Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of February 22nd - February 28th,  2002

Full Family Fame

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   This week we take another look at Ovid's Fasti, examining the Ides of January, set on the 13th of that month.
Ovid

Ovid

If the sighting of the thin crescent following the New Moon originally represented the start of each month in the Roman calendar, so the Ides, falling on the 13th, represented the Full Moon. The Ides never 'officially' fell on the 14th because the Romans thought even-numbered days to be unlucky, even if the astronomical timing of the exact alignment of the Full Moon did fall on the 14th.

   It is easy to determine the Moon's zodiacal position for the Ides. The Sun is in Capricorn in January, meaning the Full Moon falls in Cancer, Capricorn's opposite sign. A Full Moon is always an opposition between the Sun and Moon, with the bright lunar orb rising in the East as the Sun sets.

   The Moon in Cancer is in its own sign. The Moon rules Cancer. One of its chief themes is home. This can be the body in which our spirit resides, the structure we call our home, the family or tribe that we live with, or the town, city, state, country or even planet we live on. At various levels, they are all our home. Under the illumination of the Full Moon, these themes can receive their fullest luster, their greatest fame, their highest national honor.

Scipio Africanus

Scipio Africanus

   In Ovid's Fasti for the Ides of January, national claims-to-fame are being examined. Since the Empire had only recently come under the control of Augustus after decades of civil strife, Ovid is singing the praises of the Emperor.
Pompey the Great

Pompey the Great

In part this is celestial design, but Ovid is also seeking an Imperial reprieve, as he has been exiled to a barren outpost on the Black Sea for some outrage lost to history. In his verse for this day, he is comparing earlier Roman heroes who have taken their titles from the lands they have conquered (such as Scipio Africanus), but then showing how inferior they are to the notoriety won by Augustus by having brought peace to the entire Mediterranean basin. These, then, are some of the various threads being woven into what we read in the following lines:

   'Peruse the legends graved on waxen images ranged round noble halls; titles so lofty never were bestowed on man before. Africa named her conqueror after herself; another by his style attests Isaurian or Cretan power subdued: one gloried in Numidians laid low, another in Messana, while from the city of Numantia yet a third drew his renown. To Germany did Drusus owe his title and his death: woe's me! that all that goodness should be so short-lived! Did Caesar take his titles from the vanquished, then must he assume as many names as there are tribes in the whole world. Some have earned fame from single enemies, taking their names either from a necklace won or from a raven confederate in the fight. Pompey, thy name of Great is the measure of thy deeds, but he who conquered thee was greater still in name.'

Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar

   '...tribes in the whole world' is our key here. Cancer is the tribe, family, nation, or country. Many of the nations of the Roman Republic are being paraded across the stage, used as examples to illustrate how great the new emperor, and the new order, has become. Augustus has conquered all the tribes in the world, and therefore his fame (Full Moon) stands supreme. In another lunar example, we again spot our clue.

   'No surname can rank above that which the Fabii bear: for their services their family was called the Greatest.'

   The greatest family on Earth, the countries of the Roman Empire; these are the Cancerian examples Ovid uses to illustrate celestial design, based upon the traditions of a time honored calendar, whose rituals were merely being catalogued by Ovid before they were lost to history forever. Ovid did not sit down and insert these holidays into the calendar of days of his own choosing; he is recording the rituals that have been observed by the Romans for decades. His job, as poet, has been to sing the praises of the Empire, and he focuses on recent events and includes them, but the root of this tradition extends much further back than when Julius Caesar converted the old calendar into the basis of the one we use today.


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