Tag Archives: roman culture

Origins of April Fools Day

Posted on 01. Apr, 2014 by in Latin Language, Roman culture

April Fool’s Day comes around each year and with it jokes, hoaxes, and elaborate “breaking” news articles. These “jokes”  spam our email, social media outlets, and lives from the moment we wake till the end of our day. At times, they can be humorous or playful (like Google’s Pokémon Challenge; here), they can be misleading (Boudicca’s grave, Robin Hood’s bones; here), or even cruel (death and alarming hoaxes; here).

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TRANSGRESSING BOUNDARIES TODAY

April Fool’s Day is the one day of the year where boundaries of societal norms can be transgress; whether it be a ridiculous news article or the elaborate hoaxes. These jokes which would not normally be “accepted” on any other day; however, on April Fool’s Day they are received with open arms and laughing spirits. The first day of April allows all people no matter how popular or unpopular, wealthy or poor, young or old( and so on) a chance to create jokes, pranks, and hoaxes to surprise, scare, or even trick their neighbors and friends.

TRANSGRESSING BOUNDARIES IN HISTORY

The history of April Fool’s Day from antiquity to today has changed quite drastically. However, this notion of transgressing boundaries permeates through all the holiday’s transformations and alterations. From the transgressions of male and female, divine and mortal, life and death, low class and high class, religious piety and impiety, and so on are seen within this history’s formation and evolution. How society and people choose to step beyond these boundaries or straddle between them. It is an interesting holiday that is worthy of investigation.

So what boundaries will you cross today?

ANCIENT  & MEDIEVAL ORIGINS

April Fool’s Day and Feast of Fools

It is thought that April Fool’s Day is the result of the Ancient Roman festival Hilaria and the Medieval festival known as the Feast of Fools. The Feast of Fools, also known as festum fatuorum,( feast of fools) festum stultorum (feast of the silly or simple), was celebrated during the months of December or January. The Medieval festival,  Feast of Fools, finds its roots within the Roman festival known as Saturnalia. You can learn more about the Saturnalia here. So like the Saturnalia, the Feast of Fool sought to overturn the societal norms of status and class.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel.

Feast of Fools and the Church

In the festival, young people would chose to play a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule.  Participants of the festival would then “consecrate” him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the nearest main church, giving names such as Archbishop of Dolts, Abbot of Unreason, or Pope of Fools.  This consecration ceremony often mocked the performance of the highest offices of the church. While other participants dressed a sundry of masks and disguises, engaged in songs and dances and practiced all manner of revelry within the church building. The Feast of Fools was eventually discontinued and forbidden 1431 for its blasphemous manner.

 April Fool’s Day and Hilaria

The ancient festival known as Hilaria (Latin for cheerful, merry, joyful) was celebrated on the vernal (spring) equinox in honor of the goddess Cybele. The goddess Cybele has a long and extended history from Anatolia to Rome.

Cybele enthroned, with lion, cornucopia and Mural crown. Roman marble, c. 50 CE. Getty Museum

Cybele enthroned, with lion, cornucopia and Mural crown. Roman marble, c. 50 CE. Getty Museum

The Romans celebrated Hilaria, as a feria stativa (a set free day [i.e no work]), on March 25 in honor of Cybele, the mother of the gods. The days of the festival were devoted to general rejoicings and public sacrifices (hence its name), and no one was allowed to show any symptoms of grief or sorrow( unless it was the “Day of Mourning”).

According to the historian Herodian, there was a procession and a statue of the goddess was carried. Before this statue, the most costly works of art belonging either to wealthy Romans or to the emperors themselves proceeded. All kinds of games and amusements were allowed on this day; masquerades were the most prominent among them, and everyone might, in his disguise, imitate whomsoever he liked, and even magistrates.

The Myth of Cybele and Attis

The myth of Cybele and Attis is one of tragic love. It is also a story of self-mutilation and regeneration, which is reflected in the Hilaria festival’s schedule and activities.

Cybele and Attis (seated right, with Phrygian cap and shepherd's crook) in a chariot drawn by four lions, surrounded by dancing Corybantes.

Cybele and Attis (seated right, with Phrygian cap and shepherd’s crook) in a chariot drawn by four lions, surrounded by dancing Corybantes.

Cybele rejected Zeus’ advances; he would not take her answer of “No.” On night as Cybele slept, Zeus spilled his seed on her. Eventually, Cybele gave birth to Agdistis, a hermaphroditic deity so strong and wild that the other gods feared him. In their terror they cut off his male sexual organ and from this blood sprang an almond tree.

The river Sangarius’ daughter named Nana ate the fruit of the almond tree. As a result of this snack, Nana delivered a boy child 9 months later. Nana decided to expose the child; much like Oedipus. But the infant’s death was not fated. Instead, reared by shepherds, the boy soon became healthy and handsome. He, in fact, became so handsome that his grandmother, Cybele, fell in love with him.

The boy, named Attis, was unaware of the love Cybele bore him. But since she was a goddess, Attis dare not refuse her. In time, Attis fell in love with another. It was the daughter of the king of  Pessinus, and he wished to marry her. The goddess Cybele became insanely jealous and drove Attis mad for revenge. Running crazily throughout the mountains, Attis finally stopped at the foot of a pine tree (hence why the tree is used in the festival). There Attis castrated and killed himself; and from Attis’ blood sprang the first violets. The tree took care of Attis’ spirit, but Attis’ flesh was a different story. Cybele unable to save him called out to Zeus for help. Attis’ body would have decayed had not Zeus stepped in to assist Cybele in the resurrection of Attis.

Schedule of the Festival of Hilaria

The activities of Hilaria were ones of both celebration, death, mourning, rebirth and celebration. This is due to the fact that the spring equinox was the first day of the year in which the length of night and day were equal. It was by this marker that a “New Year” was set and in which the winter was official gone and the rebirth of the year occurred. This is why Hilaria is considered a Death and Rebirth festival and coincides with the goddess Cybele and Attis.

The Full Festival’s Schedule (courtesy of Wikipedia)

  • March 15 (Ides): Canna intrat (“The Reed Enters”), marking the birth of Attis and his exposure in the reeds along the Phrygian river Sangarius where he was discovered—depending on the version—by either shepherds or Cybele herself.The reed was gathered and carried by the cannophores (“Reed-bearers”).
  • March 22: Arbor intrat (“The Tree Enters”), commemorating the death of Attis under a pine tree. The dendrophores (“tree bearers”) cut down a tree,suspended from it an image of Attis, and carried it to the temple with lamentations.  A three-day period of mourning followed.
  • March 23: On the Tubilustrium, an archaic holiday to Mars (Greek Ares), the pine tree was laid to rest at the temple of the Magna Mater (or Cybele), with the traditional beating of the shields by Mars’ priests the Salii and the lustration of the trumpets perhaps assimilated to the noisy music of the Corybantes.
  • March 24: Sanguem or Dies Sanguinis (“Day of Blood”), a frenzy of mourning when the devotees whipped themselves to sprinkle the altars and effigy of Attis with their own blood; some performed the self-castrations of the Galli. The “sacred night” followed, with Attis placed in his ritual tomb.
  • March 25 (the spring equinox on the Roman calendar): Hilaria (“Rejoicing”), when Attis was reborn.
  • March 26: Requietio (“Day of Rest”).
  • March 27: Lavatio (“Washing”), noted by the poet Ovid and probably an innovation under Augustus,when Cybele’s sacred stone was taken in procession from the Palatine temple to the Porta Capena and down the Appian Way to the stream called Almo, a tribute to the Tiber River. There the stone and sacred iron implements were bathed “in the Phrygian manner” by a red-robed priest. The return trip was made by torchlight, with much rejoicing.
  • March 28: Initium Caiani, sometimes interpreted as initiations into the mysteries of the Magna Mater and Attis at the Gaianum, near the Phrygianum sanctuary at the Vatican Hill.

Conclusion

Well, thanks for reading! I hope it was worth your time and you learned something new. Now, I am wishing you all a safe and happy April Fool’s Day!

Ancient Roman Women in Film

Posted on 26. Mar, 2014 by in Roman culture

In honor of March being National Women’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to pay respect to those ancient Roman women who have been portrayed (accurately or inaccurately) in film and television. For it is often through television and film that ancient people or historic events pick up popularity amongst modern society.

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Moreover, I stand to prove that most ancient women portrayed in film fit the theme “Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman.”  In addition to this idea, their portrayals most often are exaggerated in order to shock or overwhelm audiences of the exotic and foreign nature of the past. Rarely are any of these women (that I discuss at least) portrayed accurately, but they are shown through a highly stylized light which allows the audience to see the clear distinction between ancient women and modern women. However, this distinction is only seen in “period” scenarios such as dining, dresses, politics, societal mores, etc. Each of these women is also shown in a light that reflects those deep rooted feminine mores in which any women from any period would identify with: being a mother, being a wife, part of family unity, head of a household, avenging themselves, avenging injustices upon their family or country, and being true to herself.

DISCLAIMER**Please note that some of these observations include SPOILERS; so if you have not seen the film or series discussed move to the next historic figure.

WOMEN

200px-Montemartini_-_Lucilla_1170349

Name: Lucilla or Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla

Film: Gladiator (2000)

Attributes in the Film:  Strong, Loving, Tactical, Empathetic, Motherly, Victim to her Brother

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Film Quote:  “If only you had been born a man…What a Caesar you would have made….I think you would have been strong.I wonder if you would have been just?” -Marcus Aurelius

Hollywood’s Version: Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) is the sister of Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), and implied ex-lover of General Maximus(Russell Crowe). She is portrayed as the concerned mother of her son, Lucius, because she fears that her brother will murder him since he is next in line to be emperor. Her relationship with her brother is a strange one that straddles of the lines of incestuous and fraternal love- however, this is not her doing, but her brothers. She is also shown to be working with the Senate of Rome to overthrow her brother and restore the Republic.

Attributes in History: Strong, Ambitious, Tactical

History’s Version:  As the daughter of Marcus Aurelius, she was married off to his co-ruler: Lucius Verus. They had three children including a son named Lucius, but only their daughter Lucilla Plauta survived. Since her husband was co-ruler of Rome, she had high aspirations to become an empress of Rome. But these dreams were cut short, when her husband Lucius died. And, she was promptly married off again. This time it was to a less influential man and she began to see her dreams of being empress fade. Even more so were her dreams dissipated, when her father died and her brother Commodus became emperor.  With Commodus’ unstable rule, Lucilla decided to take part of a plot to assassinate her brother and replace him with her husband and herself as emperor and empress. She had many allies in this conspiracy including formal consuls, the imperial guard, and even her daughter, Lucilla Plauta. The former consul, Quintianus, sent his nephew to kill Commodus, but alas it was a failure. Upon revealing his dagger, the nephew yelled,”Here is what the Senate sends to you!” His exclamation gave the emperors guards enough to time to deflect the attack. Lucilla was banished to Capri and a year later Commodus sent a centurion to execute them.

Her Hollywood Formula: Her historic and theatric versions differ enormously. The only similarity is her attempt to overthrow her brother. In the film, she succeeds for the good of the Roman people; in history, she fails at her attempt to make herself empress. Therefore, Hollywood has taken Lucilla and shaped her into a widow that only cares for her son. She is never seen in the film as ambitious, treacherous, or cruel. If she plots (as she did in history), she does so for the general good and everyone she loves. She is the epitome of a caring mother, a loyal citizen, an empathetic soul, and the right arm of justice. Hollywood’s choice to put her in such a predominant role reveals their conscientious choice to portray a female character in manner other than a victim (Maximus’ wife or female gladiators). Finally, it is only through Lucilla efforts that Maximus is freed from being a gladiator, released to his family, and Rome is restored. Thus, fitting the theme: “Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman.”

 Atia_Balba_Caesonia

Name: Atia of the Julii or Atia Balba Caesonia or Atia Balba Secunda

Film: HBO’s Rome (2005)

Attributes in the Series Ambitious, Plotting, Sensitive, Loving, Family Oriented, Selfish, Lustful, Blunt, Ruthless

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Series Quote: “By the five Furies, if I was not a gentle woman, I would have you flayed, and hung from a bracket at the door!” – Atia of the Julii

Hollywood’s Version: Atia (Polly Walker) is the series’ epitome of the Roman upper-class woman. She is wealthy, enjoys her rights, has slaves, eats how she pleases, and takes part in religious and social practices with ease. Like most upper-class women, she is concerned for her appearance, her family’s reputation, her dinner parties and most of all her children’s future: Octavia (Kerry Condon) and Octavian( Max Pirkis). She is the symbol and perhaps the original meddlesome mother. She is not married and therefore acts alone in her decisions and choices. Her mannerisms and diction are quite blunt when addressing her children and their maturation, sexual practices, and political choices. In this aspect, she may be both humorous and boorish to the audience. She often tells her children what they should do, how they should do it, and uses them as political pawns until they are too old for her to maneuver. She is also the Roman lover of Marc Antony (James Purefoy), who appears to be her only weakness.

Attributes in History: Good Mother, Attentive, Loyal, Cautious, Sensible,

History’s VersionAtia was married to Gaius Octavius with whom she had Octavia and Octavian. However, her husband died and she remarried Lucius Marcius Philippus. Both were supporters of Julius Caesar. Atia and Philippus equally took the time and patience to raise her children and educated them properly. When her son, Octavian(later Augustus) was announced Caesar’s heir; Atia was so fearful for her son’s safety that she and Philippus urged him to renounce his rights as Caesar’s heir. She died during her son’s first consulship, in 43 BC.

Her Hollywood Formula: While the series and history have some common ground such as: her raising her children and being a devoted mother. Her affair with Antony provided HBO with one of its means of for explicit content which I imagine increases ratings. She is shown as the mother behind the great man that was Augustus Caesar; however within the series, she is shown to be cruel, selfish, manipulative, and in her final episode weak and vulnerable. Hollywood creates a memorable character who is both humorous and spiteful, but at the end the audience plainly see a woman who simply tried her best for her family and never to appear weak.

225px-Kleopatra-VII_-Altes-Museum-Berlin1Name: Cleopatra or Cleopatra VII Philopator (While not Roman herself, during Roman times)

Film: Cleopatra (1963)

Attributes in the Film Sensual, Loving, Strong, Ambitious, Attractive, Demanding, Natural Leader

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Film Quote:  “I will not be told where I can go and where I cannot go!”-Cleopatra

Hollywood’s Version: She (Elizabeth Taylor) is the Queen of the Nile who seduces not one man, but two influential Roman men. Wife to both Julius Caesar (Rex Harris) and Marc Antony(Richard Burton), Cleopatra ruled Egypt and aspired to rule Rome. Her life’s story is extensive, but can be read: here. However, the film deals with Cleopatra’s dealings and relationships with Caesar and Antony.

Attributes in History: Sensual, Strong, Ambitious, Tactical

History’s VersionThe events that follow in the 1963 version of Cleopatra do not stray far from the accounts of ancient historians. The film itself makes some anachronisms with the presence of the Arch of Constantine, interior design issues and others (here). Furthermore, it is never really disclosed that Cleopatra was a beautiful woman, but more so she was a woman of extravagance and luxury. Her beauty is a long debated attribute.

Her Hollywood Formula: In comparison to the other women, Cleopatra lived the most outrageous and exotic life; Cleopatra’s life has love, affairs, seduction, allure, power, war, assassination and suicide. Her life and story do not need Hollywood to invent something new. Hollywood, at times, take the opportunity to portray her weak at moments like Caesar’s death, Antony’s death, etc. However, it doesn’t get anymore Hollywood than her life; and for this reason Cleopatra has had over 14 television series and films that feature her. Her portrayals began in 1899 and the newest movie in development may feature Angelina Jolie (check out more upcoming ancient films: here). Furthermore, it would appear that Cleopatra was actually a great woman behind two men: Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

As Pompeii Crumbles…How will it be remembered?

Posted on 12. Mar, 2014 by in Roman culture

POMPEII

The word Pompeii invokes various imagery and feelings within individuals. From some, it may simply be the name of “some old place” or  be the title of their favorite song or movie. However, we all know (through research, study or school) that Pompeii was one of the great cities in Ancient Rome that was wiped out by a volcano. What most people don’t know (or don’t focus on) was the life of Pompeii before it was covered in ash. This post is a helpful guide to aid anyone who is curious about this city.

The City:

(please click the image for more art and architecture from Pompeii)

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Resources to Learn About the City:

A wonderful documentary:

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Last fall, the British Museum had an extraordinary exhibit dedicated to the Life and Death of Pompeii; their interactive website will be of use for anyone studying or wanting to learn more about Pompeii:here.

Or learn about its renowned and humorous graffiti: here

Today: It is Collapsing; Tomorrow- who knows

Did you know that parts of Pompeii are collapsing? That due to environment conditions (rain, smog, etc.) more than three walls have fallen and collapsed! See what officials are doing about it here!

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The Movie:

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If you have not seen the film yet, I offer these two reviews: here and here.

Regardless of the reviews, one must stand in awe of the technology available to recreate such a stunning city. I personally have yet to see the film, but I am assured that there are several artifacts from antiquity hidden through out it.

This article (SPOILERS- here) shows  this historic accuracies and inaccuracies. It also shows how certain characters and even items were based off the finds in excavations!

The Original Song:

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The Song at the British Museum:

Coincidentally, they were invited to the British Museum during its exhibit on Pompeii and allowed to perform amongst the art and artifacts: (this is why the song is done acoustically)

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Museum Tours Upcoming for 2014:

Here is the best website with the news for up and coming tours and traveling exhibits: here. There is one coming to Southern California (here) at the California Science Center, and another one currently on in Philadelphia (here). I have yet to find a good site for Europe, but then again Pompeii is in Europe.

Pompeii on Google Maps:

But, if you are unable to make any of these tours or see the real thing; check out Pompeii on Google Maps (with Zoom). Here is a helpful article on it.

Conclusion:

I hold that regardless if the buildings of Pompeii fell and the movie never existed that Pompeii would be taught and recreated for future generations. However, I will say that its publicity within museums, songs, and movies help current generations become interested and spark that passion that will ensure they remember it and preserve it within their minds (and indirectly their children’s).