Numa Pompilius and the Nymph Egeria
When we left off I was just about to wrap up the story of Numa Pompilius, Rome’s second king. Today I will officially finish the story of Numa Pompilius, and I promise, you will never hear his name from me again. (For the first time in history, the name Tullus Hostilius will bring unbridled excitement– at least for me. I’m easily stimulated.) In previous posts I described how Numa was Rome’s most pious king, instituting the cult of the Vestal Virgins, reforming religious laws and reorganizing the Roman calendar. He was wise and pacific, creating several codes and laws by which the Romans lived for many centuries to come. But where did he get all this wisdom?
A nymph, obviously. I’m not sure exactly how this unlikely pair met, but legend goes that the widowed king was in the habit of taking long walks in the woods (in a part of Rome now known as the Villa Caffarella) with the beautiful nymph, during which she instructed him on how to run the country and its religious institutions. They would hole up in her nymphaeum for hours on end, as the works of so many celebrated artists have illustrated. All this religious and political talk was just too romantic for the young nymph and she fell head-over-heels for the aging monarch and, supposedly, the two married.
As history has proved time and time again, it is the woman (or in this case the nymph) who makes the man, and in fact, the long prosperity and peace during Numa’s 42-year reign, can be credited to Egeria. The Temple of Janus in the Roman Forum, which was opened in times of war and closed in times of peace, remained resolutely shut during the entire length of his reign. According to Livy, Numa Pompilius died of natural causes at 81, much to the regret of his subjects. He was buried, along with his books, on the Gianicolo Hill.
If you want to visit Numa and Egeria’s hangout, take a walk in the wild and sprawling Villa Caffarella near the Via Appia Antica. Egeria’s nymphaeum is in ruins but it’s still there, and its verdant and rustic setting might just inspire you with some religious epiphanies of your own.
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