Terminalia God of the Boundary February 23rd

Hans Holbein the Younger Design for a Stained Glass Window with Terminus. Pen and ink and brush, grey wash, watercolour, over preliminary chalk drawing, 31.5 × 25 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel.
‘Terminus is often pictured as a bust on a boundary stone,

Today is ‘Terminalia, the Roman day for setting land boundaries.

Terminus was an old ancient God who was the God of the boundary, the border, the edge, the liminal God. Ovid says that when King Tarquinus swept away the old Gods on the Capital Hill and Jupiter became the Great God, all the old temples were taken down except for that of Terminus. Jupiter’s Temple was built around it. It had a hole in the roof because Terminus had to be worshipped in the open air.

Terminus’s motto was “concedo nulli” which means “I yield to no one”. This was adopted by Erasmus as his personal motto in 1509.

The Terminalia was celebrated on the last day of the old Roman year. February was the last month of the year, but the rulers of Rome added an intercalary month called Mercedonius in an attempt to keep the Solar year in tune with the seasons. And when the intercalary month was added, the last five days of February were given to Mercedonius and the resulting leap year was either 377 or 378 days long.. So, in those years the 23rd of February was the Terminus of the year..

The intercalary months were added at the direction of the Pontiffs, supposedly every two and sometimes every three years. But the Pontiffs were often swayed by political advantage and by the time of Julius Caesar the seasons had got wildly out of sync with the calendar year. The Dictator, therefore, instituted ‘the Year of Confusion’ which was over 400 days long and brought in the Julian Calendar which realigned the calendar back in line with the seasons. It fixed the problem with a leap day every four years, based on the almost correct calculation of a solar year being 365.25 days. It was another 1500 years before that inaccuracy was corrected with the introduction of the Gregorian Year, by which time the year was another 11 days out of kilter.

The festival of Terminus was a pastoral outdoor festival marking the boundaries of towns and villages. It resembles the Beating of the Bounds tradition that we have in Britain, which is recorded from anglo-saxon times, and still continues in some parishes. I will talk about this on Ascension Day in May!

Here is what Ovid, in ‘Fasti’ says about Terminalis

Book II: February 23: The Terminalia
When night has passed, let the god be celebrated
With customary honour, who separates the fields with his
sign.
Terminus, whether a stone or a stump buried in the earth,
You have been a god since ancient times.
You are crowned from either side by two landowners,
Who bring two garlands and two cakes in offering.
An altar’s made: here the farmer’s wife herself
Brings coals from the warm hearth on a broken pot.
The old man cuts wood and piles the logs with skill,
And works at setting branches in the solid earth.
Then he nurses the first flames with dry bark,
While a boy stands by and holds the wide basket.
When he’s thrown grain three times into the fire
The little daughter offers the sliced honeycombs.
Others carry wine: part of each is offered to the flames:
The crowd, dressed in white, watch silently.
Terminus, at the boundary, is sprinkled with lamb’s blood,
And doesn’t grumble when a sucking pig is granted him.
Neighbours gather sincerely, and hold a feast,
And sing your praises, sacred Terminus:
You set bounds to peoples, cities, great kingdoms:
Without you every field would be disputed.
You curry no favour: you aren’t bribed with gold,
Guarding the land entrusted to you in good faith.
If you’d once marked the bounds of Thyrean lands,
Three hundred men would not have died,
Nor Othryadesí name be seen on the pile of weapons.
O how he made his fatherland bleed!
What happened when the new Capitol was built?
The whole throng of gods yielded to Jupiter and made
room:
But as the ancients tell, Terminus remained in the shrine
Where he was found, and shares the temple with great
Jupiter.
Even now there’s a small hole in the temple roof,
So he can see nothing above him but stars.
Since then, Terminus, you’ve not been free to wander:
Stay there, in the place where you’ve been put,
And yield not an inch to your neighbour’s prayers,
Lest you seem to set men above Jupiter:
And whether they beat you with rakes, or ploughshares,
Call out: This is your field, and that is his!
There’s a track that takes people to the Laurentine fields,
The kingdom once sought by Aeneas, the Trojan leader:
The sixth milestone from the City, there, bears witness
To the sacrifice of a sheep’s entrails to you, Terminus.
The lands of other races have fixed boundaries:
The extent of the City of Rome and the world is one

Translated by A. S. Kline copyright 2004

Stanley Green, the Protein Man of Oxford Street February 22nd

Stanley Green, the Protein Man, in Oxford Street, London, 1977 CC by 4.0 Deed

I was failing to find anything of significance to post (an Ordinary Day as Ovid calls them), when I came across a London Walks post about Stanley Green. Green was born on 22nd February in 1915. Most people who lived in London, knew of him, as he was, always to be seen patrolling Oxford Street and other Central London Streets with his placard. He was a one-man campaign to warn people that protein was a factor in promoting Lust, and Lust was a bad thing. He campaigned, religiously, from 1969 to 1993, when he died.

Whether you agree with his views or not it doesn’t diminish the impact an ordinary person had on an entire City. For more about him, including a podcast, have a look at the London Walks page here:

Another one man campaigner, Mr Stop Brexit, Steve Bray, was to be seen outside Parliament, most days in 2018 and 2019 and continues to campaign. He perfected various photobombing techniques so that he would appear in the background in interviews of prominent Brexit campaigners, or was heard over his megaphone. He is from Splott in Wales, and said he lost all his friends because they supported Brexit.

Steve Bray, also known as Stop Brexit Man. (Wikipedia CC0)
Steve Bray, also known as Stop Brexit Man. (Wikipedia CC0)

Here, you can see him upstaging one of the people who ruined this country, the dreadful Jacob Rees-Mogg

I must admit, I briefly considered dedicating my life to attending events Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke at, and shouting ‘Brexit Opportunities! That went well didn’t it?’ and collapsing in ironic laughter.

Feralia – the Roman Festival of the Dead February 21st

To illustrate rainwear in the Roman period and to illustrate winter showing Philu from Cirencester
Tombstone of Philus from Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum) showing his rain cloak

Feralia is the last day of Parentalia a 9-Day Festival for the spirits of the Dead described in some detail by the Roman Poet, Ovid, in his Almanac of the year called the ‘Fasti’. Here, he describes how to honour a parent:

And the grave must be honoured. Appease your father’s
Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built.
Their shades ask little, piety they prefer to costly
Offerings: no greedy deities haunt the Stygian depths.
A tile wreathed round with garlands offered is enough,
A scattering of meal, and a few grains of salt,
And bread soaked in wine, and loose violets:
Set them on a brick left in the middle of the path.
Not that I veto larger gifts, but these please the shades:
Add prayers and proper words to the fixed fires.

There is much more Ovid says about Feralia, and you can read it for free, in translation by A. S. Kline (which I used above, at www.poetryintranslation.com)

For more about Parentalia look at my earlier post about the February festivals of the Romans:

In London, archaeologists have found many cemeteries around the City of London. The Romans forbade burial inside the City limits, so the dead were buried alongside the main roads out of the City Gates: Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Holborn, along Fleet Street, outside Ludgate, and along the main road South from London Bridge in Southwark.

Map of Roman Cemetaries from Museum of London exhibition on the Roman Dead
Map of Roman Cemeteries from the Museum of London exhibition on the Roman Dead, showing the River Thames and River Fleet. Holborn is to the left, marked ‘Western Cemetery’.

Various rites have been observed. Both inhumation and cremation practised. I remember excavating a Roman mortaria with a hole in the bottom with the ashes of the dead in it. These large bowls were used as a mortar for grinding foodstuffs. The bottom was deliberated gritted, but they often wore through, and sometimes found reused to hold cremation ashes. I like to imagine, granny being buried in her favourite cooking vessel (or grandad).

Many bodies were covered in chalk, perhaps to help preserve the body. A surprising number of bodies are found with the head by the knees. The large number of cases helps speculation that this was a burial rite, of whom only a percentage were beheaded as a punishment. Some graves shown signs of a funeral pyre.

Author’s photograph of a skeleton displayed at the Roman Dead Exhibition, Museum of London, She was between 26 and 35 years old, who lived a hard life, and possibly had anaemia. Her head was severed either: before and causing death, or shortly after death, and placed between her legs as shown.

The rich and powerful were remembered with huge monuments, prominently sited along the main roads. Perhaps the most famous are the burial stones found at Tower Hill of the Procurator Classicianus. This is famous as he is mentioned in Roman accounts of the Boudiccan Revolt of AD 60-61. He suggested to Nero that the Province could only be saved if the revenge against the British was de-escalated. Nero wisely withdrew the vengeful Roman Governor Suetonius Paulinus and replaced him with someone ready to conciliate. We, clearly, have lessons to learn from the Romans.

Reconstruction drawing of two stones found while building Tower Hill Underground Station. They read, something like, ‘To the Spirits of the Dear Departed Fabius Alpini Classicianius, Procurator of the Province of Britannia.Julia, Indi (his wife) Daughter of Pacata of the Indiana voting tribe. Had This Set up.

A beautiful carved eagle which adorned a tombstone was found in the Cemetery in Tower Hamlets. But recently a very grand mausoleum was found in Southwark. To find out more, have a look at the BBC website here:

Finally, a week or two ago, an excavation ran by MOLA discovered a ‘funerary bed’ in an just outside Newgate in Holborn. It was on the banks of the River Fleet, a tributary to the River Thames, that gives its name to the street of shame: Fleet Street. The fluvial location meant that there were extraordinary levels of preservation, which included this bed. It was dismantled and buried in the grave and may have been either/or or both a bed used as a grave good, perhaps for use in the hereafter, or the bed upon which the deceased was carried to the funeral.

sketch of Roman 'Funerary' Bed found dismantled in Holborn, London
Reconstruction of a Roman ‘Funerary’ Bed found dismantled in Holborn, London (Sketch from a MOLA reconstruction drawing)

They found other grave goods, including an olive oil lamp decorated with an image of a gladiator; jet and amber beads and a glass phial.

Sketch of Roman burial goods from Holborn 2024
Sketch of Roman burial goods from Holborn, London

For more look at www.mola.org.uk/discoveries

London Stone as a Palladium February 20th

OLD ENGRAVING OF London stone
Old Engraving of London Stone, Cannon Street

On February 18th, I revised a post about Ravens, King Bran’s Head and other Palladiums that protected Britain (or London) from invasion. If you missed it, look here. A possible Palladiun I missed out is London Stone. To remind you, London Stone is an eponymous stone found in Cannon Street, in the heart of the City of London, It is first mentioned in the 12th Century, and no one knows why it was famous.

In 1862, an ‘ancient proverb’ surfaced:

“So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”

It was made anonymously in the journal Notes and Queries. In Welsh, it was “Tra maen Prydain, Tra lled Llyndain’ This verse, if genuine, would link the Stone to Brutus of Troy, the legendary founder of London. (To be precise: by genuine, I don’t mean it would prove the stone was linked to King Brutus, I mean, if genuine, it would prove that in the medieval period the stone was linked to Brutus.)

However, the writer has been identified as Richard Williams Morgan, who was a passionate Welsh Nationalist and prolific author, who was not very scrupulous with his analysis of sources. As no earlier source can be found, it is thought Morgan made it up.

He lived in London in the 1850s and was very struck by the London Stone. Archaeologists prefer the idea that London Stone it is, likely, a milestone from which the Romans measured distance. For Shakespeare, it was the stone on which rebel Jack Cade claimed lordship of London. For the romantic, it was a coronation stone; a stone of power; the sword in the stone stone; or an ancient megalith. The truth is, we have no idea. It has been called the London Stone since the 12th Century, but why was it so named and what was it ‘for’ or symbolic of, we still don’t know.

picture of london stone from the inside
Pic by Graham Hussey pic shows the LONDON STONE which is in Canon Street, London .pic taken inside the Tech Sports shop

Morgan came to the conclusion it was the stone plinth on which the original Trojan Palladium had stood. This was a wooden statue of Pallas Athene, that protected Troy from invasion and which was stolen by Odysseus and Diomedes shortly before the successful Trojan Horse plot. It was then taken to Italy.

Morgan’s idea was that King Brutus brought it from Rome when he sailed into Exile in Britain. Brutus, was a descendent of Aeneas. Aeneas was the only Trojan leader to escape from the destruction of Troy, who found his way to Rome, after leaving Dido in Carthage. He was the ancestor of Romulus who founded Rome, but also the ancestor of King Brutus. Brutus gathered all the Trojan slaves and exiles and sailed to found a new Troy in our green and pleasant lands. His new capital he called Troia Nova, which became Trinovantum, then Lud’s Dun, and finally London.

Morgan’s theory held that the Stone was used as the altar stone of the Temple of Diana (supposedly on the site of St Pauls Cathedral) and set up by Brutus.

Morgan was the first person to link London Stone with Brutus, or so people thought and still think (see Wikipedia, until 2018.

Picture of the plinth in which London stone is rehoused recently
London Stone as recently rehoused.(Photo K Flude)

John Clark, Emeritus Curator at the Museum of London, in 2018, found a reference to a narrative poem of the 14th Century, that links London Stone to Brutus and to the future prosperity of London. Just as Morgan did. So, it makes it possible, at least, that Morgan did not just make the link-up but draw on this medieval ‘tradition.’

Brutus set up London Stone
And these words he said anon:
‘If each king that comes after me
Makes this city wide and roomy  
As I have in my day,
Still hereafter men may say 
That Troy was never so fair a city  
As this city shall be.’

From Burnley & Wiggins 2003b, lines 457–64(John Clark’s modern English version)

For the full story, see John Clark’s article.

Recent archaeological discoveries that London was the site of Late Neolithic feasting on a possibly large scale (discussed here🙂 makes the chances that the stone is a ‘ritual’ stone from prehistory slightly more likely than previously thought. At least that is my opinion.  But, of course, there is still no evidence that London Stone is prehistoric, nor that Brutus actually existed.

Written in 2023 and revised in February 2024.

Metamorphosis, Crocus and Saffron February 19th

Snowdrop, Crocus, violet and Silver Birch circle in Haggerston Park. (Photo Kevin Flude, 2022)

Violets and crocuses are coming out. Apparently, in the UK 63% say crocuses and 37% use the correct Latin plural which is croci. And last year I used the incorrect crocii. Incidently, an earth shaking decision has been made at the Financial Times who have just updated their style guide to make the plural word data (datum is the singular form) take the singular form. So it is no longer ‘data are’ but ‘data is’. For example, it was ‘the data are showing us that most British speakers use crocuses as the plural’ but now ‘the data is showing us that 37% of British people prefer the correct Latin form of croci’. In 2018 they changed it to an option, but now it is mandatory to make data singular.

The crocus represents many things but because they often come out for St Valentine’s Day they are associated with Love ‘White croci usually represented truth, innocence and purity. The purple variety imply success, pride and dignity. The yellow type is joy.’ according to www.icysedgwick.com/, which gives a fairly comprehensive look at the Crocus.

Ovid tells the story of Crocus and Smilax in the Metamorphoses. This poem is one of the most famous in the world, written in about 6 AD it influenced Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, Bernard Shaw and was translated anew by Seamus Hughes.

The mechanicals in ‘The Midsummers Night Dream’ perform Ovid’s story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Titian painted ‘Diana and Actaeon’. Shaw wrote about Pygmalion, and we all know the story of Arachne, claiming to be better than Athene at weaving and then being turned into a spider.

The stories are all about metamorphosis, mostly changes happening because of love. But it is also an epic as it tells the classical story of the universe from creation to Julius Caesar. It is about love, beauty, change and is largely an arcadian/rural poem in contrast to Ovid’s ‘Art of Love’ which I have long used for illustrations of life in a Roman town.

He tells us ‘Crocus and his beloved Smilax were changed into tiny flowers.’ But he chooses to pass by this and other stories. So we have to look elsewhere for more details. There are various version. In the first Crocus is a handsome mortal youth, beloved of the God Hermes. They are playing with a discus which hits Crocus on the head and kills him. Hermes, distraught, turns the youth into a beautiful flower, and three drops of his blood form the stigma of the flower.  In other versions, love hits Crocus and the nymph Smilax, and they are rewarded by immortality as a flower. In one version, Smilax is turned into the Bindweed, which perhaps suggests that she is either punished for spurning him, or that she smothered him with love.

Photo Mohammad Amiri from unsplash. Notice the crimson stigma and styles, called threads

The autumn-flowering perennial plant Crocus sativus, is the one whose stigma gives us saffron. This was spread across Europe by the Romans, and was used for medicine, as a dye, a perfume. It was much sought after as a protection against the plague. It was extensively grown in the UK and Saffron Walden was a particularly important production area in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

It was grown in the Bishop of Ely’s beautiful Gardens in the area remembered by Saffron Hill (home to the fictional Scrooge). This area became the London Home of Christopher Hatton, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth 1. It is on the west bank of the River Fleet, in London EC1, in the area now know as Hatton Garden. The placename Croydon (on the outskirts of London), means crocus valley.

The Saffron crops in Britain failed eventually because of the cost of harvesting, and it became cheaper to import it. It is now grown in Spain, Iran and India amongst other places. But attempts over the last 5 years have been made to reintroduce it, This is happening in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Sussex – the hot and dry counties. It likes a South facing aspect, and needs to be protected from Squirrels and Sparrows who love it. (Source of information BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time.)

Saffron Photo by Vera De on Unsplash
Morning Glory or Field Bindweed photo Leslie Saunders unsplash

Bindweed is from the Convolvulus family, and I have grown one very successfully in a pot for many years. But they have long roots and according to the RHS ‘Bindweed‘ refers to two similar trumpet-flowered weeds, both of which twine around other plant stems, smothering them in the process. They are not easy to remove.’ Medically, Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal says all the bindweeds have strong purgative virtues.

Viola odorata CC BY-SA 2.5 Wikipedia

Violets have been used as cosmetics by the Celts, to moderate anger by the Athenians, for insomnia and loved because of their beauty and fragrant. They have been symbols of death for the young, and used as garlands, nosegays posies which Gerard says are ‘delightful’.

The Raven, the Palladium and the White Hill of London February 18th

Shows a photo of a missing Raven at the Tower of London
The Independent January 2021

The Raven – Corvus corax – is hatching. An early nesting bird, and the biggest of the Covids. They were pushed to the west and north by farmers and game keepers but are making a comeback and finding towns convenient for their scavenging habits. So they, again, cover most of the UK except the eastern areas.

Their habits, and their black plumage has made them harbingers of death. In poetry Ravens glut on blood like the warriors whose emblem they are. Here is a very famous quotation from Y Gododdin, a medieval poem but thought to derive from a poem by the great poet Aneirin from the 7th Century

He glutted black ravens on the rampart of the stronghold, though he was no Arthur.’

Aneirin-he-glutted-black-ravens

This is one of the much argued-about references to Arthur in the ‘Was he a real person’ argument.

The Raven was also the symbol of the God-King Bran. Bran was one of the legendary Kings of Britain and his sister, Branwen, was married to the King of Ireland. To cut a long story short, which I hope to tell in further detail on another occasion, Branwen was exiled by her Irish husband to the scullery. She trained a starling to smuggle a message to her brother.

Bran took an army over the Irish Sea to restore her to her rightful state, but the ships were becalmed and so Bran blew the boats across the sea – he was that mighty a man.

Bran was mortality wounded in the battle that followed, having previously given away his cauldron of immortality to the Irish King in recompense for the insults given to the Irish by his brother.

So, the dying Bran, told his companions to cut off his head and take it back to the White Hill in London. His head was as good a companion on the way back as it was on the way out, and the journey home took 90 years.

At last they got to London where he told his men to bury his head on the White Hill, and as long as it were there Britain would be safe from foreign invasion.

This was one of the Three Fortunate Concealments and is found in ‘the Triads of the Island of Britain.’

A raven landing with a brown background
By Sonny Mauricio from Unsplash

But many years later King Arthur saw no need for anybody or anything other than himself to protect the realm so he had the head dug up. Thus the Saxons won the Kingdom from the Britons. This was one of the Three Unfortunate Disclosures.

The White Hill is said to be Tower Hill with its summit at Trinity Gardens, although Primrose Hill is sometimes offered as an alternative. If we want a rational explanation for the story, there is evidence that Celtic cultures venerated the skull, and palladiums play a part in Celtic Tales.

A Palladium is something that keeps a city or country safe, and was named after a wooden statue of Pallas Athene, which protected Troy. Perceiving this Odysseus and Diomedes stole the Palladium from Troy shortly before the Trojan Horse episode. The palladium then went to Italy (I’m guessing with Diomedes who is said to have founded several cities in Italy), and ended up in Rome.

The Romans claimed to be descendents of Trojan exiles led by Aeneas so it was back with its rightful owners. It protected Rome until it was transferred to the new Roman capital at Constantinople, and then disappeared, presumably allowing the Ottoman Turks to conquer the City of Caesar.

So what was Arthur doing destroying the palladium that kept Britain safe? Vanity is the answer the story gives. But, perhaps, it’s a memory of Christian rites taking over from pagan rituals. God, Arthur might have thought, would prefer to protect his people himself rather than they rely on a pagan cult object.

The story of Bran’s head is inevitably linked to the Ravens in the Tower who, it is still said, keep us safe from invasion, and so we clip their wings and get in a tiz when one goes missing.

Sadly, and I am probably more sad about this than most others, Geoffrey Parnell,who is a friend of mine told me that while working at the Tower of London he searched the records assiduously for the story of the ravens and found no evidence of the tale before the 19th Century and concluded that it was most likely a Victorian invention.

The Welsh Triads give a total of three palladiums for Britain.

Three Fortunate Concealments of the Island of Britain;

The Head of Bran the Blessed, son of Llyr, which was concealed in the White Hill in London, with its face towards France. And as long as it was in the position in which it was put there, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island;
The second Fortunate Concealment: the Dragons in Dinas Emrys, which llud son of Beli concealed;
And the third: the Bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed, in the Chief Ports of this Island. And as long as they remained in that concealment, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island.

All good but then came the three unfortunate disclosures:

And there were the Three Unfortunate Disclosures when these were disclosed.
And Gwrtheyrn the Thin disclosed the bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed form the love of a woman: that was Ronnwen the pagan woman;
And it was he who disclosed the Dragons;
And Arthur disclosed the head of Bran the Blessed from the White Hill, because it did not seem right to him that this Island should be defended by the strength of anyone, but by his own.

Gwrtheyrn is Vortigen, the leader of the Britons after the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain, one or two leaders before Arthur.

The Dragons were making a terrible noise, causing miscarriages and other misfortunes, and King Ludd, whom legends says gave his name to London (Ludd’s Dun or Ludd’s walled City), had them buried in a cavern in Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia. The Dragons represented the Britons and the Saxons. Vortigern in trying to build a castle in Snowdonia at Dinas Emrys disturbed the Dragons and their disclosure caused the Saxon conquest.

Gwerthefyr is Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, who was keeping the Saxons out, but his father betrayed his own people for the lust of Rowena the daughter of Hengist, the Saxon.

After Vortimer’s death his bones were buried at the chief ports and they kept the country safe.  But they were moved to Billingsgate which allowed the Saxons to land safely on the Kent coast and consolidate their increasing hold over Britain and turning it into Englandw

Written in February 21 revised in February 23 and 24

The Festival of Fools Fornacalia and Fornication February 17th

Mosaic of a man taking a loaf of bread out of a bread oven
Mosaic of Roman Bread Oven France

Fornacalia was a corn festival that took place around February 7th to the 17th. It celebrated the Goddess Fornax who was the Goddess of the Oven – specifically the grain oven for drying grain. The word for oven is also Fornax, from which we derive furnace (probably). So the celebration was to ensure that Rome’s all important grain supply was kept intact. Rome had a population of one million people, free bread was given to the people, and the Roman government took on the responsibility of providing the grain in a system called the Annona. The Annona brought grain from Egypt. Dominic Perring in his recent book on Roman London (Londinium in the Roman Empire) speculates that the fluctuating fortunes of London was depended upon the routing of a northern annona through Londinium.

The Festivals in Rome were organised by the Curio Maximus who was a priest who supervised the curiae. In Rome the citizens were arranged, originally, into the 3 ancient tribes of Rome (founded in the 8th Century BC). The Tribes changed through time until there were 4 urban tribes (Collina, Esquilina, Palatina, Suburana ) and 31 Rural tribes (see this Wikipedia page). The tribes were then divided into 10 curiae each. So there were 30 curiae.

Each Roman was supposed to be assigned to one of the curiae, which had a religious, social and voting function. The members of the curiae were known as curiales. Each curiae had their own priest, or curio, and assistant ‘flamen curialis‘. And they organised the religious ceremonies of the curiae. They met in a meeting place called the curia.

So the Curio Maximus would declare when a festival was to be held, and get the curiae to organise the celebrations at the curia. I hope you are still with me! They would choose a date, for example for the Fornacalia, between about the 7th Feb and the 17th of February. And the citizens would go to their curia where there would be a ceremonial roasting of the grain, and baking into bread which would be in honour of the Goddess Fornax.

Pliny the Elder says it was King Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), who established Fornacalia, The Feast of Ovens.

Ovid, who wrote his almanac poem on the Roman festivals (Fasti), reveals many of these details and points out that many people didn’t know which curiae they were in, and so they would celebrate on the last day of the Festival, which therefore became known as the Feast of Fools.

Learn too why this day is called the Feast of Fools.
The reason for it is trivial but fitting.
The earth of old was farmed by ignorant men:
Fierce wars weakened their powerful bodies.
There was more glory in the sword than the plough:
And the neglected farm brought its owner little return.
Yet the ancients sowed corn, corn they reaped,
Offering the first fruits of the corn harvest to Ceres.
Taught by practice they parched it in the flames,
And incurred many losses through their own mistakes.
Sometimes they’d sweep up burnt ash and not corn,
Sometimes the flames took their huts themselves:
The oven was made a goddess, Fornax: the farmers
Pleased with her, prayed she’d regulate the grain’s heat.
Now the Curio Maximus, in a set form of words, declares
The shifting date of the Fornacalia, the Feast of Ovens:
And round the Forum hang many tablets,
On which every ward displays its particular sign.
Foolish people don’t know which is their ward,
So they hold the feast on the last possible day.


Book II: February 17 From: Fasti, Book 2. Translated by A.S Kline and available here

For more information: www.vindolanda.com/blog/celebrating-the-fornacalia wikipedia.org/wiki/Fornacalia

Fornication

I was told that the Roman word for someone who looked after a furnace was the fornicator. And as heat was a ’cause’ of lust, fornicators well, they fornicated.

However, others derive the word from the word Fornix, which is an arch, and which, it is said, was where the Brothels were, hence fornicator. Not sure I’m going with that idea that Brothels were always under arches. But here is the online etymology dictionary’s definition which might help you make up your mind:

from Late Latin fornicationem (nominative fornicatio), noun of action from past-participle stem of fornicari “to fornicate,” from Latin fornix (genitive fornicis) “brothel” (Juvenal, Horace), originally “arch, vaulted chamber, a vaulted opening, a covered way,” probably an extension, based on appearance, from a source akin to fornus “brick oven of arched or domed shape” (from PIE root *gwher- “to heat, warm”). Strictly, “voluntary sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman;” extended in the Bible to adultery. The sense extension in Latin is perhaps because Roman prostitutes commonly solicited from under the arches of certain buildings.

As you can see it’s a big mix-up of arches, brothels, brick ovens, all quite unconvincing, so I’m sticking with my over-heated stoker theory.

First published February 2023 and revised and republished 17th February 2024

Lupercalia, Parentalia and Februarius February 15th

Romulus and remus suckling from a wolf
Romulus and Remus suckling from a wolf

Lupercalia was a Roman feast of purification, dedicated to the she-wolf who saved Romulus and Remus, the traditional founders of the City of Rome. The centre of the festivities in Rome was a cave called the Lupercal, traditionally the site where the wolf suckled the twin brothers until they were rescued by Faustulus, a shepherd.

The Lupercalia was also called dies Februatus, which seems to be derived from proto-italic word februum for purification by making an offering and from the the purification instruments which were called februa. This is the basis for the Roman month named Februarius and our February.

The deity of the month was Neptune.

We are also in the middle of the Parentalia, which began on the 13th February and lasted nine days. It honoured parents and family ancestors. People would visit the family tombs found along the roadsides outside of the City. Here they would honour the ancestors by making offerings.

There would be a family banquet and offerings made to the Lares – the household deities.  Romans had a household altar for their worship. The Greek Goddess Hestia was the Goddess of the Hearth – the centre of any household, and Vestal was the Roman equivalent. Dickens borrowed the concept of the Household Gods in his Christmas book ‘the Chimes’.

According to Wikipedia the Codex-Calendar of 354, shows that 13 February had become the holiday Virgo Vestalis parentat, a public holiday which by then appears to have replaced the older parentalia .

Turning down Corners

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I have a friend with whom I argue about the sanctity of the book. She believes they need to be treated like the priceless spear carriers of culture that they are. While I, read them in the bath; turn down corners to mark my place; underline interesting phrases,  mark paragraphs and commit other forms of libricide. (is there such a word?)

In my defense I note that I used to work at the Freud Museum, where they studied the marginalia in Freud’s Library to gain insight into his thought processes and influences.

I can cite other examples of exquisite marginal drawings found in medieval manuscripts. (see this  excellent article in atlas obscura https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/medieval-marginalia-books-doodles)

But I recently came across the clincher to my ongoing argument in Charles Nicholls’ marvelous book on Shakespeare’s life as a lodger (‘The Lodger’) in Silver St. just down the road from the Guildhall in the City of London.

He quotes Shakespeare’s Cymberline where Iachino finds a book by Imogen’s bed and says:

‘She hath been reading late:
The Tale of Tereus. Here, the leaf’s turn’d down.

I rest my case.