Saturday, September 26, 2015
Libanius on the Calends
Also in Thomas Taylor's two volumes translation of 41 dissertations by Maximus of Tyre, there is material from Libanius about pagan festivals. The material is in vol. 2, p.267, and belongs to the Descriptions, part of the Progymnasmata.
The Progymnasmata is described by Craig Gibson as "the largest surviving ancient collection of preliminary exercises used to teach young men how to compose their own prose, a crucial step toward public speaking and a career worthy of the educated elite. Graded in difficulty, the exercises range from simple fables and narratives to discussions of wise sayings, speeches of praise and blame, impersonations of figures from myth, descriptions of statues and paintings, and essays on general propositions (e.g., should one marry?). It provides a unique glimpse into the schoolrooms of the ancient Mediterranean from the Hellenistic period to the Byzantine Empire, vividly illustrating how ancient educators used myth, history, and popular ethics to shape their students characters as they sharpened their ability to think, write, and speak".
On the Calends, (Latin: kalendae, "the called") were the first days of each month of the Roman calendar. The Romans assigned these calendsto the first day of the month, signifying the start of the new moon cycle, Libanius has this to say:
"This festival is extended as far as the dominion of the Romans ; and such is the joy it occasions, that if it were possible time could be hastened for mortals, which, according to Homer, was effected by Juno respecting the sun, this festival also would be hastened by every nation, city, house, and individual of mankind. The festival flourishes on every hill and mountain, and in every lake and navigable river. It also flourishes in the sea, if at that time it happens to be undisturbed by tempest : for then both ships and merchants cut through its waves and celebrate the festival. Joy and feasting everywhere abound. The earth is then full of honours, inconsequence of men honouring each other by gifts and hospitality. The foot-paths and the public roads are crowded with men, and four-footed animals bearing burdens subservient to the occasion ; and the ways in the city are covered, and the narrow streets are full. Some are equally delighted with giving and receiving; but others, though they do not receive any thing, are pleased with giving, merely because they are to give. And the spring by its flowers, indeed, renders the earth beautiful, but the festival by its gifts, which, pouring in from every place, are every where diffused. He, therefore, who asserts that this is the most pleasant part of the year will not err ; so that if the whole time of life could be passed in the same manner, the islands of the blest would not be so much celebrated by mankind as they are at present. The first appearance of the swallow is, indeed, pleasant, yet does not prevent labour ; but this festival thinks proper to remove from the days of its celebration everything laborious, and permits us to enjoy minds free from molestation. These days free the youth from twofold fears, one arising from their preceptors, the other from their pedagogues. They also make slaves as much as possible free, and exhibit their power even in those in chains, removing sorrow from their countenances, and exciting some of them to mirth. They can also persuade a father who expects the death of his son, and through sorrow is wasting away, and averse to nourishment, to be reconciled to his condition, to abandon darkness, lay aside his squalid appearance, and betake himself to the bath : and what the most skilful in persuasion are unable to accomplish, that the power of the festival effects. It also conciliates citizen with citizen, stranger with stranger, one boy with another, and woman with woman. It likewise instructs men not to be avaricious, but to bring forth their gold, and deposit it in the right-hands of others".
The most useful referral to the translations of Thomas Taylor are care of Roger Pearse, who uncovered them and reported them here.