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Romans, though you’re guiltless, you’ll still expiate
your fathers’ sins, till you’ve restored the temples,
and the tumbling shrines of all the gods,
and their images, soiled with black smoke.
~Horace, Odes, III, 6; A. S. Kline trans.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Calendar for April

The first day of the month is the Kalends, sacred to Juno.

The Nones falls on the 5th and the Ides, sacred to Jupiter, falls on the 13th.

The 2nd, 6th and 14th are unlucky (ater).

April is dedicated to Venus. We may think of Venus as "Goddess of love", but that is only a part of her domain. She is, more generally, Goddess of all generative power, or more correctly, the embodiment of that power. In the words of Ovid (Fasti, IV):
They say Spring was named from the open (apertum) season,
Because Spring opens (aperit) everything and the sharp
Frost-bound cold vanishes, and fertile soil’s revealed,
Though kind Venus sets her hand there and claims it.
She rules the whole world too, and truly deserves to:
She owns a realm not inferior to any god’s,
Commands earth and heaven, and her native ocean,
And maintains all beings from her source.
She created the gods (too numerous to mention):
She gave the crops and trees their first roots:
She brought the crude minds of men together,
And taught them each to associate with a partner.
No season is more fitting for Venus than Spring:
In spring the earth gleams: in spring the ground’s soft,
Now the grass pokes its tips through the broken soil,
Now the vine bursts in buds through the swollen bark.
And lovely Venus deserves the lovely season,
And is joined again to her darling Mars:
In Spring she tells the curving ships to sail, over
Her native seas, and fear the winter’s threat no longer. 
Titus Lucretius Carus began his book De Rerum Natura with a long dedicatory poem in praise of the generative power of Venus. The 1916 translation by W. E. Leonard is online:
Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands — for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived...
Leonard's metrical translation may be difficult for contemporary readers, who may prefer something more modern. An Epicurean philosopher, an atomist, a Roman, Lucretius was accused by early Christians of being "anti-religion" when in fact it is better to say that he was "anti-superstitio". Compare Leonard's translation of an excerpt from Book 1, 101-106 with the  prose translation of Ronald Latham:
Such are the crimes to which Religion leads.
And there shall come the time when even thou,
Forced by the soothsayer's terror-tales, shalt seek
To break from us. Ah, many a dream even now
Can they concoct to rout thy plans of life,
And trouble all thy fortunes with base fears. (Leonard trans.)
The Latham translatiion
Such are the heights of wickedness to which men are driven by superstition.
You yourself, if you surrender your judgement at any time to the blood-curdling declaration of the prophets, will want to desert our ranks. Only think what phantoms they can conjure up to overturn the tenor of your life and wreck your happiness with fear. (Latham trans.)
tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
Tutemet a nobis iam quovis tempore vatum
terriloquis victus dictis desciscere quaeres.
quippe etenim quam multa tibi iam fingere possunt
somnia, quae vitae rationes vertere possint
fortunasque tuas omnis turbare timore! (Lucretius, Book 1, lines 101-106)
Readers of this blog are probably aware that the Latin religio does not mean "religion" in the modern sense, but rather something more like "duty" or "obligation", the recognition of the relationship that people have with the gods. (I am aware of the other, technical, sense that specialist Romans used, that of "violation", but that does not apply here.) What Lucretius is objecting to is the risk that one's sense of religio can be manipulated by "soothsayer's terror-tales", "blood-curdling declaration of the prophets", "terriloquis ... dictis" to create fear (timor). In other words, exactly the feeling of superstitio that is anathema to the true Roman Cultus Deorum. Through his Epicurean philosophy, Lucretius proposes an approach that makes the pietas of ordinary Romans immune to superstitio. It is possible that Latham, in choosing the word "superstition" in place of Leonard's "Religion", had this distinction in mind. Understanding this, we can see that Lucretius was not "against religion" and there is no conflict in his dedicating his book to Venus.

The inspiration of Venus (and Lucretius) is not confined to the Roman period. Jonathan Jones of the Guardian has written about how Sandro Botticelli was inspired to paint The Birth of Venus after reading Lucretius. He says, "The power of Botticelli's painting is that it brings an ancient religion back to life. To love this image is to worship the ancient Roman gods. Hail Venus!"

Veneralia: April 1. In honor of Venus

Megalesia: April 4 to 10. (Ludi Megalenses) in honor of Cybele (since 191 BCE, brought to Rome in 203 BCE)

Ludi Cereales: April 12 to 19. Games in honor of Ceres (since 202 BCE)
Ceres was first to summon men to a better diet,
Replacing their acorns with more nourishing food.
She forced bulls to bow their necks to the yoke:
So the deep-ploughed soil first saw the light.
Copper was prized then, iron was still hidden:
Ah! If only it could have been hidden forever.
Ceres delights in peace: pray, you farmers,
Pray for endless peace and a peace-loving leader.
Honour the goddess with wheat, and dancing salt grains,
And grains of incense offered on the ancient hearths,
And if there’s no incense, burn your resinous torches:
Ceres is pleased with little, if it’s pure in kind. 

Fordicidia: April 15. In honour of Tellus.

Parilia: April 21. In honour of Pales.

Vinalia urbana: April 23. In honour of Venus and the previous year's wine harvest.

Robigalia: April 25. In honour of Robigus, with foot races.

Floralia: April 28 to May 1. (Ludi Florales), games in honor of Flora.

Ideas for the Cultus Deorum in April

In many parts of the northern hemisphere it is the beginning of the gardening season, and so it is a fitting time to recognize the generative power of Venus. There is a translation of Cato's ritual for digging land here. I am not suggesting that every gardener needs to sacrifice a pig. On the contrary, you should feel free to adapt the rituals, and the exact dates, to suit your own situation. Look on our "Ritual" page (see the menu near the top of this blog) for guidelines on conducting your own ritual, including comments on the bloodless "Numa Tradition".

I invite you to add your ideas for April in the comments. I also welcome submission of photos to help us share what we do and how we do it.

Finally, we will also be discussing this on the Facebook group.

Note: The introduction to "Lucretius: On the Nature of Things" translated by M.F. Smith is available online by permission of Hackett Publishing Company.

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