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Toss'd by thy uncertain gale,
Can wisdom pierce the cloud. on our most sanguine views th' event deceives,
And veils in sudden grief the smiling ray: Oft, when with wo the mournful bosom heaves, Caught in a storm of anguish and dismay,
Pass some fleeting moments by-
Engaged in foul domestic jars,
And wasted with intestine wars,
Had not sedition's civil broils
And drivin thee with more glor ous toils
Games of the Ancient Romans.
“Sacra recognosces Annalibus eruta priscis;
Et quo sit merito quæque notata dies.
Ovid. Fast. lib. I. v 7.
During the republic it was the practice of the Roman magistrates and rulers to court the suffrages of the citizens by the frequent exhibition of shows; it was the interest of the emperors to pacify and keep in subjection, by the same means, a people avowedly desiring nothing but bread and the public spectacles. The wealth of a conquered world enabled the imperial despots to gratify this propensity on the most magnificent scale ; and their subjects, therefore, had probably in exchange for their loss of liberty a greater share of festivals, exhibitions, and holydays than any nation that ever existed. Truly they had sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. They wanted, indeed, the regular Sabbath of the Hebrews, but that deficiency had been supplied even from the times of Numa, by the division of their year, as noted upon the calendar, into days termed fasti and nefasti, in which the destination of each, either to labour or to the performance of religious sacrifices and solemnities, was permanently appointed. Additions to this list were constantly made by the pontiffs, in whose custody was deposited, the sacred calendar, and who derived an important authority from the power thus vested in them; since by declaring a day to be lucky or unlucky they became, in some sort, the directors of public affairs and arbiters of the Roman destiny. Such was the superstition of the people, and so strictly was the observance of these pontifical decrees enjoined, that, besides a considerable fine, an expiatory sacrifice was imposed upon those who even through inattention had worked upon a holyday. To do so designedly and contumaciously was an irremissible offence.
It is worthy of remark, as illustrating the general nature of human beings in a social and civilized state, that so far from their evincing any tendency to idleness and inactivity, their inclinations, under the influence of covetousness, ambition, or the more laudable impulses of inherent industry, dispose them to such unremitting exertions, that all legisjators and founders of religion have been forced to establish regular holydays, and to compel their observance, not only by the sanctions of devotion, but by visiting their infraction with severe pains and penalties. To adjust the fitting balance between the days of labour and repose is no easy matter, since it must depend not only on the nature and extent of the toil to which the people are habitually subjected, but on climate, degrees of civilization, and other collateral circumstances; so that the regulations fit for one country may be very improper for another. From the books that remain to us of Ovid's Fasti, as well as from other sources, we shall have no difficulty in deciding that the holydays prescribed in the Roman calendar were by far too numerous, and must have been detrimental to the best interests of the state. Their own religion was by no means deficient in festivals : in adopting the deities of the conquered nations they imported a new series of holydays. Reverence for their ancestors prompted them to observe many private commemorations, in which all pursuits of business were suspended : superstition prevented them from engaging in any undertaking on those days which, being marked black in the calendar, were deemed unlucky; in time of war a twelvemonth rarely elapsed without a public triumph, which was always a period of public idleness; and thus a considerable portion of every year was consumed in religious ceremonies, or general and domestic festivals—a suspension of the people's labours which was probably of little advantage their morals, and have been unquestionably injurious to their interests.
At a very early period we find the games of the Romans regulated with great order and method. Under the republic the consuls and pretors presided over the Circensian, Apollinarian, and secular games; the plebeian ediles had the direction of the plebeian games; the curule ediles, or the pretor, superintended the festivals dedicated to Jupiter, Ceres, Apollo, Cybele, and the other chief gods. These
latter celebrations, which continued during three days, were originally termed Ludi Magni; but upon the term being extended to four days by a decree of the senate, they took the name of Ludi Maximi. Games were instituted by the Romans, not only in honour of the celestial deities of all nations, but even to propitiate those who presided over the infernal regions; while the feralia was a festival established in honour of deceased mortals. Thus were heaver, Tartarus, and the grave, all laid under contribution for holydays by a religion which may be literally termed jovial, whether in the ancient or modern acceptation of that word. The feralia continued for eleven days, during which time presents were carried to the graves of the dead, whose manes, it was universally believed, came and hovered over their tombs, and feasted upon the provisions which had been placed there by the hand of piety and affection. It was also believed that during this period they enjoyed rest and liberty, and a suspension from their punishment in the infernal regions.
The scenic games, adopted from those of Greece, consisted of tragedies, comedies, and satires, represented at the theatre in honour of Bacchus, Venus, and Apollo. To render these exhibitions more attractive to the common people, they were accompanied by rope-dancing, tumbling, and similar performances. Afterward were introduced the pantomimes and buffoons, to which the Romans, like the degenerate Greeks, became so passionately attached, when the public taste and manners had become equally corrupt, that they superseded the more regular drama. There was no fixed time for these exhibitions, any more than for those amphitheatrical shows which were given by the consuls and emperors to acquire popularity, and which consisted in the combats of men and animals. So numerous, however, were the games of stated occurrence, that we can do no more than briefly recapitulate the names of the most celebrated.
The Actian games, consecrated to Apollo in commemoration of the victory of Augustus over Mark Antony at. Actium, were held every third or fifth year with great pomp in the Roman stadium, and consisted of gymnastic sports, musical competitions, and horse-racir.g. In the reign of Tiberius were established the Ludi Augustales, in honour
of Augustus ; the first representation of which was disturbed by the breaking out of the quarrel between the comedians and the buffoons, where rival factions so often subsequently embroiled the theatrical representations. Livia established in honour of the same emperor the Palatine games, to which the Romans were perhaps more indebted than to any other, since their celebration afforded an opportunity for the destruction of the monster Caligula. The Certamina Neronia were literary competitions established by the tyrant from whom they were named, who affected to be a patron as well as an adept in all the liberal arts. Among other prizes there was one for music, by which we are to understand poetry, since we are expressly told by Suetonius that Nero himself won the crown of poetry and eloquence, none of his antagonists, probably, choosing to surpass so formidable an antagonist. "Games upon various models were also founded in commemoration of Commodus, Adrian, Antoninus, and many other illustrious and infamous individuals; while all the leading and many of the subordinate deities in the mythological army of the Pagans were honoured at stated periods by festivals and sacrifices, so that one almost wonders how the people could snatch sufficient time from the great business of pleasure and the public shows, to attend to the diurnal cares and pursuits of life.
Besides these numerous festivities—for, though many of them professed to be religious ceremonies, they were essentially merrimakings and revels—there were the secular games, revived by Augustus, and celebrated only once in a hundred years. Every thing appertaining to these games was calculated to impress the superstitious mind with deep and solemn reverence. From the long interval between the celebrations none could have seen them before, none could ever hope to behold them again. Slaves and strangers were excluded from any participation in this great national festival ; the mystic sacrifices to Pluto and Proserpine, to the Fates and to the Earth were performed at night on the banks of the Tiber; the Campus Martius, which was illuminated with innumerable lamps and torches, resounded with music and dancing, and the temples with the choral hymns of youths and virgins, imploring the gods to preserve the virtue.