The Hilaria and the resurrection of Attis

I read somewhere that the festival of the Hilaria in Rome on March 25th marked the celebration in the cult of Cybele of the resurrection of Attis. This evening I consulted a PDF of the relevant volume of the old Realencyclopadie, which stated the following:

Hilaria. Ἱλάρια war der Name verschiedener in der griechischen Welt (z. B. in Kreta) gefeierten Feste, welche auch bei glücklichen Ereignissen, wie der Thronbesteigung eines Prinzen, offiziell befohlen wurden: Niemand durfte an diesen Tagen Trauerkleider tragen und nach verschiedenen Dankopfern gaben sich alle der Freude hin (Dionys. Areop. Epist. 8 § 6, P. G. III 604, mit Maximi scholia, P. G. IV 420). Auch in dem Isiskult gab es einen Hilarientag am 3. November (Philocalus, CIL I2 p. 334). Aber in Rom wurden besonders mit diesem Namen die H. der Magna mater bezeichnet, die am 25. März begangen wurden (CIL 12 p. 313). In Kleinasien (z. B. in Hierapolis, Damascius Vit. Isid. bei Phot. bibl. 345 a Bekker) wie in Rom waren sie eines der Hauptfeste des Jahres (Hist. aug. Alex. Sever. 37, 6; Aurel. 1). Mit Kränzen geschmückt (Sallust. phil. de diis 4) versammelten sich Gäste zu fröhlichen Mahlen, und es fand eine große Prozession statt, wo neben feierlichen Speerträgern (αἰχμοφόροι, hastiferi, vgl. Hepding a. a. O.) auch lustige Masken erschienen, die allerlei Spässe spielten (Herodian. 110, 5). Der religiöse Hintergrund dieses antiken Karnevals war nicht nur ein altes Frühlingsfest, das nach der Nachtgleiche, quo primum tempore Sol diem longiorem nocte protendit, die Wiederbelebung der Natur ankündigte oder hervorrief (Macrob. Sat. I 21, 11. Iulian. or. V 168 D. 169D. 175 A: vgl. Frazer Adonis, Attis, Osiris 1907), sondern die H. standen auch in der engsten Verbindung mit dem Attismythos. Der Gott, dessen Tod man beweint hatte (s. Attis o. Bd. II S. 2250), war an diesem Tage auferstanden, was als ein Versprechen einer glücklichen Unsterblichkeit für seine Mysten betrachtet wurde (Damascius a. a. O.: Ὅπερ ἐδήλου τὴν Ἅιδου γε-γονυῖαν ἡμῖν σωτηρίαν). Marquardt-Wissowa St.-V. III2 872. Hepding Attis 1908, 167ff. 197. 215. [Cumont.]

Hilariana basilica der dendrophori matris deum magnae Ideae et Attis, benannt nach ihrem Gründer M’. Publicius Hilarus (Inschrift des 2. Jhdts. n. Chr.; CIL VI 30973. Vgl. Gatti Not. degli scavi 1889, 398 und Hülsen Röm. Mitt. VI 1891, 109f), lag im Bereiche der ehemaligen Villa Casali (jetzt Militärhospital) am Caelius nördlich von S. Stefano Rotondo. Die Reste einer Treppenanlage und des Vorraumes mit Mosaik und Inschrift intrantibus hic deos propitios et basilicae Hilarianae (vgl. C. L. Visconti Bull. com. 1890 Tav. I. II) fanden sich 1889. Vgl. auch Not. degli scavi 1890, 79. 113 und Bull. com. 1889, 483. 1890, 18ff. 78. [Gall ]

I have translated this as follows, although a couple of words don’t make sense:

Hilaria. Ἱλάρια was the name of different festivals celebrated in the Greek world (e.g. in Crete), which were officially ordered also at happy events such as the accession of a prince: No one was allowed to wear mourning clothes on these days and after various peace offerings, all gave themselves up to rejoicing (Dionys. Areop. Epist. 8 § 6, P. G. III 604, with the scholia of Maximus, P. G. IV 420). Also in the cult of Isis, there was a Hilaria day on 3 November (Philocalus, CIL I2 p. 334).

But in Rome this name was used mainly for the H. of the Magna Mater, which took place on 25 March (CIL 12 p. 313). In Asia Minor (e.g. in Hierapolis, Damascius Vit. Isid. in Phot. bibl. 345 a Bekker), as in Rome, they were one of the principal feasts of the year (Hist. aug. Alex. Sever. 37, 6; Aurel. 1). Wearing wreaths (Sallust. phil. de diis 4), guests gathered for happy grinding [Mahlen?], and there was a large procession, where in addition to ceremonial spear carriers (αἰχμοφόροι, hastiferi, see Hepding above) also comedy masks appeared, playing all kinds of jokes (Herodian. 110, 5).

The religious background of this ancient carnival was not only an ancient spring festival, which after the equinoxes, quo primum tempore Sol diem longiorem nocte protendit, announced the revival of nature or caused (Macrob. Sat. I 21, 11. Iulian. or. V 168 D. 169D. 175 A: see Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, 1907), but the H. were also in the closest connection with the Attis-mythos.

The god, whose death had been mourned (see Attis above, II p. 2250), was resurrected on that day, which was regarded as a promise of a happy immortality for his mystic [ Mysten?] (Damascius above): Ὅπερ ἐδήλου τὴν Ἅιδου γεγονυῖαν ἡμῖν σωτηρίαν). Marquardt-Wissowa St.-V. III2 872. Hepding Attis 1908, 167ff. 197. 215. [Cumont.]

This is an interesting article. However I have become wary of comments of this sort by Cumont. Too often his remarks are an extravagant extrapolation from some tiny piece of data.

So… it’s time to verify the references. This I will start to do. At least there are references!

UPDATE: I’ve also been looking at the Attis article in the RE, also by Cumont. This discusses the very divergent forms of the Attis myth, and then adds:

Eine stark abweichende euhemeristische Umbildung der Legende findet man bei Diodor (III 58. 59) und ausserdem bei Firmicus Maternus (de err. pr. relig. 3), der ausdrücklich sagt, dass A. nach seinem Tode auferstanden sei — ein Zug, der nirgends so klar ausgesprochen wird (vgl. doch Plut. de Is. et Osir. 69), obwohl das Frühlingsfest des Gottes ihn voraussetzt.

A highly divergent euhemeteristic transformation of the legend is found in Diodorus (III 58. 59.) and also at Firmicus Maternus (de err. pr. relig. 3), which expressly says that A. was resurrected after his death – an idea that is nowhere expressed so clearly (but see Plut. de Osir. et Is. 69), although the spring festival of the god presupposes it.

A further note reads:

Ganz bekleidet, trauernd, das Kinn auf die Hand gestützt, gewöhnlich auf Grabdenkmälern (die Auferstehung des A. wurde wohl als eine Versprechung der Unsterblichkeit angesehen, vgl. CIL III 6384).

In clothed, mourning, his chin resting on his hand, usually on grave monuments (the resurrection of A. have been regarded as a promise of immortality, see CIL III 6384).

And that, it seems, is all that Cumont has on the resurrection of Attis. We have just a single reference, in Firmicus Maternus. There is a reference to a monument which I will investigate.

Can it be, is it possible that the idea that the Roman celebration of the Hilaria celebrates the resurrection of Attis is just speculation?

Certainly it was associated with the Magna Mater. But… where in the ancient texts is the connection to Attis? Where is the detail that he is resurrected on that day?

3 Responses to “The Hilaria and the resurrection of Attis”


  1. stephan huller

    Guests gathered for “happy grinding”? They mustn’t have been with their wives.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Obviously a mistranslate, but unimportant for my purposes. Wonder what it really means?

  3. stephan huller

    I know there are a number of native German speakers who frequent your site so I didn’t hazard a guess. I stopped speaking German on my fifth birthday. But I notice that when I do a Google search for “fröhlichen Mahlen” I notice that it the saying was used in reference to the description of the festive meal in Deuteronomy 12:7 came up viz. “There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” My guess would be that in Old German mahlen = mill = meal so ‘festive meal.’



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