Latin Language Blog

The Mundus of Ceres: Portals and Ghosts Posted by on Aug 28, 2013 in Latin Language, Roman culture

The following is a fictional creative piece based upon historical facts.

The Story: August 24th 157 CE

Archeron River. Wikicommons

I awoke to the smell of smoke. There was something burning, but I could not distinguish what. It smelt like lamb or maybe even goat. I was getting older I could tell; my nose and even eyes were losing their sharpness. But, it was smoke. I yawned, stretched and as gracefully as my old bones would allow me -I got out of my bed.  I had been in this Gods forsaken countryside for months. My family had abandoned me. I hadn’t seen a familiar soul since Martius( Latin’s month of March). Now, it was August and it was a hot summer. I decided to bathe in the local river; it  wasn’t until then that I realized the busy bustling surroundings that I had grown accustomed to were vacant.

My mind went back to the smoke. Perhaps, there was a festival today and thus why I smell the smoke of offerings being made. A good festival was always a nice way to spend the day. People were always so generous: giving out their attention, their food, and their happiness. I followed my nose for what seem miles until I reach a very long serpentine line.

Upon reaching the front of the line, I saw no meat, no savory BBQ, only a pit. I had been so excited for food it only occurred to me then that I hadn’t seen anyone return from the front of the line. What was I suppose to do with this pit? The smell of food had made me hungry and now I only had a black abyss into the earth to show for it. I heard grumbles behind me, “Go in already!” Before I knew it, I had been kicked into this pit only to come out to what appeared to be Rome near the Forum.

The Umbilicus Urbis Romae  the external  part of the subterranean Mundus. Wikicommons.

The Umbilicus Urbis Romae (Navel/Center of Rome) thought to be the external part of the subterranean Mundus. Wikicommons.

To my dismay, there was still no food. I saw plenty of fruits and vegetables fresh from the harvest, but there was no meat. I continued to follow my nose. The streets were so thick now with bodies and smoke. It was so difficult to maneuver my way to clear ground; let alone escape from being smashed or stepped on. Amidst all the smoke, I realized that I had been smelling the offerings to the chthonic or underworld deities. This meant that the sacrifices of dark colored animals for dark underworld beings were burnt in their entirety and therefore, I would not be having a savory treat anytime soon.

With all hope gone, it had occurred to me that I was in Rome. I was not far from home. I could finally see my family. I raced for their house. It had been months, but I knew my way. Once or twice I had been lost in the forum and each time had found my way home. I ran and ran amongst all the people, sandals, smoke, and clamor. When I arrived at the residence of my family, I was unsure how to proceed. Would I be welcomed? Thrown out? Would they even remember me? I entered through the ostium quietly. I carefully walked into the domus pass the atrium, the Lares (household gods), and attempted to find my Domina and Dominus. No one was home. I howled with disappoint. Wait. Perhaps they are looking for me I thought, “Where did I last see them?

Domus Schematic. Wikicommons.

Domus Schematic. Wikicommons.

I reached the mountainous space beyond the city and found them. They looked exactly the same. They were kneeling to one of these mountains, which up close I realized did not resemble mountains. They were huge slabs of stone. I crept slowly upon them as to not disturb and found them mournfully gazing upon a stone. However as excitement overcame me, I eagerly ran to them. They did not see me. Instead they were pouring a wine libation upon the earth saying, “I miss Helena so dearly. She was such an amazing dog.” I was right here. Could they not see me? I looked upon the stone and saw:

“To Helena, foster daughter, the incomparable and worthy soul.” 150-200AD Courtesy of Brittany Brittaniae.

“To Helena, foster daughter, the incomparable and worthy soul.” 150-200CE
Courtesy of Brittany Brittaniae.

I was dead. I had died. This was my gravestone.  My family had buried me here, honored me here, and loved me here.  My family had not abandoned, but I them. I was blessed with such love and family. Today, I would spend the day with my family. For family never really leaves one another; we are always present in one another thoughts, memories, and heart.


August 24 was a day held for honoring the dead in Ancient Rome. It was the day where a pit leading to the Underworld would be open to allow the dead to linger with the living. It was this pit that was thought to be dug and sealed by Romulus as part of Rome’s foundation rites. It was also on this day, Romans would sacrifice in thanks of the harvest. The pit, known as mundus (Latin for world) of Ceres, was only open three times a year. It was opened on August 24, October 3, and November 7. Usually it was sealed by a stone called lapis manalis (Stone of the Manes, who can be read on here). There were other mundi (plural of mundus) in Ancient Rome in different cities. Other holidays commemorating the dead include Parentalia and Lemuria, which are explained here. These days were considered Dies Nefasti (days of impious, unluckiness, profane) which meant “days on which judgment could not be pronounced or assemblies of the people be held.” This particular gravestone of a dog is unique and thought to be one of perhaps a child, but it is uncertain.

Plaque Acommpanying the gravestone of Helena from the Getty Villa. Courtesy of Brittany Brittaniae.

Plaque Acommpanying the gravestone of Helena from the Getty Villa, Malibu.
Courtesy of Brittany Brittaniae.

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About the Author: Brittany Britanniae

Hello There! Please feel free to ask me anything about Latin Grammar, Syntax, or the Ancient World.