Festival, Celebrated, Honour, Vesta
The Saturnalia, a national festival held in December in honour of Saturn, was celebrated after the ingathering of the harvest, and lasted several days.
It was a time of universal rejoicing, cessation from labour, and merry-making. School children had holidays, friends sent presents to each other, the law-courts were closed, and no business was transacted.
Crowds of people from the surrounding country flocked to Rome for this festival attired in every variety of masquerade dress; practical jokes were given and received with the utmost good humour, shouts of exultation filled the air, all classes abandoned themselves to enjoyment, and unrestrained hilarity reigned supreme. Social distinctions were for a time suspended, or even reversed; and so heartily was the spirit of this festival entered into, that masters waited upon their slaves at banquets which they provided for them; the slaves being dressed upon these occasions in the garments of their masters.
There appears little doubt that the modern Carnival is a survival of the ancient Saturnalia.
This festival was celebrated in honour of Ceres. It was solemnized exclusively by women, who, dressed in white garments, wandered about with torches in their hands, to represent the search of the goddess for her daughter Proserpine.
During this festival, games were celebrated in the Circus Maximus, to which none were admitted unless clothed in white.
The Vestalia was a festival held in honour of Vesta on the 9th of June, and was celebrated exclusively by women, who walked barefooted in procession to the temple of the goddess.
The priestesses of Vesta, called Vestales or Vestal Virgins, played a conspicuous part in these festivals. They were six in number, and were chosen—between the ages of six and ten—from the noblest families in Rome. Their term of office was thirty years. During the first ten years, they were initiated in their religious duties, during the second ten they performed them, and during the third they instructed novices. Their chief duty was to watch and feed the ever-burning flame on the altar of Vesta, the extinction of which was regarded as a national calamity of ominous import.
Great honours and privileges were accorded to them; the best seats were reserved for their use at all public spectacles, and even the consuls and prætors made way for them to pass. If they met a criminal on his way to execution they had the power to pardon him, provided it could be proved that the meeting was accidental.
The Vestales were vowed to chastity, a violation of which was visited by the frightful punishment of being buried alive.
|Written By E. M. Berens|
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