Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday

In 45BC, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar showed up for a holiday party with 2,000 of his soldiers at the home of the statesman Cicero outside Naples, Italy.

Fresh from conquests in Egypt and Spain, and known as a party guy, he was ready for some fun. He bathed, took a walk on the beach and then, helped by emetics, "ate and drank without scruple" .

And why not? It was the feast of Saturn, the god of agriculture - the mid-December celebration called Saturnalia, a huge Roman favourite. Citizens would untie the bound feet of the god's statue on December 17, and a week of carrying-on would begin.

Seneca the younger wrote about Rome during Saturnalia around AD 50:
"It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business....Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga." - From the "Epistolae"
Schools were closed. Gifts were exchanged. Masters and slaves swapped roles. Drinking, gambling, feasting and "singing naked" would take place, according to one writer of the time.

Now, 2 000 years later, ancient Rome is in ruins, but this stubborn December tradition survives -
Even Ne quid nimis* deserves to take a holiday every once in a while. ;)
(*Terrence - "Nothing to Excess")

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