Sunday, 25 April 2021

robigalia

One of a number of Roman celebrated during this time of year to ensure a good growing season and bountiful harvest, the feast of the for the god Robigus was held on this day in the agricultural outskirts of the city.
The god, which was designated as the divine representation of fungal blight or rust needed to be propitiated in order to ensure that the crops wouldn’t spoil in the fields. Understood as a separate, corrupt manifestation of the same infestation that could be harnessed for fermentation, the games held at this time with their attendant feasts (see also) were also marked by rather dark sacrifices that expressed their anxieties over crop failure—especially for one this late in the growing seasons that wouldn’t be easy to recover from. Whereas animal sacrifice generally was reserved for livestock that was part of the Roman diet and was shared in a communal meal, Robigalia rather gruesomely demanded a dog with a red coat—that matched the rust disease—as form of homeopathic magic.
Other observations included a celebration of—for whatever reason—of male sex-workers, professional female prostitution having had their own honours in the previous days, specifically on Vinalia urbana, the grape harvest on 23 April. Though without the cruel bits, thankfully—or the fun bits either, I suppose, the holiday is preserved in Western Christianity with the same day of prayer and fasting known as Rogation (from the Latin to beseech—to ask God for protection from calamity) and was done to cleanse the body and mind in anticipation of the Ascension and farmers often had priests bless their crops, often holding mass and processionals in the fields.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

the thracian

Acclaimed by the Praetorian Guard as emperor in the West on this day in 238—a year later labelled by history as the Year of the Six Emperors (see also)—and reluctantly confirmed by the Roman senate who did not find the prospect of putting an oafishly large barbarian bandit in charge, Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus “Thrax” would rule for three years, the first to attain such the pinnacle of government without coming from the elite classes of the Senฤtus or knights eques. Thrax’ tumultuous reign is considered to have set in motion the Crisis of the Third Century which eventually led to its downfall and dissolution in the West and ruled mainly from Mogontiacum, capital of Germania Superior along the Rhein and from the province of Israel, where there is archaeological evidence of starting on some infrastructure work with an unfinished roadway, never able to come to Rome herself. Paranoid and focused on consolidating power inciting accusations and cultivating a court of informers, Thrax doubled soldiers’ pay and waged continuous warfare—financing these policies through raising taxes and appropriation of church property and violent confiscations, earning almost universal distrust from those outside of the army and his inner circle. Marching on Rome in May of 238, Thrax was assassinated by his own troops at a camp outside the city walls at Aquileia, the gates closed to the advancing siege of the unpopular emperor by order of the senate, the soldiers disaffected and suffering from privation with taking the fortified city not as simple of a matter that they had been led to believe.

Monday, 15 March 2021

bewarned the ides of march

Though speculation and debate has continued for centuries, shifting from one camp to another with the present academic consensus rejecting the Shakespearian conceit that an unmitigated reaction to being assassinated would have been in Latin, scholarship has Julius Caesar (previously here and here) speaking Greek ฮบฮฑแฝถ ฯƒฯ, ฯ„ฮญฮบฮฝฮฟฮฝ; (And you child?) with a somewhat different landing than Et tu Brute? The latter is only attested to in the Middle Ages and in accordance with Roman custom, it would have been more honourable, in the case of the former with Caesar being a long-time romantic companion of Servilia—mother of Marcus Junius Brutus—to have him die silently as a soldier. Some academics say it was misheard and more likely Caesar said “Tu quoque, fili mi?”—which is closer to the Greek—or “Quรฆso te, non!” –Stop it, please! and even the playwright seems to acknowledge the debate or unknowable nature of it with the earlier idiom in the tragedy, It’s all Greek to me, said by Casca to Cassius on Cicero and the co-conspirators, “…but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part it was Greek to me.” It is perhaps doubtful that even a great orator could summon the wherewithal to deliver some famous last words after being stabbed twenty-three times by a mob of mutinous senators. Despite the line’s purchase on popular culture, even within the framework of the play itself, the last utterance before expiring is “Then fall, Caesar.”

Friday, 12 March 2021

selective-service or solider of christ

Venerated on this day on the occasion of his martyrdom under order of African Proconsul Cassius Dio in 295 (*274), Saint Maximilian of Tebessa (Numidia, Roman Algeria) was obliged to enlist in the Roman army as the son of a solider, Fabius Victor, on his twenty-first birthday. Refusing on religious grounds, Maximilian was beheaded immediately and posthumously made patron of conscientious objectors—giving rise over the millennia to several pacifist organisations, including the Order of Maximilian, a group of aligned clergy members opposed to the continuing war in Vietnam (see also) that fought against conscription and the draft.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

sancta francesca romana

Made patron of automobile drivers (see also) in 1925 by Pope Pius XI due to anecdote that her guardian angel lit her path before her while she travelled, Saint Frances of Rome (*1384) was a caregiver and mystic who excelled as an organiser of charitable services and founded a community of oblates, a mendicant order who lives with the general population and not cloistered, uniquely without religious vows and is venerated on this day, on the occasion of her death in 1440. Living at the time of the Western Schism and wars between rival popes and anti-popes, Francis felt it incumbent on her to use her station and wealth to provide succour and aid to the suffering amidst the collapse of a social safety net and sought to recruit the company of like-minded individuals.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

quo vadis?

First screened on this day in 1951, the cinematic adaptation (one of several) of Nobel Laureate author Henryk Sienkiewicz 1896 eponymous novel, the title, Latin for “Where are you going?” is from the non-canonical Acts of Peter—the apocryphal gospel first relating the account that the Apostle requested to be crucified upside-down (see previously)—was produced by Sam Zimbalist and starred Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov and Robert Taylor. Future stars Bud Spencer and Sophia Loren both appear as extras—though uncredited. The film went into general release in theatres on 8 November of the same year. A commercial success and critically acclaimed, the film helped rescue Metro-Goldwyn Mayer from insolvency, Quo Vadis portrays the final years of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the treatment of Christians that eventually disrupts the Empire’s social order.

Monday, 22 February 2021

cathedra petri

Gifted to Pope John VIII in 875 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald (Karl der Kahle), the simple wooden stool that tradition claims was the pontifical throne of Saint Peter as Bishop of Rome and encased in a magnificent reliquary by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the mid seventeenth century. The chair—which research suggests only dates to the seventh century—has metal loops, suggesting it was used as a sedia gestatoria (see also)—is venerated on this day with a feast celebrating the relic as a synecdoche (ฯƒฯ…ฮฝฮตฮบฮดฮฟฯ‡ฮฎ, simultaneous understanding) to reflect on the importance of episcopal office, locally and globally.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

ferฤlia

Marking the end of a nine-day festival honouring familial ancestors called Parentalia (dies parentales, ancestral days), as historian and poet Ovid records in his book on Fasti, Romans across the Empire were prohibited in worship of the gods and instead were to visit the tombs of their departed and lay wreaths and leave offers of violets, salt and wine-soaked bread. More elaborate votives were permitted but this was sufficient to appease the spirits and the practice was strictly enforced, lest Rome return to a time when Ferฤlia was neglected and restless ghosts haunted the streets. As with most Roman holidays, observance was mostly a domestic, private affair and what public rites were held are an obscured and confused accounting, the only surviving description involving a drunk woman holding seven black beans (see also) in her mouth and lighting incense over the grave of a mouse, and sewing shut the mouth of a fish—then proclaiming, “Hostiles linguas inimicaque uinximus ora,” I have gagged spiteful tongues and muzzled unfriendly mouths.

Monday, 25 January 2021

collezionare capolavori

Though in stasis and awaiting visitors, the storied and seldom seen Torlonia Marbles from a private collection are gathered together for public viewing for the first time, resulting from an agreement four decades in negotiation and agreed upon four years before the exhibition was scheduled to open. Not only was the loan to Rome’s Capitoline Museum controversial and fraught with compromise and conciliation, there’s some intrigue associated with its collectors as well—the family once the bankers and economic advisors to the Vatican and master and model for the attainment of prestige and status through art collecting.

Friday, 1 January 2021

xlv bc

Contemporaneously known as the Year of the Consulship of Caesar without Colleague—or 709 Ab urbe condita reckoning time passed since the founding of Rome—the Empire adopts the eponymous Julian calendar as its official civil calendar, a solar calendar synchronised with that of the Egyptians, with dates aligned to political terms for around a century at this point. Later in year 45 BCE, Caesar is named dictator for life and three years later, on 1 January (named after the two-faced god Janus who could look forwards and back simultaneously but not yet widely accepted as New Year’s Day) 42 BCE, is posthumously deified by the Roman senate.

Monday, 28 December 2020

thermopolium

Previously we’ve covered this exciting find in the ruins of Pompeii suggesting a well-preserved snack bar, and appreciated the update regarding the excavation and research into this Roman fast food franchisee. Such stalls (from the Greek ฮธฮตฯฮผฮฟฯ€ฯŽฮปฮนฮฟฮฝ for “a place where something hot is sold” but colloquially known also as popina, caupona or hospitium) were common all over the Empire but this discovery represents the first complete short-order diner uncovered and is yielding insights into the dining habits and diets of the patrons from two millennia ago. Preliminary analysis shows that pig, duck, fish and snail were among the menu items.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

bona dea

A tradition imported from Magna Grรฆcia during the middle Republic period, the good goddess was honoured with a bi-annual celebration, once in May at her temple on the Aventine Hill and then a more exclusive wintertime feast for the real housewives of Rome on this day, hosted by the spouse of the city’s magistrate—or Pontifex Maximus—for invited patrician matrons and their attendants. Both parties were the preserve of women alone and were the two occasions that women were allowed strong wine and blood sacrifices—no boys allowed, and therefore not much is divulged of the mysteries other than the iconography of a snake and cornucopia though the cult itself included men and women of all backgrounds and ranks in society. The most controversial Bona Dea occurred 62 BCE, hosted by Pompeia, third wife of Julius Cรฆsar, when the party was crashed and scandalised by the figure of Publius Clodius Pulcher dressed as a woman with the intent to seduce the hostess. Clodius was a populist politician, street agitator and ally of Cรฆsar and could raise gangs of thugs to riot against any opposition, which is ostensibly why Clodius was ultimately acquitted during his trial for desecrating the holiday proceedings, a serious crime, and for Cรฆsar’s subsequent divorce of Pompeia, insisting his spouse must be above rebuke, though she had no control over Clodius’ antics. Though of the eldest gens of Rome, the aristocratic pater familius of the Claudians, Clodius arranged his adoption by someone with obscure roots so he could run and be elected the tribune of the plebians. Pompeia went on to remarry another politician but one of less notoriety and Clodius was ultimately killed during a feud by the bodyguard of a political rival. Clodius’ window, Fulvia, also remarried—taking Mark Antony for a husband after Clodius’ death.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

liber pontificalis

Notably the first of the early popes not to be venerated as a saint in the Roman Rite (though fรชted in the Eastern Orthodox Church on 27 August and on 4. Pi Kogi Enavot in the Coptic Church, one of the calendar’s epagomenal, “monthless” days), Liberius (*310 - †366) was Bishop of Rome from May of 352 until this death, on this day. Liberius was the first pontiff to associate the winter solstice—celebrated at the time as Sol Invictus—with Christmas, not only as means of co-opting a popular pagan holiday but also in line with the reasoning that great figures did not live life in fractions of years.  This date was also championed by his predecessor Pope Julius I and penned down in subsequent years.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

ciceroni

Presumably sourced to the agnomen of Marcus Tullius Cicero (previously), which itself means chickpea or garbanzo bean, in reference to the orator and statesman’s loquacity of speech, a cicerone is a mostly antiquated way of identifying (possibly self-appointed) a guide or docent who conducts sightseers in touristed locales and explains items of historic and artistic interest for their benefit and edification.
During the age of Grand Tours, such retained escorts and chaperons were known colloquially as bear-leaders (referencing the cruel and medieval practise of bear-baiting and conducting the poor animal from village to village) and were responsible for keeping their charges out of trouble whilst ensuring that they got the most educational value out of their trips abroad and had due appreciation for the places they visited. In the United States, a cicerone is a by-word and certification programme for a sommelier that specialises in beer who can speak to hobby-brewing, glassware and food-pairings.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

ai claudius

Via Kottke—we are directed to the Roman Emperor Project of Daniel Voshart—Star Trek set designer—who has taken a dataset of over eight hundred sculptures and busts to seed a neural-network to create photo-realistic images of the fifty-four caesars of the Principate, the first period of the Roman Empire that began with the reign of Augustus and ended with the Crisis of the Third Century, which nearly led to its collapse buffeted by civil wars, invasions, economic depression, plague and political instability.
These early days of the Empire were no salad days to be sure but this period prior to the crisis is in contrast to the following one referred to as the Dominate or the despotic phase, beginning with the reign of Diocletian and the downfall of the West. The algorithm was guided and informed by written descriptions in the histories to take into account other physical characteristics in efforts not to flatter or romanticise but show diversity as well as the ravages of rule, age and indulgence. Here is our old friend Claudius, who was rather unexpectedly elevated to the role after his nephew Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy between senators and the Praetorian Guard. Much more to explore at the links above.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

chronogram

As much as these days can seem rather untethered, time still marches forward and Messy Nessy Chic brings us a thought-provoking survey of some of the myriad ways that civilisation has tried to regulate and legislate the cycles of the Sun and Moon.
One will encounter some of the earliest attempts to figure human reckoning, superstition and experience with cosmology and the progression of the seasons—and whether indeed time’s arrow isn’t a flat circle that brings everything around again, to efforts to install decimal time (or at least one that followed more regular rules) and the French Revolutionary Calendar plus other ways of resetting the clock. A chronogram, incidentally, is a headstone, plaque or commemoration that one sometimes encounters with those seemingly random capitalised or illuminated letters, like in the more straightforward epitaph for Elizabeth I of England: My Day Closed Is In Immortality—or, MDCIII corresponding to 1603, the year of her death or in lengthier passages called chronosticha on buildings that relate a parable and record when construction was completed.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

satire x

First airing on this day in 1968, the penultimate episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series “Bread and Circuses” takes its title from an eponymous satirical poem written by Juvenal that addresses how constituencies are easy led astray from weightier issues if their base needs are satisfied takes place on an alternate Earth (Magna Roma, 892-IV) where the Roman Empire never fell and in a twentieth century setting.

The landing party visit the planet after finding wreckage of a survey vessel without a trace of its crew and compliment, eventually realising that the former captain, now elevated to Princeps Civitatis (emperor and first citizen), went native and sacrificed his company to the gladiatorial games from a conviction that the civilization be shielded from cultural contamination (the Prime Directive), having not yet arrived at the technological threshold of interstellar travel, and tries to convince Kirk and Spock and the rest of the away team to do the same and abandon their Star Fleet careers. Resistant, Kirk and Spock are thrown into the melee and disappointing the audience by dispatching their opponent swiftly and non-bloodily with a Vulcan nerve pinch and then scheduled for execution—to be televised. Deus ex machina, Scotty causes a power disruption and beams them aboard just in time, the blackout preserving the Romans from potential future shock.

Monday, 24 February 2020

circus maximus

Two podcasters of note, John Hodgman and Elliot Kalan, are hosting an absolutely delightful mini-series revisiting the 1976 prestige television adaptation of the Robert Graves work of historical fiction I, Claudius.
Though harshly panned by critics on its first airing, it enjoyed cult-status and a dedicated viewership both in the UK and in America where it was syndicated by the Public Broadcasting System in 1978 and features an extraordinary cast of actors including Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Siรขn Phillips (the Bene Gesserit reverend mother of Dune and voice actor for all the Disney princesses for their UK releases) as Livia, John Hurt, Sir Patrick Stewart, John Rhys-Davies, Brian Blessed, Patsy Byrne (Nursie in Blackadder) and Patricia Quinn, the Lady Stephens (Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)—just to name a few. Watch along as they recap each chapter with special guests, beginning with the pilot A Touch of Murder/Family Affairs—an extended episode counted as one.

Friday, 10 January 2020

ฤlea iacta est

According to Roman historian Suetonius, General Gaius Julius Caesar led one legion to ford the Rubicon (perhaps) on this day in 49 BC and cross into the home province of Italia (previously) in contravention to the conventions of imperium and would launch the civil war (Bello Civili) that transformed the Roman Republic into an empire governed by an absolute monarchy.
In modern parlance a metaphor for committing an irrevocable act and breaching the point of no return, it is said that Caesar, having contemplated his advance and its repercussions before going forward, proclaimed the above—that the die had been cast as he led his army. As the boundaries of Caesar’s bailiwick, his military command were subsequently redrawn when his predecessor Octavian merged the province of Cisalpine Gaul (see also) with Italia and the river presently bearing the name is in Ravenna, historians are not sure exactly what watercourse was the original Rubicon but given how intensified agriculture and associated landscaping during the high Middle Ages harnessed and turned many rivers, it could well be one and the same.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

apotropaic magic

An excavation in Pompeii, a Roman city along with Herculaneum frozen in time on 24 August in year 79 AD when with the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius it became buried under tonnes of pumice and hot ashfall, has uncovered a trove of charms and amulets believed to have been the repertoire, arsenal of a sorceress and also serves as a repository of very intimate personal items that fleeing residents might leave in the custody of the sorceress for safekeeping and retrieval upon return.
Each of the items collected in a wooden box that had all but decayed away represents not only its peculiar wish-fulfilment but by extension narratives too intriguing not to limn complete, not to mention what each talisman and totem might signify or hold power over. Included among the evil-eyes (the virtue of keeping away like with like), phalluses, skulls and scarabs were figures of Harpocrates—a Greek syncretisation of the Egyptian Child Horus who represented the new dawn and hope to conquer the day, who matured to adult form by twilight and represented the resilience to come back again as well as discretion and confidence-keeping.