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The Conflict over Cicero's House: An Analysis of the Ritual Element in De domo sua

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According to the Romans themselves ritual was at the heart of their culture. Strangely, this centrality of ritual has not been matched by a corresponding sensitivity to how ritual was to be interpreted. Ritual has most often been viewed as an empty formalism devoid of any true belief. It is argued in this article that this view of ritual is an ethnocentric construct stemming from a Christian conception of belief, which does not adequately account for the peculiarities of ritual based religions. Taking the seemingly obscure and little studied case of the conflict over Cicero's house as a case, it is argued that E. Thomas Lawson's and Robert N. McCauley's ritual theory might help to overcome this misconception of ritual. This enables us to see how Cicero explicates implicit beliefs entailed by the ritual actions. Ultimately the evidence seems to support the reverse interpretation: that ritual was taken very seriously.


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