From my diary

The run up to Christmas is always busy, even if you are at home, and mine is no exception.

A few months ago Dr Michael Fuller kindly sent me some excellent photographs from the Mithraeum of S. Maria Capua Vetere, and some Mithraea in Ostia.  I have finally got around to uploading them to my Mithras site, and adding them to the catalogue of images.  It took much more time than I thought, even though I omitted some.

I’ve always hesitated to add the Ostia Mithraea to the site.  The reason for this is that the excellent Ostia Antica site has a page on each Mithraeum, which is simply splendid and better than anything that I’d be able to do.  There has never seemed any point in duplicating this; so my own photographs from Ostia have remained unused as well.

Today is the shortest day, the winter solstice.  I saw on Twitter a link to a good article by Richard Flower, on the Bruma and Brumalia, here.  This reminded me of my own soundings, I don’t know how long back.  He in turn made use of an article on Choricius of Gaza by Roberta Mazza, which, delightfully, was online at here.[1]  This not merely discusses the Bruma and Brumalia, but also refers to a study (which Dr. F. mentioned also) in Latin: Crawford’s “De Bruma et Brumalibus festis” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift 23.

Googling for this, I don’t find the volume online.  Yet somehow I have it on my local storage, downloaded from somewhere.  How odd.  But it does make the point that we do need local copies of things.

The Latin seems fairly easy.  It makes the point that the festival of Bruma is unknown to Martial, in Domitian’s time, who simply uses it as a synonym for Saturnalia; its first appearance as a distinct feast is two references in Tertullian.

I suppose I ought to read this.  ‘Tis the season to be paying attention, after all.  But … it’s really dark out there, and I find it very hard to wake up.  Maybe I’ll just lie on the sofa and read social media on my smartphone!

  1. [1]Roberta Mazza, “Choricius of Gaza Oration XIII: Religion and State in the Age of Justinian”, in: E. Digeser, R.M. Frakes, J. Stephens (eds.), The Rhetoric of Power in Late Antiquity: Religion and Politics in Byzantium, Europe and the early Islamic World, Tauris Academic Studies: London-New York 2010, 172-93. At

Still asking for those strenae at New Year?

An incoming link from here reveals a fascinating custom:

I leave you with a little philological excursus on the meaning of “bistraynti `alayk”, the traditional greeting that every Lebanese kid learns to scream at the top of his/her lungs on New Year’s morning. I’ve always wondered about the etymology of this term, and I recently stumbled upon an intriguing theory.

In Lebanon, and I am told that it is also the case among Christians in Jordan and Syria, we have a traditional new year’s greeting: we say:

bistraynte @layk/ @layke/ @laykon etc.

What this greeting means is that my *bistrayne* (i.e. new year’s gift) is on you, [so] you have to give me the gift. One has to be quick so as to get the others to give the gift.

He then links this with strenae, the gifts that Romans gave at New Year.  If so — and there seems no reason why not — this must be somehow Byzantine.  Does anyone have any ideas?


Christmas day on the winter solstice?

The time has come to summarise some of the findings of the dozen or so posts on questions related to whether Christmas, on 25 December, was on the winter solstice in antiquity.   I think we can say with certainty that it was thought to be on 25 December, or at least when the solstice was marked.  I will return to this last point after reviewing the evidence associating 25 December with the solstice.

In the 1st century BC Varro, De Lingua Latina 6.8 says that the Latin word bruma means “the shortest day” (i.e. the solstice).  From this longer quote:

Dicta bruma, quod brevissimus tunc dies est; solstitium, quod sol eo die sistere videbatur, quo ad nos versum proximus est.

Bruma is so named, because then the day is brevissimus ’shortest’: the solstitium, because on that day the sol ’sun’ seems sistere ‘to halt,’ on which it is nearest to us.

In the 1st century AD, Ovid also tells us in his Fasti 1.161 that bruma is the new sun:

bruma novi prima est veterisque novissima solis

Midwinter is the beginning of the new sun and the end of the old one

In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder tells us in his Natural History 18.221, discussing the solstices and equinox that the bruma — which he still understands as the winter solstice — begins on 25 December:

… omnesque eae differentiae fiunt in octavis partibus signorum, bruma capricorni a. d. VIII kal. Ian. fere, aequinoctium vernum arietis, solstitium cancri, alterumque aequinoctium librae, …

the bruma begins at the eighth degree of Capricorn, the eighth day before the calends of January, …

Later writers use bruma more loosely, and Isidore of Seville in Etymologies 5:35.6 in the 7th century says frankly that it means winter.

In the 3rd century we get our first Christian connection of the birth of Christ with the sun.  Cyprian, in De pascha Computus, 19 writes:

O quam præclare providentia ut illo die quo natus est Sol . . . nasceretur Christus.

O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which the Sun was born . . . Christ should be born.

In the 4th century, Servius tells us in his Commentary on the Aeneid 7. 720 that the “new sun” is 25 December.  Commenting on the words of Vergil (underlined):

[720] vel cum sole novo prima aestatis parte: nam proprie sol novus est VIII. Kal. ian.; sed tunc non sunt aristae, quas ab ariditate dictas esse constat.

Or when the new sun in the first part of the year; for properly the new sun is the 8th day before the kalends of January; but at that time there are no harvests, which ab ariditate dictas esse constat.

In 354 AD the Chronography of 354 displays on 25 December, the VIII kal. Ian., “Natalis Invicti”, presumably the natalis of Sol Invictus.  This may be either the birth of the unconquered sun, or the anniversary of the dedication of the temple.

In the fourth century Gregory of Nyssa comments in his Sermon on the nativity of the Saviour:

And again let us resume it: “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” – (the day) on which the darkness begins to decrease, and the lengths of night are diminished by the increase of the sun’s rays.

At the end of the 4th century, or perhaps later, ps.Chrysostom preaches on the solstice and the equinox.  The sermon de Solst. Et Æquin. has never been translated, but the following excerpt appears in the Catholic Encycloped, giving a reference to the 1588 edition of “II, p. 118, ed. 1588”.  I suspect in reality the material is in Migne!  This also identifies the date with the sun, and here is clearly the birth of the new sun.  It says:

Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et Invicti Natalem appelant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster? . . . Vel quod dicant Solis esse natalem, ipse est Sol iustitiae.

But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eighth before the calends of January  . . . But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord. . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.

In 401 AD, on Christmas day, Augustine (PL 46, 996) preaches a sermon discussing pagan customs on the same day:

Stop these latest sacrileges,  stop this craze for vanities and pointless games, stop these customs, which no longer take place in honour of demons but still follow the rites of demons … Yesterday, after vespers, the whole city was aflame with stinking fires; the entire sky was covered with smoke!  If you make little of the matter of religion, think at least of the wrong that you do to the community.  We know, brothers, that it is kids who have done this, but the parents must have let them sin.

In the 5th century Paulinus of Nola in Carmen 14, 13, links the birth of Christ at Christmas with the solstice (“days of bruma”), and the new sun explicitly:

ergo dies, tanto quae munere condidit alto Felicem caelo, sacris sollemnibus ista est,  quae post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus sole nouo gelidae mutauit tempora brumae atque salutiferum praestans mortalibus ortum procedente die se cum decrescere noctes iussit, ab hoc quae lux oritur uicesima nobis,  sidereum meriti signat Felicis honorem.

13. So the day which bestowed so great a gift by setting Felix in the heights of heaven is the day of our yearly ritual. It comes after the solstice, the time when Christ was born in the flesh and transformed the cold winter season with a new sun, when He granted men His birth that brings salvation, and ordered the nights to shorten and the daylight to grow with Himself. The twentieth day that dawns on us after the solstice marks the heavenly glory which Felix merited.

Also in the 5th century, the calendar of Polemius Silvius has an entry for 25 December:

25     VIII    natalis domini corporalis                                    solstitium et initium hiberni

25      8         birthday of the Lord in the flesh                       solstice and beginning of winter

The VIII is the count down to the kalends of January.

It is pretty clear, then, that the date of 25 December was understood as being the winter solstice, and was marked as such at least in the fourth century onwards.

I was also interested in whether we could tell whether 25 December really was the astronomical solstice under the Julian calendar.  This I was unable to determine.  But it may not have been.  The solstice moves, even under the Gregorian calendar, and only astronomers in antiquity would have been measuring it exactly.  That the solstice had passed would become apparent to most people only a day or two later, perhaps.  Some remarks by Julian the Apostate in 361 — over the Christmas period — in his Hymn to King Helios are interesting in this context, as they reflect this idea of deferral.  The Kronia is of course the Greek for Saturnalia.

But our forefathers, from the time of the most divine king Numa, paid still greater reverence to the god Helios. They ignored the question of  mere utility, I think, because they were naturally religious and endowed with unusual intelligence ; but they saw that he is the cause of all that is useful, and so they ordered the observance of the New Year to correspond with the present season; that is to say when King Helios returns to us again, and leaving the region furthest south and, rounding Capricorn as though it were a goal-post, advances from the south to the north to give us our share of the blessings of the year. And that our forefathers, because they comprehended this correctly, thus established the beginning of the year, one may perceive from the following. For it was not, I think, the time when the god turns, but the time when he becomes visible to all men, as he travels from south to north,that they appointed for the festival. For still unknown to them was the nicety of those laws which the Chaldaeans and Egyptians discovered, and which Hipparchus and Ptolemy perfected : but they judged simply by sense-perception, and were limited to what they could actually see.  But the truth of these facts was recognised, as I said, by a later generation.

Before the beginning of the year, at the end of the month which is called after Kronos, we celebrate in honour of Helios the most splendid games, and we dedicate the festival to the Invincible Sun. And after this it is not lawful to perform any of the shows that belong to the last month, gloomy as they are, though necessary. But, in  the cycle, immediately after the end of the Kronia follow the Heliaia. That festival may the ruling gods grant me to praise and to celebrate with sacrifice ! And above all the others may Helios himself, the King of the All, grant me this, even he who from eternity has proceeded from the generative substance of the Good: even he who is midmost of the midmost intellectual gods ; who fills them with continuity and endless beauty and superabundance of generative power and perfect reason, yea with all blessings at once, and independently of time !”

But the end result of all of this seems perfectly clear; in the 4-5th centuries, Christmas day was on the day of the winter solstice, as far as anyone knew, and Christ was born with the new sun, as the Sun of Justice, Sol Iustitiae.


Augustine on pagans at Christmas

Here’s an excerpt from one of Augustine’s Christmas sermons, delivered on 25 December 401:

Stop these latest sacrileges,  stop this craze for vanities and pointless games, stop these customs, which no longer take place in honour of demons but still follow the rites of demons … Yesterday, after vespers, the whole city was aflame with stinking fires; the entire sky was covered with smoke!  If you make little of the matter of religion, think at least of the wrong that you do to the community.  We know, brothers, that it is kids who have done this, but the parents must have let them sin.[1]

The tone of the sermon tells us that few of his hearers were more than nominal Christians.  The purpose of all these fires, according to Heim, was ostensibly to help the dying sun rekindle its fires.  The real purpose, of course, was fun!

1.  Frangipane 8, 5 = PL 46, 996.  See Dom Morin, Miscellanea agostiniana, Rome, 1930, p. 223-4.  All quoted from F. Heim, Solstice d’hiver, solstice d’ete dans la predication chretienne du ve siecle.  Latomus 58 (1999), p. 640-660, p. 649.


The calendar of Polemius Silvius

Our discussions about bruma and the solstice have led me to look again at the calendar of Polemius Silvius, the mid 5th century calendar.  This was printed by Mommsen in 1893 in the ILA series. These massive volumes, all in Latin, are pretty much inaccessible to us all.

Years ago I paid heavily for photocopies of the calendars of Philocalus and Polemius Silvius. I wasn’t able to get more than the basic calendars, plus the material for December. I wish I’d got the section on bruma too! But what I have, I have now uploaded at here.

The laterculus of Polemius Silvius is preserved in a single manuscript, which was once in the library of St. Nicolas of Cusa.  This library is still preserved in Bernkastel-Kues – Kues = Cusa -, and indeed I have been there!  It’s quite possible to make a day-trip from Stansted airport in Essex to the misleadingly named “Frankfurt Hahn” airport.  This airport is actually near to Bernkastel-Kues.  So all you need do is to hire a car at the airport and drive, and I did do.  The Moselle valley, in which Bernkastel sits, is very attractive.  It was a nice day trip, and the keepers let me photograph a Tertullian manuscript there.  If only the ms. of Polemius Silvius was still there!

But Mommsen says that in his day it was in Brussels public library, numbered 10615-10729 (although a single volume – something odd here).  The laterculus is crammed onto two folios (f.93 and 95; f. 94 is a modern copy of 93), written in a tiny hand and inline, rather than in tabular format.

(Incidentally laterculus has the post-classical meaning of list, table.)

UPDATE:  According to Traina/Cameron, “428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire”, Polemius Silvius, a friend of important prelates in Gaul, was considered to be “mentally disturbed” (Gallic Chronicle of 452, year 438).  Mommsen quotes the Latin: turbatae admodum mentis post militiae in palatio exactae munera aliqua de religione (=of very disturbed mind after some services were exacted in the palace concerning the religion of the army).

UPDATE: Mommsen also published an article on the laterculus: T. Mommsen, Polemii Silvii Laterculus, Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 8, 1861, pp. 547-696 (shortened in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 7: Philologische Schriften, Berlin 1909, pp. 668-690).  I’m looking for this online now.  The Gesammelte Schriften are here, but not vol. 7.


A review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia

Andrew Eastbourne has sent me an interesting review of what must be an interesting book; a Latin dissertation on the bruma and brumalia.  I think it is worth reproducing in its entirety here.  UPDATE: I have found the dissertation online here.

De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis. By John Raymond Crawford. Harvard University Dissertation. Printed in Byzantinischer Zeitschrift 23.3-4 (pages 365-396).

Dr. Crawford’s thesis De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis covers thirty pages of subject-matter, in Latin, and a bibliography of two pages. The latter is equally divided between the ancient authorities (the original sources), and modern writers on the two festivals. It is not only the latest, but by far the most careful and searching investigation ever made of two festivals which are little known. Dr. Crawford’s work is both a description of the celebrations and an effort to clear away the mists of obscurity and misunderstanding in which the festivals have long been shrouded. He has presented his subject chronologically, except in the chapter dealing with Lydus’s account of the origins of the Brumalia. This method of presentation was, doubtless, better adapted to a detailed study of sources and secondary authorities, of which the thesis consists. Nevertheless, as it seems to me, a reviewer can secure greater clarity and render fuller justice to the author’s purpose by abandoning the chronological order and turning at once to the Byzantine Brumalia and its problems.

From the beginning of the sixth century A. D. to the middle of the tenth, a festival, known as the Brumalia, flourished at Constantinople. It began on November 24 and continued until December 17; each of the twenty-four days thus included was designated by a letter of the Greek alphabet. During this festival it was customary for one to entertain each of his friends with a banquet on the day marked with that letter with which his name began.

Among other features of the festival, as we learn from Lydus, De Mensibus 4.158, was the slaying of a pig in December, a custom which belonged also to the ancient Roman Saturnalia. Moreover, the Byzantine Brumalia was actually called a festival of Cronos, and December 17, the day on which it closed, was the opening day of the Saturnalia. Forcellini and Cumont (the latter in Revue de Philologie 21, 149, n.2) regarded the Brumalia as identical with the Saturnalia. To this conclusion Forcellini was led by the fact that Martial (12.81) uses the words Bruma and Saturnalia interchangeably.

But Lydus, De Mensibus 4.158, in discussing the origins of the Brumalia, mentions the custom known as ascolia, which was a famous feature of the old Athenian Lesser Dionysia. Furthermore, the testimony of Canon 62 of the Council in Trullo, of the year 692 A. D.1, proves that there were certain Dionysiac rites lingering on in the seventh century of our era, and Balzamon, Tzetzes, and Zonaras, twelfth century Byzantine writers, affirm that the Brumalia was a festival of Dionysus, inasmuch as βροῦμοςwas an epithet of that god. It is a fact that at this festival, in the eighth century, the Emperor Constantine Copronymus revered Dionysus and Broumos as creators of corn and wine.

Hence Du Cange explained the Brumalia as a Roman festival in honor of Bacchus. A different view of the origin of the Brumalia is expressed by Ioannes Malalas, the sixth century Byzantine chronographer, an explanation which, he says, he derived from the Roman annalist Licinius.

According to Malalas, Romulus instituted the Brumalia in order to relieve the opprobrium he had incurred in partaking of the food of his foster-father, Faustulus, for up to that time it had been deemed a disgrace to eat the bread of one not a blood relative. And so a festival was instituted at which every one was entertained by some one outside his family. This, says Malalas, was called, in the Latin tongue, βρουμάλιουμ; the entertainment took place on different days according to the position in the alphabet of the initial letter of one’s name.

In considering this story of the origin of the Brumalia, Dr. Crawford, on page 371, revives and gives prominence to a half-forgotten theory of Tomaschek, first advanced in 1868, in Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften, at Vienna, that the whole account is “Hirngespinst eines Byzantiners”. In the Licinius mentioned by Malalas Dr. Crawford recognizes, I think correctly, the Roman annalist Licinius Macer. He further recognizes in a fragment of the latter, preserved by Macrobius, the very passage on which Malalas drew. In my opinion the character of the passage hardly warrants this last conclusion, but the aetiological nature of Malalas’s story, to which Dr. Crawford next draws attention, is unquestionable. The tale is obviously concocted to explain what Malalas and his imitators fancy to be the etymology of Brumalia, a word which Malalas renders once in this passage by brouma/lioum, in support of his theory that Brumalia is derived from βρῶμα, ‘food’, and alium, in the sense of alienum.

Not only is Malalas’s story of too aetiological a character to be worthy of credence, but Dr. Crawford emphasizes in particular the very different account of the origin of the festival which is given by Lydus, De Mensibus 4.158. This account, which scholars have heretofore neglected, Dr. Crawford makes it a primary aim of his thesis to subject to the most detailed examination, rendering to it the prominence and the weight to which it is entitled. Lydus differs altogether from Malalas, specifically stating that entertainment according to the letter of the alphabet with which a man’s name began was of later growth. There is evidence that the alphabetical fashion of entertainment was in vogue in the reign of Justinian, and a little earlier, under Anastasius (491-518 A. D.), but there is no evidence before the close of the fifth century of entertainment according to the alphabet throughout a period of twenty-four days. It is true that Constantine Porphyrogenitus, writing in the tenth century, states that Constantine I, Theodosius I, Marcianus, and Leo I celebrated the Brumalia, but he does not mention the form or the duration of the festival under those Emperors.

Now, Tertullian and Cassianus Bassus (a Byzantine writer of the sixth or of the beginning of the seventh century) refer to an old Roman festival known as the Bruma, which occurred on November 24. This day, it must be remembered, was the day on which the Byzantine Brumalia began. Mommsen, however, in C. I. L. I2, page 287, and Häbler, in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie, under bruma, make no distinction between this Bruma of Tertullian’s time and the Byzantine twenty-four day festival, but ascribe to the Bruma the duration and the alphabetical plan of entertainment found in the Byzantine Brumalia. Yet Cassianus Bassus quotes Florentinus, a Roman author of the reign of Alexander Severus, and Didymus, a Greek of the fourth or the fifth century A. D., to the effect that the festival of the Bruma occurred on November 24.

Moreover, the calendars of Silvius and Philocalus, which date from the fourth and the fifth centuries respectively, both enter, under November 24, the name Bruma. Mommsen maintains that this entry does not refer to a festival day, but merely heralds the coming of the winter solstice, or true bruma, one month later. He understands the word as designating a period of time beginning November 24 and ending December 25, the day of the true bruma. He believes that Philocalus merely transferred from the end of this period of time to its beginning an epithet usually applied only to the end, and he quotes Pliny to the effect that the best writers designate the summer solstice by the word solstitium, the winter solstice by the word bruma. Bruma, then, under November 24 in Philocalus’s calendar he understands as the first day of a period of that name, ending in the true bruma, or winter solstice, on December 25; and so the entry Bruma, he maintains, is balanced in this calendar against the entry Solstitium for June 24.

To this Dr. Crawford objects that, if Philocalus had intended to use the word Bruma as a parallel to Solstitium under June 24, he would have entered it under the day of the true bruma, not under November 24. He urges, moreover, that, had Philocalus been treating of a period of time, he would have noted not merely the beginning but the end as well, the day of the winter solstice, which, however, he omits altogether from his calendar. Silvius, on the other hand, has recorded both days in the words solstitium et initium hiberni, under December 25, and Bruma, under November 24. Had Silvius, says Dr. Crawford, intended by this entry to indicate not a festival but only an introductory day to the true bruma, he would not have designated the latter as solstitium, but would have employed the term bruma of both days.

In my opinion, it would be difficult to decide against Mommsen, were it not (1) for the passages cited above from Florentinus and Didymus; (2) for the testimony of Lydus, that the alphabetical mode of entertainment at the Brumalia was of later origin—evidence which Mommsen wholly ignores; and (3) for the aetiological nature of Malalas’s account of the origin of the festival, which Mommsen fails to consider. In his first paragraph, Dr. Crawford states that two of his primary aims have been (1) to redirect the attention of scholars to the unreliability of Malalas, first pointed out by Tomaschek, in 1868, and (2) adequately to present and examine the passage in Lydus, which has hitherto been overlooked, except in the incomplete and inaccurate treatment accorded to it by Cumont, Revue De Philologie 21, 149, note 2, and Trew, ibidem.

The result of Dr. Crawford’s labors is convincing. He is the first to collect and weigh properly all the evidence concerning the festivals of the Bruma and the Brumalia. His conclusion is that there was an old Roman festival known as the Bruma2, which preceded the true bruma, the winter solstice, by one month, and constituted a prelude or introduction to it; that this festival was held on November 24; that in the time of Constantine the Great and his earlier successors both this festival and the Saturnalia were probably celebrated independently at Constantinople, and that in the intervening period (between November 24 and December 17) certain of the rites of Dionysus and Demeter belonging to this season continued to be celebrated; that out of these three elements was evolved the Byzantine Brumalia, which derived its name from the initial one of the several ancient festivals of which it was composed, not from βροῦμος or βρῶμα, which are false etymologies invented by the Byzantine writers after the true origin of the Brumalia had been forgotten; that it was the coincidence of this festival’s extent over twenty-four days, a number identical with that of the letters of the Greek alphabet, which led to the custom of entertaining at dinner in alphabetical order, and that the evidence at our disposal indicates that this custom did not arise before the close of the fifth century A. D., during the reign of Anastasius.

Finally, Dr. Crawford shows the error of Polites, and of Lawson, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion, 226, in confusing the Brumalia with the New Year festival, which lasted down into the fifteenth century. There is no evidence, he says, to prove the existence of the Brumalia after the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, that is, the tenth century.

In addition to settling the principal problems which his subject presented, Dr. Crawford has disposed, in passing, of a number of minor problems, and has given a history of the celebration of the Brumalia in the various centuries of its existence.

Lehigh University 
The Classical Weekly, Vol. 15, No. 7 (Nov. 28, 1921), pp. 52-54

1 A misprint on page 385 dates this council in 632.
2 This apparently did not antedate Martial, as that poet is ignorant of a festival of that name separate from the Saturnalia,


A translation of John the Lydian, “De Mensibus” 4.158 (on December)

Here’s a little translation that I commissioned of a page of book IV of John the Lydian “On the Months”.  It’s relevant to our discussions of bruma.  This translation is public domain – do whatever you like with it, commercial or educational.

The Romans customarily divided their citizenry into three [groups] and distinguished those who were suitable for arms, those [who were suitable] for farming, and those [who were suitable] for hunting; and the season of winter brings an end to these [pursuits]. For in it, neither do they arm themselves, nor do they practice farming, because of the season’s cold and the shortness of the days—and hence in the old days they named it bruma, meaning “short day.” And Brumalia means “winter festivals”;[1] so at that time, until the Waxing of the Light,[2] ceasing from work, the Romans would greet each other with words of good omen at night, saying in their ancestral tongue, “Vives annos“—that is, “Live for years.”[3]

And the farming people would slaughter pigs for the worship of Cronus and Demeter[4]—and hence even now the “Pig-Slaughter” is observed in December. And the vine-dressers would sacrifice goats in honor of Dionysus—for the goat is an enemy of the vine; and they would skin them, fill the skin-bags with air and jump on them.[5] And the civic officials would also [offer as] the firstfruits of the collected harvest wine and olive oil, grain and honey and as many [products] of trees as endure and are preserved—they would make loaves without water and they would bring [all] these things to the priests of the [Great] Mother.[6] And this sort of custom is still observed even now; and in November and December, until the “Waxing of the Light,” they bring [these] things to the priests. For the [custom] of greeting [people] by name at the Brumalia is rather recent; and, the truth [is],[7] they call them “Cronian festivals”[8]—and because of this the Church turns away[9] from them. And they take place at night, because Cronus is in darkness, having been sent to Tartarus by Zeus—and they mysteriously signify[10] the grain, from its being sown in the ground and thereafter not being seen. And this is quite true, as has been said: The attention to [these] things goes on at night, such that finally, in truth, the Brumalia are festivals of the subterranean daemones.


[1] Gk. Βρουμάλια δὲ οἱονεὶ χειμεριναὶ ἑορταί; alternatively, “…[function] as winter festivals,” but οἱονεί introduces the significance of a term just before, with bruma.
[2] Gk. τὰ Αὐξιφωτία, presumably referring to 25 Dec., as (e.g.) in the “Calendar of Antiochus” the date is marked: ἡλίου γενέθλιον· αὔξει φῶς. For the phrase, cf. also Cosmas of Jerusalem, Comm. in S. Greg. Naz. carm. [PG 38:464].
[3] Lit., “you will live for years.”
[4] I.e., Saturn and Ops, who were considered husband and wife, and whose festivals were associated at this time of year; some further considered them the equivalents of Heaven and Earth (Macrobius, Sat. 1.10).
[5] Cf. askoliasmos / Askolia, the name for such an “event” at the Rural Dionysia.
[6] I.e., the Magna Mater (Cybele) (?).
[7] Gk. τὸ…ἀληθέστερον; lit., “the truer [thing]” / “the quite true [thing].”
[8] I.e., Saturnian festivals (Saturnalia).
[9] Gk. ἀποτρέπεται; alternatively, “turns [people] away from them.”
[10] Gk. αἰνίττονται.


Paulinus of Nola

Paulinus of Nola (353-431) has never come to my attention hitherto.  He was a contemporary of St. Augustine and lived through the times of the fall of Rome.  His works consist of poems and letters.  The poems include anti-pagan material which must therefore be of value for late paganism.  His works were translated in the Ancient Christian Writers series by P. Walsh during the late 60’s and 70’s.

Rather to my surprise I can find no trace of any of his works online in English.  There must be few fathers of that period so under-represented!

Among the material sent to me about the bruma is this from carmen 14, v.13 (p. 46):

 ergo dies, tanto quae munere condidit alto 
 Felicem caelo, sacris sollemnibus ista est, 
 quae post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus
 sole nouo gelidae mutauit tempora brumae
 atque salutiferum praestans mortalibus ortum 
 procedente die se cum decrescere noctes 
 iussit, ab hoc quae lux oritur uicesima nobis, 
 sidereum meriti signat Felicis honorem.

Linking the birth of Christ and the bruma, it would be interesting to know what it says.

UPDATE: Here it is, from the Walsh translation, p.77:

13. So the day which bestowed so great a gift by setting Felix in the heights of heaven is the day of our yearly ritual. It comes after the solstice, the time when Christ was born in the flesh and transformed the cold winter season with a new sun, when He granted men His birth that brings salvation, and ordered the nights to shorten and the daylight to grow with Himself. The twentieth day that dawns on us after the solstice marks the heavenly glory which Felix merited.

De la Cerda believed that solstitium only meant summer solstice, in the purest Latin.  But by the time of Paulinus this was clearly no longer so.  This identifies the day of Christmas with the solstice, solstitium (“after the solstice … the twentieth day” is the martyrdom of Felix, not Christmas).

UPDATE: A preview of the Walsh translation is here.


Too much data to find out what “bruma” means

There seem to be 336 results on a search on bruma in the PHI Latin CDROM (thanks to those who did the search).  There is probably more data in the Greek side.  And then there is the question of brumalia, which I have not even started on. 

I have only one hour this evening which is my own, and the same will be true for most evenings. I cannot grapple with that much data in that sort of time.  To digest these, collect or make translations, and tabulate them would require several uninterrupted days at least.  This means that I shall have to abandon my wish to find out what this means, by the only certain method, which is to go through the data and see what it all says.  Selective quotation is never a good idea. Nor do I propose to spend my entire Christmas holiday on it. 

It’s a pity, but the demands of earning a living will prevent me dealing with this further.