Archive for February, 2013

Well, it seems as though the “C” posts for this year’s PBP have a song and chant theme.  First it was on carmina, and, now, the Camenae.

The Camenae are a group of deities, four in number: they are Antevorta/Prorsa, Postvorta, Carmenta, and Egeria.  These are native Italic deities, but later Roman authors identified them with the Muses due to their function of inspiration and poetry.  They preside over childbirth, prophecy, and women, and are said to favor springs, rivers, wells, and fountains.

Antevorta/Prorsa is concerned with two things: aiding in the delivery of children born head-first, and she is also a goddess of the future.  She is quite possibly an epithet or a function of Carmenta, though in later times she became her own deity.

Postvorta is, like Antevorta, concerned with the position of the child in childbirth: though where Antevorta aids with children born head-first, Postvorta deals with children born feet-first.  She is also a goddess of the past.  And, like Antevorta, she is quite possibly an epithet or a function of Carmenta, though in later times she became her own deity.

Carmenta – sometimes called Carmentis – is a patroness of women, and her function is inspired speech – or prophecy.  To her also falls a function of childbirth.  She has her own festival, the Carmentalia, which takes place on the 11th and the 15th of January.  She is also called Nicostrate, the mother of Evander – Evander being an exile from Arcadia who founded the city of Pallantium, which was situated right on the future site of the city of Rome.

Egeria is possibly the most important of the Camenae.  She was a goddess of springs and childbirth, and was the lover of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, and gave to him the laws and rituals that would form the basis for Roman religion.  After Numa’s death, she became distraught and inconsolable.  According to Ovid, she “went away from Rome and hid her sorrow in the dark forests of Aricia [a town in Latium] where she disturbed the cult of Diana with her moaning and lamentations.  Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, went to visit her and tried to console her by evoking his own misfortunes, which in her view were not comparable to hers – but it was in vain.  Lying sorrowfully at the foot of Mount Albanus, Egeria wept.  Finally, Diana, touched by the sight of her pious grief, turned the nymph into a spring that would never run dry.”


Read Full Post »

So, I’m not exactly happy about the complete lack of any accurate online resources on the Roman pantheon.  There’s GodChecker, but that’s a load of horseshit.  There’s the Encyclopedia Mythica, and that’s…not exactly my favorite either.  There’s Wikipedia, but other people can edit it and it isn’t as comprehensive as it could be.

So I decided to take things into my own hands.

I created another WordPress account that will serve as a sort of Wiki for the Roman pantheon (and possibly even religious practices and so on), that will be separate from this blog  – more of a database.

You can find it here, or at romanpantheon.wordpress.com

It’ll likely be a slow project, as I have other things going on right now that take priority, but rest assured that it will be accurate and a comprehensive read.

Read Full Post »

carmen (carmina in plural) in ancient Roman religion can be anything from a hymn, to a verse, to a spell, to a prayer, or expiation.  They could be used for a variety of purposes, including harming another’s crops, imploring the gods to make one’s crops grow, for protection purposes…

They would typically be chanted instead of sung, and they each had a certain rhythm to them; parts of the carmen would be repeated, always three times.

The two carmina that survive today are the Carmen Saliare and the Carmen Arvale.  And, unfortunately, though I say “survive”, I don’t mean that they survive in their entirety.  Rather, what we have are fragments of a much larger picture, and sometimes what we do have isn’t even translatable.

Hell, they weren’t even translatable to the Romans of the mid-and-late Republic.

The Carmen Arvale

This carmen was chanted by the Fratres Arvales, or the Arval priests.  These were the priests of the Dea Dia, goddess of growth, and were primarily concerned with the growth of crops.  This carmen would be chanted during the Ambarvalia, a festival taking place on May 29th.  The opening words are very famous:

e nos, Lases, iuuate

e nos Lases, iuuate

e nos Lases, iuuate


neue lue rue Marmar sins incurrere in pleores

neue lue rue Marmar sins incurrere in pleores

neue lue rue Marmar sins incurrere in pleores


satur fu, fere Mars, limen stali, sta berber

satur fu, fere Mars, limen stali, sta berber

satur fu, fere Mars, limen stali, sta berber


semunis alternei aduo capit conctos

semunis alternei aduo capit conctos

semunis alternei aduo capit conctos


enos Marmor iuuato

enos Marmor iuuato

enos Marmor iuuato


triumpe triumpe triumpe triumpe triumpe


What that basically is, is a plea for the Lares (called Lases here, evidence of its archaic nature) and for Mars (called Marmar, Mars, and Marmor) to aid the chanters.  It is asking for mars to not let plagues or disasters destroy the crops, and is asking him to be satiated in dance.  “Semunis” are the Semones, possibly sowing deities.

The “limen stali, sta berber” is quite possibly a non-chanted portion, serving as directions for the priests to “jump over the barrier, stand!”


The Carmen Saliare

This carmen is far more fragmented and indecipherable than the Carmen Arvale.  It was chanted by the Salii, the “leaping priests” of Mars, and was performed at several times during March and October.

What we do have of the carmen is as follows, preserved by Varro in de Lingua Latina and Terentius Scaurus in de Orthographia:


divum empta cante, divum deo supplicate

cume tonas, Leucesie, prae tet tremonti

quot ibet etinei de is cum tonarem (or) quom tibi cunei decstumum tonaront

cozeulodorieso (?)

omnia vero adpatula coemisse

Ian cusianes duonus ceruses dunus Ianusve

vet pom melios eum recum.


It translates roughly to:


Sing of him, the father of the gods!  Appeal to the God of gods!

When you thunder, O God of Light, they tremble before you!

All gods beneath you have heard your thunder!


But to have acquired all that is spread out

Now the good … of Ceres … or Ianus …


The weird cozeulodorieso has been proposed to be osculo dolori ero, meaning “I shall be as a kiss to grief”, but we really don’t know.

Read Full Post »

In the ancient Roman world, there were several different methods of divination.  I know I’ve mentioned one of them before, in the post about haruspicy, and I may have touched on augury as well.

If not, that’s something for the future.  And it’s a term in the dictionary up top of the page.

Brontoscopy (what a fun word to spell, BTW) is a form of divination that was introduced to the Romans by the Etruscans.  It was, however, not originally a native Etruscan practice – in fact, it was introduced to the Etruscans by the people of Mesopotamia.   And the practice of brontoscopy was still going on in Constantinople in the 5th century CE, but was outlawed shortly after.

As its name might suggest, brontocoy brontscpy brontoscopy (OMG) is the use of examining thunder for divinatory purposes.  The Etruscans were said to be extremely skilled at this, and were employed for this practice for a good 1,000 years.

Early on in the first millennium BCE, some enterprising Etruscan found a Near Eastern brontoscopic calendar and decided “Hey, this is pretty cool.  I think I’ll tweak this a bit for use by my own people.”  He (or she!) wrote down what thunder occurring on specific days of the year might mean for the people.  Thus they created their own version of the calendar, and it has been passed down to us via the name “The Brontoscopic Calendar” and through translations into Latin, Greek, and then, for me, English.

So what, exactly, is brontoscopy?

Well, I said it before, but it is divination by thunder.  And not just the thunder that comes from lightning – no, any noise that is heard in the sky qualifies as “thunder”.  And it doesn’t even have to come from the sky, either: during the winter, the Etruscan god Satre has the ability to generate chthonic thunder – that is, thunder from deep in the ground.

No laughing, please, that was not a fart joke.

So, traditionally, if someone was out and about and they heard thunder, they would duly report it to the local fulguriator or, in Etruscan, the local trutnuth frontac.

God, I just love the Etruscan language.

Anyway.  The trutnuth frontac would consult his or her copy of the Brontoscopic Calendar to find out what the thunder meant.  If this happened on, say, February 3rd – the date of this post – it would be divined as “If it thunders, there will be civil unrest.”

Yikes.  That doesn’t bode well.

A lot of the time, there is talk of “If it thunders, there will be an abundance of fish”, or “if it thunders, there will be a scorching, drying wind”.

Along with thunder, the Etruscans also used lightning for divinatory purposes – but I’ll save that for a later post, because there’s actually a lot that goes into it.

If you guys are interested in learning more about the brontoscopic tradition, I’d recommend “Diving the Etruscan World: The Brontoscopic Calendar and Religious Practice” by Jean MacIntosh Turfa.  She is an outstanding scholar of the Etruscans, and this is a brand new book – it only came out last year!

Read Full Post »