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 Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 10:07

Saturnalia, a period of a few days leading up to the Winter solstice (December 25th in the Julian calendar) when business was suspended, people arranged private feasts surrounded by close friends and family, small gifts were exchanged, children received toys, and even the slaves were encouraged to let their hair down a little and engage in diversions otherwise frowned upon or thought odd the rest of the year. Theatres staged ribald comedies, some people went into debt in their efforts to participate in the "fun", and that oddly schizophrenic deity Saturn was invoked theologically as the reason for all this mild madness as well as being completely ignored by most of its participants - except, of course, as the nominal reason for it all. Others doubted the theological provenance of the whole shebang, aware that the holiday was largely a concoction of earlier traditions concerning the Greek Chronus and later the Carthaginian Ba'al, imported and tailored to suit Roman tastes and therefore in a religious sense something of a fraud.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. And this is more true than you might think. Even by the time of the late republic what had started as a festival in which good cheer and altruism were employed to defy and dispel the capriciousness of mortal life as epitomised by the harshest weather yet to come had degenerated into silliness and excess of folly, at least according to some of its observers. Cato felt forced to remind his senatorial colleagues that their lavish expenditure on private and exclusive feasts was a far cry from their ancestors' extending the invitation to slave and prisoner of war as an appeasement to a notoriously fickle god. Sigillaria, the day when gifts were exchanged, was derided by some as having simply become stupid - Catullus complained about a friend who had given him a book of bad poems by "the worst poet ever" (we don't know the ancient equivalent of William McGonagall), and Martial interpreted a gift of toothpicks from a relative as a comment about his dental hygiene. The majority of presents were frivolous and impractical things, though Martial also mentioned quite expensive ones, making one wonder how the person felt who, having presented his friend with a writing desk, then received a sausage in return.

Pliny, an intelligent and observant man, reacted as intelligent and observant people even today might. During the entire period he retreated to a secluded suite of rooms in his Laurentine villa "especially during the Saturnalia when the rest of the house is noisy with the licence of the holiday and festive cries. This way I don't hamper the games of my people and they don't hinder my work or studies." There is no mention of any Tiny Tim who might have eventually melted the cockles of his patrician heart and induced him to partake in the madness, but after all, Dickens was writing fiction. Reality, in Dickens' time as much as two thousand years ago, was a whole other story.




Sigillaria, and the family sit around the table wearing silly headgear
while waiting for the Saturnalia pudding to be lit by granny.
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Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima


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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 14:14

Lovely piece, nordmann - you really should be writing for the Independent, not wasting your time here.

My expected friends can't be with me this Christmas - still no trains venturing west of Taunton because of the grete floude (and it *is* grete, believe me), so I'm sitting here sipping champagne and reading St. Paul's letter to the Romans. Bit odd, but what the heck...

What *would* ferval say - reading bloody *St Paul* on Christmas Day? - I dread to think.

Anyway, here's to Res Historica - one-year-old today.

Merry Whatever You Want, or Happy Birthday.

Back to St. Paul now - what a difficult character, but very interesting.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 14:25

Cosying up with a misogynist isn't every girl's idea of christmas, I'll agree! Still, if December 25th ain't a day to do what gives one guilty pleasure and f**k the begrudgers then what day is?

I'll pass on the birthday greetings to the little army of elves and pixies who keep this site running. In the spirit of Saturnalia they deserve their day in the sun too.

PS: I hadn't realised there was a "west of Taunton". On my map there's simply a scrawled "here be dragons" over the general area. The poor dragons will be finding it hard to spark up a flame this christmas! Have a good one, ma'am!
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 14:36

It's not "F**k the begrudgers!" it's "Let the begrudgers behold!"

Right. Better eat my turkey dinner for one now (sob), followed by a satsuma and the Queen. Save rest of St. Paul for later, after Downton Abbey.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 14:39

Or even "let the begrudgers go forth and multiply" Smile

Enjoy the turkeys! (Oh, and enjoy your dinner too)
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 15:26

Ferval watched the two programmes on bloody St. Paul. Oh, the shame.

My dear visitors are about to descend, a turkey dinner for one doesn't sound so bad and will sound even better when I'm immersed in the melee. There's plenty of wine laid in though and the recorder is set for Sis Wendy and Downtown.
Roll on Boxing day.

I enjoyed the Roman piece as well, thanks Big N.

Happy Birthday Dear Res etc.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 15:53

I did too! Ferval, you are clearly searching for something - even if it is only David Suchet!

He'd make a great St.Paul, wouldn't he?

I don't think St. Paul was a *misogynist* exactly - probably a repressed homosexual, like Thomas More.

Crikey - the banner looks like a Christmas card. Where's the chirpy little robin?


Last edited by Temperance on Wed 26 Dec 2012, 10:18; edited 1 time in total
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 16:00

@Temperance wrote:
I did too! Ferval, you are clearly searching for something

The TV remote control, I'd say.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 16:13

Wasn't ferval searching for her keys to the cabinet?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 16:33

It was a ruse. The keys were never lost, although the remote probably was.

Ferval just wanted us all to know that she had posh glasses that got locked away.

Did anyone actually ever own one of these things?



I'd *love* one now. How things change.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Tue 25 Dec 2012, 21:40

God, whichever or none you chose to follow, love you, you've made me laugh as I sit here amongst what appears to suggest that the Mayan Apocalypse really happened but just not quite 100%, just enough to leave a trail of utter chaos behind. B*gger it, I'm having another red, it'll still all be there in the morning and what difference will it make in 100 years time?

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Wed 26 Dec 2012, 15:04

Interesting article on Mithras and a Mithraeum just reopened in Rome

http://www.theworld.org/2012/12/celebrating-the-mysterious-ancient-cult-of-mithras-in-rome/
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Wed 26 Dec 2012, 16:03

By ek… one can learn such interesting stuff around here… but what irks me most of all is why when I read this stuff which is right up my street, ten minutes later I’ve forgotten most of it… why!!! Can one forget how to learn, is it an age thing, or is it coz I is thick.??? I never used to be like this.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Wed 26 Dec 2012, 16:09

Saturnalia long predated any version of Mithraism subsequently introduced into Roman society (Mithraism was not very much before Christianity as a cult in Roman terms). However one can see why both Mithraists and Christians might have seen an overlap, and indeed why the ultimately victorious cult in terms of adherents would consider appropriating the festival. Saturn, and before him Kronos in Greek mythology, had presided over a world in which mortals lived freely and equally, not having to expend labour to reap the bounty of the earth, and the festival was meant to be an evocative harking back to that lost idyllic age. Mithraism contained a promise of a return to such a paradise (for its followers) once its moral codes and strictures were adhered to. Christians and indeed Jews would have seen it as evocative of Eden and the former also, like Mithraists, considered they were headed back to such a state of bliss if they did the right things en route as defined by their particular superstition.

For me the important thing is the seminality of the concept and how it lends itself to almost any expression of organised faith based on superstitious belief. Somewhere deep in the human psyche is a feeling that things not only can be better for everyone but maybe at one time actually were. It is an atavistic statement of responsibility for one's own misfortunes, and when you think of it in those terms actually quite an irreligious view. Christians, thanks to their Jewish heritage, acknowledged human failing but ultimtely held their deity responsible for administering this downturn in mortals' fortunes, and Saturnalia was therefore almost a gesture of defiance to their version of god in that context.

The early christian church seems to have been either ambivalent or hostile to the festival, and it was to be quite a few centuries before they silently acknowledged that this almost animalistic expression of a very human desire to reassert control over its own destiny could not be eliminated through doctrine or decree. They took the pragmatic step of subsuming it into their own calendar and then attempted over almost two millennia to suppress its ancient ethos and purpose.

The modern phenomenon of a commercial orgy and the desire to "have fun at almost any cost" is actually a reversal to the festival's character more or less as it stood when they first came into the picture.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Saturnalia? Bah! Humbug!   Thu 27 Dec 2012, 09:52

I've just listened to this morning's 'In Our Time' on Mithras. What they wanted to say, I thought, but didn't quite articulate it was, 'Think of the Masons'. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pg5nt
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