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Saturday, 4 June 2011

188 BC

...is a pretty random date selected from many in my various notes and text files, but it reflects very well the repeating pattens and themes I encounter when trying to follow any other thread into the past.

These are:
  • The dangers of foreign religion (sex and human sacrifice).
  • Connections between volcanic regions and foreign cults.
  • The continuation of the worship of Inanna, now called Asarte in this context, by the people who populated Carthage and at the very least, Southern Sicily.
  • Attempts to integrate foreign religions often leading to a banning of that religion. And in limited cases, successful synthesis.
188 BC was the year changes were made to the worship of Dionysus, the Bacchanalia.

Livy blames a Greek...
"hedge-priest and wizard, not one of those who imbue men's minds with error by professing to teach their superstitions openly for money, but a hierophant of secret nocturnal mysteries".
For starting the lamentable affair.

Latter in the tale, a woman called Hispala Fecenia an initiate, lays the blame for the changes at the door of Peculla Annia, a Greek woman from southern Italy, the Campania region (lake Avernus is within Campania) and the place she changes the Bacchanalia is Etruria -not the one in Stafford. A region steeped in Etruscian, rather than Roman culture.

The link to Livy's text is here, and proof of outlawing of 'The Bacchanalian Conspiricy' is given in the form of a bronze plaque found in Calabria in the 17th century.

Until Paculla changed things, the Bacchanalia had been fairly well managed; a woman's festival and limited to daylight hours. After Paculla, men were involved and it happened at night. The new Bacchanalia spread through Italy, and two years latter, it had to be banned. Livy tells us:
Paculla Annia, a Campanian, when she was priestess, made a complete change, as though by divine monition, for she was the first to admit men, and she initiated her own sons, Minius Cerinnius and Herennius Cerinnius.

At the same time she made the rite a nocturnal one, and instead of three days in the year celebrated it five times a month. When once the mysteries had assumed this promiscuous character, and men were mingled with women with all the licence of nocturnal orgies, there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting.

More uncleanness was wrought by men with men than with women. Whoever would not submit to defilement, or shrank from violating others, was sacrificed as a victim. To regard nothing as impious or criminal was the very sum of their religion. The men, as though seized with madness and with frenzied distortions of their bodies, shrieked out prophecies; the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, their hair dishevelled, rushed down to the Tiber with burning torches, plunged them into the water, and drew them out again, the flame undiminished, as they were made of sulphur mixed with lime.

Men were fastened to a machine and hurried off to hidden caves, and they were said to have been rapt away by the gods; these were the men who refused to join their conspiracy or take a part in their crimes or submit to pollution. They formed an immense multitude, almost equal to the population of Rome; amongst them were members of noble families both men and women. It had been made a rule for the last two years that no one more than twenty years old should be initiated; they captured those to be deceived and polluted.
What followed the ban was to all intent and purposes a witch hunt:
Those who had simply been initiated, who, that is, had repeated after the priest the prescribed form of imprecation which pledged them to every form of wickedness and impurity, but had not been either active or passive participants in any of the proceedings to which their oath bound them, were detained in prison.

Those who had polluted themselves by outrage and murder, those who had stained themselves by giving false evidence, forging seals and wills and by other fraudulent practices, were sentenced to death.

The number of those executed exceeded the number of those sentenced to imprisonment; there was an enormous number of men as well as women in both classes.

The women who had been found guilty were handed over to their relatives or guardians to be dealt with privately; if there was no one capable of inflicting punishment, they were executed publicly.

The next task awaiting the consuls was the destruction of all the Bacchanalian shrines, beginning with Rome, and then throughout the length and breadth of Italy; those only excepted where there was an ancient altar or a sacred image.

The senate decreed that for the future there should be no Bacchanalian rites in Rome or in Italy. If any one considered that this form of worship was a necessary obligation and that he could not dispense with it without incurring the guilt of irreligion, he was to make a declaration before the City praetor and the praetor was to consult the senate. If the senate gave permission, not less than one hundred senators being present, he might observe those rites on condition that not more than five persons took part in the service, that they had no common fund, and that there was no priest or conductor of the ceremonies.
Three years earlier, before the Greek 'hedge wizard' had turned the heads of the good Roman folk and made them go bad through the agency of a woman no less, the Roman ceremony 'The Megalasia' had been instituted. The Sibylline books had instructed the Romans to bring 'the foreign Magna Mater' to Rome. Rome was at war with Carthage, and by bringing the Goddess to Rome, She would turn her favour from the foreigners to the Romans. 'War with Cathage' was a long, drawn out affair -nothing like the contemporary images we have of cities devastated by air raids. War with Carthage was anxiety: siege and sudden attack. Mostly it happened elsewhere in Italy, but Rome was always under threat.

As a way to deal with the anxiety, the Sibylline books were consulted; in 205 BC the Romans went to Pessinus (at that time under Greek rule, and so the version of Cybele the Romans brought back would most likely to have been hybrid Greco-Asian culture) and removed the goddess' most important image, a large black stone that was said to have fallen from the sky. The stone was first placed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill, but in 191 BC a new sanctuary was built for the goddess on the summit of the Palatine Hill.

191 BC marks the beginning of the 'official' cult of the Great Mother, but up to and after that date the unofficial cult, the more authentic cult had involved self-flagellation and self-castration of the priests.

Disdainfully, the cult was restricted to non-Romans.

Five years latter Rome faces ''The Bacchanalian Conspiricy'. It is as if foreign influences have become too much, 'Roman stability' is threatened both from within and without.

Twelve years before something similar had happened; After Rome's defeat at the Battle of Lake Trasimene (June 21, 217 BC) in the opening episodes of the Second Punic War (Hannibal's crossing of the Alps), the Sibylline oracle recommended the importation of the Sicilian Venus of Eryx -'The Lady of Eryx' mentioned by Ovid in his version of Persephone's story. A temple to her was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill in 217 BC: a second temple to her was dedicated in 181 BC.

Publius Ovidius Naso, Ovid to you and me was born in March 43 BC and died AD 17/18. Some one hundred years after the temple had first been dedicated to Venus Eryx Ovid wrote:
(Ovid, Fasti, iv. 863) "April 23rd. I have told of Pales, I will now tell of the festival of the Vinalia; but there is one day interposed between the two. Ye wenches of the people, celebrate the divinity of Venus: Venus favours the earnings of ladies of a liberal profession. Offer incense and pray for beauty and popular favour; pray to be charming and witty; give to the Queen her own myrtle and the mint she loves, and bands of rushes hid in clustered roses. Now is the time to throng her temple next the Colline gate; the temple takes its name from the Sicilian hill Venus was transferred (i.e. from Eryx) to Rome in obedience to an oracle of the long-lived Sibyl, and chose to be worshipped in the city of her own offspring. You ask, why then do they call the Vinalia a festival of Venus? And why does that day belong to Jupiter? " Ovid then recalls how a vow of wine made to Jupiter led to the marriage of Aeneas to Lavinia, Queen Amata's daughter.
And that mention of 'ladies of a liberal profession' brings me to the connection between temples dedicated to Demeter/Kore and the Heiros Gamos.