Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of January 25th - January 31st,  2002

The Stiff Guardian

Columns Archive


   Ovid's Fasti, was a multifaceted weave examining the calendar,


stellar correlations, and religious holidays. Throughout the period of the Roman Republic, the lunar calendar was monitored by the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the state. In the period of social upheaval before the Empire, it had become so corrupt that those in charge looked to politics rather than heaven for their meter. For this reason in 46 BC, Julius Caesar did away with the old version (adding 90 days to bring the calendar back on track), and established a solar calendar.


The Greek model

   Ovid is attempting to capture the spirit of the old tradition, using the old lunar associations, and correlating each month to the cycles of the Moon. For instance, the month would start with the New Moon, while the Ides occurred on the Full Moon. In the last few weeks, we have been examaning some of the correlations set forth on New Year's Day in Ovid's conversation with Janus. In the following passage,

On a coin

which is marked by Ovid as Jan 9th, the Sun would be in Capricorn, while the Moon is in Taurus. Since Taurus is ruled by Venus, here we have a story about Priapus, a particularly ugly god who was also very well endowed. He was the child of Dionysus and Aphrodite, known to the Romans as Bacchus and Venus. One of his epitaphs was 'the Stiff Guardian.'

   "A feast of ivy-berried Bacchus, thou wast wont to hold, O Greece.... Thither came, too, the gods who wait upon Lyaeus and all the jocund crew, Pans and young amorous Satyrs, and goddesses that haunt rivers and lonely wilds. Thither, too, came old Silenus on an ass with hollow back, and the Crimson One (Priapus) who by his lewd image scares the timid birds. They lit upon a dingle meet for joyous wassails, and there they laid them down on grassy beds. Liber (Bacchus) bestowed the wine: each had brought his garland: a stream supplied water in plenty to dilute the wine. Naiads were there, some with flowing locks uncombed, others with tresses neatly bound. One waits upon the revellers with tunic tucked above the knee; another through her ripped robe reveals her breast; another bares her shoulder; one trails her skirt along the grass; no shoes cumber their dainty feet. So some in Satyrs kindle amorous fires, and some in thee, whose brows are wreathed with pine. Thou too, Silenus, burnest for the nymphs, insatiate lecher! 'Tis wantonness alone forbids thee to grow old. But crimson Priapus, glory and guard of the gardens, lost his heart to Lotis, singled out of the whole bevy. For her he longs, for her he prays, for her alone he sighs; he gives her signs by nodding and woos by making marks. But the lovely are disdainful, and pride on beauty waits: she flounted him and cast at him a scornful look. 'Twas night, and wine makes drowsy, so here and there they lay overcome with sleep. Weary with frolic, Lotis, the farthest of them all, sank to her rest on the grassy ground under the maple boughs. Up rose her lover, and holding his breath stole secretly and silently on tiptoe to the fair. When he reached the lonely pallet of the snow-white nymph, he drew his breath so warily that not a sound escaped. And now upon the sward fast by he balanced on his toes, but still the nymph slept sound. He joyed, and drawing from off her feet the quilt, he set him, happy lover! to snatch the wished-for hour. But lo, Silenus saddle-ass, with raucous weasand braying, gave out an ill-timed roar! The nymph in terror started up, pushed off Priapus, and flying gave the alarm to the whole groove; but, ready to enter the lists of love, the god in the moonlight was laughed at by all. The author of the hubbub paid for it with his life, and he is now the victim dear to the Hellespontine god."

   With the Sun in Capricorn, we have the goat god, Pan and his following, with a Moon in Taurus setting, partying in a pastorial scene, highlighting the sexual escapades and humor of the son of Venus.


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