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GENIUS.—It was the opinion of the ancients that every man from the moment of his birth had his genius, or according to others two genii, a good and a bad one; and that as the one or the other of these personal tutelaries was the stronger of the two, that individual became good or bad. In process of time each house and each town had its genius; the former were called Lares, the latter were named Penates. Rome had her Genius-goddess, to whom a statue was erected in the eighth region of the city. The influential presence of these unseen beings was held by the Romans in such high veneration, that when they entered for the first time into any place, they invariably paid a salutation to the genius loci. During the republic, they swore by the Genius of the Roman people, and afterwards by that of the Emperor. At both periods, the violation of the oath was treated as the most heinous of perjuries, and was punished with the greatest severity.
Genii are represented on Roman coins, under different forms, as well in the consular as in the imperial series.
In his observations on Genii, as they are typified on family coins, Eckhel says that these come next in order of dignity to the gods and goddesses, meaning by the term—1. Certain images (or figures) appropriated to some country, city, or people, whether they were nothing more than allegories intended to represent a province or a city by some peculiarity of their habits or circumstances; or whether some celestial powers, though of a subordinate rank, were actually supposed to preside over them.— 2. The Virtues; such as clemency, faith, piety, &c. or those adjuncts which are always reckoned among the good things of life, but which are not always under our own control, such as fortune, honour, liberty, safety, victory, and health.— 3. The vices and the ills of life; as pallor, pavor, febris, &c. These and similar subjects, the emblematical representations of which we see on ancient monuments, were not regarded as mere idealities, but as actual beings of a divine nature, as is proved by the fact, that temples were erected to their honour, equally with the gods themselves. Some of these, such as Virtus, Honor, Mens, Fortuna, under various titles, have been enumerated by Cicero, Plutarch, Juvenal; and many other examples may be found in P. Victor's work on the districts of Rome.
The subject receives illustration from a letter of Cicero to his brother Quintus (I. Epist. i. § 10)—"Wherefore, since you are passing your time, in a position of the highest authority, in those very cities, where you see your own virtues consecrated, and reckoned among the divinities, &c." And thus, not only the Romans, but the Greeks also, crowded Olympus with fresh colonists. (See Fors, p. 395). No one any longer cared to offer sacrifices to the greater and elder gods, whilst they lavished whole hecatombs on Virtus, Natura, Fatum, aud Fortuna, who had but as yesterday found their way into heaven; whilst a sextarius of ambrosia and nectar could not be bought for less than a mina, so vast was the assemblage of celestial guests. And yet one could have tolerated a superstition which conceded divine honours to the virtues; but what could surpass the infatuation of placing on. a level with the gods, the vices, the diseases, and the bugbears of mankind ? Indeed, this fanaticism was estimated at its true value, and detested accordingly, by all the ancients themselves who were possessed of superior intellects. A proof of this is to be found in the law introduced by the wisest of the Romans, "But those qualities, which entitle a man to admission into heaven, mind, valour, piety, faith,— for their glorification let there be shrines. But let no sacred solemnities be performed in honour of the vices." (Cic. de Legib. ii. ch. 8.) These expressions Cicero explains a little further on: " It is well done, that Mens, Pietas, Virtus, and Fides, are consecrated, to all of which temples are publicly dedicated in Rome, in order that the possessors of such qualities (and all good men do possess them), may reflect that the gods themselves are the occupants of their own bosoms. For that, on the contrary, was a disgraceful circumstance in the history of Athens, that after the crime of Cylon had been expiated, they followed the suggestion of Epi-menides, and erected a temple to Contumely and Impudence. For it is the virtues, and not the vices, which should be made the subject of consecration. Now, there is standing in the Palatium an ancient altar to Febris (Fever), and another on the Esquiliae to Mala Fortuna; all of which anomalies should be abolished." He then refers in terms of commendation to the honours paid to Salus, Honor, Ops, Victoria, Spes (consecrated by Calatinus), Fortuna of the present time, aud retrospective, and to Fors Primigenia. He might have added some foreign examples, such as the altars of Impietas and Nequitia, erected by one Dicaearchus, and the shrine of Voracitas in Sicily. The ancients, however, were not at a loss to find excuses for the folly of this custom.
Plutarch informs us (in Agide et Cleomene, p. m. 808), that there were among the Lacedaemonians, "temples sacred not only to Fear, but also to Death, and to Laughter, and other affections of the like kind. To Fear, however, they pay this adoration, not as they do to other objects of detestation, because they consider it hurtful, but because in their estimation it is a passion which mainly contributes to the safety of a State." Valerius Maximus, when remarking that there were in Rome three temples erected in honour of Febris (fever), adds that she was worshipped in order that she might cause less destruction. Pliny also affords similar information.—See Doctrina, v. 85, 86, where will also be found a list of Genii, selected from the coins of families under three heads, viz.:
1. Genii of Countries, Cities, and Peoples.
2. Good Genii, under which virtues, honours, aud other attributes of good qualities are symbolized.
3. Mali Genii; such as Pallor and Pavor in Hostilia gens. No others of this absurd description are found on Roman coins. The Imperial mintages furnish a host of Genii. A few examples from each series are subjoined hereto.