• Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

The Roman Ragnarök: What Did The Finish Of The Planet Seem Like To The Ancient Romans?


Mar 17, 2023

For the Vikings, it is Ragnarök. For the Aztecs, it comes with a blackened sun and the slaying of Huitzilopochtli for Zoroastrians, it is named Frashokereti and entails a fantastic war and molten metal coursing across the Earth. Christians have a full bunch of ideas, but it is typically accepted to involve points like destruction and devastation, dried-up rivers, and zombie Roman emperors.

The particulars may possibly nicely modify, but the popular gist is the identical: 1 day, the planet as we know it will come to an finish. It is an notion that goes back about as far as human civilization itself – and 1 that is distressingly ubiquitous in the contemporary day planet, as nicely – so you could possibly count on that coming up with an Apocalypse myth is something that is just baked into the human psyche somehow.

But of course, human imagination could by no suggests be so simple. For some civilizations and traditions, there is no fantastic Finish Situations prediction – and to uncover an instance or two, we do not even have to have to seem that far.

In spite of becoming normally believed of suitable now as the birthplace of substantially of contemporary day Western society – and the society in which the apocalypse-content material mythology of Christianity extremely 1st got a foothold – Ancient Rome did not definitely appear to have predicted some significant “end of the planet.”

“The popular assumption in Roman society was that the city and its empire would be about forever,” writes Martin Goodman, Professor of Jewish Investigation at the University of Oxford and President of the Oxford Centre for Jewish and Hebrew Investigation, in his 2007 book, Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations. “Many thousands of honorific texts and epitaphs showed an expectation amongst ordinary Romans that their descendants, or other folks with whom they had as quickly as been connected, would study the words in hundreds of years’ time.”

A lot extra pressing for the apparently rather self-absorbed Romans was the finish of Rome. The city’s foundational myth – the tale of Romulus and Remus and their milky wolf mother – genuinely came with an expiration date: Rome would final for 120 years just just before its eventual fall, according to a legend involving twelve prophetic birds of prey.

To be fair, there had been some Roman philosophers – the Stoics – who did think that this downfall would come from some universal catastrophe, significant sufficient to finish each and every tiny point in existence. But the point about unique predictions is that they have a tendency to be self-limiting. 

“One hundred and twenty years straight away just after the frequent founding of Rome, it became apparent that the twelve eagles observed by Romulus did not signify 120 years of historical life for the city,” writes Peter J Holliday, professor emeritus of art history at California State University, Lengthy Beach – and so progressively, the Roman psyche moved away from the notion of an imminent all-consuming universal apocalypse, and a great deal extra towards a sort of generalized low-level anxiousness stemming from the continual threats faced by the city and empire.

In truth, when Roman mythology as a full lacks a unifying apocalypse myth, there had been rather a handful of thinkers who regarded as what the Finish of Something could possibly seem like: “There is a lengthy and underappreciated tradition of Greek and Roman believed about the finish of the planet that stretches from Hesiod to the literature of the Roman Empire,” notes Christopher Star, a professor of classics at Middlebury College, in his 2021 book Apocalypse and Golden Age: The Finish of the Planet in Greek and Roman Believed.

But just due to the reality they believed about it, does not imply our Greek and Roman forebears had an apocalypse myth as we would recognize it, Star clarified. “[The tradition] precedes and then runs parallel with the a great deal extra familiar tradition of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature,” he explains. But “Greek and Roman texts are in lots of techniques particularly different… [their] accounts are aspect of larger debates and believed experiments about the future.”

Roman thinkers had been undoubtedly conscious of ideas like these of the Stoics, or their rival philosophers the Epicureans, every of whom anticipated some sort of an finish to the universe. For the Stoics, the Finish was believed to come as ekpyrosis – the returning of the universe into its most basic type: a divine, all-consuming fire. The Epicureans, meanwhile, had a philosophy that may possibly nicely appear weirdly familiar to our contemporary day eyes: for them, the universe was constructed up of atoms, and at some point, that is what it will return to – just a disorderly scattering of infinitesimal and indivisible pieces of matter floating by way of the void.

Possessing mentioned that, neither of these ideas had been taken as gospel in any sense of the word: they had been abstract hypotheses, independent of human action, and apparently not worth devoting substantially time contemplating about. “There is not a single extant text by a pagan Greek or Roman writer that is entirely devoted to describing the finish of the planet,” points out Star.

As a contemporary day comparison, believe about how we think suitable now about the inevitable heat death of the universe: yeah, it’ll happen, but we’re not particular how and there’s absolutely nothing at all we can do about it, so why be concerned?

In the finish, it merely wasn’t something they appear to have taken as nicely seriously. “There is proof that the finish of the planet came to be something of a clichéd joke amongst Greeks and Romans,” Star writes. “A fragment survives of an unknown Greek tragedy […] that reads ‘After I am dead let earth be mixed with fire. I do not care for myself, for all is properly with my affairs.’”

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