Getting ready for Liberalia


To help get in the mood for the Liberalia on Monday (which I have a feeling is going to be pretty intense for me this year) I consulted Ioannes Laurentios Lydos’ de Mensibus 51 which contained this interesting (though etymologically dubious) passage:

Liber, the name for Dionysos among the Romans, meaning “free” — that is, the Sun. Mysteries (mysteria), from the removal of impurity (mysos) as equivalent to holiness. Dionysos, “because of whom is the race-post” (di’ hon hê nyssa) — that is, the turning-post — and the cycles of time. Indeed, Terpander of Lesbos says that Nyssa nursed the Dionysos called “Sabazios” by some, who was born of Zeus and Persephone, and later torn to pieces by the Titans. And it is also told concerning him, according to Apollodoros, that he was born of Zeus and Earth, Earth being designated “Semele” because all things have it as their foundation (katathemeliousthai): by changing one letter, ‘s,’ the poets have called her “Semele.”

According to the poets, there have been five Dionysi: First, the son of Zeus and Lysithea; second, the son of Nilos, who ruled over Libya and Ethiopia and Arabia; third, the child of Cabirus, who ruled over Asia, from whom come the Cabirian initiation; fourth, the child of Zeus and Semele, for whom the mysteries of Orpheus were performed, and by whom wine was mingled; fifth, the son of Nisos and Thyone, who introduced the “Triennial Festival.” So far, the Greek account. But the Romans call Dionysos the “Bacchanal of Cithaeron” — meaning, one who is in a Bacchic frenzy and runs up to the heavens, which they named citharon on the basis of the harmony of the seven “stars,” and hence Hermes mystically gives the cithara to Apollo, as the Logos grants the attunement of the universe to the Sun. And the mysteries in honor of Dionysos were conducted in secret, because of the fact that the sun’s shared association with the nature of the universe is hidden from everyone. And in his sacred rites they would carry along phalli, as being the generative organs, and a mirror, as representing the translucent/radiant heavens, and a ball, as representing the earth. For Plato says in his Timaios, “to earth, the spherical form.” For this reason also Pythagoras says that souls have been scattered in the ten spheres in this way, and in the earth. And in the sacred rites, they would call him Pyrigenês (“fire-born”) and Pankratês (“all-powerful”), because on the one hand the sun is of a fiery nature, and on the other, it governs and rules over all. And they say that the panther receives its name from him, as representing the “all-animal” (pan-thêr-os) earth which receives from him its life-giving and joy-bringing sustenance. And they depict his Bacchantes and Nymphs as representing the waters that obey him, and by the movement of the sun the nature of the waters is given life; and they give them cymbals and thyrsi to represent the sound of the waters. And they depict the Maenads being driven off by Satyrs, as representing the production of thunder and noise when the waters are thrust away by the winds. And they describe Dionysos as the “mind of Zeus,” as representing the soul of the cosmos; for we find everywhere that the entire cosmos is named “Zeus,” on account of its eternal life and endlessness. They describe him as the son of Semele, as being hidden under earth and coming forth by virtue of Hermes, that is, the Logos; and being fostered in the thigh of Zeus, as lying hidden in the secret places of the cosmos; and they call him Dithyrambos (“of the double door”) and Dimêtôr (“having two mothers”), the one who has two paths of procession, the one, from the East toward the South, in winter, and the other, from the North toward the West, in summer. So much regarding Dionysos.

And on the day of the Bacchanalia, Demokritos says that Pisces sets, and Varro teaches that there will be a “fight of the winds.”

All this, antiquity has handed down about the Dionysia.

A lot stands out for me in this passage (once you get past the lens of solar monotheism and syncreticraziness) particularly the bit about the Winds, which is a theme that keeps coming up for me as I immerse myself in the history and mythology of Magna Graecia. I may have to put together a post on that at a later date. But I’ve got liba and phalloi to get ready!


So, Starry Bull thiasitai and others, what do you plan to do for Liberalia?

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4 thoughts on “Getting ready for Liberalia

  1. Petros

    I probably won’t do anything since last year’s attempt at a Liberalia festival didn’t go according to plan. I had copious amounts of food and alcohol ready. Half of the people didn’t come. No one wore the ivy crowns I set out. I was the only one drunk. It was more sedate than your average NPR show. I should’ve just gotten naked and seen what would’ve happened…”Here’s a phallos!”
    I’ll probably go “Irish” this year and just enjoy some Guinness and whiskey alone. I think I read that Cu Chulainn is honored on the 17th too. Maybe I’ll pour one out for him.


  2. Ran out to the craft store today and got gold polymer clay to make a phallos. I also plan on baking some koulourakia tomorrow, when I get time. (It’s a test-grading weekend, so we’ll see!)

    Since it’s my first Liberalia, I’ll be doing the rite you suggested in an earlier post, and likely keeping pretty closely to it. Modify it in later years if need be.

    I’ll likely drink, but the amount will be low with it being a work night.


  3. Pingback: Reflections on Liberalia/Cú Chulainn’s Feast/Kottytia/Birth of Pancrates | Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

  4. Petros, I wish you’d try again. Sometimes people are just too nervous the first time. Sometimes there was something genuinely important that kept them from showing up. I can’t count the number of experiences I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy if their organizers had given up after the first try. Sometimes you just need to build a little momentum.


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