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News-esque

The Terror and the Fascination of Pompeii

Cloudless Religions 93-12-08

Joan Acocella, The New Yorker:

Pliny’s eyewitness account of the 79 A.D. Vesuvius eruption tells us what happened, but the archeological remains conjure with agonizing intimacy the lives of those who perished.

[Pliny the Younger] wrote long letters to Trajan, asking whether he should do this or that. The letters took two months to arrive in Rome, and the answers took two months to get back. Reading them, you sense that Trajan often wished Pliny would just go ahead and make whatever decision seemed reasonable.

We do hear about some celebrated crimes: Agrippina, the Emperor Claudius’ wife, poisoning him in order to secure the succession for her son, Nero; Nero then killing Agrippina and also kicking his pregnant wife, Poppaea, to death. (That’s after he arranged for the poisoning of his stepbrother, Brittanicus.) Then, there’s Domitian, going off with, they say, whatever implement he had at hand, to terminate his niece Julia’s pregnancy, engendered by him. This, Dunn writes, inspired a locally popular ditty: “Julia freed her fertile uterus by many / an abortion and shed clots which resembled their uncle.” (Julia died from the procedure.) Next to such reports, the regular rubouts, as in the notorious Year of the Four Emperors, in 69 A.D.—Nero, to avoid execution, stabbed himself in the throat and was replaced by Galba, who was assassinated after seven months by the Praetorian Guard and succeeded by Otho, who ruled for three months before, faced with a rebellion, he committed suicide, yielding his place to Vitellius (soon murdered by the soldiers of Vespasian, but let’s stop there)—look like business as usual. Or they would seem so if they didn’t involve those little Cosa Nostra touches, such as a victim’s being found with his penis cut off and stuffed in his mouth.

(click here to continue reading The Terror and the Fascination of Pompeii | The New Yorker.)

Romans Discussing Motor Scooters 1993

I think I was 17 when I first read some Roman history, in a freshman level survey class at UT. I was amazed at how gossipy Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars was. Such a contrast with the neutral tones of typical history textbooks, especially the ones that I had read in high school. Still fascinating…

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News-esque

Lupercalia

A Velvia Kiss

Thought by many to be the genesis of St. Valentine’s Day, and thus Hallmark’s Day1, Lupercalia was a fertility orgy celebrated today.

Lupercalia was an ancient pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name. The Lupercalia by name was believed in antiquity to have some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia (from Ancient Greek: λύκος — lykos, “wolf”, Latin lupus) and the worship of Lycaean Pan, the Greek equivalent to Faunus, as instituted by Evander.

In Roman mythology, Lupercus is a god sometimes identified with the Roman god Faunus, who is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan.

Lupercus is the god of shepherds. His festival, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple on February 15, was called the Lupercalia. His priests wore goatskins. The 2nd-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions an image of “the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus,”] nude save for the girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. There, on the Ides of February, a goat and a dog were sacrificed, and salt mealcakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt.

Plutarch described Lupercalia:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the flamen dialis) of two male goats and a dog. Next two young patrician Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh.

The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims, which were called Februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth. This tradition itself may survive (Christianised, and shifted to Spring) in certain ritual Easter Monday whippings.

 

(click here to continue reading Lupercalia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Sounds like fun! If it wasn’t so cold in Chicago, I might gird my loins with a goatskin and wander the West Loop whipping young lasses…

Footnotes:
  1. as I call Valentine’s Day []
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Links

Reading Around on January 30th through February 2nd

A few interesting links collected January 30th through February 2nd:

  • The Roman Army Knife: Or how the ingenuity of the Swiss was beaten by 1,800 years | Mail Online – The world’s first Swiss Army knife’ has been revealed – made 1,800 years before its modern counterpart. An intricately designed Roman implement, which dates back to 200AD, it is made from silver but has an iron blade. It features a spoon, fork as well as a retractable spike, spatula and small tooth-pick. Experts believe the spike may have been used by the Romans to extract meat from snails.
  • Hypocrisy Alert: 68 House Republicans Take Credit for the Economic Bills They Opposed | DCCC – Is this number higher by now? Wouldn’t be surprised

    The DCCC has unveiled the latest entries into the House Republicans Hypocrisy Hall of Fame, which has now grown to 68 Members. These Republicans have been caught trying to celebrate the benefits of projects they opposed in President Obama’s recovery bill, the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill, and the Omnibus Public Land Management Act.