First off, a bajillion thank-yous to all those who’ve blogged about the Polytheist Leadership Conference and made those of us who couldn’t go feel like vicarious participants. I hope to write some responses to some of those posts in the future. However, since we are now on the eve of the Kalends of August, I thought I would first make some remarks about that holiday and how I hope to celebrate it tomorrow (‘tomorrow’ in fact for me, though nominally this post looks like it will be dated August 1).
This is a big one. The Kalends of August was perhaps the foremost ‘official’ holiday in the Gallo-Roman year. Every year, the Gallic nations would each elect representatives to send to the big event at Condate (today’s Croix-Rousse in Lyon)—the fête fédérale des Trois Gaules, as the French call it. These would elect from their midst one man (and they were all men, I’m afraid) to serve as the sacerdos Romae et Augusti for that year. Now, these were Gaul’s top people—you needed to have money, but also family standing and political clout even to make it to Condate—and the one elected as sacerdos occupied the highest symbolic office in Gaul. Once elected, the sacerdos would lead the assembled peoples in a sacrifice to Dea Roma and to Augustus. A feast would follow (and I would imagine games as well), but there could also be petitions and political lobbying from the delegates. Their resolutions would then be passed on to Rome. Here is dó and also dés with respect to Rome.
I’m a skeptic about the narrative that this festival in Lyon is closely related to the Irish Lugnasad or that it proves Lug to have been pan-Celtic in scope. I’ve agonized over the evidence, and in the end my conclusion has been that it doesn’t amount to much more than wishful thinking. In this, as in our religion generally, my position has been to ask—not what we would have wanted the Gauls to do—but what they actually did.
And it’s clear that the titular deities of this holiday, for them, were Dea Roma and Augustus. And why should they not be? Rome and Augustus meant peace, commerce and development. They meant association with a worldwide (in the contemporary sense of the term) empire and participation in a wider intellectual, political and economic world. Insert Monty Python scene about what the Romans ever did for us here. Plus I have a pet theory that, in the Gauls’ eyes, Julius Cæsar, in receiving Vercingetorix’ sword and his surrender, became heir to his political power. The divine Cæsar Augustus, for his part, was not only the divine Julius’ heir—third in line to Vercingetorix—but realized much that his adoptive father never had the chance to accomplish.
Since I’ve gotten on to my Holst kick, I’ve been thinking more about the appropriate music for the various holidays. For the feast of Rome and Augustus, I’m nominating Karl Jenkins’ Palladio. Americans will recognize this as the music used in the sales campaign “A diamond lasts forever”—but it actually consists of a number of movements, and all of them are superb.
Why this piece in particular? The feast of Rome and Augustus celebrates, first and foremost, the work of Dea Roma in the provinces of Rome, however far-flung they may be. Claudius, whose birthday was today, was the emperor who mustered the resources and manpower of Gaul … to conquer Britain for Rome. The principal heirs of the Romano-British legacy—linguistic, institutional, genetic and what you will—are the Welsh (along with their Cornish and Breton kindred). So here’s a Welsh composer—inspired by no less than Andrea Palladio. Yes, the music is result of a meditation on the works of this Vicentine Renaissance architect more responsible than any other individual for reinvigorating the principles of Vitruvius in modern times. In other words, those same sacred canons of proportion and those pleasing and humanistic forms with which our ancestors adorned the temples of the gods. And which we today—thanks to Palladio and those who inherited his work—similarly employ in doing the gods’ work in our museums and capitol buildings. Temples, in their way, to Beauty and Justice and Learning. What could more perfectly combine the idea of a legacy passed down from Antiquity with the enduring, endlessly mutating and endlessly fruitful fruits of that legacy—represented here in architecture as well as music? And what music! It is sublime. I think it no unfit tribute to Dea Roma, agent of humanitas wherever she appears, nor to the divine Augustus who found Rome made of wood and left it in marble.
I’ve also cooked up my ferti for food offerings, and picked out the wine. Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow I also celebrate the dies nátális of the divine Claudius, whom I deeply esteem even if none of our historical sources do, and the divine Pertinax, of whom our historiography is unanimous and unstinting in its praise.