Aemilia (Legendary Vestal)

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Aemilia was a Virgo Vestalis, known by the miracle of the rekindling of the flame of Vesta. The fire had been extinguished when her new pupil was left in charge by Aemilia to watch over it. A prayer was made to Vesta and a linen garment was placed upon the altar; the criticism about the conducts that could have caused the extinction of the fire ceased when after the prayer and the sacrifice the eternal flame was reestablished. The historical period in which this episode occurs is unknown.

Valerius Maximus mentions this episode after describing the importance of compliance with traditional religious observances. Aemilia's miracle is described to show that the gods watch over and protect those who pay carefull atention to the details of the religion. He mentions, in this chapter, that after the flame have extinguished a prayer was directed to Vesta and that her numen answers rekindling the flame, but the prayer is not provided:

Maximae uero uirginis Aemiliae discipulam extincto igne tutam ab omni reprehensione Vestae numen praestitit. qua adorante, cum carbasum, quem optimum habebat, foculo inposuisset, subito ignis emicuit.[1]

There are some disputes on the translation of the passage when Valerius Maximus mentions the episode. Walker's translation tells us that the prayer was made by the pupil. The linen garment was the best which the apprentice possessed:

On the other hand, when a pupil of the chief virgin, Aemilia, allowed the fire to go out, the goddess Vesta kept the young woman safe from all criticism. Pleading with the goddess, the young woman placed the best linen garment she possessed on the hearth, and the fire suddenly came back to life.[2]

Mueller's translation assumes that Valerius's grammar most logically implies that the discipula, the nearest antecendent to the relative pronoun qua, and not Aemilia, was the one who actually prayed, but argues too that Kempf misuses the relative qua which refers, in spite of the discipula, to Aemilia. (...)This interpretation also has the advantage of reconciling Valerius' exemplum to the version of Dionysus. On the other hand, observation of grammar increases drama. While the discipula prays, Aemilia steps in, carbasus in hand. Vesta descends. Flames jumps up. Both Vestals are saved.[3] . The same way, the prayer was made by the pupil, but Aemilia is the owner of the linen garment and she is who puts it on the hearth:

After the "extinction" of the fire, the divine power (numen) of Vesta kept the apprentice (discipula) of the priestess Aemilia safe from all chastisement. And while she was praying, when she put the best linen cloak (carbasus) she had upon the hearth, suddenly a flame leapt forth.[4]

Muller follows affirming that Propertius, in his Cornelia's elegy, alludes to the Vestal Aemilia, without mentioning her name, not only because of Cornelia's association with the gens Aemilia, but also because of her chaste conduct, blameless life and high birth, upholding the imperial household as exemplars of right-living.[5]

Dionysys of Halicarnassus mentions this episode defending the manifestations of the gods in the care of human affairs and affirms that who regards those manifestations as incredible didn't look deeply in the history to know that the gods are favourable to the good and hostile to the wicked; the goddess Vesta manifested herself in favor of those virgins who have been falsely accused. He tells us that the prayer was made by Aemilia and the prayer is cited. The linen garment was a piece of her band, that she tore off and threw upon the altar.

It is said, then, that once, when the fire had been extinguished through some negligence on the part of Aemilia, who had the care of it at the time and had entrusted it to another virgin, one of those who had been newly chosen and were then learning their duties, the whole city was in great commotion and an inquiry was made by the pontiffs whether there might not have been some defilement of the priestess to account for the extinction of the fire. Thereupon, they say, Aemilia, who was innocent, but distracted at what had happened, stretched out her hands toward the altar and in the presence of the priests and the rest of the virgins cried: "O Vesta, guardian of the Romans' city, if, during the space of nearly thirty years, I have performed the sacred offices to thee in a holy and proper manner, keeping a pure mind and a chaste body, do thou manifest thyself in my defence and assist me and do not suffer thy priestess to die the most miserable of all deaths; but if I have been guilty of any impious deed, let my punishment expiate the guilt of the city." Having said this, she tore off the band of the linen garment she had on and threw it upon the altar, they say, following her prayer; and from the ashes, which had been long cold and retained no spark, a great flame flared up through the linen, so that the city no longer required either expiations or a new fire.[6] [7]


  1. Valerius Maximus, I. 1. §7.
  2. Valerius Maximus. Memorable deeds and sayings / Valerius Maximus; translated, with introduction, by Henry John Walker. Indianapolis: Hackett, p. 4, 2004.
  3. Mueller, Hans-Friedrich. Roman Religion in Valerius Maximus. Routledge: London, p. 203. 2002.
  4. ______. p. 49.
  5. ______. p. 49-50.
  6. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, with an English translation by Earnest Cary, Ph. D., on the basis of the version of Edward Spelman. 1937. p. 511-513.
  7. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, II. 68. 3-5

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