Flora

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Flora is the roman godess of flowers and spring. Her festival the Floralia was held in April or early May and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. She is the wife of Favonius.

Floralia and The Goddess Flora April 27 - May 3


“Incipis Aprili, transis in tempora Maii:

alter te fugiens, cum venit alter habet.

cum tua sint cedantque tibi confinia mensum,

convenit in laudes ille vel ille tuas.

Circus in hunc exit clamataque palma theatris;

hoc quoque cum Circi munere carmen eat.”

"You start in April and cross to the time of May One has you as it leaves, one as it comes Since the edges of these months are yours and defer To you, either of them suits your praises.

The Circus continues and the theatre's lauded palm, Let this song, too, join the Circus spectacle." Ovid, Fasti (V.185-190)

“Mater, ades, florum, ludis celebranda iocosis”

“Come, Mother of Flowers, that we may honor thee with merry games” Ovid, Fasti (V.183)


A temple was built to honor the goddess of flowers and blossoming plants, Flora. In 263 BCE it was dedicated on April 27 (April 28th according to Ovidus) to May 2nd or 3rd to the Goddess Flora and the festival of Floralia was first declared to solicit her protection, propitiousness of crops and flowers in gardens and fields and wealth. Favonius, the God of the West Wind had authority over plants and flowers and upon taking by force, the Nymph, Flora, into marriage He gifted that dominion to the Goddess as amends. Flora was honored as a fertility Goddess by the Sabines an old Italic tribe of the Apennines before the founding of Rome. The Goddess can avert the fungal disease of plants, particularly wheat, known as rust that causes iron colored growths.

“Itaque iidem floralia iiii kal. easdem instituerunt urbis anno dxvi ex oraculis sibyllae, ut omnia bene deflorescerent. hunc diem Varro determinat sole tauri partem xiiii obtinente. ergo si in hoc quadriduum inciderit plenilunium, fruges et omnia, quae florebunt, laedi necesse erit.” “The same people also, in the year of the City 513, instituted the Floralia, a festival held upon the fourth before the calends of May, in accordance with the oracular injunctions of the Sibyl, to secure a favorable season for the blossoms and flowers. Varro fixes this day as the time at which the sun enters the fourteenth degree of Taurus. [April 28] If there should happen to be a full moon during the four days at this period, injury to the corn and all the plants that are in blossom will be the necessary result.” Pliny the Elder Natural History Plin. Nat. 18.103


Ludi Florae: Great Banquets and Games were in abundance. Romans wore colorful garments and walked around clutching bouquets of flowers and wore wreaths of flowers around their neck or in their hair. They scattered the flowers of lupines, bean and vetch about. Romans attended bawdy plays where prostitutes and female actresses performed naked at the demand of the crowds, cheered and jeered at licentious farces and mimes, attended gladiatorial games and chariot races where chickpeas were thrown to the people and hunted the symbols of fertility; deer (or goats[1]) and hare. The festivities began in the morning with the rituals continuing as Romans danced, drank and surrounded themselves with flowers into the night.

Floralia in ancient times was the quintessential nature festival earning moral judgments from Cato the Younger, Ausonius, Lactantius, and Augustine. However Floralia is recognized as a valuable festival and noted in good regard from Varro, Pliny, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, Martial, Aulus Gellius and Valerius Maximas. At one time the Floralia was labeled superstitio and discontinued but it was revived again in 173 BCE when violent winds, hail and rain fell destroyed the blossoms and crops. The ancient Romans felt that this was Flora's wrath for neglecting Her festival (Ovid, Fasti, V). Floralia symbolizes the renewal of life.


Modern Floralia: When I was still living at my Parent’s home fresh cut large purple Lilacs filled our home with the most wonderful scent around the time of the Floralia! Flowers, from my Mother's garden and also from the florist, were given to other family members, friends and placed on the graves of my ancestors. Beginning with Juno, Matronalia, on the kalends of March and honoring the Spring Goddesses such as Venus Mater, to whom I was dedicated, and Ceres, we continued our Spring celebrations honoring Flora. Floralia was special to my mother and we would honor Flora with ritual and offerings of milk and honey every May 1st - the month of my mother's birth- and have a mini- Floralia with family and friends the Sunday afterwards. I continue this tradition today - and like my Father I also incorporated chocolate animals and eggs (which we also got on “Eastre”, sometimes getting a jump on Floralia, so we would not feel so different from others - and on May 1st we would attend a "flower dance" and a Maypole celebration if one was available. This tradition of attending public “flower dances” I have occasionally continued after moving to the south, however when I was on business in Europe there were no lack of "flower dances" and Maypole celebrations. The main feast was held on the first Sunday of Floralia and included roasted Lamb, homemade breads, fresh and roasted spring vegetables, fruits, nuts and a variety of delicious pastries – although now more often than not we go to a restaurant.


"They also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days togaether, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beasly practieses of ye madd Bacchinalians.” Bradford, William (1856). History of Plymouth. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 237–238.

Not as “Bacchanalian” as I had been in my youth, I still enjoy the indulgences of Floralia doing my part to keep the festival alive! Continue I the tradition of reading selections from Ovid’s Fasti Liber V to my ancestors’ descendants and adapt an ancient closing prayer into my ritual, personalized with my name in lieu of Ovid’s:

“Mansit odor; posses scire fuisse deam. Floreat ut toto carmen Nasonis in aevo,sparge, precor, donis pectora nostra tuis.” “A fragrance lingered; you could know a goddess had been there. That Naso’s lay may bloom for aye, O strew, I pray thee, goddess, thy boons upon my breast!” Ovid Fasti (V. 376 - 378)

The Goddess-Nymph speaks to Ovidus:

“Forsitan in teneris tantum mea regna coronis esse putes. tangit numen et arva meum. si bene floruerint segetes, erit area dives: si bene floruerit vinea, Bacchus erit; si bene floruerint oleae, nitidissimus annus, pomaque proventum temporis huius habent. flore semel laeso pereunt viciaeque fabaeque, et pereunt lentes, advena Nile, tuae. vina quoque in magnis operose condita cellis florent, et nebulae dolia summa tegunt. mella meum munus: volucres ego mella daturas ad violam et cytisos et thyma cana voco.' (nos quoque idem facimus tunc, cum iuvenalibus annis luxuriant animi, corporaque ipsa vigent.)” “Perhaps you may think that I am queen only of dainty garlands; but my divinity has to do also with the tilled fields. If the crops have blossomed well, the threshing-floor will be piled high; if the vines have blossomed well, there will be wine; if the olive-trees have blossomed well, most buxom will be the year; and the fruitage will be according to the time of blossoming. If once the blossom is nipped, the vetches and beans wither, and thy lentils, O Nile that comest from afar, do likewise wither. Wines also bloom, laboriously stored in great cellars, and a scum covers their surface in the jars. Honey is my gift. ‘Tis I who call the winged creatures, which yield honey, to the violet, and the clover, and the grey thyme. (‘Tis I, too, who discharge the same function when in youthful years spirits run riot and bodies are robust.)” Ovid Fasti (V. 261 – 274)


In closing, a reminder to honor the Gods from Flora herself:

“'nos quoque tangit honor: festis gaudemus et aris,

turbaque caelestes ambitiosa sumus.

saepe deos aliquis peccando fecit iniquos,

et pro delictis hostia blanda fuit;

saepe Iovem vidi, cum iam sua mittere vellet

fulmina, ture dato sustinuisse manum.

at si neglegimur, magnis iniuria poenis

solvitur, et iustum praeterit ira modum.”

“We, too, are touched by honor; we delight in festivals and altars; we heavenly beings are a greedy gang. Often by sinning has a man disposed the gods against him, and a sacrificial victim has been a sop for crimes. Often have I seen Jupiter, when he was just about to launch his thunderbolts, hold his hand on the receipt of incense. But if we are neglected, we avenge the wrong by heavenly penalties, and our wrath exceeds just bounds.” Ovid Fasti (V. 297 – 304)


[1] Ovid refers to deer as 1) Ovid (Ovid: Fasti) refers to deer as “capreae” while some translate this to “row deer (pl)” others translate it to “goats” as “caprae” is plural for female goats and “capreae” is the ancient name for the goat abundant Isle of Capri. Since this festival was not of wild vegetation and wild animals it might stand to reason that the animals were domesticated rabbits and goats rather than rabbits and deer as deer cannot truly be domesticated although they can, with difficulty, be penned but this is mainly a modern practice. Rabbits, while a general symbol of fertility are also specifically a symbol of female fertility and goats are a symbol of male fertility. Deer on the other hand are also a general symbol of fertility but they too are also specifically a female symbol of fertility. As symbols of fertility, the rabbit and the goat would be symbolic of a fertile union.

26April2011@Aquila Aedes Venus Genetrix


Flora tells her tale to Ovidus:


[183] “Come, Mother of Flowers, that we may honour thee with merry games; last month I put off giving thee thy due. Thou dost being in April and passest into the time of May; the one month claims thee as it flies, the other as it comes. Since the borders of the months are thine and appertain to thee, either of the two is a fitting time to sing thy praises. The games of the circus and the victor’s palm, acclaimed by the spectators, fall in this month; let my song run side by side with the shows in the circus. Tell me thyself who thou art; the opinion of men is fallacious; thou wilt be the best voucher of thine own name.”


[193] So I spoke, and the goddess answered my question thus, and while she spoke, her lips breathed vernal roses: “I who now am called Flora was formerly Chloris: a Greek letter of my name is corrupted in the Latin speech. Chloris I was, a nymph of the happy fields where, as you have heard, dwelt fortunate men of old. Modesty shrinks from describing my figure; but it procured the hand of a god for my mother’s daughter. ‘Twas spring, and I was roaming; Zephyr caught sight of me: I retired; he pursued and I fled; but he was the stronger, and Boreas had given his brother full right of rape by daring to carry off the prize from the house of Erechtheus. However, he made amends for his violence by giving me the name of bride, and in my marriage-bed I have naught to complain of. I enjoy perpetual spring; most buxom is the year ever; ever the tree is clothed with leaves, the ground with pasture. In the fields that are my dower, I have a fruitful garden, fanned by the breeze and watered by a spring of running water. This garden my husband filled with noble flowers and said, ‘Goddess, be queen of flowers.’ Oft did I wish to count the colours in the beds, but could not; the number was past counting. Soon as the dewy rime is shaken from the leaves, and the varied foliage is warmed by the sunbeams, the Hours assemble, clad in dappled weeds, and cull my gifts in light baskets. Straightway the Graces draw near, and twine garlands and wreaths to bind their heavenly hair. I was the first to scatter new seeds among the countless peoples; till then the earth had been of but one colour. I was the first to make a flower out of Therapnaean blood, and on its petals the lament remains inscribed. Thou, too, Narcissus, hast a name in the trim gardens, unhappy thou in that thou hadst not a double of thyself.26 What need to tell of Crocus, and Attis, and the son of Cinyras, from whose wounds by my art doth beauty spring?


[229] Mars, too, was brought to birth my contrivance; perhaps you do not know it, and I pray that Jupiter, who thus far knows it not, may never know it. Holy Juno grieved that Jupiter had not needed her services when Minerva was born without a mother. She went to complain of her husband’s doings to Ocean; tired by the journey, she halted at my door. As soon as I set eyes on her, ‘What brings thee here,’ I said, ‘daughter of Saturn?’ She set forth her journey’s goal, adding its reason. I consoled her with friendly words. ‘My grief,’ quoth she, ‘is not to be assuaged with words. If Jupiter has become a father without the use of a wife, and unites both titles in his single person, why should I despair of becoming a mother without a husband, and of bringing forth without contact with a man, always supposing that I am chaste? I will try all the drugs in the wide world, and I will explore the seas and the depths of Tartarus.’ Her speech would have flowed on, but on my face there was a sudden look of doubt. ‘Thou seemest, nymph,’ said she, ‘the to have some power to help me.’ Thrice did I wish to promise help, but thrice my tongue was tied: the anger of great Jupiter filled me with fear. ‘Help me, I pray,’ she said, ‘the helper’s name will be kept secret, and I will call on the divinity of the Stygian water to be my witness.31’ ‘Thy wish,’ quoth I, ‘will be accomplished by a flower that was sent me from the fields of Olenus. It is the only flower of the kind in my garden.’ He who gave it me said, ‘Touch also with this a barren heifer; she will be a mother.’ I touched, and without delay she was a mother. Straightway I plucked with my thumb the clinging flower and touched Juno, and she conceived when it touched her bosom. And now being with child, she passed to Thrace and left the shores of the Propontis; her wish was granted, and Mars was born. In memory of the birth he owed to me, he said, ‘Do thou also have a place in the city of Romulus.’


[261] “Perhaps you may think that I am queen only of dainty garlands; but my divinity has to do also with the tilled fields. If the crops have blossomed well, the threshing-floor will be piled high; if the vines have blossomed well, there will be wine; if the olive-trees have blossomed well, most buxom will be the year; and the fruitage will be according to the time of blossoming. If once the blossom is nipped, the vetches and beans wither, and thy lentils, O Nile that comest from afar, do likewise wither. Wines also bloom, laboriously stored in great cellars, and a scum covers their surface in the jars. Honey is my gift. ‘Tis I who call the winged creatures, which yield honey, to the violet, and the clover, and the grey thyme. [‘Tis I, too, who discharge the same function when in youthful years spirits run riot and bodies are robust.]”


[275] I silently admired her as she spoke thus. But she said, “Thou art free to learn the answers to any questions thou mayest put.” “Say, goddess,” I replied, “what is the origin of the games.” Scarce had I ended when she answered me. “The other instruments of luxury were not yet in vogue: the rich man owned either cattle or broad lands; hence came the name for rich, and hence the name for money itself.32 But already some amassed wealth from unlawful sources: it had become a custom to graze the public pastures, the thing was suffered long, and no penalty was exacted. Common folk had no champion to protect their share in public property; and at last it was deemed the sign of a poor spirit in a man to graze his cattle on his own land. Such licence was brought to the notice of the plebeian aediles, the Publicii33; till then men’s hearts had failed them. The case was tried before the people: the guilty were fined: the champions were praised for their public spirit. Part of the fine was given to me; and the winners of the suit instituted new games with great applause. With part of the fine they contracted for making a way up the slope, which then was a steep rock: now it is a serviceable road, and they call it the Publician road.” 34


[295] I had thought that the shows were annual; the goddess denied it and added to her former discourse a second speech. “We, too, are touched by honour; we delight in festivals and altars; we heavenly beings are a greedy gang. Often by sinning has a man disposed the gods against him, and a sacrificial victim has been a sop for crimes. Often have I seen Jupiter, when he was just about to launch his thunderbolts, hold his hand on the receipt of incense. But if we are neglected, we avenge the wrong by heavenly penalties, and our wrath exceeds just bounds. Remember Thestiades: he was burnt by flames afar; the reason was that no fire blazed on Phoebe’s altar. Remember Tantalides: the same goddess detained the fleet; she a virgin, yet she twice avenged her slighted hearths.37 Unhappy Hippolytus, fain wouldst thou have worshipped Dione39 when thy scared steeds were rending thee asunder! ‘Twere long to tell of cases of forgetfulness redressed by forfeitures. I myself was once neglected by the Roman senate. What was I to do? By what could I show my resentment? What punishment exact for the slight put on me? In my gloom I relinquished my office. I guarded no the countryside, and the fruitful garden was naught to me. The lilies had dropped; you might see the violets withering, and the tendrils of the crimson saffron languishing. Often Zephry said to me, ‘Spoil not thine own dowry.’ But my dowry was worthless in my sight. The olive-trees were in blossom; the wanton winds blighted them: the crops were in blossom; the crop was blasted by the hail: the vines were promising; the sky grew black under the south wind, and the leaves were shaken down by a sudden shower. I did not will it so, nor am I cruel in my anger; but I did not care to ward of these ills. The senate assembled and voted an annual festival to my divinity if the year should prove fruitful. I accepted the vow. The consuls Laenas and Postumius celebrated the games which had been vowed to me.”


[331] I was about to ask why these games are marked by greater wantonness and broader jests; but it occurred to me that the divinity is not strait-laced, and that the gifts she brings lend themselves to delights. The brows of wassailers are wreathed with stitched garlands, and the polished table is buried under a shower of roses. Maudlin the guest dances, his hair bound with linden bark, and all unwitting plies the tipsy art. Maudlin the lover sings at the hard threshold of his lady fair: soft garlands crown his perfumed locks. No serious business does he do whose brow is garlanded; no water of the running brook is quaffed by such as twine their hair with flowers: so long s they stream, Achelous, was dashed with no juice of grapes, none cared to pluck the rose. Bacchus loves flowers; that he delights in a floral crown, you may know from Ariadne’s clustered stars. Rakish stage fits Flora well; she is not, believe me she is not, to be counted among your buskined goddesses. The reason why a crowd of drabs frequents these games is not hard to discover. She is none of your glum, none of your high-flown ones: she wishes her rites to be open to the common herd; and she warns us to use life’s flower, while it still blooms: for the thorn, she reminds us, is flouted when the roses have fallen away.

[355] But why is it that whereas white robes are given out at the festival of Ceres, Flora is neatly clad in attire of many colours? Is it because the harvest whitens when the ears are ripe, but flowers are of every hue and every shape? She nodded assent and at he motion of her tresses the flowers dropped own, as falls the rose cast by a hand upon a table.


[361] There yet remained the lights, the reason whereof escaped me; when the goddess thus removed my doubts: “Lights are thought to befit my days either because the fields do glow with purple flowers; or because neither flowers nor flames are of a dull colour, and the splendour of both attracts the eye; or because nocturnal licence befits my revels. The third reason comes nearest the truth.”


[369] “There is yet a small matter about which it remains, with thy leave, to put a question.” “thou hast my leave.” Said she. “Why, instead of Libyan lionesses, are unwarlike roes and shy hares pent in thy nets43?” She replied that her province was not woods, but gardens and fields, where no fierce beast may come.


[375] Her tale was ended, and she vanished into thin air. A fragrance lingered; you could know a goddess had been there. That Naso’s lay may bloom for aye, O strew, I pray thee, goddess, thy boons upon my breast!


Fasti Liber V Ovidus Translated by James Frazier

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