Earlier tonight I went out to write, but I kept feeling this strong compulsion to re-read the passage from Nonnos concerning the Shield of Dionysos. I’m glad I did because there was the stuff about Kronos and then the snakes which reminded me of the scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Morrison’s vision in the desert.
It’s been years since I read the entire Dionysiaka and then I just skimmed through sections of it because, well, if you’ve read it you know why.
So after the interesting stuff that my search for the shield turned up I wondered what other rarities might be buried in the Panopolitan’s treasure-chest of Dionysiac myth.
I read each of the blurbs and stopped when I came to the one for the 18th Book:
The Assyrian Staphylus, his wife Methe, and his son Botrys invite Dionysus to a feast where they all get drunk. Dionysus has prophetic dreams. The next morning Staphylus talks about the gods and giants and the origin of the Indians, and then dies.
Yeah. That has potential.
So I’m reading along and find this:
Then a Bacchant turned, and muzzled the lion’s jaws by tying a string of vineleaves over his head, and wreathed his neck lightly in a noose. Then crowds of women ran up to the beast one upon another, and scratched with brambles the ugly pads and paws. At last Artemis saved him alive with difficulty, entangled in the clustering meshes; and from the bosom of the sky a flash of lightning shot into the beast’s face, and made him a blind vagabond of the roads.
Such was the dream Dionysos had seen. Rising from his bed, he donned about his chest the star-spangled corselet of bronze stained with Indian blood, and entwined his hair with a circlet of writhing snakes, and wedged his feet in the reddened boots, took thyrsos in hand — that flowery spear of Enyo — and called a servant satyr.
Prince Botrys, hearing the echoing call from the divine lips of Bakchos hard by, roused himself, put on his own dress, and called to sleeping Pithos. When Methe heard the voice, she reluctantly lifted her heavy head, and letting it fall lazily, went to sleep again; all through the morning the queen still remained with her eyes gathering the most sweet bloom of sleep. At last she left her bed with slow unwilling foot.
Staphylos the grapelover attended upon Lyaios, offering him the guest’s gifts as he was hasting for his journey: a two-handled jar of gold with silver cups, from which hitherto he used always to quaff the milk of milch-goats; and he brought embroidered robes, which Persian Arachne beside the waters of Tigris had cleverly made with her fine thread. Then the generous king spoke to Bromios of the earlier war between Zeus and Kronos.
“But Sannion, I’m confused! Everything I’ve ever read said that Arachne was a Lydian girl.”
Me too, dearies. Me too. And I’ve read a lot about this subject.
Little suspicious, the way this source just happened to come to light while I’m tracing back the purple thread.
Almost as suspicious as this:
In the Julian reform of the Roman calendar on January 1, 45 BC, Caesar added two additional days to the end of December. But, because they fell between the Ides and the next Kalends, Caesar was confronted either with having the Saturnalia celebrated on the same “day” (i.e., the same number of days after the Ides) or on the same “date” (its position in the month relative to the following Kalends). He chose to leave the festival on the same day, even though this meant changing its date.
Macrobius says thatthe Saturnalia occurred on “the fourteenth before the Kalends of January” in the Republican calendar. In a month that then had only twenty-nine days, a.d.XIV.Kal.Jan. is December 17. This also was its “day” in the Julian calendar, with its thirty-one day month, although the “date” now is a.d.XVI.Kal.Jan. just as Caesar had intended in his reform of the calendar.
Feeney provides an intriguing example of the consequences of the new calendar in the person of Mark Antony, who was born in 83 BC on the day after the Ides of January (January 14). In the Republican calendar, January had twenty-nine days and Antony’s birthday, since he was born after the Ides, was counted down to the next Kalends. That day was the seventeenth before the Kalends of February. In the Julian calendar, two days were added to January, which now had thirty-one. In 45 BC, celebrating his thirty-eighth birthday for the first time under the Julian calendar, Antony had to chose whether to recognize it on the same date (the seventeenth day before the Kalends), as he always had done, even though that date now was two days later (on the third day after the Ides), or on the same day (the day after the Ides). He chose to observe his birthday on the same day.
But this date did not exist in the calendar of the Republic. When Antony was born, there was no nineteenth day before the Kalends of February, since only seventeen days can be counted back. Nineteen days would be the day before the Ides of January, not the day after. Antony’s birthday is the anniversary of the “day” he was born, but it is not the “date” of his birth simply because that day did not exist in the Julian calendar.
When Antony committed suicide in 30 BC, dying in Cleopatra’s arms, his memory was damned by the Roman Senate (damnatio memoriae). He already had been declared a public enemy (Suetonius,Augustus, XVII.2) and his statues torn down when Octavian entered Alexandria (Plutarch, Antony, LXXXVI.5). The Senate also ordered that monuments to Antony be defaced or dismantled, his honors rescinded, his descendants forbidden to use the praenomen Marcus, and “the day on which he had been born accursed” (dies nefastus), a day unfit for public business (Dio, LI.19.3; Plutarch, Cicero, XLIX.6).
And yet the greatest damnation was accidental. Not only was his natal day condemned but, with the reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar, it no longer even existed. It was as if Mark Antony had never been born.
Marcus Antonius was born on a day that did not exist. That’s got to mean something.
καρδία περιεζωσμένη ὄφιν
Yeah. Something like that.
I can tell I’m going to be unraveling all of this for a while.
But not now. My head hurts.