Io, Satvrnalia!

Peter Paul Rubens, "Saturn Devouring His Son," 1636

Today, Dec. 23rd, marks the last day of Saturnalia, the anarchical weeklong Roman feast held in the honor of the divine patriarch Saturn, counterpart to the Greek god Cronus. According to Hesiod, Cronus overthrew and castrated his father the sky-king Uranus with a scythe, and cast him into the Grecian hell-dimension Tatarus. To safeguard his own rule, Cronus devored each of his children as they were born by his wife-sister, Rhea. (See above.)  (Below the fold is another painting of the scene of Saturn/Cronus devouring one of his divine children. I didn’t put it above the fold becavse a.) it’s rather more famous than the above piece, and in my artistic postings I hope to proliferate works my readers probably haven’t seen, b.) it’s rather more gory, and c.) Reuben’s painting better emphasizes the fact that the Romans worshiped a baby-eating hell-god.)

No, no, it's "baby-eating hell-god," not "brain-eating hell-god."

Eventually, Rhea managed to sneak away her youngest child, Zeus, and replaced him with a rock in swaddling clothes to be devoured by Cronus. After reaching adulthood, Zeus returned to Olympus, cut open his father thus freeing his five immortal siblings, who together overpowered Cronus and cast him into Tatarus.

The Italians, however, took a rather more sympathetic view of Cronus-Saturn. In his capacity as the god of time, he was also the genius of seasons, and therefore of harvests. So Saturn’s holiday, originally introduced as a national morale-booster after a military defeat ca. 217 BCE, became the official Roman celebration of the winter solstice, and unofficial week of revelry. Great feasts were held, gifts and exchanged, and all manner of jests performed. Slaves were “freed” for the week, and often play-acted with role-reversal with their masters to hilarity. Saturnalia was so popular with the Roman populace that the poet Catullus described it as “the best of days.” Efforts to shorten the weeklong celebration on two occassions by the emperors Augustus and Gaius Germanicus (“Caligula”) were met with riots. 

Fransico Goya, "Saturn Devouring His Son," 1819-1823


One Response

  1. Hmm pagan holidays I miss you so. Hey wait I get to partake in one in 2 days!

    hmm pagan holidays

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