Wine, Brains, and Snakes

An Ancient Roman Cult between Gendered Contaminants, Sexuality, and Pollution Beliefs


  • Leonardo Ambasciano Managing Editor, Journal of Cognitive Historiography



afterlife, contamination, morality, sexuality, Roman religion


The present contribution, concerning the ancient Roman cult of Bona Dea, explores the interplay between intuitive healing beliefs, morality, disgust, and coercive control of sexual behaviours. In order to preliminarily investigate cultural variations concerning sex and gender issues in past societies (a somewhat neglected topic in current cognitive studies), this article engages the socio-sexual organization of Roman culture which underpinned the cult devotion, explaining the evolutionary rationale of the underlying mythography as a mate-guarding strategy and the cult itself as a relief valve and a temporary compensation for subordinate women. The essential components of the cult (i.e., wine and snakes) are further analysed via evolutionary psychology and the cognitive science of religion. The final paragraph tackles the problematic scholarly reconstruction of the cult's promise of an afterlife for its worshippers, arguing that a phylogenetic analysis of Graeco-Roman mythographies might help contextualizing this issue.

Author Biography

Leonardo Ambasciano, Managing Editor, Journal of Cognitive Historiography

Leonardo Ambasciano earned his PhD in istorical Studies at the University of Turin (Italy) in 2014 with a cognitive analysis of the ancient Roman female cult of Bona Dea. He is currently a lecturer at Masaryk University, Brno (Czech Republic)


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How to Cite

Ambasciano, L. (2019). Wine, Brains, and Snakes: An Ancient Roman Cult between Gendered Contaminants, Sexuality, and Pollution Beliefs. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 4(2), 123–154.