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Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol LIII

December 17, 2009

Io, Saturnalia! That translates roughly into "Yo! Saturnalia!" I've mentioned before how the Romans loved interjections, and io is one of them, and it really does mean "yo", or "ho", but not the nappy-headed type. It's also pronounced "yo". And Roman children often got io-ios for Saturnalia. Ha! I made a joke. I had to tell you because it was so bad.

Anyway, Saturnalia kicked off yesterday. "And what", you are certainly asking yourself or uttering at the screen, "is Saturnalia?" Stop reading that Wiki entry and finish this blog post, because I'm about to tell you.

Saturnalia was perhaps the most popular of all the dies festi and had been celebrated since before Caesar crumbled the Republic. It originally started out as a way of celebrating the dedication of the Temple of Saturn, who was the major harvest god in Rome. Usually, he was depicted as carrying a sheaf of wheat in one hand and a sickle in the other, representing that he was all about the planting and harvesting of crops. It just so happened that, in 217 BC, the Roman armies got their asses kicked suffered a major loss at Lake Trasimenus at the hands of Chief Roman Enemy and User of Elephants, Hannibal. The promotion of Saturnalia was a way of improving public morale, because at this point, things weren't looking too good for the Roman armies. And when it comes to raising morale, Saturnalia was just what the doctor ordered.

It started out as a single day worth of celebration, on December 17th. However, it quickly became a week-long celebration, stretching from December 17th through December 23rd. As Rome recovered from the ass-kickings handed to it by the Carthaginians and subsequently began winning the Punic Wars, some thought that it was unnecessary to celebrate Saturnalia for a whole week.

But the Roman citizens would have none of that horseshit. The Romans loved their holidays and celebrations, even more than they loved their interjections. Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, tried to limit the party to three days (unsuccessfully), and Caligula (whose name means "little boot") tried to limit the celebration to five.

Fun fact about Caligula: when he wasn't fucking other men's wives or banging his sisters or erecting statues of himself in various temples or killing for the sheer pleasure of it, he tried to install his horse, Incitatus, as a senator. When that failed, he tried to make the horse a priest. And you thought Gandalf and Shadowfax had a strange relationship.

Anyway, eventually the authorities stopped trying to harsh everyone's mellow in the Roman empire and just let them enjoy their Saturnalias. So, how did they celebrate Saturnalia? Well, first you get a couch, set it up in front of the temple of Saturn, and then elect some guy to cut the ropes that covered the statue through most of the year. Everyone rejoices. And now, with Saturn unleashed, we begin the "tomfoolery".

The tomfoolery in question was the "reversal of roles" in society. Slaves were allowed to sit and eat with the families they served (although they still made the meals) and the slaves were allowed to treat their owners/masters with disrespect. And there was much eating, as there were several feasts held during Saturnalia. And with feasting came drinking. Also, you didn't wear a toga during Saturnalia, but instead you wore more colorful and somewhat more formal clothing, your Sunday best, as it were. People played games and sang songs and danced. Trees were decorated with stars and moons and suns. It was a time for visiting friends and family. Often, you gave gifts during Saturnalia, such as candles or small, earthenware figurines called sigillaria. Also, people--especially the slaves who were "elevated to master" wore a jaunty little red cap called a pileus.

Wait a minute...this all sounds remotely similar...

But that's for next week's Latin lesson.

So, this weekend, while you're out finishing up shopping for your sigillaria, think about all the fun you could be having, at least after you've finished up with your holiday duties. Keep saying this over and again whenever the crowds are keeping you down and the fugly holiday sweater you wanted to buy someone isn't in the right size:

Initium ad bibendum non possum expectare...

Pronounced: "in-eet-ee-oom ad bee-bain-doom noan poe-soom ex-pect-are-aye..."

Translation in the hovertext


If you're going to allow the true spirit of the holiday to wash over you this weekend, try this one on for size:

Similibus fossores bibamus et ballemus!

Pronounced: "Seem-ee-lee-boose foh-soar-ace bee-bah-moose et bah-lay-moose!"

I stole this picture from Gwen. Oh, and hovertext translation, as if it matters now.


Since it's Saturnalia, you should go home, lay on the couch, put on a silly little hat, get a drink, and lounge about waiting for all those candles, balls, lanterns and io-ios to come your way. I mean, it's Saturnalia! It's time to party like it's 19 or, 99. Io, Saturnalia!!!

[Note] I changed the second phrase to help reflect Gwen's weekend, since I swiped the dancing elf from her. It's now drink and dance. Io, Saturnalia!

9 comments:

Travis said...

Oh how I want to drink tonight!

But alas, my wife graduates tomorrow morning...

Dang. Can't have a hangover for that.

Gwen said...

Woot! Those Romans are my kind of partiers!

I'll be getting my Saturnalia on Roman-style in Chicago this weekend with Scope and Whiskeymarie and other people you'd love if you knew them. I'll raise my glass to you more than once, jenksies!

Nej said...

I just love your latin lessons. :-)

Elephant users and nappy-headed yos. (giggle)

Just Another Momma said...

I absolutely love your Latin Lessons, very informative. Now I can go home to the hubs and tell him I cannot wait to start drinking!

Eric said...

Life is one big Saturnalia. *takes drink*

Ed Adams said...

First things first, as if my balls didn't hurt enough today, then I come here and you make my fucking brain hurt too with all your Latin shit.

Thanks.

And second, how did you get that pic of Mooooog in his Christmas Elf party attire?

Scope said...

Th drinking light goes on in one hour. It will be on through the weekend.

Sunday should be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Dear Author matthewjenks.blogspot.com !
Should you tell you on a false way.

adrienzgirl said...

I don't really need an excuse to drink. Really I don't. It's awesome that there are holidays that coincide with my merriment, so other people can feel better about my consumption of such libations. But honestly, to me it doesn't much matter. I drink because I'm a grown-up and that pretty much sucks.