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date: 01 December 2022



  • H. S. Versnel


Although originally the term had a positive meaning (‘scrupulousness in religious matters’, *Xenophon (1) and *Aristotle), it is predominantly used in a derogatory way and denotes an excessive pietism and preoccupation with religion, first and most explicitly in Theophrastus' sixteenth Character. He defines deisidaimonia as ‘cowardice vis-à-vis the divine’ and gives the following characteristics: an obsessive fear of the gods, a bigoted penchant for adoration and cultic performance, superstitious awe of *portents both in daily life and in *dreams, and the concomitant inclination to ward off or prevent possible negative effects by magical or ritual acts, especially through continuous *purifications. Later, *Plutarch (De superst.) gives largely the same picture, tracing its origin to erroneous or defective knowledge about the gods. This is also the opinion of Roman observers like *Lucretius, *Cicero, and the younger Seneca (L. *Annaeus Seneca (2)), who use the Latin word *superstitio, which *Ennius and *Plautus had already associated with negative notions such as private *divination, *magic, and more generally prava religio (‘bad religion’).


  • Roman Myth and Religion

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