Dumézil hints to the significance of fire as the origin and bearer of life in connection to Vesta. Its talismanic value was the reason that caused the accumulation of signa fatalia or pigs harboured in the innermost part of the penus. Servius gives a list of seven, three of which from Troy. The earliest collection was limited and kept secret, though according to Pliny the function of fertility was represented by the image of a male sex organ.
The correspondence of Vesta with Vedic god Agni was noted long ago. Dumézil recalls that in the Indian epic poem Mahabharata the episodes of Karttikeya, god of war and son of Agni and of Agni and the daughters of Nila bear the same theme of the flames as the sex organ of the god.
The fecundating power of sacred fire is testified in Latin mythology in one version of the birth of Romulus, that of the birth of king Servius Tullius (in which his mother Ocresia becomes pregnant after sitting upon a phallus that appeared among the ashes of the ara of god Vulcanus, by order of Tanaquil wife of king Tarquinius Priscus) and that of the birth of Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste.
All these mythical or semilegendary characters show a mystical mastership of fire. E.g. Servius's hair was kindled by his father without hurting him, his statue in the temple of Fortuna Primigenia was unharmed by fire after his assassination. Caeculus kindled and exstinguished fires at will.
In Vedic India the same complex appears as a quality of the divine twins, the Nasatya: they allowed a hero to survive in a basin of fire into which he had been thrown and enjoy the bathing as pleasant.
A much later episode of Roman history has been detected as a revised replication of the same early mythologem. In the fire of the temple of Vesta of the year 241 BC Lucius Caecilius Metellus, and at the time pontifex maximus, saved the palladium, to which men were not allowed, and according to tradition was blinded in the incident.
Modern scholars have speculated that it would be impossible to cover offices as pontifex and consul for a blind man for more than twenty years. It has been suggested that this episode should be interpreted in the light of the connexion of the gens Caecilia with Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste. The use of the story of this incident is paradigmatic of how archaic mythologems common to Indoeuropean heritage were reused over time grafted onto history.
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“Our comparative fidelity was fear of defeat at the hands of another partner.”
—Max Frisch (19111991)