So the last post consisted of a rather strange train of thought in which I conjectured that Claudius Pulcher the Beautiful would never have experienced such serious consequences for sacrilege if his battle had been won. From there, I switched lines and took the rails on a rather twisted and sinuous path to end up in that little village where Justice and the Fates are discovered having a passionate and illicit affair. Okay I don't know how I got there either, but the point seems to have been that we tend to judge people on the life circumstances in which they find themselves, some of which are not the products of individual choice or merit, but simply the result of the the Fates randomly throwing monkey wrenches at us. Our whole system of being and thought seems to be infected with this sort of innate need to blame people for their own circumstances...but only if those circumstances are unpleasant. So no more questioning how we got here....let's think about it.
Before we come round to figuring out what's wrong with us, let's think about what happened to Claudius in a bit more depth because I think it illustrate very well how superstitious people are about bad luck and poor circumstances. The Roman Senate punished Claudius for what I take to essentially be sacrilege...on the surface. He sinned against the gods. But if Claudius had won that battle? If no one was trying to throw the blame for the failure onto anyone else? If Rome had defeated Carthage in battle that day would anyone even have noticed that some innocent chickens drowned? I don't know and this is all speculation, but I don't think so. Cast yourself back to that time period. If Rome had defeated Carthage I can only imagine that the Romans would be filled with a great sense of joy and relief, a feeling that the gods were smiling upon them. In that atmosphere is is hard to imagine the priests bringing charges against Claudius or the Senate hearing them. To take the general who had defeated Rome's greatest enemy to task for losing some poultry would have been unthinkable (I think).
It was the outcome of the battle that doomed Claudius not the sacrilege. Interestingly, it does not appear that Claudius went to trial for using poor battle tactics, or for being a coward, or not following orders from the senate (except insofar as they might prefer he listen to the priests.) He barely escaped execution for ticking off the gods. How did the senate know he had ticked off the gods? Because he lost the battle. Had he won I have little doubt that this would have proved to the people of that the gods were not bothered about the chickens and that they weren't ticked off at all. Claudius' fate did not depend on following protocol...it did not depend on a list of rules that he break or keep. It did not depend at all on the fact that he broke the law...it depended on the outcome of breaking the law. Is that justice?
I don't think that's justice at all. I would not censure Claudius for what he did (other than on behalf of the chickens). So shouldn't I just be glad that we live in a place and time where Superstition and the Fates are kept out of our courts and out of our social systems...a time and place in which we don't have to worry about being judged by our circumstances or by the strange religious convictions of others?
That's not where we live. And I would like to think about how these old false gods keep creeping into our thinking and, in fact, our whole society. I don't think we are a lot less pagan than the Romans in some ways.