Permanenze dell’antichità. Il Vesuvio ci esplode addosso? “E c’amma a fa. Se è destino …”

ll Vesuvio visto da Pompei, distrutta nell’eruzione del 79 d.C
ll Vesuvio visto da Pompei, distrutta nell’eruzione del 79 d.C. Foto di Morn the Gorn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7919520

Scrivevo nel post (H)omo de Roma: “Ammettiamolo. In aree centrali e soprattutto meridionali del nostro paese persistono abitudini, mentalità […] i cui svantaggi nei confronti della modernità sono evidenti. Sono solo svantaggi?”.

Vogliamo avere un esempio lampante della permanenza dell’antico, e solo nei suoi svantaggi? Eccolo: il modo di prepararsi alle eruzioni dei pur meravigliosi napoletani.

disastro annunciato

Il disastro è annunciato: i Campi Flegrei con la loro grande caldera (un vulcano, in sostanza) si sollevano, l’eruzione del Vesuvio (un altro vulcano) potrebbe colpire da un momento all’altro, i vulcanologi di tutto il mondo nonché la protezione civile campana (cfr. Cities on Volcanoes 10 tenutosi il 2-7 settembre 2018 a Napoli) parlano della NECESSITA’ ASSOLUTA di costruire meglio e soprattutto fare tante esercitazioni in vista di un esodo (per i paesi vesuviani e flegrei) calcolabile in ben 700.000 persone (50% della popolazione!).

Vesuivio_Eruzione_26.04.1872
Eruzione del Vesuvio del 1872, con distruzione dei paesi di Massa e San Sebastiano al Vesuvio. Giorgio Sommer – Scansione personale, Pubblico dominio. Wikimedia, click on picture for credits. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=737284
Una domanda percorre il pianeta

Bene, cosa fanno i raffinati (e dei romani più intelligenti ) napoletani??

Visi e volti, nell’Italia e nel mondo, si scrutano preoccupati e s’interrogano:

   Che diavolo fanno i Napoletani???

Le risposte dei partenopei, spesso bisbigliate nei bar e pub romani, giungono in ordine sparso:

“E c'amma fa' ..." "E' esercitazioni portane male!" "A cche serve u pparlà? E' già tutto scritte! (1)”

E accarezzano il corno.

Corno portafortuna

Nota 1. A parte il corno, che così rosso secondo molti studiosi è il membro eretto del dio Priapo (lo si accarezza per fortuna, forza, fecondità), “è già tutto scritto” lo si dice spesso. E in effetti a volte pensiamo:

“Se la mia amica non mi avesse telefonato non sarei andata/o in quel bar; non avrei conosciuto il ragazzo (o la ragazza) con cui poi mi sono sposata/o; non avrei generato figli e nipoti i quali a loro volta non genereranno ecc. Eppoi se la mia amica non mi chiamava magari era perché era indisposta: per condizioni atmosferiche sfavorevoli (o astrali, vai a capire) che avrebbero potuto farla ammalare e impedirgli di fare appunto la “fatidica” telefonata di invito”.

Fatidico deriva dal latino fatum (da fari=dire). Il Fato infatti è “ciò che è detto e che non può essere mutato”, il più delle volte nemmeno dagli dei.

Ecco le radici culturali nostre (vedi sotto nota 2), le “permanenze dell’antichità” nei nostri cervelli! Ecco il senso di quel “è già tutto scritto”.

Vediamo meglio.

Romani e Greci essendo collegati, le Moire erano le dee greche del destino o fato, che i Romani chiamavano ParcaeFata, appunto. Le parche greche per Esiodo erano 3 (per Omero una) tra cui Κλωθώ o Cloto (=la filatrice). Essa è particolarmente significativa per il nostro discorso in quanto gestiva i fili, cioè l’intrecciarsi delle cause che collegano tutto, i mille fili dunque con cui si crea la trama che ci condiziona e si connette (ed è connessa) all’intero universo.

Il neoplatonico Plutarco (o pseudo, non mi interessa qui) nel suo breve testo sul Fato, è chiaro, e super poetico.

ψ

Riporto invece Marco Aurelio, imperatore romano e filosofo stoico (neoplatonici e stoici avevano una visione simile del fato; Epicuro no: non c’è destino né fine nell’universo, che è aggregato pazzesco di atomi) che in greco scrisse delle meravigliose meditazioni (bestseller oggi!) – testo greco: Τὰεἰς ἑαυτόν; testo italiano:

III, 6. “Il destino dato a ognuno è trascinato nel movimento globale e a sua volta trascina”. IV, 4. “Qualcosa ti è accaduto? Bene: tutto ciò che ti accade fin dall’inizio era stato ordito, in tutto l’universo, per esserti dato e allacciato alla tua vita”. IV, 34. “Abbandonati spontaneamente a Cloto, lasciando che ti tessa con qualsiasi evento voglia”.

Più chiaro di così.

ψ

Giorgio: “E le altre due Moire o Parche?”

MoR:Lachesi, che decide la sorte di ognuno. E Atropo, terribile, che taglia il filo della nostra vita quando le pare e piace”.

Giorgio: “E siamo spacciati”.

MoR: “Così pare”.

ψ

Nota 2. Il fato germanico. Per l’Europa, quanto al Destino, esiste non solo il retaggio greco-romano ma anche quello germanico: secondo la mitologia norrena (scandinava, vichinga) esistono le Norne, fanciulle che tessono i fili del destino ai piedi del grande frassino (tasso? quercia?) detto Yggdrasill.

Beh, avendo due generi, uno sannita e uno anglo-vichingo (Isola di Man) devo tener conto di entrambi, no? 😉

Over at Cheri’s. Alcibiades, the Golden Dude of Classical Greece

Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia. Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)

Last May Cheri, a charming blogger from California, went to Greece for a seminar on Alcibiades. I hence posted on her blog a few hasty notes on this key figure of Greek history, in case they were of any help.

Here is the text (edited a bit.)

Tragedy of Unreason

Alcibiades to me is the golden dude of classical Greece, loved (and hated) by the Athenians immensely, a figure that shows both the splendour and the weaknesses of Athens in her golden time, the 5th century BCE. The Athenians, who were teaching the world to use reason efficiently, also knew they were capable of the utmost unreason, and were laughing at that while watching the comedies of Aristophanes.

This whole thing, the fall of Athens, smells in fact of tragedy, of irrationality. The facts are known if you have read Thucydides. It pains me that one of the most brilliant pupils of Socrates, like the most perfumed flower in the most beautiful garden, proved poisonous. Alcibiades’ mentor had always tried to bring to measure and to purity of reason a totally unprincipled, self-centred and often ‘going off the rails’ pupil.

Bust of so-called Alcibiades. Rome, Musei Capitolini

In this the Greeks remind me of the Germans a bit. Both incredibly deep and terribly rational and irrational at the same time. And in fact Nietzsche figured Greek irrationality out not by chance, and, again not by chance in the years of the fall of Athens the Bacchae by Euripides were on stage.

Alcibiades was beautiful and gifted in everything – even as an athlete in Olympia – but, when he once met a teacher on the street and asked him if he had any works by Homer, and having the teacher said “No, I haven’t”, he punched him on the nose and knocked him down. This was Alcibiades. Charming and crazy.

Socrates tears Alcibiades from the embrace of sensual pleasure. Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1754-1829)

Dramatis Personae

There are many characters in this tragedy, the annihilation of classical Greece, where the extreme quarrelsomeness and disunity of the Greeks stands out, within and without their cities, even in moments of extreme danger. Among such characters are Sparta, Athens, Socrates, Nicias, Syracuse, Alcibiades, Sophocles, Euripides etc.

According to Thucydides and Plutarch, Alcibiades had conceived an unimaginable plan for defeating Sparta. By conquering Syracuse first, in Sicily, and Carthage, Libya and Greek South Italy afterwards, he intended to get back to Greece with the immense resources thus accumulated and crush the Spartans.

Syracuse was as powerful as Athens and possibly bigger, the biggest Greek city of the Mediterranean.

Ancient Greeks’ New World

It is to be noted that Greek South Italy – I’m certainly not saying this because I am Italian – was considered by mainland Greece as America has always been considered by Europeans: a myth, a land of promise, of unlimited resources. Greece was smaller and much less fertile. Therefore many Athenians, young and old, were day dreaming together with their golden boy, they were day dreaming about a marvellous and more prosperous future. A bit like Alexander who, one century later, will dream (and will set out) eastwards, instead of westwards, in order to conquer new lands.

Karen Tiegren performing as Cassandra in the Trojan Women directed by Brad Mays at the ARK Theatre Company in Los Angeles, 2003. Click for credits

Before the departure for Sicily, The Trojan Women by Euripides was first performed in 415 BCE. In this work the prophetess Cassandra (see Karen Tiegren above as Cassandra) condemns the Greeks for going to war against Troy. We perceive Euripides’ disgust vis-à-vis the Athenian hubris of the moment. Also Thucydides considers the Sicilian expedition as an act of arrogance and as an example of a folk, the Athenians, misguided by their emotions.

We have to consider that the sublime Parthenon that you people are now admiring was considered by many Athenians as an act of arrogance or hubris. Many much preferred the old temple of Athena at the Acropolis – see below –, a simpler and more sober shrine. Of course the Parthenon is fantastic but the mixed emotions of the Athenians during their greatest century are interesting.

Old Temple of Athena at the Acropolis of Athens. Click for credits and to enlarge

We know of the plague that hit Athens during the war. Thucydides considered it as a metaphor of the ruin that will destroy the wonderful culture created by Pericles and those around him.

This terrible Peloponnesian war and the changes it provoked are well expressed by the Oedipus the King by Sophocles, first performed in 429. A great king, optimist, intoxicated by his success and capable of solving riddles ends up a blind, desperate wretch who has too late understood the nature of the horrible forces he cannot control.

Nicias, one of Alcibiades’s rivals, was a general and owner of a big portion of the silver mines around Attica’s Mt. Laurium, a sort of lager and one of the chief sources of revenue for Athens.

Sparta Won but Left Nothing

Helmed Hoplite from Sparta
Helmed Hoplite from Sparta

Sparta disliked all that Athens represented. Sparta was the winner and Athens the loser. The Spartans were very admired in antiquity but have not left anything of value in my view (but we must recognize that they voted against the total erasure of Athens). Athens left us a wonderful culture and a model for future democracies; Sparta was instead a model for all future regimes based on racism and eugenics (such as the Nazi).

The Spartans were a minority of war lords brutally ruling a totally enslaved majority of Helots.

But they were rational and prudent. And had charm too. It is known they combed their long hair for quite a time before engaging in battle. When their enemies saw the Spartans combing, it was time for quaking.”

Eluana, or Man’s Ultimate Freedom. Ending One’s Life. 2

Lucretia stabs herself after rape. Joos van Cleve, Flemish artist, 1485 - 1540. Click for credits

Rape and death of Roman Lucretia

To her husband’s question, “Is all well?,” Lucretia replied:

“Far from it; for what can be well with a woman when she has lost her honour?
The print of a strange man is in your bed. Yet my body only has been violated;
my heart is guiltless, as death shall be my witness.” …

Taking a knife which she had concealed beneath her dress, she plunged it into her heart,
and sinking forward upon the wound, died as she fell.

(Livy Book I. 57-60)

Ψ

A discussion about the acceptable reasons for ending one’s life (see our previous post) can profit from the opinion of our forefathers, the Ancients, and from that of the Renaissance men, who channelled ancient thought into modernity.

This post is not a paean to suicide. I am sure Eluana Englaro and Terry Schiavo loved life: was theirs an acceptable life though?

Most of the quotes are taken from the French Renaissance writer Montaigne (II:3), whose Gutenberg English text is available in the translation of Charles Cotton (1630 – 1687). See also the original French text.

Note to readers

To many, old writings are a terrible bore.
They are wrong in my view.
Ancient writings, actual time machines connecting the past to the present, are mind expanding and one of the pleasures of life.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

“The wise man lives as long as he should, not as long as he can” said Seneca, who nobly committed suicide when accused of an attempt on emperor Nero’s life. And Cicero said that while “life depended upon the will of others, death depended upon our own.”

Greco-Roman writers like Plutarch expressed great appreciation for anyone who showed this kind of ultimate dignity.

Tacitus admires Boiocalus, a German chief, “who said to the Romans that he and his tribe might lack enough land to live upon, but land sufficient to die upon could never be wanting.”

Plutarch tells us of this Spartan boy “sold as a slave and by his master commanded to some abject employment, who said: ‘You shall see whom you have bought; it would be a shame for me to serve, when freedom is at reach,’ and having so said, threw himself from the top of the house.”

Ancient thought didn’t always condone suicide. Plato didn’t accept it and the Roman poet Virgil (Aeneid, IV, 434-437) destined those who committed suicide to a region of the afterlife where they were overwhelmed by sadness (tenent maesti loca).

But the prevalent Roman ideal was that of the stoic sage who counted on reason and self-control and who was not afraid of pain or misfortune (see our post ‘On solitude‘). Should life become unbearable, or should one face great dishonour, the Romans of both sexes were not hesitant to commit suicide.

Death was considered an act of ultimate freedom and this was deeply ingrained in the Roman tradition. “Nature has ordained only one entrance to life – said Cicero – but a hundred thousand exits.”

Death was less important than the way of death, which had to be decent, full of dignity, rational (and sometimes theatrical,) while to the Christian mind, self-killing being a sin, suicide is often a desperate, irrational action fruit of depression.

Among famous examples of suicide are Lucretia, Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony (and Cleopatra,) Cato the younger (see picture below), Seneca, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter etc. plus a good number of emperors, Nero, Maximian, Otho, Quintillus etc.

Common people as well considered dignity more important than life in many cases.

Cato of Utica reading the Phedo before comitting suicide. Jean-Baptiste Romand & François Rude (1832). Photo by M. Romero SchmidkteRoman stoicism deeply influenced the West despite the victory of Christianity. “For much of modern Western history, Stoic ideas of moral virtue have been second to none in influence” (Ecole Initiative, Early Church On-Line Encyclopedia.)

We see examples of noble death in Shakespeare, who, like all his contemporaries from Renaissance, felt the influence of ancient thought. The imagination of the Victorian British was captured by Cato’s death (see image on the right), «clawing out his own entrails to avoid Caesar’s despotism — as a courageous and noble death.”

Montaigne, imbued with Roman stoicism, refers how “Alexander laying siege to a city in India, those within, finding themselves very hardly set, put on a vigorous resolution to deprive him of the pleasure of his victory, and accordingly burned themselves together with their city, despite his humanity.” He seems to praise that the Indians preferred a death with honour rather than a life without it.

Montaigne adds a moving example:

“Nothing can be added to the beauty of the death of the wife of Fulvius, a good friend of Augustus. Augustus having discovered that his friend had vented an important secret he had entrusted him withal, one morning that he came to make his court, received him very coldly and looked frowningly upon him. Fulvius returned home full of despair, where he sorrowfully told his wife that, having fallen into this misfortune, he was resolved to kill himself.
To whom she frankly replied, ‘Tis right, seeing that having so often experienced the indiscipline of my tongue, you could not take warning: but let me kill myself first,’ and without more ado she ran herself through the body with a sword.”

Montaigne, quoting Pliny the elder, observes that the mythical Hyperboreans, “when weary and satiated with living, had the custom, at a very old age, after having made good cheer, to precipitate themselves into the sea from the top of a certain rock, assigned for that service” (see our series on the Hyperboreans.)

“Unbearable pain and the fear of a worse death seem to me the most excusable incitements for suicide” is Montaigne’s conclusion.

He was a sincere Christian. But he found inspiration and solace in the teachings of antiquity.

Us and the Hyperboreans. 2

In the British character Italians may perceive elements of brutality. This for example appears when they become angry and yell, both the men and the women. It is a cry sometimes unpleasant and almost repugnant to us, sorry to say that. It is not clear whether it is us who are too soft or them too hard.

A young girl very close to my family, Claudia, who had studied one month in Cambridge, England (see image above,) was walking one day on a street of that lovely town – she told us. Being unexpectedly captured by a shop-window and stopping in wonder in front of it, her rapture was suddenly (and rudely) shattered by a cutting rebuke – ‘STUPID GIRL!!!’ – yelled with such hardness by a middle-aged woman whose hasty walking had apparently been blocked by the girl’s sudden halt.
Despite Claudia’s outspoken character, she stayed frozen on that same spot for a few seconds, aghast.

Now it doesn’t really matter who was right, the English woman (more likely) or the young absent-minded (and possibly unruly) 17-years-old Italian girl. What I’m focusing on here is the nastiness of that cry – Claudia is a splendid imitator – and the lack of humanitas and sympathy we sometimes perceive in some Northern European people, despite their correctness and civic manners (surely greater than ours: see a conversation with Alex, a Briton, and other persons in Alex’s blog.)

Manchester United’s Din of War

Let me remember an impressive football game between Juventus and Manchester United played a few years ago at the Old Trafford stadium. In that occasion the United fans showed such a wild reaction against the psychological blow delivered to them by a first-minute scorching shot by Alessandro Del Piero – he elegantly dribbled sideways and scored (see below) – that the whole episode how can I ever forget.

The stadium was suddenly struck dumb. All, I mean ALL, United fans (50,000? 60,000?) were like annihilated and remained totally silent for several minutes. Such a terrible silence, such an impressive collective affliction we didn’t suspect what it soon would lead to.

After a while here in fact comes a low-pitched grumbling first, like an unnatural deep buzz, followed by a crescendo of shouts screams bellows against the Italian team, which kept growing and growing and became so deafening that the Juventus players, made incapable to reason, their morale disrupted, ran into total defeat.

I was bewildered and indignant! All seemed so unfair, brutal!

Therefore how could I not think – I’m obsessing-obsessed – about that awful din of war addressed to the Roman legionaries of Caius Marius by the German Teutones and Ambrones (comrades of the Cimbri) whose number – writes Plutarch, probably exaggerating – was limitless and covered a vast plain.

Here is Plutarch describing that dreadful sound:

“Here was lamentation among them all night long, not like the wailings and groanings of men, but howlings and bellowings with a strain of the wild beast in them, mingled with threats and cries of grief …. The whole plain was filled with an awful din, and the Romans were filled with fear, and even Marius himself was filled with consternation.” It was 102 BC, the night before the terrible battle of Aquae Sextiae.

I couldn’t but think about that famous night while I was watching the total disbandment of one of the best soccer teams in the world.

A Human Avalanche

Well, the Romans’ peasant’s endurance was surely tougher than Juventus’ (looking for a base consolation, am I not.) Being petrified by that shocking sound and not able to sleep (the Romans,) the following morning they nevertheless pulled themselves together and wiped out their enemies with a double attack from the front and from behind.

The battle and the following one near Vercellae (modern Vercelli, Italy) ended up with the total annihilation of the human avalanche who had terrorised the nations of the Empire (Mommsen).

I know all this happened 21 centuries ago, I know I’m digressing and it’s surely unfair to see in today’s English fans the grand-children of those first German hordes
[Alex observes: “Being from the UK, I am considered by the Italians to be someone from an Anglo-Saxon culture … you’ll be happy to hear that I rarely wear fur.”]

And yet, believing as much as I do that even the most far-away past can be alive in our present, that din from the United fans …

Ψ

In the end, since it’s not only British-like to grant the honours of war to courage, we’ll admit the United fans were not totally unfair (they were only a bit,) and most of all, leaving football trivia behind, we feel like paying the humblest of tributes to the brave Cimbri and Teutons and especially to their unbelievably fierce and ferocious women.

So here are Plutarch’s words (Life of Marius), not for the faint of heart:

“(Acquae Sextiae) the Romans kept slaying them until they came in their flight to their camp and waggons. Here the women met them, swords and axes in their hands, and with hideous shrieks of rage tried to drive back fugitives and pursuers alike, the fugitives as traitors, and the pursuers as foes; they mixed themselves up with the combatants, with bare hands tore away the shields of the Romans or grasped their swords, and endured wounds and mutilations, their fierce spirits unvanquished to the end.”

“(Vercellae?) The fugitives, however, were driven back to their entrenchments, where the Romans beheld a most tragic spectacle. The women, in black garments, stood at the waggons and slew the fugitives — their husbands or brothers or fathers, then strangled their little children and cast them beneath the wheels of the waggons or the feet of the cattle, and then cut their own throats. It is said that one woman hung dangling from the tip of a waggon-pole, with her children tied to either ankle.”

Ψ

Related posts:

Us and the Hyperboreans. 1
Us and the Hyperboreans. 3
Humanitas
Isn’t the British Trojan Horse a Short-sighted Animal?
(around which an extensive discussion developed about the UK vs Italy and Europe)
Ups and Downs
From the two Sides of the Roman Limes
Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

Sex and the City (of Rome). 2

Lovers. Herculaneum Fresco. Public Domain
Lovers. Herculaneum Fresco. Public Domain
Italian version

As we have said in the first post regarding Sex and the city of Rome the ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude towards sex and enjoyed a sensuality open to possibilities whose variety can confuse contemporary people (in spite of what we Westerners think of our sexual liberation) to the extent that what we are about to narrate could offend people’s feelings. We therefore ask for pardon but we also make known to minors and prudish people to please not read any further.

God Priapus' weighing his phallus. House of the Vettii, Pompeii
God Priapus ‘weighing himself’. Fresco from the House of the Vettii, Pompeii. Click for credits and to enlarge

Open sensuality? Yes, since for example the sacred poet Virgil probably sighed for Alexis, a beautiful boy; Horace celebrated incest, adultery and sex with female slaves; Ovid, Petronius and Catullus went a lot further (we might see later); not to mention the Roman phallic festivals like the Liberalia, held on the 17th of March …

“… where a monstrous phallus was carried in procession in a car… and the most respectable of the matrons ceremoniously crowned the head of the phallus with a garland”, or festivals like the Bacchanalia where similarly a huge phallus was carried and “as in the Liberalia, the festivities being carried on into the night, as the celebrators became heated with wine, they degenerated into the extreme of licentiousness, in which people indulged without a blush in the most infamous vices.”

This is Victorian Thomas Wright‘s opinion (1810-1877, English antiquarian and writer), not Man of Roma’s (see the Wright’s original text where our two quotes are from.)

Auguste (Maurice François Giuslain) Léveque (1864-1921). Bacchanalia. Public Domain
Auguste (Maurice François Giuslain) Léveque (1864-1921). Bacchanalia. Public Domain

Before trying to understand what is left today of these distant habits (the post title actually refers to survivals of ancient behaviours in today’s world, we’ll see why), we are going to provide a few detailed illustrations of this freer (or different, in any case) attitude .

So we’ll start by mentioning a Roman goddess, Dea Bona (‘Good Goddess’) and a scandal occurred at the time of great Julius Caesar.

Roman Dea Bona

Roman Bona Dea (Good Goddess)
Roman Bona Dea (Good Goddess)

In Roman religion Dea Bona (Latin for ‘Good Goddess’) was a “deity of fruitfulness, both in the earth and in women … The dedication day of her temple on the Aventine was celebrated May 1. Her temple was cared for and attended by women only, and the same was the case at a second celebration, at the beginning of December, in the house of the Pontifex Maximus [the chief Roman Priest, today’s Pope being still the Pontifex Maximus of Rome], where the Pontifex’s wife and the Vestal Virgins ran the ceremony.” (Bona Dea. 2007. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 9, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.)

I wonder if the online Britannica is exact here, since the December celebration was conducted “by the wife of the senior magistrate present in Rome in his home” (any senior magistrate then: Pontifex, consul etc.). In fact, according to Plutarch (2nd cent. A.D., Life of Cicero 19.3, 20.1-2) when Cicero was consul, the day he made the famous speech which is known as his third Catiline oration, he was escorted in the night “to the house of a friend and neighbour; his own being occupied by women who were celebrating the secret rites of the goddess whom the Romans call Bona.”

Dea Bona’s Image
Roman Bona Dea

The December festival was more interesting than the May one since “it was not held in the goddess’ temple … it was an invitation-only affair and pretty exclusive”. The wife of the magistrate managed the whole thing during the night, all was secret and occurred in a context of classy luxury (quote from here.)

What was happening during these secret-sacred rites from which men were strictly excluded? Surely it was something like a mystery cult, hence little we know about it (maybe you can find something in Macrobius’ Saturnalia). According to the Latin poet Juvenal, who wrote his satires many generations later (but who was also probably a bit of a misogynist), the Bona rites included drunken orgies among women (Juvenalis Sat. vi, l. 314):

“Well known to all are the mysteries
of the Good Goddess,
when the flute stirs the loins
and the Maenads of Priapus sweep along,
frenzied alike by the horn-blowing and the wine,
whirling their locks and howling.
What foul longings burn within their breasts!
What cries they utter as the passion palpitates within!
How drenched their limbs in torrents of old wine!
Saufeia challenges the slave-girls to a contest….”

(See a complete version in English prose of Juvenal Satire 6, plus the same passage in Latin verses).

Well, what happened in the house of Julius Caesar according to Plutarch seems to confirm Juvenal’s opinion. Let’s see why.

Sacrilege in Julius Caesar’s house

Two Roman Women. Fair use

Dramatis personae

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The scandal broke during the Dea Bona December ceremonies in 62 BC, when Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus. This is why the celebration took place in his house. Caesar of course was absent, being a man. The way it all developed seems to confirm Juvenal’s view, as we have said.

As Plutarch writes, our great source of the Ancient world (Life of Caesar 9-10):

“(9.1) Publius Clodius was a man of noble birth and notable for his wealth and reputation, but not even the most notorious scoundrels came close to him in insolence and audacity. Clodius was in love with Caesar’s wife Pompeia, and she was not unwilling. But a close watch was kept on the women’s apartment, and Caesar’s mother Aurelia followed the young wife around and made it difficult and dangerous for the lovers to meet.”

“(9.3) The Romans have a goddess whom they call Good… It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony.”

“(10.1) At the time [when the incident occurred] Pompeia was celebrating this ritual; Clodius did not yet have a beard and for this reason thought that he would escape detection if he were dressed up as [woman] lyre-player, and went into the house looking like a young woman. He found the doors open and was led in without difficulty by a slave-woman who was in on the plot; this woman went to Pompeia and told her, and some time passed, but Clodius could not bear to wait, and as he was wandering around the large house and trying to avoid the lights, one of Aurelia’s [female] attendants got hold of him, and asked him to play with her, as one woman might with another, and when he refused, she dragged him before the others and asked who he was and where he came from.”

“(10.3) Clodius said that he was waiting for Pompeia’s slave Abra (which happened to be the woman’s name), and gave himself away by his voice. The [woman] attendant dashed away from him towards the lights and the crowd, shouting that she had caught a man. The women were terrified, and Aurelia called a halt to the rites of the goddess and hid the sacred objects; she ordered the doors to be shut and went around the house with torches, looking for Clodius. He was found in the room that belonged to the girl where he had gone in an attempt to escape. When he was discovered, he was taken through the doors by the women and thrown out of the house. That night the women went right off and told their husbands about the affair, and during the day the story spread through the city that Clodius had been involved in sacrilege and had committed injustice against not only those he had insulted, but the city and the gods.

“(10.5) Clodius was indicted for sacrilege by one of the tribunes, and the most influential senators joined forces against him and testified about other dreadful outrages he had committed and his incest with his sister.”

[Her name was Clodia – prob. the slutty Lesbia loved by Catullus – a perpetual scandal like her brother Clodius. We’ll probably talk about her again, it is important in our view of Roman sex. In the painting below you can see Catullus visiting aristocratic Lesbia’s mansion, a nice work by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912,) an interesting painter of late nineteenth century Britain]

Catullus at Lesbia’s by Sir Laurence Alma Tadema. 1836-1912. 1865

[Online Britannica: “In December 62, when the winter ceremony of the Bona Dea (from which men were excluded) was celebrated in the house of Julius Caesar, a man believed to be Clodius was discovered disguised as a female harpist among the participants. Charged with incestum he was tried before the Senate…Caesar divorced his wife in suspicion that she had admitted Clodius to the ceremony….Clodius maintained he had been at Interamna, 90 miles (145 km) from Rome, on the day in question, but Cicero, who abused the defendant intemperately, presented evidence to the contrary. Clodius was acquitted, perhaps because the jury had been bribed, but immediately began to devise ways to revenge himself on Cicero.” (Clodius Pulcher, Publius. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 9 Dec. 2007) ]

Plutarch (10.6): “Caesar immediately divorced Pompeia, but when he was summoned as a witness in the trial said that he knew nothing about the accusations against Clodius. The prosecutor asked him about the apparent contradiction: ‘why then did you divorce your wife?’ He answered, ‘because I thought my wife should be above suspicion’….Clodius was acquitted because most of the jurors handed in their opinions in illegible writing, so that they would not endanger themselves with the common people by voting against him, or disgrace themselves with the nobility by letting him off.”

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I think the reason Caesar supported Clodius was because they belonged to the same common people (democratic) party. Clodius was popular and influential therefore deemed useful by Caesar for his own political career.

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Related posts:

Sex and the city (of Rome) 1
Sex and the city (of Rome) 3
Sex and the city (of Rome) 4
Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion.

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)