Floralia. Old Goats and an extraordinary Elephant April 28th

Flora on a gold aureus of 43–39 BC Wikipedia photot by АНО Международный нумизматический клуб

On the 28th of April until the Kalends (15th) of May the Romans, according to Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ Book IV, celebrated the Florialia dedicated to Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowering, blossoming, budding, planting and fertility. She was one of the 15 Roman Deities offered a state-financed Priest. Her home in Rome, was on the lower slopes of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus is the large long arena in the middle of Rome. Model Musee Arte et Histoire, Brussels, photo Kevin Flude

Celebrations began with theatrical performances, at the end of which the audience were pelted with beans and lupins. Then there were competitive games, and spectacles. The latter, in the reign of Galba, including a tight-rope walking – wait for it – elephant!

Incidently, Galba only survived for 7 months as Emperor – a little longer than Liz Truss’s 44 days but then she was not murdered by a rampaging mob at the end of her reign. It was the year known to history as the year of the 4 Emperors. (great description by Tacitus here:)

Juvenal records that prostitutes were included in the celebration of Flora by dancing naked, and fighting in mock gladiatorial battles. (there is a raging debate about the existence of female gladiators: a burial in Southwark has been said to be one such and Natalie Haynes has her say on the subject here🙂

Hares and goats were released as part of the ceremonies, presumably because they are very fertile and have a ‘salacious’ reputation! (Satyrs were, famously, obsessed with sex and were half man half goat. A man can still be referred to, normally behind his back, as an ‘old goat’).

Written in 2023 revised April 2024

Mars, Vesta & the Sabine Women March 6th

a sketch of several books of Swan vesta matches
Sketch of Swan Vesta Matches

For March 6th, Ovid in his Almanac Poem called ‘Fasti’ (Book III: March 6) tells the story of Vesta, who in Greek, is Hestria, and is depicted on the Parthenon Marbles, standing near Zeus and Athene. She was the Goddess of the Hearth, of the fire that keeps families warm, and fed. She had 6 Virgins as her Priestesses, and they had to remain 30 years, from before puberty, as a virgin or they suffered burial alive. Any partners in sin were beaten to death. At the end of their term they could marry, retire, or renew their vows.

At the beginning of Book 3 Ovid tells us the story of Rome’s foundation, and how Mars took Silvia the Vestal while she slept. She later gave birth to Romulus and Remus

The Vestal Virgins tended Vesta’s hearth, and it was not supposed to go out, as it had, in theory come from Troy with Aeneas. Also, housed in Vesta’s Temple was the Palladium, which was a wooden status of Pallas Athene, that kept Troy, then Rome free from invasion. Odysseus and Diomedes had stolen it just before the Trojan Horse episode ending the 10-year-long Trojan War.

(I just asked that question of Google, and he/she/it said it lasted 1hr 55 minutes. On closer examination, Google highlighted a reference to a film about Troy! I have a strong feeling that Google search is getting worse as the AI engines take over the control of the search from database search engines. Once upon a time, Google used to fetch what you asked for. Now it acts like a modern quiz show – giving the answer that will please most people! Finding anything specific is much harder than it was. Or so I think.)

The Temple of Vesta was in Rome’s Forum, and it was a circular temple or a Tholos. Next to the Sacred Shrine at Bath was a circular Tholos, which may have been dedicated also to Vesta.

photo of the Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta in Rome
Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta in Rome

Here is what Ovid says in his March 6th entry:

When the sixth sun climbs Olympus’ slopes from ocean,
And takes his way through the sky behind winged horses,
All you who worship at the shrine of chaste Vesta,
Give thanks to her, and offer incense on the Trojan hearth.
To the countless titles Caesar chose to earn,
The honour of the High Priesthood was added.
Caesar’s eternal godhead protects the eternal fire,
You may see the pledges of empire conjoined.
Gods of ancient Troy, worthiest prize for that Aeneas
Who carried you, your burden saving him from the enemy,
A priest of Aeneas’ line touches your divine kindred:
Vesta in turn guard the life of your kin!
You fires, burn on, nursed by his sacred hand:
Live undying, our leader, and your flames, I pray.

Translated by A. S. Kline online here.

Caesar is Julius Caesar. Aeneas was the last Trojan and survived the end of Troy. He came to Italy, found a Kingdom (Latium) in which his descendent, Romulus, would found Rome. This is told in Virgil’s Aeneid. So the Romans considered themselves to be Trojans.

The new City chose Mars, the Roman God of War, father of their founder – as its patron God because it suited the Romans and their destiny to rule the world. So March was named after Mars, and, unlike other Calendars the Kalends of Mars (1st March) was the beginning of the Roman year. (At least in Rome’s early days as we discussed on March 1st). Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ tells makes the point, through Romulus’s voice and explains something about the various Calendars run by different tribes/Cities:

‘And the founder of the eternal City said:
‘Arbiter of War, from whose blood I am thought to spring,
(And to confirm that belief I shall give many proofs),
I name the first month of the Roman year after you:
The first month shall be called by my father’s name.’
The promise was kept: he called the month after his father.
This piety is said to have pleased the god.
And earlier, Mars was worshipped above all the gods:
A warlike people gave him their enthusiasm.
Athens worshipped Pallas: Minoan Crete, Diana:
Hypsipyleís island of Lemnos worshipped Vulcan:
Juno was worshipped by Sparta and Pelopsí Mycenae,
Pine-crowned Faunus by Maenalian Arcadia:
Mars, who directs the sword, was revered by Latium:
Arms gave a fierce people possessions and glory.
If you have time examine various calendars.
And you’ll find a month there named after Mars.
It was third in the Alban, fifth in the Faliscan calendar,
Sixth among your people, Hernican lands.
The position’s the same in the Arician and Alban,
And Tusculum’s whose walls Telegonus made.
It’s fifth among the Laurentes, tenth for the tough
Aequians,
First after the third the folk of Cures place it,
And the Pelignian soldiers agree with their Sabine
Ancestors: both make him the god of the fourth month.
In order to take precedence over all these, at least,
Romulus gave the first month to the father of his race.
Nor did the ancients have as many Kalends as us:
Their year was shorter than ours by two months.

This section mentions the Sabines, these were a neighbouring tribe. The Romans were short of women, so they kidnapped the Sabine Women, in what became known as the Rape of the Sabine Women. People argue as to whether they were raped or kidnapped, and there is some concentration on how Romulus worked hard to convince them that it was done out of necessity for Rome’s future. The Women, or some of them, certainly tried to escape. Many became pregnant, and the Sabine Army approached and entered Rome to free their women and enact revenge on their neighbours. Ovid tells the story of Hersilia, Romulus wife talking to the Women, then the poem returns to Mars’ viewpoint, and ends with a beautiful description of spring in March.

The battle prepares, but choose which side you will pray
for:
Your husbands on this side, your fathers are on that.
The question is whether you choose to be widows or
fatherless:
I will give you dutiful and bold advice.
She gave counsel: they obeyed and loosened their hair,
And clothed their bodies in gloomy funeral dress.
The ranks already stood to arms, preparing to die,
The trumpets were about to sound the battle signal,
When the ravished women stood between husband and
father,
Holding their infants, dear pledges of love, to their breasts.
When, with streaming hair, they reached the centre of the
field,
They knelt on the ground, their grandchildren, as if they
understood,
With sweet cries, stretching out their little arms to their
grandfathers:
Those who could, called to their grandfather, seen for the
first time,
And those who could barely speak yet, were encouraged
to try.
The arms and passions of the warriors fall: dropping their
swords
Fathers and sons-in-law grasp each other’s hands,
They embrace the women, praising them, and the
grandfather
Bears his grandchild on his shield: a sweeter use for it.

Hence the Sabine mothers acquired the duty, no light one,
To celebrate the first day, my Kalends.
Either because they ended that war, by their tears,
In boldly facing the naked blades,
Or because Ilia happily became a mother through me,
Mothers justly observe the rites on my day.
Then winter, coated in frost, at last withdraws,
And the snows vanish, melted by warm suns:
Leaves, once lost to the cold, appear on the trees,
And the moist bud swells in the tender shoot:
And fertile grasses, long concealed, find out
Hidden paths to lift themselves to the air.
Now the field’s fruitful, now ís the time for cattle breeding,
Now the bird on the bough prepares a nest and home:
It’s right that Roman mothers observe that fruitful season,
Since in childbirth they both struggle and pray.
Add that, where the Roman king kept watch,
On the hill that now has the name of Esquiline,
A temple was founded, as I recall, on this day,
By the Roman women in honour of Juno.
But why do I linger, and burden your thoughts with
reasons?
The answer you seek is plainly before your eyes.
My mother, Juno, loves brides: crowds of mothers
worship me:
Such a virtuous reason above all befits her and me.í
Bring the goddess flowers: the goddess loves flowering
plants:
Garland your heads with fresh flowers,

Ovid Fasti translated by A. S. Kline online here.

My children’s favourite film in childhood was Seven Brides for ‘Seven Brothers’, which was loosely based on the Rape of the Sabine Women.

sepia Sketch of scene from 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'
Sketch of scene from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’


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.

But I did find out more about Saffron from listening to BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question time and James Wong.

The placename Croydon (on the outskirts of London), means crocus valley. a place where Saffron was grown. 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.

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 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

Daffodils & the Fabulous Boy February 11th

Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé; Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz — in Wort und Bild für Schule und Haus

In 2023, I saw my first Daffodil in Hackney in a Council Estate on 12 Jan 2023) and see them popping up around and about. Mine were not yet more than green leaves, but they are now coming out. My first daffodil in 2024 was outside my first floor window a week ago, but now Daffodils are appearing in the south-facing front of my house, but not yet in the North facing, canal side garden.

12 Jan 2023. Hackney, London, the first Daffodil.

Their formal name is Narcissus. The Roman natural historian, Pliny tells us that the plant was ‘named Narcissus from narkē not from the fabulous boy.’ Narkē is the Greek word from which we derive the word narcotic, and this is a reference to the narcotic properties of the narcissus. An extract of the bulb when applied to open wounds produced numbness of the whole nervous system and paralysis of the heart. The flowers are also slightly poisonous, which led to their use as an emetic – to bring on vomiting when it was felt necessary that the stomach be emptied. It was used to treat hysteria and epilepsy; treating children with bronchial catarrh; and epidemic dysentery; among Arabian doctors it was used to cure baldness and as an aphrodisiac. (A Modern Herbal by Mrs M Grieve.) Please remember these are not recommendations for use medicinally, but are historic uses and may be dangerous.)

The fabulous boy, mentioned by Pliny, was Narcissus. Narcissus, according to the Roman Poet Ovid, met the nymph Echo, and she fell in love with the beautiful boy. He spurned her, and she faded until all that remained of her was her voice – the echo we hear.

Nemesis, the Goddess of Revenge (the one with the fiery sword) decided on revenge upon the handsome boy. She lured the thirsty youth to a fountain, where he saw an image of a breathtakingly handsome boy and fell in love. It was an image of himself, and he faded from life realising he would always be unfulfilled in his love, He eventually metamorphised into a white and yellow flower which was named after him.

Daffodils are mentioned in a list of Spring Flowers by Shakespeare in the pastoral play The Winter’s Tale:

(Please note that as you read Shakespeare’s words below that Prosperpina is the wife of Pluto, the God of the Underworld, Dis, is another name for him, Cytherea is the Goddess of Beauty and Love. Phoebus is the Sun God. And the Spring Flowers are Daffodils, violets, primroses, oxlips(primula), Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), Lilies, flower-De-luce (Iris)

Perdita to Camillo

Out, alas!
You’d be so lean that blasts of January
Would blow you through and through.
(To Florizel)
I would I had some flowers o’th’ spring, that might
Become your time of day –
(to the Shepherdesses)
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing. O Proserpina,
For the flowers now that, frighted, thou let’st fall
From Dis’s waggon! Daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses,
That die unmarried ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength – a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one: O, these I lack
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend
To strew him o’er and o’er!

WT IV.iv.110.2

The reference to Daffodils suggests that for Shakespeare they are around to withstand the March Winds before the Swallows arrive in April. With selective breeding, early flowering species have been developed and now February and even January are within the scope of the glorious bulb. (here is a post on winter flowering varieties)

Below is the text of Ovid’s Echo and NarcissusTranslated by Brookes Moore

NARCISSUS AND ECHO, THE HOUSE OF CADMUS

Once a noisy Nymph, (who never held her tongue when others spoke, who never spoke till others had begun) mocking Echo, spied him as he drove, in his delusive nets, some timid stags.—For Echo was a Nymph, in olden time,—and, more than vapid sound,—possessed a form: and she was then deprived the use of speech, except to babble and repeat the words, once spoken, over and over. Juno confused her silly tongue, because she often held that glorious goddess with her endless tales, till many a hapless Nymph, from Jove’s embrace, had made escape adown a mountain. But for this, the goddess might have caught them. Thus the glorious Juno, when she knew her guile; “Your tongue, so freely wagged at my expense, shall be of little use; your endless voice, much shorter than your tongue.” At once the Nymph was stricken as the goddess had decreed;—and, ever since, she only mocks the sounds of others’ voices, or, perchance, returns their final words.

One day, when she observed Narcissus wandering in the pathless woods, she loved him and she followed him, with soft and stealthy tread.—The more she followed him the hotter did she burn, as when the flame flares upward from the sulphur on the torch. Oh, how she longed to make her passion known! To plead in soft entreaty! to implore his love! But now, till others have begun, a mute of Nature she must be. She cannot choose but wait the moment when his voice may give to her an answer. Presently the youth, by chance divided from his trusted friends, cries loudly, “Who is here?” and Echo, “Here!” Replies. Amazed, he casts his eyes around, and calls with louder voice, “Come here!” “Come here!” She calls the youth who calls.—He turns to see who calls him and, beholding naught exclaims, “Avoid me not!” “Avoid me not!” returns. He tries again, again, and is deceived by this alternate voice, and calls aloud; “Oh let us come together!” Echo cries, “Oh let us come together!” Never sound seemed sweeter to the Nymph, and from the woods she hastens in accordance with her words, and strives to wind her arms around his neck. He flies from her and as he leaves her says, “Take off your hands! you shall not fold your arms around me. Better death than such a one should ever caress me!” Naught she answers save, “Caress me!” Thus rejected she lies hid in the deep woods, hiding her blushing face with the green leaves; and ever after lives concealed in lonely caverns in the hills. But her great love increases with neglect; her miserable body wastes away, wakeful with sorrows; leanness shrivels up her skin, and all her lovely features melt, as if dissolved upon the wafting winds—nothing remains except her bones and voice—her voice continues, in the wilderness; her bones have turned to stone. She lies concealed in the wild woods, nor is she ever seen on lonely mountain range; for, though we hear her calling in the hills, ’tis but a voice, a voice that lives, that lives among the hills.

Thus he deceived the Nymph and many more, sprung from the mountains or the sparkling waves; and thus he slighted many an amorous youth.—and therefore, some one whom he once despised, lifting his hands to Heaven, implored the Gods, “If he should love deny him what he loves!” and as the prayer was uttered it was heard by Nemesis, who granted her assent.

There was a fountain silver-clear and bright, which neither shepherds nor the wild she-goats, that range the hills, nor any cattle’s mouth had touched—its waters were unsullied—birds disturbed it not; nor animals, nor boughs that fall so often from the trees. Around sweet grasses nourished by the stream grew; trees that shaded from the sun let balmy airs temper its waters. Here Narcissus, tired of hunting and the heated noon, lay down, attracted by the peaceful solitudes and by the glassy spring. There as he stooped to quench his thirst another thirst increased. While he is drinking he beholds himself reflected in the mirrored pool—and loves; loves an imagined body which contains no substance, for he deems the mirrored shade a thing of life to love. He cannot move, for so he marvels at himself, and lies with countenance unchanged, as if indeed a statue carved of Parian marble. Long, supine upon the bank, his gaze is fixed on his own eyes, twin stars; his fingers shaped as Bacchus might desire, his flowing hair as glorious as Apollo’s, and his cheeks youthful and smooth; his ivory neck, his mouth dreaming in sweetness, his complexion fair and blushing as the rose in snow-drift white. All that is lovely in himself he loves, and in his witless way he wants himself:—he who approves is equally approved; he seeks, is sought, he burns and he is burnt. And how he kisses the deceitful fount; and how he thrusts his arms to catch the neck that’s pictured in the middle of the stream! Yet never may he wreathe his arms around that image of himself. He knows not what he there beholds, but what he sees inflames his longing, and the error that deceives allures his eyes. But why, O foolish boy, so vainly catching at this flitting form? The cheat that you are seeking has no place. Avert your gaze and you will lose your love, for this that holds your eyes is nothing save the image of yourself reflected back to you. It comes and waits with you; it has no life; it will depart if you will only go.

Nor food nor rest can draw him thence—outstretched upon the overshadowed green, his eyes fixed on the mirrored image never may know their longings satisfied, and by their sight he is himself undone. Raising himself a moment, he extends his arms around, and, beckoning to the murmuring forest; “Oh, ye aisled wood was ever man in love more fatally than I? Your silent paths have sheltered many a one whose love was told, and ye have heard their voices. Ages vast have rolled away since your forgotten birth, but who is he through all those weary years that ever pined away as I? Alas, this fatal image wins my love, as I behold it. But I cannot press my arms around the form I see, the form that gives me joy. What strange mistake has intervened betwixt us and our love? It grieves me more that neither lands nor seas nor mountains, no, nor walls with closed gates deny our loves, but only a little water keeps us far asunder. Surely he desires my love and my embraces, for as oft I strive to kiss him, bending to the limpid stream my lips, so often does he hold his face fondly to me, and vainly struggles up. It seems that I could touch him. ‘Tis a strange delusion that is keeping us apart. Whoever thou art, Come up! Deceive me not! Oh, whither when I fain pursue art thou? Ah, surely I am young and fair, the Nymphs have loved me; and when I behold thy smiles I cannot tell thee what sweet hopes arise. When I extend my loving arms to thee thine also are extended me—thy smiles return my own. When I was weeping, I have seen thy tears, and every sign I make thou cost return; and often thy sweet lips have seemed to move, that, peradventure words, which I have never heard, thou hast returned. No more my shade deceives me, I perceive ‘Tis I in thee—I love myself—the flame arises in my breast and burns my heart—what shall I do? Shall I at once implore? Or should I linger till my love is sought? What is it I implore? The thing that I desire is mine—abundance makes me poor. Oh, I am tortured by a strange desire unknown to me before, for I would fain put off this mortal form; which only means I wish the object of my love away. Grief saps my strength, the sands of life are run, and in my early youth am I cut off; but death is not my bane—it ends my woe.—I would not death for this that is my love, as two united in a single soul would die as one.”

He spoke; and crazed with love, returned to view the same face in the pool; and as he grieved his tears disturbed the stream, and ripples on the surface, glassy clear, defaced his mirrored form. And thus the youth, when he beheld that lovely shadow go; “Ah whither cost thou fly? Oh, I entreat thee leave me not. Alas, thou cruel boy thus to forsake thy lover. Stay with me that I may see thy lovely form, for though I may not touch thee I shall feed my eyes and soothe my wretched pains.” And while he spoke he rent his garment from the upper edge, and beating on his naked breast, all white as marble, every stroke produced a tint as lovely as the apple streaked with red, or as the glowing grape when purple bloom touches the ripening clusters. When as glass again the rippling waters smoothed, and when such beauty in the stream the youth observed, no more could he endure. As in the flame the yellow wax, or as the hoar-frost melts in early morning ‘neath the genial sun; so did he pine away, by love consumed, and slowly wasted by a hidden flame. No vermeil bloom now mingled in the white of his complexion fair; no strength has he, no vigor, nor the comeliness that wrought for love so long: alas, that handsome form by Echo fondly loved may please no more.

But when she saw him in his hapless plight, though angry at his scorn, she only grieved. As often as the love-lore boy complained, “Alas!” “Alas!” her echoing voice returned; and as he struck his hands against his arms, she ever answered with her echoing sounds. And as he gazed upon the mirrored pool he said at last, “Ah, youth beloved in vain!” “In vain, in vain!” the spot returned his words; and when he breathed a sad “farewell!” “Farewell!” sighed Echo too. He laid his wearied head, and rested on the verdant grass; and those bright eyes, which had so loved to gaze, entranced, on their own master’s beauty, sad Night closed. And now although among the nether shades his sad sprite roams, he ever loves to gaze on his reflection in the Stygian wave. His Naiad sisters mourned, and having clipped their shining tresses laid them on his corpse: and all the Dryads mourned: and Echo made lament anew. And these would have upraised his funeral pyre, and waved the flaming torch, and made his bier; but as they turned their eyes where he had been, alas he was not there! And in his body’s place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold.

First published in February 2023, revise and republished in February 2024

Lambing January 18th

Hermes the ram-bearer near Roman 1st BCE copy of 5th Greek statue
Hermes the ram-bearer, Roman 1st BCE copy of 5th Greek statue

My apology of the day is to Diane Stein, the author of the ‘The Goddess Book of Days’ because of the implied error in the book in the sentence (below). Republished yesterday:

Before we read Ovid’s ‘Fasti’ first note that he locates the Day on the 16th January rather than the ‘Book of Goddesses’ which puts her on the 17th

Not only did I get the name of the book wrong (which is ‘The Goddess Book of Days’, but I had another look at what Ovid actually said and I saw this:

Book I: January 16
Radiant one, the next day places you in your snow-white
shrine,’

So, ‘the next day’, so Ovid agrees that January 17th is the appropriate day to honour Concordia.

Lambing

If a lamb be born sick and weak, the Shepherd shall fold it in his cloak, blow into the mouth of it and then, drawing the Dam’s dog, shall squirt milk into the mouth of it. If an Ewe grow unnatural, and will not take her Lamb after she has yeaned it, you shall take a little of the Clean of the Ewe (which is the bed in which the Lamb lay) and force the Ewe to eat it, or at least chew it in her mouth and she will fall to love a Lamb naturally. But if an Ewe have cast her Lamb, and you would have her take to another Ewe’s Lamb, you shall take the Lamb which is dead, and with it rub and daub the live Lamb all over, and so put it to the Ewe, and she will take to it as naturally as if it were her own.

Gervase Markham, ‘Cheap and Good Husbandry’ 1613 (quoted in the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly.

tionalsheep.org.uk

Lambing can begin about now in the south-west, but it gets progressively later as you travel north. Itinerant shearers, now often from New Zealand, travel the country shearing sheep. They will begin in the south and then progress north.

March and April are peak lambing time in the UK, although the season runs from February to April, but some farmers even lamb before Christmas (and even November). If ewes are tupped in October, they will lamb in March. www.nationalsheep.org.uk

The country expression is ‘in with a bang and out with the fool’ which suggests an ideal time to tup, is November 5th, on Fireworks Night. So that the lambs will be born, 5 months later, around the 1st of April.

A litter is normally one or two but occasionally more. Ewe’s get fed depending on how many lambs they will be having.

In the ‘Return of the Native’, Thomas Hardy has a character called Diggory Venn, he is a reddle man. He travels the country in a little pony and trap selling reddle, a red ochre dye with which shepherds mark their flock. Part of the plot is about the reluctance of women to marry a man whose red, reddle-stained face, makes him look like a devil.

The reddle is used to mark sheep. The ram is given a collar or girdle with a marker full of reddle in it. When he mounts the ewe, she will have a red mark on her back. Once she has been tupped twice, she will have two red marks on her back, and she will be taken out of the field, to encourage the ram to impregnate the others. Reddle could also be used to mark lambs chosen for slaughter, or dipping, or weighing etc.

(Tup is a country verb: I tup. You tup, we are tupping etc, and means what happens when the ram ‘covers’ the ewe).

First, published Jan 2023, republished Jan 2024

June & Juno Queen of Goddesses

Black and white engraving for June from Kalendar of Shepherds.
Kalendar of Shepherds. Title page for June

June is, probably, named after Juno, the leading lady of Olympus, sister and brother to the Great God Jupiter (Jove). In Welsh, it’s ‘Mehefin’ – Midsummer. In Gaelic, ‘An t’Og mhios’ – the Young Month. In Anglo-Saxon, ‘Litha’, the month of the Midsummer Moon.

The picture above is from the Kalendar of Shepherds, with its 15th Century French Illustration. It shows shearing as the main occupation for the month but set within a flowery summer scene. In the roundels are the Gemini twins and the Cancer Crab, the star signs of June.

It is possible that June comes from an Indo-European word for youth or vital energy. Ovid in Fasti, his poem about the Roman Year, lets June make her own case:

O poet, singer of the Roman year,
Who dares to tell great things in slender measures,
You’ve won the right to view a celestial power,
By choosing to celebrate the festivals in your verse.
But so you’re not ignorant or led astray by error.
June in fact takes its name from mine.
It’s something to have wed Jove, and to be Jove’s sister:
I’m not sure if I’m prouder of brother or husband.
If you consider lineage, I was first to call Saturn
Father, I was the first child fate granted to him.
Rome was once named Saturnia, after my father:
This was the first place he came to, exiled from heaven.
If the marriage bed counts at all, I’m called the
Thunderer’s Wife, and my shrine’s joined to that of Tarpeian Jove.
If his mistress could give her name to the month of May,
Shall a similar honour be begrudged to me?
Or why am I called queen and chief of goddesses?
Why did they place a golden sceptre in my hand?’

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

In the previous Book (on May), Ovid told another story:

‘So I deduce that the elders gave their own title
To the month of May: and looked after their own interests.
Numitor too may have said: ‘Romulus, grant this month
To the old men’ and his grandson may have yielded.
The following month, June, named for young men’
Gives no slight proof of the honour intended.’

(‘Young men’ from Latin iuvenis, “youth”)

But let’s not go into Indo-European roots, and let’s simply accept the most wonderful month is named after Juno, the Queen of Goddesses, the deity of marriage and women. Probably most famous for hating the Trojans – she had a grudge against Paris, as he ruled against her in that famous divine beauty competition. And more seriously, what other reaction can the Deity of Marriage, have to the man who showed such disregard for the sanctity of marriage in running away with Helen.

The Judgment of Paris 1700 by Daniel Purcell. Houghton Museum (Paris, Venus, Juno, Minerva)