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Veritas, Goddess of Truth

May 8, 2016 1 Comment

Harvard motto

Harvard motto

In ancient Rome the goddess Veritas ruled truth and sincerity. In Greece she was known as Altheia, and is mentioned in Aesops Fables:

Aesop, Fables 531 (from Babrius 126) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
“A man was journeying in the wilderness and he found Veritas [Aletheia, Truth] standing there all alone. He said to her, ‘Ancient lady, why do you dwell here in the wilderness, leaving the city behind?’ From the great depths of her wisdom, Veritas (Truth) replied, ‘Among the people of old, lies were found among only a few, but now they have spread throughout all of human society!’”
[N.B. This fable is preserved only in a Latin text. Aesop’s Aletheia (Truth personified) becomes Veritas in the Latin.]

Her father is Saturn in Rome and Zeus in Greece.  One creation story found in Aesop’s Fables tells us how she was created by Prometheus along with her arch enemy Mendacium.  She is the mother of virtue.  Her name is often included in mottos.  Harvard’s motto is simply Veritas.  The pursuit of truth was considered to be an essential part of Roman citizens’ duty.  To discern and tell the truth is a full time job.   Forgery and subterfuge are everywhere and always will be.  The difference between Veritas and Mendacium is feet.  Mendacity literally has not feet on which to stand.  Veracity walks away with conviction.

Aesop, Fables 530 (from Phaedrus Appendix 5) :
“Prometheus, that potter who gave shape to our new generation, decided one day to sculpt the form of Veritas [Aletheia, Truth], using all his skill so that she would be able to regulate people’s behaviour. As he was working, an unexpected summons from mighty Jupiter [Zeus] called him away. Prometheus left cunning Dolus (Trickery) in charge of his workshop, Dolus had recently become one of the god’s apprentices. Fired by ambition, Dolus (Trickery) used the time at his disposal to fashion with his sly fingers a figure of the same size and appearance as Veritas [Aletheia, Truth] with identical features. When he had almost completed the piece, which was truly remarkable, he ran out of clay to use for her feet. The master returned, so Dolus (Trickery) quickly sat down in his seat, quaking with fear. Prometheus was amazed at the similarity of the two statues and wanted it to seem as if all the credit were due to his own skill. Therefore, he put both statues in the kiln and when they had been thoroughly baked, he infused them both with life: sacred Veritas (Truth) walked with measured steps, while her unfinished twin stood stuck in her tracks. That forgery, that product of subterfuge, thus acquired the name of Mendacium [Pseudologos, Falsehood], and I readily agree with people who say that she has no feet: every once in a while something that is false can start off successfully, but with time Veritas (Truth) is sure to prevail.”
[N.B. This fable is preserved only in a Latin text. Aesop’s Aletheia (Truth personified) becomes Veritas in the Latin.]

These fables are useful to us during the campaign season during which a large part of our job is to distinguish truth from rhetorical and cultural beliefs.  It has never been more important for us to verify what we believe.

Fides, Goddess of Trust

August 17, 2014

TPD SWAT

TPD SWAT

The Roman goddess of trust was known in the later years of the Roman Empire as Fides Publica, or public trust.  Her temple was used for ceremonies of public treaties and agreements.  Her role was to oversee the honor and honesty of the Roman people.  Trust is essential for all other elements of society to function well.  When the public does not trust the authority figures society begins to crumble.  Romans were interested in democracy, even though they owned slaves and had some tragic foreign policies. The importance of public trust merited a temple in the center of the city close to Jupiter’s temple.  The meaning of the word, as well as the goddess was the elemental and mutual trust or faith that must exist for fair trade and governance.  It can not exist on only one side because it implies a level of commitment to integrity that holds up under social pressure.  It is like magnetism, both parties are always participating in the action. Gifts and offerings brought to Fides at her temple were given with hands that were covered in cloth, to keep the gift a secret.  This symbol was the privacy statement of the time, meaning that the invisible trust between humans and gods was secret as well as sacred.

In our modern world we have nothing that resembles Fides Publica.   We can’t reverse history or erase technology, but we must somehow regain the respect for integrity that it once had.  Trust is earned and also constantly in flux.  Facts or impressions can radically alter  faith in institutions when they fail to live up to ethical standards.  Rather than working to increase levels of trust our factions and media dramatists like to build separate camps that take pot shots at the trustworthiness of the other camps.  The cops in the United States are one of the contentious camps that are forced to deal with dwindling levels of faith from the communities they serve.  Many citizens now believe the cops serve and protect themselves but not the public.  The advanced incarceration rates and military stye heavily armored local police forces are working against a positive future outcome.  I am in favor of having every minute of every cop’s duty recorded on video cameras.  This would substitute some evidence for some of the untrustworthy statements we have heard from police.  I would think cops would welcome such monitoring because in cities where it is being used complaints against the law enforcement officers have dramatically decreased.  That is a good example of Fides Publica…..the camera may change the cops’ attitude since it can and will be used as evidence, and the citizen might feel more secure interacting with a cop if that interaction was being recorded.  Our goddess of trust will be called GoPro.

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