Monday, December 23, 2013

Money - A Tale of Warning

My computer likes to tease me with financial ads.  They range from the laughable Nigerian Prince scams, to the almost as stupid peddlers of penny stocks.

Much of it has a rather alarmist tone to it, along the lines of Billionaire predicts Financial Ruin, which stocks will survive?

All rather nonsensical but to my surprise there is a solid etymological connection between "money" and "warning".

As with quite a few of my stories, it goes back to Rome.

The northern side of the Capitoline Hill was in deep antiquity the place where priests would read the auspices.  This word derives from auspex, which literally means one who looks at birds.  In early times the behaviour of flights of birds was felt to be predictive of the future.  Sometimes it was a favorable read, what we would call auspicious.  Sometimes not.

In 345 BC a certain Marcus Furius Camillus funded the construction on this site of a temple to Juno Moneta.  Things seem a bit muddled at this point.  Moneta might derive from monere which means "to warn".  This would be in keeping with the earlier use of the site.

Moneta could also derive from moneres, the Greek word meaning "alone, apart".  Juno was the wife/consort of Jupiter.  Together they were the highest figures in the Roman pantheon.  Juno being "the only one" for Jupiter sounds great in theory, and in this role she was the Protectress of marriage. Of course Roman gods were not particularly monogamous in this regard....various divine-mortal hybrids such as Hercules being the predictable result.

Another aspect of Roman history reinforces the "warning" aspect of Juno Moneres.  During the first Sack of Rome back in 387 BC a horde of Gauls had overrun the city.  A small band of stalwarts had fortified the Capitoline Hill and were holding out there.  A rugged path was still open for messengers to sneak out and make contact with Roman forces elsewhere.  The Gauls noticed one such messenger and planned a night attack that would approach the summit of the hill by this route.  Their plans were foiled when geese, kept in the temple of Juno, started honking and hissing in warning.

This is a reinforcement of the "warning" aspect of Juno Moneres (who presumably had a temple there prior to 345 BC) with a side helping of predictive bird behaviour.  Incidentally, the dogs who were supposed to be on duty did not bark.  For a very long time afterwards the Romans would have an annual parade where geese were honored and a few dogs were ceremonially crucified.

So where does money figure in to this tale of flapping and hissing omens, and of jilted monogamy?

Probably by accident.  Although Juno became associated with lots of things including the Protectress of funds, the establishment of the first Roman mint at the site of her temple on the Capitoline Hill was likely just a pragmatic recognition of it as a secure and defensible site.  Maybe thieves would be a little extra deterred by the mint being within the sacred precincts of a temple.

From this aspect of Juno Moneta we of course get the word money and all of its relatives.  And if like me you are pondering retirement and hoping that modern day thieves do not rig the stock market, well a few hissing geese would be ok in my book.

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