Religion, Superstition, and Adjectives in -osus: Aulus Gellius, 4.9

What the Word “Religiosus” Properly Signifies; and How That Meaning Has Changed; and the Words of Nigidius Figulus, Taken from His Commentaries, Concerning That Matter

Nigidius Figulus, who was – in my opinion – the most learned man next to Marcus Varro, in the eleventh book of his grammatical commentaries recalls a verse from an ancient song which seems truly worthy of note:

‘You should be religious (religentem), so that you do not become superstitious (religiosus).’

He does not however record whose poem this was. And in the same place, Nigidius says, ‘The suffix -osus in words of this sort, such as vinosusmulierosus, religiosus, indicates a certain unseemly abundance of the thing in question. On that account someone is called religiosus if he has bound himself up with a certain excessive and superstitious religion. That sort of thing is reckoned up as a fault.'”

Quid significet proprie “religiosus”; et in quae diverticula significatio istius vocabuli flexa sit; et verba Nigidii Figuli ex commentariis eius super ea re sumpta. Nigidius Figulus, homo, ut ego arbitror, iuxta M. Varronem doctissimus, in undecimo commentariorum grammaticorum versum ex antiquo carmine refert memoria hercle dignum:
religentem esse oportet, religiosus ne fuas,
cuius autem id carmen sit, non scribit. 2 Atque in eodem loco Nigidius: “Hoc” inquit “inclinamentum semper huiuscemodi verborum, ut “vinosus”, “mulierosus”, “religiosus”, significat copiam quandam inmodicam rei, super qua dicitur. Quocirca “religiosus” is appellabatur, qui nimia et superstitiosa religione sese alligaverat, eaque res vitio assignabatur.”

3 thoughts on “Religion, Superstition, and Adjectives in -osus: Aulus Gellius, 4.9

    1. Perhaps we do. A religious person is an adherent to a religion with the adjective conveying no value judgment. A religionistic person (a religionist), on the other hand, is one of excessive or irrational devotion. Religionist may not be the most widely used term in our parlance, but I’ve seen it plenty, and it is there. Indeed it conveys something similar to what a lot of other -isms do too.

      1. Thanks for this. I hadn’t heard the use of “religionist”–I have noted that we do something similar with the term Islamist, which seems to denote a fanatic or fundamentalist in opposition to mere “Muslim”. But the only real pattern I have noticed is that in American english, ‘religious’ does seem value neutral–we need to add “fundamentalist”, “extremist” or “fanatic” for the Latin -osus sense.

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