Antiquitates Romanae

Dionysius Halicarnassensis

And they regard the fire as consecrated to Vesta because that goddess, being the earth and occupying the central place in the universe, kindles the celestial fires from herself. But there are some who say that besides the fire there are some holy things in the temple of the goddess that may not be revealed to the public, of which only the pontiffs and the virgins have knowledge. As a strong confirmation of this story they cite what happened at the burning of the temple during the First Punic War between the Romans and the Carthaginians over Sicily. For when the temple caught fire and the virgins fled from the flames, one of the pontiffs, Lucius Caecilius, called Metellus, a man of consular rank, the same who exhibited a hundred and thirty-eight elephants in the memorable triumph which he celebrated for his defeat of the Carthaginians in Sicily, neglecting his own safety for the sake of the public good, ventured to force his way into the burning structure, and, snatching up the holy things which the virgins had abandoned, saved them from the fire; for which he received great honours from the State, as the inscription upon his statue on the Capitol testifies. Taking this incident, then, as an admitted fact, they add some conjectures of their own. Thus, some affirm that the objects preserved here are a part of those holy things which were once in Samothrace; that Dardanus removed them out of that island into the city which he himself had built, and that Aeneas, when he fled from the Troad, brought them along with the other holy things into Italy. But others declare that it is the Palladium that fell from Heaven, the same that was in the possession of the people of Ilium; for they hold that Aeneas, being well acquainted with it, brought it into Italy, whereas the Achaeans stole away the copy-- an incident about which many stories have been related both by poets and by historians. For my part, I find from very many evidences that there are indeed some holy things, unknown to the public, kept by the virgins, and not the fire alone; but what they are I do not think should be inquired into too curiously, either by me or by anyone else who wishes to observe the reverence due to the gods.

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of the Loeb Classical Library from Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Roman Antiquities (Volume I: Books 1-2.), Loeb Classical Library Vol. 319, translated by Earnest Carey, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, © 1937, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. The Loeb Classical Library ® is a registered trademark of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.