My Blog List

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ceres, Liber and Liberia.

The photograph is of Stewart Perowne. I bought his: Roman Mythology from an Oxfam bookshop.

I see that you can buy it from Amazon for just 1p.

Stewart Perowne found a city, the Greek colony of Aziris; unlike Heinrich Schliemann or Arthur Evans, Aziris does not have any myth (as far as I know) associated with it. So there are no major reconstructions, or fantastic re-imaginings, as with Troy or Knossos to remember him by.

Nor are there any photos of him in Google search, so here is the photo taken by Walter Bird, printed at the back of the book.

 I see that Walter Bird was:
... always a great fighter for adequate photographers’ fees and Copyright Law.
I'd never heard of Aziris. But Herodotus (4.150–151) wrote an account of how the inhabitants of Thera, suffering because of a terrible famine, were advised by the Delphic Oracle to send a colony to Libya under the leadership of Battus.

Aziris is now Wadi el Chalig.

Concerning Persephone in Rome; according to tradition there was a famine in Rome in 496 B.C. The dictator L. Postumius, consulted the Sibylline books. As a result a temple was built on the slope of the Aventine hill, near the west end of the circus Maximusto, to honour Demeter, Dionysus, and Kore. It was dedicated in 493 B.C. by the consul Sp. Cassius (Dionys. VI.17, 94) to Ceres, Liber, and Libera, with whom the Greek deities were identified.

But of course, it can't be that simple. Arnobius dates the introduction of Ceres' Greek cult to 'just before' the arrival of Magna Mater in 204 BC...

But I must admit reading Arnobius is hard work, also he was hardly a sympathetic reporter or even a witness to the events he describes. The only reason I bother with him at all in this case, is that he mentions Brimo and Persephone (in his rant!).
Once upon a time, they say, Diespiter (Jupiter), burning after his mother Ceres with evil passions and forbidden desires, for she is said by the natives of that district to be Jupiter's mother, and yet not daring to seek by open force that for which he had conceived a shameless longing, hits upon a clever trick by which to rob of her chastity his mother, who feared nothing of the sort.

Instead of a god, he becomes a bull; and concealing his purpose and daring under the appearance of a beast lying in wait, he rushes madly with sudden violence upon her, thoughtless and unwitting, obtains his incestuous desires; and the fraud being disclosed by his lust, flies off known and discovered.

His mother burns, foams, gasps, boils with fury and indignation; and being unable to repress the storm and tempest of her wrath, received the name Brimo thereafter from her ever-raging passion: nor has she any other wish than to punish as she may her son's audacity.

Jupiter is troubled enough, being overwhelmed with fear, and cannot find means to soothe the rage of his violated mother . He pours forth prayers, and makes supplication; her ears are closed by grief. The whole order of the gods is sent to seek his pardon ; no one has weight enough to win a hearing. At last, the son seeking how to make satisfaction, devises this means: Arietem nobilem bene grandibus cum testiculis deligit, exsecat hos ipse et lanato exuit ex folliculi tegmine . Approaching his mother sadly and with downcast looks, and as if by his own decision he had condemned himself, he casts and throws these into her bosom. When she saw what his pledge was, she is somewhat softened, and allows herself to be recalled to the care of the offspring which she had conceived.

After the tenth month she bears a daughter, of beautiful form, whom later ages have called now Libera, now Proserpine; whom when Jupiter Verveceus saw to be strong, plump, and blooming, forgetting what evils and what wickedness, and how great recklessness, he had a little before fallen into, he returns to his former practices; and because it seemed too wicked that a father openly be joined as in marriage with his daughter, he passes into the terrible form of a dragon: he winds his huge coils round the terrified maiden, and under a fierce appearance sports and caresses her in softest embraces. She, too, is in consequence filled with the seed of the most powerful Jupiter, but not as her mother was , for she bore a daughter like herself; but from the maiden was born something like a bull, to testify to her seduction by Jupiter. If any one asks who narrates this, then we shall quote the well-known senarian verse of a Tarentine poet which antiquity sings, saying: "The bull begot a dragon, and the dragon a bull." Lastly, the sacred rites themselves, and the ceremony of initiation even, named Sebadia, might attest the truth; for in them a golden snake is let down into the bosom of the initiated, and taken away again from the lower parts.

It is with some relief that I return to Mr Perowne, but not yet...that word Sebadia needs more attention. I ask Wiki and get:
Greek writers, like Strabo in the first century CE, linked Sabazios with Zagreus, among Phrygian ministers and attendants of the sacred rites of Rhea and Dionysos.

Strabo's Sicilian contemporary, Diodorus Siculus, conflated Sabazios with the secret 'second' Dionysus, born of Zeus and Persephone, a connection that is not borne out by surviving inscriptions, which are entirely to Zeus Sabazios.

The Christian Clement of Alexandria had been informed that the secret mysteries of Sabazius, as practiced among the Romans, involved a serpent, a chthonic creature unconnected with the mounted skygod of Phrygia:"‘God in the bosom’ is a countersign of the mysteries of Sabazius to the adepts. Clement reports:
"This is a snake, passed through the bosom of the initiates".
Much later, the Byzantine Greek encyclopedia, Sudas (10th century?), flatly states
"Sabazios... is the same as Dionysos. He acquired this form of address from the rite pertaining to him; for the barbarians call the bacchic cry 'sabazein'. Hence some of the Greeks too follow suit and call the cry 'sabasmos'; thereby Dionysos [becomes] Sabazios. They also used to call 'saboi' those places that had been dedicated to him and his Bacchantes... Demosthenes [in the speech] 'On Behalf of Ktesiphon' [mentions them]. Some say that Saboi is the term for those who are dedicated to Sabazios, that is to Dionysos, just as those [dedicated] to Bakkhos [are] Bakkhoi. They say that Sabazios and Dionysos are the same. Thus some also say that the Greeks call the Bakkhoi Saboi."
In Roman sites, though an inscription built into the wall of the abbey church of San Venanzio at Ceperana suggested to a Renaissance humanist it had been built upon the foundations of a temple to Jupiter Sabazius, according to modern scholars not a single temple consecrated to Sabazius, the rider god of the open air, has been located, small votive hands, typically made of copper or bronze, are often associated with the cult of Sabazios. Many of these hands have a small perforation at the base which suggests they may have been attached to wooden poles and carried in processions. The symbolism of these objects is not well known.

Finally, (blessed simplicity at last) Stewart Perowne has this to say:
"The introduction of this triad is of prime importance, because it introduces Rome to Eleusis, the setting of the most famous of all Greek mysteries, into which emperors would be proud to be initiated."
Yet again I am reminded that the past is often portrayed as a glittering dream palace of fascinating cults. I have no doubt at all that most of the time life was pretty dull and rather stressful!

In two thousand years time, if any contemporary media survives along side the plastic bags and car tyres and the odd, solitary, road-side shoe, people will use fragments of script from East-Enders, snippets of speech from The Archers and a crumbling page from The Daily Mail to reconstruct our lives...