I Saturnali a Roma: frenesia, banchetti, schiavi e regali. Somiglianze con Natale e Capodanno (2)

Tempio di Saturno a Roma, alle pendici del Campidoglio. Click for attribution

English original

I Saturnali al tempo di Nerone

Roma, 17 dicembre, 62 dopo Cristo. Nerone è a capo dell’impero romano. Il filosofo Seneca scrive una lettera (n. 18) all’amico Lucilio:

December est mensis
(E’ il mese di dicembre)
cum maxime civitas sudat.
(quando la vita è più intensa che mai in città.)
Ius luxuriae publice datum est;
(Il diritto all’eccesso è stato ufficialmente proclamato;)
ingenti apparatu sonant omnia [...]
(ogni angolo risuona dei chiassosi preparativi  [...])

L’inizio della festa più amata a Roma e nel resto dell’impero, i Saturnalia, è stato ufficialmente proclamato. L’eccitazione cresce ovunque.

Il filosofo, tranquillamente seduto nel suo elegante tablinum, riflette su ciò che lui e il suo amico dovrebbero fare, se cioè partecipare o meno alla gioia dei banchetti.

Si te hic haberetur,
(Se ti avessi qui)
libenter tecum conferrem quid estimare esse faciendum [...]
(sarei felice di consultarti su ciò che sia opportuno fare [...])
utrum nihil ex cotidiana consuetudine movendum,
(se lasciare immutate le nostre quotidiane abitudini,)
an, ne dissidere videremur cum publicis moribus,
(o, per non sembrare fuori sintonia con i costumi della gente,)
et hilarius cenandum et exuendam togam
(se anche noi dobbiamo banchettare allegramente e toglierci la toga)

Banchetto in un affresco a Pompei

Modalità del rito

Il sacrificio ufficiale – che si celebra nel tempio di Saturno, sul lato occidentale del foro – è probabilmente terminato. Sarà seguito a breve da un banchetto nello stesso tempio durante il quale i partecipanti grideranno il saluto augurale: Io Saturnalia! (che ricorda i nostri brindisi di Capodanno) e dove la celebrazione presto si trasformerà in una festa accesa e caotica.

Una (vaga) idea della cerimonia può esserci fornita da un testo rituale scritto da un neo-pagano ricostruzionista, Apollonius Sophistes [vedi il sito Biblioteca Arcana].

L’obiettivo di Apollonius è quello di far rivivere il rito nella vita reale.

ψ

Mario: “Celebrare il rito oggi?? Ma è fuori di testa questa gente?”

Extropian: “Forse, anche se cercare di rivivere forme di paganesimo con un minimo di accuratezza storica è sempre meglio dei pastrocchi alla Wicca. Il che, in un caso o nell’altro, non fa per me”.

Dettaglio dalle ‘Rose di Eliogabalo’ del vittoriano Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912). Click to zoom in and enter Tadema’s vision of Roman Antiquity

Banchetti nelle case e doni

L’euforia pervade la città. I banchetti nelle abitazioni private saranno sregolati, come succede ogni anno. Ci si appresta agli ultimi ritocchi a piatti elaborati, biscotti, doni, alla disposizione di candele (cerei) che simboleggiano la rinascita del sole; si preparano pupazzi di pasta (sigillaria) e si finisce di organizzare spettacoli, danze e musiche, tra cui una scelta di canti non di rado scurrili ed altri di tono più elevato, spirituale.

Brevi testi, proprio come i bigliettini dei nostri regali, accompagnano i doni. Il poeta Marziale, che ne ha composti diversi nei suoi epigrammi, ci dà informazioni sul tipo di regali scambiati:

“Tavolette per scrivere, dadi, aliossi [un gioco con ossicini ormai in disuso, ndr], salvadanai, pettini, stuzzicadenti, cappelli, coltelli da caccia, scuri, lampade di vario genere, biglie, profumi, pipe, maiali, salsicce, pappagalli, tavoli, tazze, cucchiai, capi di abbigliamento, statue, maschere, libri, animali domestici”.
[elenco tratto dalla Wiki inglese]

Licenza degli schiavi,
vesti e formulazione di desideri

Agli schiavi sarà permesso ogni tipo di licenza (o quasi). Un maestro della festa o ‘re del disordine’ impersonerà il gioviale Saturno con la barba che, scelto a sorte nelle case, orchestrerà il divertimento (personaggio simile al nostro Babbo Natale).

[Un Lord of Misrule è figura comune del Natale britannico nel medioevo, con ruolo quasi identico, così come il Pape des Sots o des Fous in Francia]

Scrive lo storico americano Gordon J. Laing (Survivals of Roman Religion):

Gli schiavi dei Saturnali romani erano “autorizzati a trattare i loro padroni come fossero loro pari. Spesso infatti padroni e schiavi si scambiavano i ruoli e questi ultimi venivano serviti dai primi [...] Un ‘re’ scelto a sorte ordinava a un ‘suddito’ di ballare, a un altro di cantare, a un altro ancora di portare sulle spalle una flautista e così via. Con tale gioco i romani ridicolizzavano la regalità”.

L’assiro Luciano di Samosata scrive nei suoi Saturnalia (un dialogo satirico del II secolo d.C. che si svolge tra Kronos-Saturno e il suo sacerdote)

“Durante la mia settimana [è Crono che parla, ndr] la serietà è bandita; ogni commercio e attività sono proibite. Il bere, il chiasso, i giochi e i dadi, la scelta dei re e la gioia degli schiavi che cantano nudi, il battito frenetico delle mani e i visi con la bocca tappata che vengono tuffati nell’acqua gelida: sono queste le funzioni a cui presiedo [...] questo il periodo di festa, quando è lecito ubriacarsi e gli schiavi hanno licenza di insultare i loro padroni”.

Come alla vigilia del moderno Capodanno, è il momento di esprimere i desideri per l’anno a venire. Dice Crono al suo sacerdote:

Crono: “Volgi il pensiero a ciò che mi vuoi chiedere [...] farò del mio meglio per non deluderti”.

Sacerdote:
“Nessuna originalità in proposito. Le solite cose, per favore: ricchezza, abbondanza d’oro, proprietà di terre, folle di servi, gaie e morbide vesti, argento, avorio, in realtà tutto ciò che è di un qualche valore. O migliore dei Croni, dammi un po’ di queste cose!”.

I Sansculottes della rivoluzione francese con i ‘berretti della libertà’, tipici degli ex schiavi o liberti. Essi erano copricapo comune nei Saturnali come simbolo d’uguaglianza

Come si vestiva la gente? In modi che suggerivano l’uguaglianza sociale. Seneca aveva infatti accennato al fatto di togliersi la toga, indumento solenne e d’alto ceto. Le gente ai banchetti indossava infatti la synthesis, un semplice vestito da cena, e il pileus, il berretto conico dei liberti, un cappello di feltro aderente simile al cappello frigio che non a caso in epoche successive diverrà l’icona della libertà nelle rivoluzioni francese e americana [il bonnet rouge dei sanculotti: vedi l’immagine sopra].

[per ulteriori informazioni (in inglese) sui Saturnalia: Lacus Curtius; un bell'articolo di Mary Beard e la ricca voce Saturnalia della Wikipedia inglese]

Intellettuali in conflitto

Di fronte a tanta frenesia lo stoico Seneca propende per la via intermedia (notate l’accenno alla folla ‘pilleata’, che indossa cioè i ‘pilei’):

Si te bene novi,
(Se ben ti conosco)
nec per omnia nos similes esse pilleatae turbae voluisses
(avresti desiderato che non fossimo né simili alla folla imberrettata)
nec per omnia dissimiles;
(né del tutto dissimili;)
licet enim sine luxuria agere festum diem
(è opportuno infatti partecipare alla festa senza eccessi.)

E’ comprensibile. L’intellettuale tende a comportarsi diversamente dall’uomo della strada, ed è spesso (ma non sempre) infastidito e un po’ blasé di fronte al trambusto della gente comune.

Durante le feste di dicembre che si svolgono a casa sua “Plinio il giovane – scrive Mary Beard nell’articolo citato – si rifugia altezzosamente nell’attico per continuare a lavorare (non vuole rovinare il divertimento dei servi – ma, forse ancor più, non vuole esporsi ai loro giochi ruvidi)”.

Catullo in visita da Lesbia. Laurence Alma Tadema (1836-1912)

Il poeta Catullo invece adora i Saturnali (“il periodo più bello”) così come il poeta Stazio, che alla fine del I secolo d.C. esclama:

“Quanti anni ancora durerà questa festa! Mai il tempo cancellerà un così santo giorno! Finché esisteranno le colline del Lazio e il padre Tevere, finché la tua Roma rimarrà in piedi, e il Campidoglio, che hai restituito al mondo, i Saturnalia vivranno”.

[Silvae, I.6.98 e sgg.]

ψ

E infatti i Saturnali per molti aspetti sopravviveranno, come abbiamo visto e forse ancora vedremo.

ψ

Prima parte sui Saturnalia:

Sopravvivenza dei Saturnalia dell’antica Roma nel Natale, Capodanno e Carnevale (1)

Sopravvivenza dei Saturnalia dell’antica Roma nel Natale, Capodanno e Carnevale (1)

English original

Cerchiamo di capire come i Saturnalia (la festa più popolare della Roma antica e la più diffusa in tutto l’impero romano) possano essere sopravvissuti fino a noi. Qui sotto vediamo una statua del dio Saturno, a cui la festa era dedicata.

Il dio Saturno. Museo nazionale del Bardo a Tunisi

Saturno e l’età dell’oro

Saturno, dio romano dell’agricoltura e divinità assai antica secondo le fonti, aveva (ed ha) il proprio tempio ai piedi del Campidoglio, nel Foro Romano. L’edificio ospitava una statua del dio con in mano una falce. La statua, di legno e successivamente d’avorio, aveva i piedi incatenati da fili e trecce di lana, che venivano slegati soltanto durante i Saturnali, cioè dal 17 dicembre in poi.

Il tempio venne ricostruito tre volte e le otto colonne che vediamo oggi nel foro (cfr. l’immagine qui sotto) sono ciò che rimane dell’ultimo rifacimento.

Non è un caso, credo, che il tempio ospitasse anche quanto di più prezioso vi fosse a Roma, cioè il tesoro della città o aerarium (monete, lingotti ecc.). Perché?

Perché nella mente dell’antico romano medio il dio Saturno – che, sconfitto da Giove suo figlio, trovò rifugio in Campidoglio – aveva portato nel Lazio la mitica Età dell’Oro (Aurea Aetas), un’era felice in cui gli uomini erano uguali, le leggi non necessarie, la primavera perenne e la terra spontaneamente prodiga di grano biondo e fiumi di latte e nettare che scorrevano meravigliosamente.

Il tempio di Saturno nella parte occidentale del Foro Romano. Solo il portico frontale con le sue 8 colonne è ciò che resta. Click for attribution and to zoom in.

Parole da un lontano passato

Ma ascoltiamo la descrizione dell’età dell’oro direttamente dalle parole suggestive di un antico romano, Ovidio (Metamorfosi, I, 89 e sgg.):

aurea prima est aetas
(prima viene l’età dell’oro)
sponte sua sine lege fidem rectumque colebat
(che alimentava spontaneamente, senza bisogno di leggi, verità e bontà)
nec supplex turba timebat iudicis ora suis, sed erant sine vindice tuti
(non vi era folla di supplici che temesse il volto del giudice: si viveva in sicurezza senza bisogno di protezione)
mollia peragebant otia gentes
(in molle pace la gente conduceva l’esistenza)
ver erat aeternum
(la primavera era eterna)
per se dabat omnia tellus … fruges inarata ferebat
(e la terra spontaneamente dava tutto … il frumento, non arato, cresceva)
flumina iam lactis, iam flumina nectaris ibant
(qui fiumi di latte scorrevano, lì torrenti di nettare)


Rievocazione di un’età senza legge

Ora è chiaro che i Saturnali erano una sorta di rievocazione di tale primordiale età senza legge in cui gli uomini vivevano in eguaglianza e abbondanza di tutto.

Durante i Saturnali i ricchi doni della terra erano celebrati con feste e banchetti in cui ai celebranti, riscaldati dal vino, era lecito trans-gredire (letteralmente, ‘andare oltre’, da trans + gradior) fino a stati superiori (o inferiori) della mente che potevano comportare esaltazione, spiritualità, atti esoterici, scherzi villani, giochi d’azzardo, promiscuità, scambi di doni, e in cui agli schiavi era concessa la più ampia licenza in ricordo di un’età in cui vigeva la parità tra gli uomini. Tali cerimonie collettive (come anche i riti di Dioniso noti a Roma come Baccanali) erano spesso indicate con il termine greco ὄργια o con quello romano di orgia.

[Da notare che i termini antichi solo vagamente si ricollegano al termine moderno 'orgia', fosse solo per il fatto che avevano significato religioso]

A differenza del culto di Saturno, quasi sconosciuto al di fuori del Lazio, i Saturnalia divennero la festa più diffusa in tutte le province dell’impero, amata da gente di ogni condizione sociale, finché essa non venne abolita dal Cristianesimo.

I cristiani in realtà non poterono eliminare del tutto i Saturnalia e così la festa fu assorbita nel Natale [vedi dopo]. Questa festa pagana sopravvisse in forme mascherate in Italia, Inghilterra, Germania, Francia, ecc.

Cerchiamo di capire meglio. Alcuni aspetti dei Saturnalia possono infatti apparire incomprensibili ai moderni.

Anche il Carnevale significava il rovesciamento dell'ordine e un passaggio dall'inverno alla primavera

Cicli e riti di passaggio

I Saturnalia appartenevano a quei riti tipici delle culture agricole più antiche di tutto il mondo.

Tali culture avevano una visione ciclica, cataclismatica – e non lineare – del tempo.

Scrive Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini:

Siamo di fronte a “una nozione di ‘cosmo’ costituito da cicli, nati dal caos e al caos destinati a ritornare mediante una ‘catastrofe’ o ‘grande dissoluzione’, unitamente alla sete di rigenerazione e rinnovamento implicite nel compiersi dei rituali orgiastici, le cui forme aberranti rappresentano una degradazione di questa idea del ritmo dell’universo. Giacché ad un livello cosmologico l’orgia rappresenta il caos, ossia la scomparsa di limiti o barriere e la fusione in una unità, il desiderio di abolire il tempo è particolarmente evidente nelle orge che avvengono, in varie forme, durante le feste del nuovo anno, considerato il dramma stagionale per eccellenza. Insieme alle altre caratteristiche di eventi analoghi, il ritorno simbolico del caos primigenio indica l’abolizione del tempo profano in modo che si compia la dissoluzione del mondo ed il ripristino del momento mitico in cui inizio e fine coincidono. È questo il motivo per cui tali feste sono costantemente caratterizzate da un tentativo di abolire ordine e consuetudini, dando libero corso alla licenza, violando le regole e sospendendo le leggi, con possibili ribaltamenti delle condizioni sociali, e, in altre parole, convergenza degli opposti”.

L’universo, la storia si ripetevano dunque in un eterno ritorno ad epoche mitiche in modo che la fine di un ciclo (solare, annuale, lunare o stagionale) generava un nuovo inizio; così che la dissoluzione coincidesse con la rigenerazione, il caos, l’arbitrarietà e la trans-gressione si tramutassero in un nuovo ordine in cui la gente si sentiva rigenerata e disposta a tornare alla norma.

Il sole sorge all'orizzonte

Tali momenti di passaggio venivano celebrati in festività in cui la promiscuità era un modo per ottenere la fertilità.

“L’antichità classica – nota ancora Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini – ricorda varie feste durante le quali ciò che di norma era proibito era invece tollerato: i Sacaea a Babilonia o nella regione del Ponto, che erano celebrati in estate in onore della dea Ishtar o Anaitis e che comprendevano, tra l’altro, un re travestito da servo; lo Zagmuk, o festa delle ‘sorti’, che si celebrava in Mesopotamia all’inizio dell’anno ed annoverava licenza in materia sessuale, oltre alla detronizzazione simbolica del re; i Kronia in Grecia [ad Atene e in Attica, MoR] ed i Saturnalia a Roma [il romano Saturno e il greco Kronos vennero identificati dai Romani, MoR]; ma altresì feste femminili come le Tesmoforie o la celebrazione romana della Bona Dea [di cui una descrizione, in questo blog, è nel post Sex and the city (de Roma) 2, MoR], che offrivano alle donne l’opportunità di indulgere a modo loro in certi eccessi”.

Tracce nella mente dei moderni

Ora è probabile che questo passato spirituale (assieme al perdurante effetto dei mutamenti naturali) abbia lasciato / lasci profonde tracce anche nelle menti contemporanee. Continuiamo ad avvertire questo fine-inizio di qualcosa durante il periodo di Natale / Capodanno; l’effetto ci colpisce nel profondo, e ci agita anche, come una specie di sisma che ci investe. E, allo stesso tempo, sentiamo la dolcezza della famiglia e le sensazioni religiose cristiane.

Il che ci porta alla nascita di Cristo.

I Saturnali, la nascita del Dio Sole e Cristo

Disco dedicato a Sol Invictus (Sole Invitto). Argento, opera romana del III sec. d.C. Da Pessinus, Asia Minore. British Museum. Click for attribution

Data la popolarità dei Saturnalia i fondatori del cristianesimo, desiderando conquistare i pagani alla nuova fede, assorbirono i Saturnalia nelle celebrazioni della nascita di Cristo.

I Saturnalia iniziavano il 17 dicembre e si concludevano il 25 dicembre, il giorno del solstizio d’inverno secondo il vecchio calendario giuliano istituito da Giulio Cesare (è il nostro 21 dicembre secondo l’attuale calendario gregoriano).

Ebbene, quando nacque Cristo? Nessuno lo sapeva esattamente, anche se alcuni passaggi biblici fanno pensare alla primavera.

Fu Papa Giulio I che nel 350 d.C. scelse il 25 dicembre (corrispondente al nostro 21 dicembre, dunque il solstizio d’inverno), il che si rivelò una saggia decisione non solo per la data della fine dei Saturnalia, ma anche perché in quello stesso giorno, il 25, si celebrava da secoli la nascita di Mitra / Sol Invictus, il dio solare (e infatti il solstizio d’inverno altro non era che la morte / rinascita del sole).

E, va detto, il dio del sole in tutte le sue forme era molto amato. Prima di essere gradualmente sostituito dal Dio cristiano, il Sol Invictus era il culto ufficiale del tardo impero romano.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Extropian: “Secondo Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ) pochi cristiani si rendono conto oggi che ancora nel V secolo d.C. [quindi ben quattro secoli dopo la nascita di Cristo!] Papa Leone Magno dovette ordinare ai fedeli di smetterla di adorare il sole”.

Mario: “Ho letto qualcosa in un forum americano: questa “diceria che i Saturnalia spesso degeneravano in una grande festa con orge e alcol … è ironico che noi cristiani utilizziamo questa giornata per celebrare la nascita del nostro Salvatore venuto su questa terra proprio per salvarci da tali peccati “.

MoR: “Be’, come detto prima, avvertiamo tutti come uno strano conflitto durante queste feste: combattuti tra religiosità e divertimento, eccesso e buona volontà, sentimenti della famiglia e consumismo pagano”.

MoR: “Un conflitto, forse, generato da quel compromesso antico (dare forma cristiana a feste pagane), conflitto che probabilmente era assente ai tempi dei Saturnalia, quando trans-gressione (l’andar oltre, l’eccesso) e religione non erano sempre separate come lo sono oggi. Al contrario, esse a volte coincidevano. τὰ ὄργια (o orgiae) era caratteristica dei culti misterici, intrisi di altissima spiritualità ed etica. Una cosa impensabile oggi, dopo quasi due millenni di Cristianesimo”.

ψ

Nel prossimo articolo vedremo meglio come si svolgevano i Saturnalia.

Roman Saturnalia. Frenzy, Banquets, Slaves and Gifts (2)

Originally posted on Man of Roma:

Temple of Saturn in Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

Saturnalian Days in Nero’s Time

Rome, 62 AD, December. Emperor Nero is ruling. The philosopher Seneca is writing a letter (num 18) to his friend Lucilius:

December est mensis
(It is the month of December)
cum maxime civitas sudat.
(when the city is in great sweat and hectic.)
Ius luxuriae publice datum est;
(The right to looseness has been officially given;)
ingenti apparatu sonant omnia [...]
(everything resounds with mightily preparations  [...])

The festival most loved by the peoples of the empire, the Saturnalia, has officially started. Excitement is growing everywhere.

The philosopher calmly sitting in his elegant tablinum is reflecting on what he and his friend should do, whether participate or not in the joy of the banquets.

Si te hic haberetur,
(If I had you here with me)
libenter tecum conferrem [...]
(I should be glad…

View original 1,075 more words

Survivals of Roman Saturnalia in Christmas, New Year and Carnival? (1)

Originally posted on Man of Roma:

Dafna asked me to write about the Roman Saturnalia, a festival in honour of Saturn.

“Inspired by Richard’s musing about Christmas – she said – I just discovered the term: ‘Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time ….’ Sounds like fun.”

So here we are Dafna, although my mind is blurred by all this saturnalian revels, starting in Italy on Dec. 24 and ending with the Epiphany, Gen. 6.

Quite a long time isn’t it.

Ma poi ecco l’Epifania
che tutte le feste si porta via.

Saturn & the Golden Age

Saturn, the Roman god of seed and sowing, very ancient according to sources, had his temple built at the foot of the Capitoline hill. It housed a wooden (later ivory) statue of the god filled with oil, holding a scythe and whose feet bound…

View original 1,297 more words

Roman Saturnalia. Frenzy, Banquets, Slaves and Gifts (2)

Temple of Saturn in Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

Saturnalian Days in Nero’s Time

Rome, 62 AD, December. Emperor Nero is ruling. The philosopher Seneca is writing a letter (num 18) to his friend Lucilius:

December est mensis
(It is the month of December)
cum maxime civitas sudat.
(when the city is in great sweat and hectic.)
Ius luxuriae publice datum est;
(The right to looseness has been officially given;)
ingenti apparatu sonant omnia [...]
(everything resounds with mightily preparations  [...])

The festival most loved by the peoples of the empire, the Saturnalia, has officially started. Excitement is growing everywhere.

The philosopher calmly sitting in his elegant tablinum is reflecting on what he and his friend should do, whether participate or not in the joy of the banquets.

Si te hic haberetur,
(If I had you here with me)
libenter tecum conferrem [...]
(I should be glad to consult you [...])
utrum nihil ex cotidiana consuetudine movendum,
(whether nothing in our daily routine should be changed,)
an, ne dissidere videremur cum publicis moribus,
(or, in order not to be out of sympathy with the ways of the public,)
et hilarius cenandum et exuendam togam
(in merrier fashion should we also dine and doff the toga)

What Is the Ritual like?

The official sacrifice held in the temple of Saturn at the Forum has probably ended. It is about to be followed by a banquet in that same place where participants will shout the auspicious salute: Io Saturnalia! (which reminds of our New Year toasts) and where things will soon turn into a heated, unruly feast.

Have a (faint?) idea of the ceremony in a ritual text written by a neo-pagan reconstructionist, Apollonius Sophistes.

Apollonius’ aim is that of performing the ceremony in real life.

ψ

Mario: “Performing it today? Are these people nuts??”

Extropian: “Possibly, but trying to re-establish forms of paganism with bits of historical accuracy is far more intriguing than any Wiccan mish-mash. Not my cup of tea in any case.”

Detail from ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ by the Victorian Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912). Click to zoom in and enter Tadema’s vision of Roman Antiquity

Banquets in Homes with Gifts

Euphoria is pervading the city. Banquets in private houses will be unruly too, as it happens every year. These private feasts need a last-minute touch to the elaborate dishes, cookies, gifts, arranging of candles (cerei) symbolising the rebirth of the sun, little puppets of paste (sigillaria), music & dance preparations there including a choice of poetic (and often scurrilous) songs.

Little texts, like our gift-tags, accompany the presents. The poet Martial who wrote a few of them in his Epigrams throws light on what is about to be exchanged:

“Writing tablets, dice, knuckle bones, money-boxes, combs, toothpicks, a hat, a hunting knife, an axe, various lamps, balls, perfumes, pipes, a pig, a sausage, a parrot, tables, cups, spoons, items of clothing, statues, masks, books, and pets.” (list compiled by Wikipedia).

Slaves’ Licence, Dresses & Wishes

Slaves will be allowed (almost) any kind of licence. A Lord of Misrule impersonating jolly Saturn will be chosen in homes by lot and will direct the fun.

By the way, isn’t jolly Saturn a bit like Santa?

[The Lord of Misrule is a common figure in Medieval Britain with a similar role, and so is le Pape des Fous or des Sots in Medieval France]

The American historian Gordon J. Laing observes:

In ancient Rome slaves were “permitted to treat their masters as if they were their social equals. Frequently indeed masters and slaves changed places and the latter were waited on by the former [...] A ‘king’ was chosen by lot, who would bid one of his ‘subjects’ dance, another sing, another carry a flute-girl on his back and so forth. In this play-king the Romans ridiculed royalty.”

The Assyrian Lucian of Samosata writes in his Saturnalia (a 2nd cent. AD satirical dialogue between Kronos-Saturn and his priest:)

“During my week [Kronos is speaking] the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside [...] this festive season, when ’tis lawful to be drunken, and slaves have licence to revile their lords.”

As in our New Year’s eve it’s time to make wishes for the year to come. Kronos asks his priest about his:

Kronus: “Make up your own mind what to pray for [...] Then, I will do my best not to disappoint you.”

Priest:
“No originality about it; the usual thing, please: wealth, plenty of gold, landed proprietorship, a train of slaves, gay soft raiment, silver, ivory, in fact everything that is worth anything. Best of Cronuses, give me some of these!”

Sansculottes, icon figure of the French revolution, wearing the liberty berets typical of ex slaves and worn during the Saturnalia to stress social equality

How will people be dressed? In a way to stress social equality.

Seneca mentioned the doffing off of the solemn toga. People in banquets will wear the synthesis, a simple dinner dress, and the pileus, the conical cap of the freedmen, a felt close-fitting beret similar to the phrygian cap which not for nothing will in later ages be adopted as a freedom icon during the French revolution (le bonnet rouge: see image above) and in the Americas.

[Further information on Saturnalia at Lacus Curtius'; in a sparkling article by Mary Beard; and in Wikipedia's Saturnalia entry]

Mixed Feelings of the Intellectuals

In front of all this frenzy the stoic Seneca is inclined to choose a middle between extremes (and he incidentally mentions the caps too):

Si te bene novi,
(If I know you well,)
nec per omnia nos similes esse pilleatae turbae voluisses
(you would have wished that we should be neither like the liberty-capped throng in all ways,)
nec per omnia dissimiles;
(not in all ways dissimilar;)
licet enim sine luxuria agere festum diem
(one may in fact enjoy holiday without excess.)

It is understandable. The man in the street will generally behave differently from the intellectuals, often (but not always) annoyed and a little blasé about all the fuss.

During the December revels occurring at his mansion “the younger Pliny- writes Mary Beard – loftily takes himself off to the attic to get on with his work (he doesn’t want to put a dampener on the slaves’ fun – but, more to the point, he doesn’t want to be disturbed by their rowdiness.)”

Catullus at Lesbia’s by Laurence Alma Tadema (1836-1912). Click to enlarge

The poet Catullus loves Saturnalia instead (“the best of days”) and so does the poet Statius who at the end of the first century AD will exclaim:

“For how many years shall this festival abide! Never shall age destroy so holy a day! While the hills of Latium remain and father Tiber, while thy Rome stands and the Capitol thou hast restored to the world, it shall continue”

[Silvae, I.6.98ff]

And in fact Saturnalia and some of its spirit will somewhat survive as we have seen and will perhaps later further see.

ψ

See part 1 on Saturnalia:

Survivals of Roman Saturnalia in Christmas, New Year and Carnival? (1)

Survivals of Roman Saturnalia in Christmas, New Year and Carnival? (1)

Dafna asked me to write about the Roman Saturnalia, a festival in honour of Saturn.

“Inspired by Richard’s musing about Christmas – she said – I just discovered the term: ‘Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time ….’ Sounds like fun.”

So here we are Dafna, although my mind is blurred by all this saturnalian revels, starting in Italy on Dec. 24 and ending with the Epiphany, Gen. 6.

Quite a long time isn’t it.

Ma poi ecco l’Epifania
che tutte le feste si porta via.

Saturn & the Golden Age

Saturn, the Roman god of seed and sowing, very ancient according to sources, had his temple built at the foot of the Capitoline hill. It housed a wooden (later ivory) statue of the god filled with oil, holding a scythe and whose feet bound with woollen threads were released only in the days of the Saturnalia – Dec. 17 onward.

The temple was rebuilt three times and today’s eight-column remnants (see the image below) represent what is left of its last remaking.

It is no coincidence, I believe, that the temple also housed what was most precious in Rome (coins, ingots etc.,) ie the city treasury or aerarium. Why?

Because to the Roman mind Saturn – who defeated by his son Jupiter had found refuge in Latium, on the Capitol – had brought to the Romans and Latins the mythical Golden Age (Aurea Aetas,) an era of bliss when men were equal, laws not necessary, spring eternal, earth spontaneously offering its blonde corn and rivers of milk and nectar marvellously flowing.

The temple of Saturn in the west end of the Roman Forum. Only the front portico with its 8 columns is now left standing. Click for attribution and to zoom in.

Words from the Past

Mario: “Wow, the Golden Age. Were men of solid gold too?”
MoR: “Possibly. Yes, if I well interpreted Lucian’s Saturnalia.”

Let us then listen to the arcane words of Ovid just to catch glimpses of it all (Metamorphoses, I, 89 & ff.)

aurea prima est aetas
(the Golden Age is first)
sponte sua sine lege fidem rectumque colebat
(which spontaneously, without laws, the true and the good nurtured)
nec supplex turba timebat iudicis ora suis, sed erant sine vindice tuti
(no crowd of suppliants fearing their judge’s face: they lived safely without protection)
mollia peragebant otia gentes
(in soft peace people spent their lives )
ver erat aeternum
(Spring was eternal)
per se dabat omnia tellus … fruges inarata ferebat
(by itself earth gave all … wheat, unmanured, bore)
flumina iam lactis, iam flumina nectaris ibant
(sometimes rivers of milk flowed, sometimes streams of nectar)


Re-enacting a Lawless Age

Now it is clear that the Saturnalia was a sort of re-enactment of such primordial, lawless age when men lived in equality and abundance of all.

During Saturnalia the rich gifts of the earth were celebrated with feasts and banquets where celebrators, heated with wine, were allowed to trans-gress unto higher (sometimes lower) states of mind which could include wild games, spirituality, esoteric acts, gambling, sexual promiscuity, exchange of gifts, and where slaves were given the broadest license which reminded the ancient rule of equality amongst men. Many similar ancient collective ceremonies (like the rites of Dionysus known in Rome as the Bacchanalia) were often referred to by the Greek term ὄργια or the Roman term orgia.

[Note that the old terms are only partially connected with the modern term 'orgy', if only for the fact that they had a religious character]

Unlike the cult of Saturn almost unknown outside Latium, Saturnalia became the most popular festival in every province of the empire relished by the people of any social condition until the triumph of Christianity.

The Christians couldn’t entirely abolish Saturnalia so they absorbed it into Christmas and this pagan festival survived also in other disguised forms as we shall see (in Italy, England, Germany, France etc.)

Let us try to better understand. A few aspects of Saturnalia may in fact sound weird to us modern people.

maschera_carnevale_venezia

Cycles and Rites of Passage

Saturnalia belonged to those rituals typical of the most ancient agricultural cultures all the over world.

Such cultures had a cyclic more than a linear view of time.

Universe, history repeated themselves in an eternal return to mythical ages in a way that the end of a cycle (light, sun, year, moon or season cycles) coincided with a new beginning; that dissolution coincided with regeneration; that chaos, lawlessness and transgression transmuted themselves into a new order where people felt renewed and ready to get back to norm.

These passages were celebrated in festivals where “such dissolution – Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini argues – we notice in the overturning of social hierarchy and in sexual promiscuity, a way to achieve fertility; we notice it in Sacaea, a festival in Babylon or in Pontus in honour of the goddess Ishtar or Anaitis which included, among the rest, a king disguised as servant; in the Zagmuk celebrated in Mesopotamia at the beginning of the year and comprising both sexual license and a symbolic dethroning of the king; in the Kronia [in Athens and Attica, MoR] and in the Roman Saturnalia [Roman Saturn and Greek Kronos sort of merged] but also in women-only festivals like the Greek Thesmophoria [in honour of Demeter] or like the Bona Dea rituals in Rome [of which a description is in our Sex and the city (of Rome) 2] where women were offered a chance to indulge in some excess in their own way.”

Traces in Modern Minds

Now I believe this whole spiritual past (plus the evelasting effects of nature changes) left deep traces in today’s minds. We still feel this deeply emotional (and sometimes distressing) end-beginning of something during the Christmas / New Year festivities, like a seismic shift that takes hold of us a bit. And at the same time we feel the family sweetness and Christian religious vibrations.

Which brings us to Christ’s birth.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus (Unconquerable Sun.) Silver, Roman artwork, 3rd century AD. From Pessinus, Asia Minor. British Museum. Click for attribution

Saturnalia, the Sun God & Christ’s Birth

Given the popularity of Saturnalia the founders of Christianity desiring to win the pagans to the new faith absorbed the Saturnalia into the celebrations of the birth of Christ.

Saturnalia started Dec. 17 and ended Dec. 25, day of the winter solstice according to the old Julian (Julius Caesar’s) calendar (12/21 according to ours, the Gregorian.)

Now, when was Christ born? No one knew exactly – although some biblical evidence suggests Spring.

It was Pope Julius I who in 350 CE chose Dec. 25 (winter solstice according to Caesar’s calendar.) Which proved a wise decision not only because of Saturnalia end date but also because in that same 12/25 the birth of Mithra / Sol Invictus, the sun god, had long been celebrated – the winter solstice being in fact the death-rebirth of the sun.

And, it must be said, the sun god in all his forms was very popular. Before it was gradually replaced by Christianity Sol Invictus was actually the official cult of the late Roman empire.


Extropian:
“According to Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ) “few Christians today realize that in the 5th century CE [so 4 centuries after the birth of Christ!] pope Leo the Great had to tell Church members to stop worshipping the sun.” “

Mario: “I read something in a forum: this “rumour that the Saturnalia generally degenerated into a big party with orgy and drinking … it’s ironic in that Christians use this day to celebrate the birth of their Saviour who came to save them from such sins.”

MoR: “Well, as I have said, we all feel – a Westerly universal feeling – like a strange conflict during these holidays: between holiness and fun, excess and good-will, religious /family feelings and pagan consumerism.”

MoR: “A conflict generated perhaps by that old compromise - eg the adaptation of Pagan rites to Christian rites – and absent probably at the times of the Saturnalia, when trans-gression and religion (trans-gression in the original sense of ‘going beyond’, from Latin trans + gradior) were not always separated as they are today. On the contrary, they at times coincided. τὰ ὄργια or orgiae, characteristic of mystery cults, were a supremely mystical & ethical experience, which is incomprehensible today, after almost two thousand years of Christianity.”

ψ

Read part 2:

Roman Saturnalia. Frenzy, Banquets, Slaves and Gifts (2)

On Health and Serenity of Soul

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Self-made by Massimo Finizio.

A so-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Click to enlarge and for credits

In Living to our Fullest Potential we wrote about Dario Bernazza‘s list of the 30 major issues we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to diminish life sufferings and live a fruitful life. After no. 1 in his list (Defining a purpose in life) we will here consider no. 2 and no. 3, namely:

2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul

Good health

According to Bernazza (I am summarizing freely) health is more precious than wealth or power. It is a prerequisite for a fruitful and happy life. “It is the condition without which the edifice of happiness cannot be built or, if it is already in place, its falling apart cannot be avoided”. Better to be an unknown man who is in good health, than being a successful man who is sick. Good health is a way of delaying old age and fighting back death.

We should abstain ourselves from intemperance and dissolute living, because the pleasure of wellbeing is by far greater than that of revels of any kind that will later make us sick and will endanger our health. Bernazza condones a few exceptions – as, it is my thought, our civilization always did: from Roman Saturnalia to modern Carnivals.

So here we can quote, since Bernazza doesn’t, the Roman poet Horace who teaches to “mingle a little folly with your wisdom: a little nonsense now and then is pleasant.”

Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.

(Horace: 4 Odes, xii. 28.)

(Don’t know who translated Horace’s verses into English. Now and then makes good rhythm and is fine to me as a concept, but a better translation of in loco should be “at a proper time”.)

As a conclusion, a minimum advice from Bernazza on how to keep our good health: a walk at a good pace of 2-3 km every day in a park or green area.

Serenity of soul

Attaining serenity of soul is an effective weapon against life liabilities, namely all the sufferings that life inflicts upon us without mercy. But how can we attain it?

We first have to better understand life sufferings.

Physical sufferings can be diminished by taking care of our health, as we said before – argues Country Philosopher (this is how we like to call Dario Bernazza.)
As for psychical sufferings, some originate from the consequences of our bad choices, others from events we do not have control over, like the death of someone we love or people’s wicked actions.

As regards both types of suffering, to learn how to control nervous over excitability can be of great benefit, argues CP, and especially over excitability negative side, which is anger (the positive side of overexcitability being joy.) The less we get angry – and generally overemotional, in a negative sense -, the less we suffer. The more we get angry – and overemotional -, the more we suffer.

Well, is it possible to always avoid anger and nervous overexcitement?

Only the strictest stoics and the strictest oriental religious gurus deem it possible – argues CP. But that would mean to have the psyche of a corpse, which is not possible, unless we really are a corpse. What we can do is limiting our nervous overexcitement to such an extent that real negative overexcitement is not possible any more. “This means reaching a status of psychic calmness more or less unalterable, thence a substantial serenity of soul.”

It is an immense, invaluable benefit, it is clear – argues CP – because in this way we can highly diminish psychic sufferings which are the sufferings that mostly plague our life.

But how can we possibly attain this?

Exercise creates a habit

“Socrates – argues Bernazza – teaches us how: through exercise, since exercise creates a habit, any habit. And how long must this exercise last? Until the day we really get into the habit of not getting angry and overemotional any more. It is a long exercise and not an easy one and it cannot but last a few years.”

But, even if we fail and get now and then overemotional let us remember to never give up, this being highly important, since perseverance will certainly allow us to attain our positive result – there is no doubt about it, there is really no doubt (I told you CP keeps repeating this phrase.)

Note. As regards anger, Bernazza follows the tradition of the Greek and Roman philosophers who generally were in favour of self control and were hostile to anger. To Seneca and Galen uncontrolled anger was similar to madness. Anger to Seneca was useless, even in war. He praised the disciplined Roman armies who were capable of beating the Germans who were instead famous for their fury.

Ψ

PS
Following is a list of our writings on Dario Bernazza:

Country Philosopher
Ethical Confusion & Ancient Teachings
Assets and Liabilities in Life
Living to Our Fullest Potential
Health and Serenity of Soul
From Friendship to Asking Mamma when Looking for “Mr Right

And here a post on anger (a bit on the ‘wild soliloquy’ side, I’ll admit):
Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind

Sex and the Search for a Method

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor and philosopher

Italian version

I am preparing a post on method.

Why?

1) Because I am a dilettante philosopher who is not content with just blogging. I need a method in my blogging.
2) I had promised a method post, so it is very Roman-like to keep my promise :-)

Truth being the method governing my posts keeps bugging me since I started this blog, and, needing to process my ideas a bit I propose this posting sequence to readers:

I) a post as a preparation for the method post (ugh!). It’s the present post. I need it for clearing my mind up before the real thing.

II) A post on SEX, as a break. It might help not to lose ALL my readers because of my philosophical manias.

III) The real thing, i.e. the method post.

IV) A second post on SEX, to beg for additional pardon, thus ending this sequence in full regalia.

Ψ

What do you think? Will you pardon me? Will SEX help?

Rhetorical questions not expecting answers let us put some preparatory ideas together and that the trip begin!

Game of Ideas
with Hidden Links

1) We will touch upon questions from numerous points of view, as if for each topic there were like a dialogue of different opinions in the writer’s mind.

2) A thought in progress where who is writing is gradually clarifying his ideas. Such ideas might contradict one another because the writer is constantly reaching new (sometimes opposite) perspectives, which could baffle the reader but also help her/him understand the complexity of things.

3) A game of ideas, then, with anecdotes and facts only apparently deprived of connections. Such connections (mental links) will sometimes be explicit (said) or implicit (unsaid,) which should bring the reader to make her/his own connections, namely towards creative non-passive reading / thinking.

Ψ

Well, at least Magister was very successful in this game. But Magister was Magister.

Writing. Low res. Fair use

Writing vs Thinking

Writing, thinking, clarifying,
striving to sort out thoughts
in ways so “clear and ordinate”
and comprehensible.

This, many years ago, Magister counselled
for the good education of the mind.
Beloved Magister,
writer, philosopher, educator…

Ψ

Writing in fact is a stern discipline linked to the activity of thinking. Writing teaches us how to think in ways so clear and ordinate. It obliges us to. Reason and word (word = discourse, written or oral) are actually only one word in Greek: λόγος (logos.)

Awkward prose or clumsy oral / written reports often reflect muddled thoughts.

As for the MoR the problem is:

  • writing in a foreign language makes things harder
  • we have this fatal attraction for digressions and all their unrestrained associations, ie for chaos (something Magister definitely wouldn’t condone.)

We like both sides of the moon – the dark indistinct and the crystal-clear. We appreciate discipline, clear argumentation, polished sentences, and we also dig lush jungles of words. Examples of both attitudes in art are:

  • The perfect equilibrium of Western Classical Music: Mozart, Boccherini, Clementi, Haydn and young Beethoven. Or of Italian Opera: Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti etc. wrongly called romantic, since Italian Opera is classical in its nature (and even Puccini is.) Interesting how Italians never totally absorbed Romanticism, their classical heritage and almost inborn sense of taste (and grace) being too tenacious (read here.)
  • Insane Western Romantic music (later Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Scriabin etc.), with a tendency towards excess.

Thus said, will our so-called philosophy be muddled? Will readers think MoR is crazy? I really got no idea, I really got no idea at all.

ψ

Note. We just gave above an example of digression + bizarre association. The concepts of writing and thinking were linked with music, two totally different planes of the human experience, although the connection appears evident to me.

We like mental associations though we understand they may confuse readers. See an example in the post Relax & Creativity.

Weakness or Strength?

My friend The Jurist has told me yesterday:

“Why the heck are you worried about this roving of the mind? It’s just a blog, go ahead and be crazy.”

True, but the thing is I am a bit ambitious (only a bit, or I will fail). I am actually attempting a research. A research from a man-in-the-street-of-Rome point of view, though a research nonetheless. Thence this roving tendency could turn into a weakness (or into a strength?)

A Philosopher in Every Man

Magister used to say that every person is a natural-born philosopher, ie everyone, during the entire course of his/her life, keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts. This world vision or Weltanschaung (read here) enables us to com-prehend the surrounding world (from Latin comprehendere, cum + prehendere = put together, grasp, or insert into a grid).

Comprehension of the surrounding environment – it implies also better (inter)action within it, the two things going together.

ψ

Ok, if this is true of every man (that he is a natural born philosopher,) and, if I am a man, which I certainly am, I should somehow hope to be able to transmit my Roman feel in a sort of organized way. Is that true?

In principle yes, ALL though depending on the degree of discipline, education and availability of time I dispose of.

A Helping Hand

  1. What’s the difference – one might ask – between a philosopher on one hand and a man of the street on the other hand? No difference, except the level of training, skill, specialization that may differ. The philosopher is a pro. Which doesn’t mean the non-pros must shut up. I will not ;-)
  1. We should all learn to think (and write) more effectively because it can greatly help us to make our days and guide us in the fundamental choices of our life. The more efficiently we think, the happier we live, classical measure being vital here though: should we think too much and act too little, we can get neurotic, wimpish (the list is long.)

This blog will try to give a helping hand to those who think self-improvement is important and possible.

Mind. Fair use

Reason? Not All

Ideas are now taking shape a bit as regards my future method post. The next writing will though as promised be devoted to SEX, SEX, SEX NOTHING BUT SEX (though in the Roman way.)

In the meanwhile, some additional patience pls.

One can rule one’s chaotic mind with control, writing, striving for some order. But chaos is still there; non rational things, disorder etc. are still there. The guys at the Third Culture are doing some work on this, good idea to have a look at it.

What I do know is we can not live in disorder. We need force, organization, we need to discipline ourselves most of the time.

Though not all the time.

We also need excess, spring breaks, fun, Carnivals, Saturnalia – a Roman festival (see picture below) where rules were broken: masters became for ex. slaves and slaves masters (see two posts of ours on Saturnalia: 1 & 2).

The Romans were big gurus in the art of living. They ruled the world with humour on their faces and tongue and not with mystical seriousness. While facing the most dreadful tragedies with utmost courage, they preferred comedies.

Saturnalia. Authour unknown. Fair use

Reason and order are not all. They can lead to horrors if taken too seriously, a great lesson from the non ideological Romans, that some folks from colder climes do not seem to have quite understood. Taking things zu schwer can call disaster.

Let us then have fun then too! Carnivals are made for that! Look at Rio in Brasil, look at our Spanish cousins! – an economic success [2014 update: well, well, they, we, will rise up again: we are confident] although Madrid has movida every night.

Mask

God, how can I finish this never ending blabber?

Perhaps with Coelho‘s beautiful words, from his novel Zahir:

Let us have some respect
for our life on this planet …


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 122 other followers