November 12, 2019

Bacchanalia... Saturnalia... a theme begins to form on the blog this morning.

Like the ice on the lake as the temperature drops to 6°, there's a light crystallization of a theme. I like that, themes, forming early in the morning on the surface of the blog.

I said "Bacchanalia," referring to the traditional drunken rowdiness of a University of Wisconsin football game, writing at 6:32, in the second post of the day.

Meanwhile, in the previous post — the one where Matthew Dowd testily queried Scott Walker ("You do know that trees were stolen from a pagan holiday? And Christ wasn’t actually born on December 25th? It was a day celebrated by Roman pagans and taken over by the church in the fourth century. And that many faiths put up trees that aren’t Christians") — the commenter Michael P retorted:
Does Matthew Dowd know that Saturnalia was never on December 25th? It was on the 17th, later extended to be through the 23rd. The 25th was chosen for Christmas as allowing an easy excuse that they were merely extending Saturnalia. Does Matthew Dowd know that the people who prefer "Christmas" to "holiday season" are going to [be] spectacularly unreceptive to the argument that Christianity culturally appropriated a pagan Roman holiday?
Bacchanalia... Saturnalia... what's the difference? Well, obviously, there's Bacchus and there's Saturn. They were originally different festivals. You can use either word figuratively. Since the 1600s, "Saturnalia" (with or without the upper-case S) has meant "A bout or period of unrestrained revelry, overindulgence, licentiousness, or the like; an orgy; an orgiastic or extravagant display or celebration of something (cf. orgy n. 3b). In early use also: †a situation or period in which conventional norms are suspended or inverted (obsolete)" (OED). "Bacchanalia" has meant "Drunken revelry; a tippling bout, an orgy" since the 1600s.

Here's the Wikipedia article, "Bacchanalia." And here's the Wikipedia article "Saturnalia":
Saturnalia was the Roman equivalent to the earlier Greek holiday of Kronia...
The Romans stole it!
It held theological importance for some Romans, who saw it as a restoration of the ancient Golden Age, when the world was ruled by Saturn. The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry interpreted the freedom associated with Saturnalia as symbolizing the "freeing of souls into immortality". Saturnalia may have influenced some of the customs associated with later celebrations in western Europe occurring in midwinter, particularly traditions associated with Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and Epiphany. In particular, the historical western European Christmas custom of electing a "Lord of Misrule" may have its roots in Saturnalia celebrations.
Lord of Misrule! I click on that link:
In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying....

While mostly known as a British holiday custom, some folklorists, such as James Frazer and Mikhail Bakhtin (who is said to have plagiarized the novel idea from Frazer), have claimed that the appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from a similar custom practiced during the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. In ancient Rome, from 17 to 23 December (in the Julian calendar), a man chosen to be a mock king was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the Roman deity Saturn; at the end of the festival, the man was sacrificed....
The Lord of Misrule was sacrificed. This is reminding me that I need to get back to today's news and see what's going on with Trump and the Impeachfreaks. But let's stay in the past a while longer...
With the rise of the Puritan party in the 17th century Church of England, the custom of the Lord of Misrule was outlawed as it was deemed "disruptive"; even after the Restoration, the custom remained banned and soon became forgotten. In the early 19th century, the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church ushered in "the development of richer and more symbolic forms of worship, the building of neo-Gothic churches, and the revival and increasing centrality of the keeping of Christmas itself as a Christian festival" as well as "special charities for the poor" in addition to "special services and musical events". Charles Dickens and other writers helped in this revival of the holiday by "changing consciousness of Christmas and the way in which it was celebrated" as they emphasized family, religion, gift-giving, and social reconciliation as opposed to the historic revelry common in some places.
So, your pretty, sentimental Christmas is a concoction by Englishfolk who thought they knew what was good for you. Maybe Trump could make Christmas great again by getting us back to some MMA-infused unruliness. He's the "chaos President"...


* Pun intended.


tcrosse said...

Althouse celebrates Marginalia.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Saturnalia was the Roman equivalent to the earlier Greek holiday of Kronia...

The Romans stole it!

That's right! Cultural appropriation all the way down the line from Og the caveman to Taco Bell appropriating (and adulterating) Mexican food!

Nothing new under the sun :-D Just recycled to appear a bit differently.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse celebrates Marginalia."

Yes! It's January 14th.

gspencer said...

All these dates! I'd be so very confused if I weren't comforted by the one lodestar we can all agree on - Festivus is December 23d.

Susan said...

"Saturnalia may have influenced some of the customs associated with later celebrations in western Europe occurring in midwinter"...

The key weasle word here is MAY.

Mr. Forward said...

"We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge."

One verse from "Marginalia' by Billy Collins

Meade said...

"Yes! It's January 14th."

LINK (for the uninitiated.)

Christy said...

Doesn't Frazer also tell us that in multiple cultures the young maid and man chosen for the fertility rites in the spring were sacrificed after the, er, coupling?

JOB said...

The Real Estate of Arcadia

Men like you are now caught up in the chase or
Now caring for a pleasant acereage…

I set down hoof gingerly against stone
Recalling small snapshots of Arcadia
Back when estates were paying in stadia
For the capricious and copious horn.

My brethren just sold the last rough parcel
Of sacred grove and the centaurs’ pasture
(And some fifty bowers just for good measure);
So here I am, less myth than sideshow marvel.

Call me George Goatman, though no one else does.
For proof, here’s my panpipe, the stops smutted
With wood-rot where once they sang clean-fluted
Epithalamions. Now each echo is

A dismal buzz as I inspect this burnt-out
Scene of violence, a recent holocaust
Where unconsumed sacrifice stinks, long-past
Its prime and left behind by the devout –

Clear evidence that they cleared the hell out.
I look on with sadness and dejection:
Such scenes spell the end of honest seduction
And indict naiad and faun in a sell-out.

Rain falls at angles against cliff and crevice,
Eating further into the mountain’s limestone,
Leaving gaping punchbowls - a debt on loan
To drink up accounts of time’s inchmeal voice.

And no soft whispers come from the forest –
Instead, summer and autumn winds sound off,
Clashing private battles, cough for cough,
Cancerous at least – emphysemic at best.

We take our stand at death’s own windy doors
Pitching tents for Faun and Dryad’s alliance -
That ancient, hauntingly sweet reliance
On intimacy, mine and these sister-whores'.

Ah, seasons! I am all too prone to love –
Have given up the habit of mysteries…
It all ends this month with last rites and manes
Cashed out on bottom lines over and above

An increasingly urban populace
Who eschew the bloodbath of ritual
To trade in tooth and horn, with bear and bull
Embraced as idylls of the marketplace.

With man’s capacity for pleasure’s pain
I am part of a rascally race, a goat
Who fetches fair price when brought to market.
So what’s the worth of wilderness and mountain?

But, no – I am not easily convinced
The starker beauty of the ancient myths
Must yield to midnight torches, rakes and scythes
To see the “quality of life” advanced…

What does mankind call forth, this blackening storm;
These hard-blowing winds; destruction; pillage;
The rapacity that reigns? O, to pledge
Again by the strength of Jove’s throwing arm!

No, I am not so easily persuaded
That the multitudes will trace a clear path
In firestorms of torches – not when frenzy’s swath
Cuts through natural calm and order, aided

By honed appetite. Ambition’s principle
Can engineer avenues, boulevards,
Manage union strengths and strikers’ canards,
And mint a counterfeit city on a hill.

Ah, this season will be just death on me.
Fur thickens and hooves begin to toughen
In such days. So I expect that naught then
Will detain winter’s north wind hegemony:

In such a season, sisterly and cold,
Neither do I expect to find victims
Of my perfidious lusts and whims –
Abductions do not carry the same old

Weight in the recent world. The foreign market
Tries to avoid panic as their much, much too
Muchness – the scarcity of real “ado”
Will sell off profits for nothing and obviate

Death, that prolonged forbearance all must suffer
For sake of bread’s measly security.
Real estate’s lost perpetuity
Revises landed interests as epic buffer:

Old Hector was made a Trojan martyr
By warring for a Trojan whore – but I’ll
Be put to pasture, a cheap spectacle
Of decline and fall – even for a satyr.

Tim said...

Does Matthew Dowd know that no one gives shit what he says?

wild chicken said...

Wait til Scott Walker finds out that God isn't an old white guy with a long white beard!

SDaly said...

As I have understood it, December 25 was chosen for biblical reasons. There was a belief that Jesus was conceived and died on the same day, which had been calculated as March 25. Thus, the Feast of the Annuciation was celebrated on March 25, and 9 months later, December 25, was identified as the birth of Christ.

Constantine celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336 AD, and Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by the Pope on Christmas in 800.

Michael K said...

Matthew Dowd is sucking up to the leftists hoping they will eat him last,

tcrosse said...

Let's all celebrate Genitalia.

narciso said...

Is he still dating maria shriver?

SDaly said...

Michael K. -

Matthew Dowd is a leftist.

gilbar said...

Thanx Meade! I feel (more) initiated !

Rick.T. said...

But let's NOT celebrate Porphyria:

"Porphyria is named from the ancient Greek word porphura, meaning purple. The Greeks borrowed the term from the Phoenicians, who extracted a purple pigment from purpura mollusks to dye the garments of their royal family. Later, in the Byzantine Empire, the term porphyrogenitos, or "born to the purple," literally meant that the imperial heir was born after the fathers accession to the throne, in a palace room draped in the color.

"However, those with the misfortune to be born to the purple involved in porphyria--a group of diseases that result from abnormal accumulations of red and purple pigments produced by the body, called porphyrins--receive far less than royal treatment. There are at least eight types of porphyria, which vary substantially in their symptoms and severity. Historical victims of the worst, most disfiguring forms may have inspired tales of werewolves and vampires. Even today, managing the disease can be challenging.

"One of the more common types of the disease is acute intermittent porphyria (AIP), which famously afflicted the unfortunate King George III of Britain--the "mad king" of Alan Bennetts play."

Nonapod said...

Trump and the Impeachfreaks

Sounds like one of those Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the early 70s involving a group of groovy teens and an anthropomorphic animal of some sort that solve mysteries and all play in a band together.

Ficta said...

Lord of Misrule, I love that album! In case you ever wondered what Black Sabbath would sound like if Ian Anderson (the flute guy from Jethro Tull) had joined the band and Ozzy was a woman.

purplepenquin said...

The Republicans should have addressed this in their lame-duck session - pass a law like Lafayette County is trying to enact and make it illegal for any journalist to call it anything but "Christmas Tree" - but they decided not to do anything about it then.

(I can understand why the other lameduck laws weren't even discussed while Walker was in office - they limit the powers of the Gov & the Republican lawmakers were too scared to go against Scott Walker- but the former Governor was/is in agreement with this issue and thus it should have been addressed while the Republicans held all three branches of the State Government rather than just the two they do now.)

There is now some talk that Fitzgerald wants an amendment to the State Constitution which would require it to be called a "Christmas Tree" but Vos isn't on board with it yet. (Which is kinda the reverse of what happened about a decade ago - the Assembly passed a resolution requiring it to be called a "Christmas Tree" but it failed in the Senate)

wholelottasplainin' said...

Boy, I bet a lotta progtards are seething over the fact that there's a federal holiday called "Christmas Day".

Gonna get rid of THAT when the Revolution comes!!

(and dd you ever notice that, amidst all this Christmas-bashing and the jeering at Christian belief in a "magical white Sky God", the progs always honor Native American complaints that land "sacred to their ancestors" not be developed or otherwise disturbed?)

khematite said...

Twenty years ago, Stephen Nissenbaum's "The Battle for Christmas" demonstrated what a raucous, bacchanalian holiday (with unexpected elements of class warfare, to boot) Christmas had originally been in early 19th century America, and exactly how it came to be transformed into the family holiday/consumer extravaganza it has today become.

AZ Bob said...

Chief Justice Roberts is the Lord of Misrule.

Yancey Ward said...

I guess we are doing The Airing of Grievances 5 weeks early.

purplepenquin said...

and dd you ever notice that, amidst all this Christmas-bashing and the jeering at Christian belief in a "magical white Sky God", the progs always honor Native American complaints that land "sacred to their ancestors" not be developed or otherwise disturbed?

You sure it is the same exact people doing both? Or could it be that "progtards" all look alike to you?

Michael K said...


During the 2002 election, Dowd was a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee.[citation needed]

During the 2004 Presidential election, Dowd was chief strategist for George W. Bush's re-election campaign

Another Bush Republican with leftist leanings. Like Nicole Wallace,

wildswan said...

Next to the Puritan settlement of Plymouth was another, "Merrymount", of a less elevated character. Both were bankrolled by the same man but stocked with different beliefs. Here is a description of Mayday at Merrymount 1626 - in case we become to locked into the idea that we need Hollywood to show us how go crazy.

"Of what actually took place at Mt. Wollaston, on this May-day of 1627, we know through the account
left us by Morton, himself "mine host" of the occasion, or Lord of Misrule, and, whether it be
strictly accurate in all respects or not, that account lacks neither minuteness nor picturesque effect. Abstinence, except in Puritan circles, was not a virtue of the time. On the contrary, the reign of James I. was a period of "heavy-headed revel, east and west," during which drunkenness, whether in man or woman, was looked upon as hardly worse than an amiable weakness. Morton was no reformer. A barrel of strong beer and a liberal supply of bottles containing yet stronger fluids were, therefore, part of the good cheer made ready for all comers on the festal day.

The May-pole was the stem of a pine-tree, eighty feet in length, wreathed with garlands and made gay with ribbons, while, near its top, were nailed the spreading antlers of a buck. When at last the holiday came, this pole was dragged, amid the noise of drums and the discharge of firearms, to the summit of the mount, and there firmly planted; ... After the fashion of the period, Morton was fond of scribbling verses, ... so for this occasion he had what he called a poem in readiness, a copy of which was affixed to the pole. (see below) Of it the author wrote that ... "being Enigmatically composed [it] puzzled the [Puritans at Plymouth] most pitifully to expound it."

more to come

wildswan said...

Sorrowful Scilla has lost her husband. Neptune sends her a new paramour, the 80-foot maypole. This seems inert, saddening Scilla, but a doctor (like Morton) knows remedies.

Rise OEdipeus, and if thou canst unfold,
What means Caribdis underneath the mold,
When Scilla solitary on the ground,
(Sitting in form of Niobe) was found;
Till Amphitrite's Darling did acquaint,
Grim Neptune with the Tenor of her plaint,
And causd him send forth Triton with the sound,
Of Trumpet loud, at which the Seas were found,
So full of Protean forms, that the bold shore,
Presenteth Scilla a new paramour,
So stronge as Sampson and so patient,
As Job himself, directed thus, by fate,
To comfort Scilla so unfortunate.
I do profess by Cupid's beauteous mother,
Here's Scogan's choice for Scilla, and none other;
Though Scilla's sick with grief because no sign,
Can there be found of virtue masculine.
AEsculapius come, I know right well,
His labor 's lost when you may ring her Knell,
The fatal sisters doom none can withstand,
Nor Citharea's power, who points to land,
With proclamation that the first of May,
At Ma-re Mount shall be kept holiday.

wildswan said...

... no sooner did the May-pole stand erect than the scrawl was fastened to it, and then the revels
and the merriment began. Joining hands, the whole company circled in rude dance round about the antlered and garlanded pine, making the shore ring with their shouts and laughter. They had also a song (see below) of a highly Bacchanalian character, another of Morton's productions; and this he says was sung by one of the company, who also acted as a Ganymede, filling out the good liquor to his companions as they at intervals struck into the chorus. These verses Bradford [The Puritan Governor of nearby Plymouth colony] apparently looked upon as "tending to lasciviousness;" ...

Drink and be merry, merry, merry boys;
Let all your delight be in the Hymen's joys;
Io to Hymen, now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take a Room.
Make green garlands, bring bottles out
And fill sweet Nectar, freely about.
Uncover thy head and fear no harm,
For here's good liquor to keep it warm.
Then drink and be merry, merry, merry boys;
Let all your delight be in the Hymen's joys;
Io to Hymen, now the day is come,
Nectar is a thing assign'd,
By the Deity's own mind,
To cure the heart oppres't with grief,
And of good liquors is the chief.
Then drink and be merry, merry, merry boys;
Let all your delight be in the Hymen's joys;
Io to Hymen, now the day is come,
Give to the Melancholy man
A cup or two of it now and then;
This physic will soone revive his blood
And make him be of a merrier mood.

wildswan said...

Merrymount disintegrated in the winter cold, not having planted crops, and the area became part of Braintree, the home of the Adams family. The quotes are from Charles Francis Adams History of Braintree, the fullest account of Merrymount I have found.

SDaly said...

Another Bush Republican with leftist leanings. Like Nicole Wallace

I believe they were always liberals but played conservative for jobs, like a lot of professional conservatives. These last 3 years have really opened my eyes.

traditionalguy said...

Is that the day we eat, drink and make Mary? Saturnine is as Saturnine does.

Drago said...

Michael K: "Another Bush Republican with leftist leanings. Like Nicole Wallace,"

"leftist leanings"?!

Nicole Wallace has positioned herself on the radical and loud far far left. Just like her co-moron Steve Schmidt.

The facade of their "republicanism" collapsed long ago. They are as reliably left wing as possible.

rcocean said...

FYI - when it came to arts/culture, sports, and even their Gods, the Romans pretty much stole everything from the Greeks. The Romans were great at making war, governing themselves, law, and engineering. They started out as a bunch of rubes on the edge of civilization, and ended up as a mighty empire.

rcocean said...

In 2008, I wondered why Nicole Wallace was seemingly sabotaging Palin by making her give in-depth "edited" interviews with CBC/NBC/ABC. All these interviews, which were the first ones Palin did, nation-wide, gave the Networks a chance to select any sound-bite or response they wanted, and make Palin look as bad as wanted.

Now, we know why. Wallace and Schmidt weren't even Republicans. The Maverick strikes again!

SDaly said...

I find the supposed custom of Romans killing the "lord of misrule" at the end of Saturnalia difficult to believe, and it is incredibly thinly-sourced. There is one source for the claim, cited by James Frazer, which was a report about a single band of Roman soldiers stationed on the Danube. On the other hand, Tacitus reports that in his youth, future Emperor Nero played the part of the Lord of Misrule.