Saturnalia & the Lord of Misrule

00130070_000Happy Saturnalia!

According to Catullus, Roman poet and consummate scribbler of any thought that popped into his head, Saturnalia was the absolute best time of the year. For one, this happy celebration lasted a week. Two, various roles specific to slaves and masters temporarily reversed –such as slaves were served rather than did the serving. And three, those temporary masters got to do things the free people took for granted — like gambling, taking extra long baths, and partaking in other leisure activities. The *Lord of Misrule oversaw the whole event and made sure everyone was participating. 

*Wiki says the Lord of Misrule would be sacrificed at the end saturnus-caravaggio-smof the festivities, but I haven’t seen that information turn up anywhere else that wasn’t exactly the way Wiki worded it. (One must be careful when citing Wiki as fact. Until an original source turns up, I’ll take it as rumor.)

Wine and laughter flowed, feasting was had, and gods and goddesses were happy with their mortals. Pondering life’s big questions was also a popular thing to do and some really great points were made by master and slave alike.

Roman+mosaic+cockerel+310708fburr201Here are a few Saturnalia quotes from the ponderers of Ancient Rome. Some you may recognize like this oldie but goodie at the bottom of the list~ which came first the chicken or the egg?  Who knew this question is at least 2000-years-old!

“Nescis quid vesper vehat.”

“Thou knowest not what evening may bring.”
Macrobius. Saturnalia, L, 7, 12.

“Tempus ante mundum esse non potuit.”
“Time could not exist before the world.”
Commentarii, II., 10, 9.

“Non potest amor cum timore misceri.”
“Love cannot exist where there is fear.”
Saturnalia, I., 11, 12.

“Omne quod dulce est cito satiat.”
“Every thing sweet quickly brings satiety.”
Saturnalia, VII., 7, 15.

“Opinionis ortus est memoriae defectus.”
“The origin of speculation is a defective memory.”
Commentarii, I., 12, 9.

“Plebeia ingenia magis exemplis quam ratione capiuntur.”
“Vulgar minds are more influenced by example than by argument.”
Saturnalia, VII., 4, i.

“Se judice nemo nocens absolvitur, nec de se suam potest vitare sententiam.”
“With himself as judge, no guilty man is acquitted, nor can any one escape his own sentence.”
Commentarii, I., 10, 12.

“(Ita enim fit ut) si sanitatem sumentium mediocritas observata non sauciet, ipse tamen luxus morum sit aegritudo.”
“So it is that even if the moderation of those who live luxuriously prevents injury to the bodily health, still luxury itself is a moral infirmity.”
Saturnalia, VII., 5, 32.

“Sibi quisque dat mores; conditionem casus adsignat.”
“Each one forms his own character; his station is assigned to him by fortune.’
Saturnalia, I., 11, 10.

“Sic loquendum esse cum hominibus, tanquam dii audiant; sic loquendum cum hominibus, tanquam homines audiant.”
“We should so speak with men as though the Gods were listening, and so speak with the Gods as though men were listening.”
Saturnalia, I., 7, 6.

“Totidem hostes nobis esse quot servos.”
We have as many enemies as we have servants.”
Saturnalia, I., 11, 13.

“(Consuluisti) utrum prius gallina ex ovo an ovum ex gallina coeperit.”
“You have been considering whether the fowl came first from the egg or the egg from the fowl.”
Saturnalia, VII., 16, 1.

I just love these! The human experience and the desire to know remain the same no matter the century.


Vintage Greetings

holidog1My husband and I are building a vintage postcard scrapbook — one postcard at a time. The album covers 100 years from 1860 to 1960 and has many slots yet to be filled. In the spirit of the season from now until New Year’s Day, I’ll share cards from my collection. Scroll down to see previous posts. Subscribe to get them in your inbox!

No date here, but going by clues on the lithograph I’m guessing late 1800’s. Victorians were big on little lap dogs and they were regular subjects on cards and postcards of the time. And the camera looks like the kind where the subject needed to stay perfectly still while the treated glass plate took the picture. Could it be a tailboard camera?



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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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10 Responses to Saturnalia & the Lord of Misrule

  1. treknray says:

    My favorite quote: “Opinionis ortus est memoriae defectus.”
    “The origin of speculation is a defective memory.”
    Commentarii, I., 12, 9.

    How many stories do we tell differently with each telling as our memory of the events fade over the passage of time?

    Another very cute card.

    • It doesn’t even need much time to pass. Having worked with children, there were a few times we discussed rumor and how they start. I lined the class up and played the old telephone game where I whispered a sentence to the first child and they whispered to the next and so on. 100% of the time the original message for the first child was far different from the one the last heard. Individual perception has a hand in what we hear.

  2. This stuff is all very interesting. I love history come alive.

  3. melissakeir says:

    I didn’t know that they had such a fun holiday. I can see it as a time when the servants found out that they enjoyed some of the great things that they wealthy could do…

  4. rosgemmell says:

    I love all this too, Rose. Thanks for those Latin phrases, which are surprisingly modern in meaning. According to one of my books here about festivals and such like, the sacrificial part must have been at its origin and wasn’t practised in reality through the centuries!

  5. mikey2ct says:

    Great post, Rose ! I found myself reading and wondering what minuscule percentage of Americans would even know and recognize the name Catullus.

    Can you picture Mitt Romney grocery shopping for anyone?

    • I’m just a nerdy gal. I would imagine the % of people knowing Catullus is small. Sometimes the strangest trivia pops into my head. And no, I don’t think he’s been shopping since he did his missionary work.

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