The Goddess Pudicitia
“She [the goddess Majesta, Majesty] took her seat high in the midst of Olympus, a golden figure far seen in purple vest. With her sat Pudor [Aidos, Modesty] and Metus [Deimos, Fear]. You might see every divinity modelling his aspect upon hers.” Ovid, Fasti 5. 29 ff (trans. Frazer) (Roman poetry 1st c. B.C.E. to 1st c. C.E..)
Here is my initial write up on the Goddess Pudicitia. Again, if any of you honor Her, or have any thoughts, please share them below. This is a brief write up because very little has been written about these Deities that I’ve been able to find.
The word ‘pudicitia’ means ‘modesty’ in Latin. It often refers to sexual virtue but also more generally to personal restraint. There was very clearly an element of personal self-management in the way the Romans approached this. Pudicitia (or its root word ‘pudor’) was the conscious mindfulness that allowed one to live in a vibrant society, contribute, and behave with proper decorum. We today tend to think of ‘modesty,’ as something imposed upon women, but for the ancient Romans, it was a virtue expected of both women and men. It was often seen as analogous to personal self-control.
This was so important to the Romans that they venerated a Goddess by the same name. She had two temples in Rome, one for the elites (where she was venerated as Pudicitia Patricia) and one for the plebs (Pudicitia Plebeia). Livy, in his “ab urbe condita’ tells the story of two women, one the aristocratic Lucretia, and the other, the plebeian Verginia. Both fiercely fought for their integrity (in very Roman ways, mind you. Let us keep in mind that, as the saying goes, “the past is another country. They do things differently there.”). Their stories came to embody the virtue of pudicitia for the ancient Romans and both received heroine cultus. In many ways, they became synonymous with the overall integrity of Rome. The second temple of this Goddess was built as a result of Verginia being driven out of the patrician one for marrying a notable plebeian. According to what I’ve been able to find out, no woman married more than once was permitted to touch her statue. (From everything that I’ve read, it seems this cultus was primarily tended by women).
The Greek equivalent of this Goddess was Aidos and there is some indication that the Greeks and Romans considered them the same Deity. I’m not sure. I suspect this is a difficult Goddess for most of us to approach today. Modesty is an incredibly charged idea in our culture, an embattled one. Still, I very much believe the Gods are worthy of veneration…all of Them, not just the Ones we like.
“Have respect for Aidos (Aedos, Shame), the helpmate of spear-fighting Aretas (Valour).”( Timotheus, Fragment 789 (from Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) (Greek lyric 5th C. B.C.E.)