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Happy Floralia

April 28, 2014

I wouldn't want to break with tradition here, and since today marks another obscure Roman holiday, I thought I would go ahead and write about that.  I mean, I could be doing work.  Or writing about work.  But I'm not.  I'm also heading a lot of sentences with conjunctions, which is a no no.  But, what are you going to do?  Not read my blog?  You and 7 billion other people.

Anyway, April 28th is the first day of Floralia, sometimes known as ludi Florae, or the Games of Flora.  Flora was an ancient goddess sacred to the Romans, most likely arriving in their culture via all the Sabine women that they kidnapped and raped incorporated  into their society.  A temple dedicated to Flora was built on the Aventine Hill, very near the Circus Maximus.  There was a second temple dedicated to her, or to Flora Rustica (she liked it rough), on the Quirinal Hill.  One or both of these were dedicated during the Roman "regal period," when Rome was ruled by a king, before the Republic and the Empire.

If I keep this up, I'll name all seven of the Roman hills.  Four more to go, meretrices!

Flora was a goddess of flowers, plants, vegetation, and fertility.  You probably could have guessed that much without the explanation, just based on her name along.  With the coming of the new growth and the reemergence of green vegetation after the winter, it was natural for the celebrations surrounding Flora to occur during the spring.  Thanks to this, she was assumed to be a personification of the spring, or a goddess of the spring.  Thus, she was venerated during the games that came at the end of April; her celebration lasted for six days.  While she was not one of the "big" names in Roman mythology, she was nevertheless important, especially considering her association with the spring, rebirth, and the growing of plants.

One important note about the Games of Flora, especially for us Westerners and especially for Christians:  animals, especially goats, rabbits and hares, were released during the games to celebrate Flora and her gift of fecundity.  These animals were chosen based on their "fertile and salacious" nature, according to Roman poet Ovid.  Another interesting tie-in with modern Christianity, although possibly more loosely tied-in, is the notion that, for Floralia, Romans eschewed the wearing of white garments and instead chose more colorful attire, similar to the pastels we associate with the spring and especially with Easter.  Hell, might as well stretch all the way to the coloring of eggs, too, right?  Why not.  It's Floralia, after all!

The celebrations involved plays, dances, and, of course, games.  Two things of note for the Floralia, though:  one, it was more a Plebian holiday, whereas most of the other celebrations in Rome heavily favored the Patrician families.  Since the common folks participated so readily in the celebration, Floralia was popular with the people, even if Flora was not considered one of the big, important goddesses--especially if you compare her to Ops or Ceres.  The other interesting thing about Floralia was that prostitutes actively participated in the games.  Normally, prostitutes were kept on the edges of society, no matter how valuable their services were to the populace.  Since most prostitutes were slaves, they were excluded from society and were not considered citizens of Rome.  Even women who were not slaves but entered into prostitution were thusly excluded from society.  However, all prostitutes, even prostitutes who were not slaves, participated in the games, showing that even the whores were not completely excluded from Roman society.  Their activities, aside from the obvious, included mock gladitorial battles, dancing naked (now we're talking!) in public displays, and performing their own plays--hopefully naked, as well.  Hooray, prostitutes!

So, gather up your goats and rabbits, pelt your friends with beans and lupins, and go watch some strippers dance around a pole or two.  It's Floralia!  Get out there and celebrate it!