ancient swearing

Some Christians point to the fact that the entire world takes God’s name in vain as evidence that he is the true God. This does not seem a compelling argument to me; swearing by the dominant gods’ names is a tradition that pre-dates the spread of Christianity. In the past, “by Castor”, “by Hercules”, and the sometime still heard “by Jove” (Jove is Jupiter, which is the Roman name for Zeus) were common. Almost all gods of the Greeks and Romans could be used for a swear word. Gellius (c. 125-180 AD) states:

6 That at Rome women did not swear by Hercules nor men by Castor.

1 In our early writings neither do Roman women swear by Hercules nor the men by Castor. 2 But why the women did not swear by Hercules is evident, since they abstain from sacrificing to Hercules. 3 On the other hand, why the men did not name Castor in oaths is not easy to say. Nowhere, then, is it possible to find an instance, among good writers, either of a woman saying “by Hercules” or a man, “by Castor”; 4 but edepol, which is an oath by Pollux, is common to both man and woman. 5 Marcus Varro, however, asserts that the earliest men were wont to swear neither by Castor nor by Pollux, but that this oath was used by women alone and was taken from the Eleusinian initiations; 6 that gradually, however, through ignorance of ancient usage, men began to say edepol, and thus it became a customary expression; but that the use of “by Castor” by a man appears in no ancient writing.

Throughout ancient writings we see much of this. For example, in The Banquet of the Learned by Athenaeus we the actual text of swearing by the names of their gods. Athenaeus quotes many other authors, so presents a broad sample:

Theophilus says, in his Pancratiast–

_B._ A noble dish, by Hercules!


And Menander, in his Demiurgus, says–

_A._ What now is this, my boy, for you, by Jove,
Have come in a most business-like set fashion.

The ancient world swore at the dominate gods just as today people swear using God’s name.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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