XX. THE ROMAN REPUBLICANS SERIOUS AND GAY.
It is easier to think of the old Roman republicans as serious than gay, when we remember that they considered that their very commonwealth was established upon the will of the gods, and that no acts - at least no public acts - could properly be performed without consulting those spiritual beings, which their imagination pictured as presiding over the hearth, the farm, the forum - as swarming throughout every department of nature. The first stone was not laid at the foundation of the city until Romulus and Remus had gazed up into the heavens, so mysterious and so beautiful, and had obtained, as they thought, some indication of the fittest place where they might dig and build. The she-wolf that nurtured the twins was elevated into a divinity with the name Lupa, or Luperca (lupus, a wolf), and was made the wife of a god who was called Lupercus, and worshipped as the protector of sheep against their enemies, and as the god of fertility. On the fifteenth of February, when in that warm clime spring was beginning to open the buds, the shepherds celebrated a feast in honor of Lupercus. Its ceremonies, in some part symbolic of purification, were rude and almost savage, proving that they originated in remote antiquity, but they continued at least down to the end of the period we have considered, and the powerful Marc Antony did not disdain to clothe himself in a wolfskin and run almost naked through the crowded streets of the capital the month before his friend Julius Cæsar was murdered. [Footnote: see page 248*] It was a fitting festival for the month of which the name was derived from that of the god of purification ( februare, to purify).
It was at the foot of a fig-tree that Romulus and Remus were fabled to have been found by Faustulus, and that tree was always looked upon with special veneration, though whenever the Roman walked through the woods he felt that he was surrounded by the world of gods, and that such a leafy shade was a proper place to consecrate as a temple. A temple was not an edifice in those simple days, but merely a place separated and set apart to religious uses by a solemn act of dedication. When the augur moved his wand aloft and designated the portion of the heavens in which he was to make his observations, he called the circumscribed area of the ethereal blue a temple, and when the mediæval astrologer did the same, he named the space a "house." On the Roman temple an altar was set up, and there, perhaps beneath the spreading branches of a royal oak, sacred to Jupiter, the king of the gods, or of an olive, sacred to Minerva, the maiden goddess, impersonation of ideas, who shared with him and his queen the highest place among the Capitoline deities, prayers and praises and sacrifices were offered.
When the year opened, the Roman celebrated the fact by solemnizing in its first month, March, the festivity of the father of the Roman people by Rhea Silvia, the god who stood next to Jupiter; who, as Mars Silvanus, watched over the fields and the cattle, and, as Mars Gradivus (marching), delighted in bloody war, and was a fitting divinity to be appealed to by Romulus as he laid the foundation of the city. [Footnote: See page 19.] As spring progressed, sacrifices were offered to Tellus, the nourishing earth; to Ceres, the Greek goddess Demeter, introduced from Sicily B.C. 496, to avert a famine, whose character did not, however, differ much from that of Tellus; and to Pales, a god of the flocks. At the same inspiring season another feast was observed in honor of the vines and vats, when the wine of the previous season was opened and tasted. [Footnote: This was the ,_Vinalia urbana (urbs , a city), but there was another festival celebrated August 19th, when the vintage began, known as the Vinalia rusticawhen lambs were sacrificed to Jupiter. While the flesh was still on the altar, the priest broke a cluster of grapes from a vine, and thus actually opened the wine harvest.]
In like manner after the harvest, there were festivals in honor of Ops, goddess of plenty, wife of that old king of the golden age, Saturnus, introducer of social order and god of sowing, source of wealth and plenty. The festival of Saturnus himself occurred on December 17th, and was a barbarous and joyous harvest-home, a time of absolute relaxation and unrestrained merriment, when distinctions of rank were forgotten, and crowds thronged the streets crying, Io Saturnalia! even slaves wearing the pileus or skullcap, emblem of liberty, and all throwing off the dignified toga for the easy and comfortable synthesis, perhaps a sort of tunic.