associated in Valerius' world view -- the immortal gods.

There is a Livian theme in the acceptance of divine messages from Jupiter. If they are accepted and acted upon then success follows. If not, as in the case of Latinius, disaster ensues. The discussion of foreign Jupiters allows Mueller to cast vitriol against foreign leaders, contrasting Roman moderatio (for example, the self-control of Horatius Pulvillus who bore his grief without emotion [Val. Max. 5.10.1; pp. 84f.]) with foreign intemperance (for example, Alexander the Great [Val. Max. 9.5.ext.1; pp. 95f.]); we may add the expulsion of the astrologers and Jews (Val. Max. 1.3.2; pp.100f.) which likely had contemporary significance) and Dionysius of Syracuse (Val. Max. 1.1.ext.3; pp. 96f.). He is also able to explore Valerius' understanding of individual free will (voluntas). This is most aptly demonstrated in the example of Hannibal and a dream in which he viewed the destruction of Italy by an enormous snake (Val. Max. 1.7.ext.1, pp. 100f.). In the exemplum, despite the explicit warning of Jupiter not to look back, Hannibal does so. Mueller suggests this is different from the Livian version which does not have the same hostility to voluntas. However, in Livy the act of looking back may be seen as foreshadowing Hannibal's eventual lack of success in Italy. In this sense neither version differs greatly from the other. A Roman, like Scipio or Tiberius, would presumably follow Jupiter's advice and success would ensue.

Chapter Four, 'Ritual Vocabulary and Moral Imperatives' (pp. 108-47), is more generally concerned with the role played by ritual in Valerius' moral rhetoric. The chapter begins with the example of Papirius Cursor (Val. Max. 7.2.5; pp. 108-17) who received a false report from the keeper of the sacred chickens and subsequently placed the lying ministrant in the front line whereupon he was killed by the first spear cast. This exemplum allows Mueller to compare the Valerian version with that of Livy. The latter retains an archaic tone, distancing it from the present; Valerius uses the language of ritual to impose on his audience the message that the gods care about the conduct of individuals and as such it becomes part of the language of moral persuasion. The chapter trawls various aspects of Republican religious practice: divination by liver, military imperium and the taking of the auspicia, sacrifice, ritual violation (vitia). These lead to more general observations about the relationships between friends and family, public interest and private grief, state cult and personal interest.

Chapter Five, 'Sanctitas Morum, or the General Intersections of Religion and Morality' (pp. 148-74), purports to examine how religion intersects with morality in general terms, first by looking at virtue and then at religion to examine how the ancient search for virtue appealed to divinity and the sacred as part of its procedure. From the elements of virtue of Valerius' book 3, Mueller skims through humanitas and clementia (Val. Max. 5), the importance of religion in lawcourt trials (Val. Max. 8), 'Justice' (Val. Max. 6.5; pp. 161-63); marital affection (Val. Max. 4.6; pp. 163f.); freedom which is situated somewhere between virtue and vice (Val. Max. 6.2; pp. 164-66); vice (pp. 166-68); repentance and reverence (pp. 168-72); faithful devotion (pp. 172f.). The author attempts to demonstrate that the rhetoric of these exempla, to which the Roman youth should apply themselves with 'reverent devotion' (p. 173), is increased by the continual presence of the gods, of religious vocabulary, and by the genuine religious emotion that he observes from the outset of the Facta et Dicta Memorabilium.

Mueller's work ranges widely. He is careful to draw on and to compare the Valerian exempla with his predecessors, Cicero and Livy in particular, and shows how he anticipates the emotional outpourings of later Christian writers. Mueller consistently argues for an association of 'traditional' Republican ideals and practice with the religious and ideological programme of Augustus and Tiberius wherein Roman religion was intrinsically bound to morality. It was somewhat disappointing then that nowhere does the author attempt to define the concept of 'traditional' religion upheld by Valerius Maximus, especially given new approaches to Republican religion.[[3]] For example, Cicero's concept of 'traditional' Roman religion must have been very different from that of his colleague and friend, Appius Claudius Pulcher, who believed in the prophetic power of augury.[[4]]

There were a few minor problems in Mueller's analyses. In Chapter One (pp. 27f.) L. Aemilius Paullus (Val. Max. 5.10.2) who lost his sons is said to have 'invok[ed] Juno by name'. Footnote fifty-three reveals that Juno is solicited but only as one of the Capitoline Triad. Mueller's discussion of the scourging of a vestal by P. Licinius, pontifex maximus, because she allowed the flame to go out is compared to Livy 28.11.6. The date should be 206 BC not 207 BC. Here Mueller forces his comparison arguing that Livy 'feels some need to justify the severity of the punishment' (p. 48). Levene suggested that there is nothing unusual in this prodigy notice.[[5]] Indeed the expiation by means of full-grown victims and a day of prayer at the Temple of Vesta would seem to be in keeping with Livy's normal procedure for reporting prodigies. Another example of a forced interpretation seems to be at p. 39f. where he suggests that Valerius does not cast any doubt on miracles. This is not what Valerius says. Rather he suggests that one should not omit the unexplained, allowing the reader to interpret miracula as evidence for the influence of deities on the natural world. Indeed, this passage could be read in much the same way as Livy's preface (esp. sections 6f.) which argues for the inclusion of material that he knows to belong to the realm of myth.[[6]] On p. 118 Mueller suggests that priests in the Republic were 'free agents'. This phrase was left inadequately explained. The attribution of Valerius as 'middle brow', a phrase originally introduced in the introduction (p. 2, attributed to Weileder at 106) required fuller explanation as to what this means in the context of Roman society of the early Empire. More troublesome was Mueller's analysis of 'divination by liver' (pp. 118-21) and of 'sacrifice' (pp. 125-27). Mueller failed in these sections to adequately differentiate between Etruscan extispicy and Roman litatio. Finally, in discussing Val. Max. 9.11.ext.4 at p. 179, Mueller was not troubled by the debate over the date of publication of the Facta et Dicta Memorabilium, noting that Valerius 'makes no mention of Capri, Macro, or even Sejanus' name' but yet takes the passage to imply Sejanus' rupture of the bonds of friendship (p. 180).[[7]]

Despite its title, this is not really a book about 'Religion in Valerius Maximus'. Mueller does not, for example, offer, as one might expect, a detailed analysis of Book One, which deals of itself with material appropriate to religion and divination. It is something of a surprise that he comments on Valerius' categorical, rather than chronological organization. Mueller himself largely eschews this approach. Throughout the book, which ranges widely and attempts an all-inclusive analysis of Valerius' approach to religion Mueller's concentration on the human elements follows his source. He is interested in how religious vocabulary and references assist Valerius' depiction of human example to imitate or to avoid. The structure of the book is part commentary, part a series of vignettes, which address the intersection between rhetoric, morality, and religion. Mueller encourages us to see Valerius Maximus not as a 'mere compiler' but as an author in touch with past, present, and future. The Facta et Dicta Memorabilium is unveiled as a work of complexity offered by a grateful subject to his living god. In this respect Mueller's book will offer scope for scholarly investigation into the relationship between princeps and subject and further speculation on the association of literature, religion, and ritual practice under the Republic and early Empire.


[[1]] W. Bloomer, Valerius Maximus and the Rhetoric of the New Nobility (London 1992); C. Skidmore, Practical Ethics for Roman Gentlemen: The Work of Valerius Maximus (Exeter 1996); J.-Mueller David (ed.) Valeurs et mémoire à Rome: Valère Maxime ou la vertu recomposeé (Paris 1998); A. Weileder, Valerius Maximus: Spiegel kaiserlicher Selbstdarstellung (Munich 1998); D. Wardle (ed.), Valerius Maximus: Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Book 1 (Oxford 1998). There have been a series of new editions: J. Briscoe (ed.), Valeri Maximi: Facta et Dicta Memorabilia. 2 Vols. (Leipzig and Stuttgart 1998); D. R. Shackleton Bailey (ed.), Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings. 2 vols. (Cambridge Mass. 2000); R. Combès (ed. and tr.), Valère Maxime: Faits et dits mémorables. 2 vols. (Paris 1995-1997).

[[2]] For example, see J. North, 'Prophet and Text in the Third Century BC' in E. Bispham and C. Smith (edd.), Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy: Evidence and Experience (Edinburgh 2000) 92-107 and A. Bendlin, 'Looking beyond the civic compromise: religious pluralism in late republican Rome', ibid 115-35.

[[3]] For example, see the collection of essays in E. Bispham and C. Smith (eds.), Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy: Evidence and Experience (Edinburgh 2000).

[[4]] Appius Claudius Pulcher: Cic. De Div. 1.105; 2.75; cf. Cic. De Div. 1.132 for his use of necromancy and the consulation of sortilegi.

[[5]] D. S. Levene, Religion in Livy (Leiden 1993) 66.

[[6]] Cf. too Livy, 43.13.1-2 on the recording of prodigies.

[[7]] For the problems on the date of publication see D. Wardle (ed.), Valerius Maximus. Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Book 1 (Oxford 1998) 2-6 who concludes that 'its publication date [must] remain uncertain'.