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Reversed Epiphanies: Roman Emperors Deserted by Gods

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image of Mnemosyne

According to Suetonius, the emperor Galba was twice visited by the goddess Fortuna in his dreams. At the second occasion, she withdrew her support, preceding Galba’s fall. This type of epiphany is rare for Roman emperors, but not unique. The emperor Domitian, too, was visited in his dream by his favourite goddess Minerva, who stated that she was about to abandon him. This article aims to place the passages discussing these dreams in a wider context of Roman ways of dealing with emperors and gods. It will argue that the closer the link between emperor and god was, the more important it became for the god to voluntarily withdraw before an emperor could be dethroned. In doing so, the article draws a parallel to the Roman notion of evocatio in order to understand these ‘reversed epiphanies’ in which gods appear solely to state that they are leaving.

Affiliations: 1: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen Erasmusplein 1, 6525 HT Nijmegen The Netherlands, Email:


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