Galina has some very interesting observations about what “piety” meant to the polytheistic Romans vs. the early Christians. I don’t entirely agree with her characterization of the Christians (when do I ever entirely agree with Galina? ;p) but her observations about the impact of the resulting semantic drift are very astute. Go read!
Piety is a hard word for a lot of us. I don’t have a particular problem with it, but I suspect that’s because I had good models personally and I’ve also spent the last ten years immersed academically in ancient texts wherein piety was a good thing, and presented without the baggage both of Christian influence and modern disbelief. Words mean things. They’re important. They’re building blocks of communication, and containers of culture and experience. To speak is an act of translation — a process that right there is already fraught with the potential for grievous misunderstanding (there’s an Italian saying, known to every translator: “translator:traitor.” The translator always betrays the original material by the very act of translation, necessary though it might be). We are translating our experiences and desires from the immediate but abstract realm of our own interior world into something that can influence others, even if…
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