Freedom’s Feast

Although Liberalia isn’t part of the official Bakcheion festival calendar, I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last couple days and am strongly considering celebrating it regardless.

In addition to the traditional features of the festival (which you can read about here, here and here) this was also considered the day when the divine Julius Caesar rose from the underworld after his assassination on the Ides and became a heavenly star. It is fitting that his apotheosis should occur on the feast day of the God, since he was saved by him on another Dionysian festival many years before. In thanks for being spared and granted this decisive military victory which significantly advanced his career, upon returning to Rome Julius Caesar lifted the ban on the Bacchanalia and reintroduced  thiasoi in the city.   

I’ve been reading over my collection of sources on the festival and discovered something rather interesting in Ovid’s Fasti. While I normally get caught on the delightful myth about the bees:

Libations (libamina) derive their name from their author, and so do cakes (liba), because part of them is offered on the hallowed hearths. Cakes are made for the God, because he delights in sweet juices, and they say that honey was discovered by Bacchus. Attended by the Satyrs he was going from sandy Hebrus (my tale includes a pleasant jest), and had come to Rhodope and flowery Pangaeus, when the cymbals in the hands of his companions clashed. Lo, drawn by the tinkle, winged things, as yet unknown, assemble, and the bees follow the sounding brass. Liber collected the stragglers and shut them up in a hollow tree; and he was rewarded by the discovery of honey. Once the Satyrs and the bald-pated ancient had tasted it, they sought for the yellow combs in every grove. In a hollow elm the old fellow heard the humming of a swarm; he spied the combs and kept his counsel. And sitting lazily on the back of an ass, and leaning upon a branch stump he greedily reached at the honey stored in the bole. Thousands of hornets gathered, and thrust their stings into his bald pate, and left their mark on his snub-nosed face. Headlong he fell, and the ass kicked him, while he called to his comrades and implored their help. The Satyrs ran to the spot and laughed at their parent’s swollen face: he limped on his hurt knee. Bacchus himself laughed and taught him to smear mud on his wounds; Silenus took the hint and smudged his face with mire. The Father God enjoys honey, and it is right that we should give to its discoverer golden honey infused in hot cakes. (3.735-762)

This time I pressed on, and discovered:

On this day, if I remember aright, and on the preceding day, there is a procession to the Argei. What the Argei are, will be told in the proper place. The star of the Kite slopes downwards towards the Lycaonian Bear: on that night it becomes visible. If you would know what raised the bird to heaven, it was this: Saturn had been dethroned by Jupiter. In his wrath he stirred up the strong Titans to take arms and sought the help the Fates allowed him. There was a bull born of its mother Earth, a wondrous monster, the hinder part whereof was a serpent: him, at the warning of the three Fates, grim Styx had shut up in gloomy woods enclosed by a triple wall. There was an oracle that he who should burn the innards of the bull in the flames would be able to conquer the eternal Gods. Briareus sacrificed him with an axe made of adamant, and was just about to put the entrails on the fire: Jupiter commanded the birds to snatch them away; the kite brought them to him and was promoted to the stars for his services.

Not only does the Bear put in an appearance, but we get an alternate explanation for why the Bull was placed in the Labyrinth. A Bull, mind you, that is also a Serpent:

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 “Taurus draconem genuit, et taurum draco” [“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. (Arnobius of Sicca, Adversus Nationes 5.20)

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