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BACCHANA´LIA the name under which the festivals of Dionysus or Bacchus were known at Rome. The circumstances of the introduction of these rites at Rome are given in detail by Livy, 39.8-19 (cf. V. Max. 1.3, 3, and 6.3, 7). According to his account, a Greek priest of no education or position brought into Etruria the secret nightly celebration of this worship. It was not only accompanied by all manner of licentious excesses, but was also made the occasion for planning the most revolting crimes, perjury, forgery, false accusations, poisoning, and assassination. From Etruria the [p. 1.265]contagion spread to Rome. If Livy's narrative is to be trusted, at first the rites were comparatively innocent. Women only were initiated, and that by day, three times in the year, and the priesthood was held by matrons in turn. It is quite possible that in this statement Livy has in view the worship of Stimula or Simila, an early Italian deity, afterwards identified with Semele, whence Ovid (Ov. Fast. 6.503-515) regards her rites as of a Bacchanalian character. Possibly Virgil is thinking of the same, when (Aen. 7.385) he speaks of the Bacchic rites as existing in Italy in the time of Aeneas. In any case it is hardly conceivable that the corrupt Etruscan cult should have so much changed its character in passing into Rome, as Livy's account would require us to believe. He goes on to say (100.13) how a certain Pacullia Annia, a Campanian priestess, claiming to be acting under the inspiration of the gods, changed the whole character of the worship. She was the first to admit men, by initiating her own sons; she altered the time of celebration from the day to the night; and held initiations five times every month instead of three times a year. The promiscuous admission of men and women and the licence of night opened the way to all manner of debauchery and crime. The most horrible immoralities were practised; the wildest frenzy indulged in. Men flung themselves about as if possessed, and uttered frantic prophecies; women dressed as Bacchanals, with dishevelled locks, ran down to the Tiber, and plunged into the water torches, which, composed of a mixture of sulphur and lime, were not extinguished in the waves. The initiated were a vast number,--“alter jam prope populus,” as Livy puts it,--including many of high birth, both men and women. To secure the complete subjugation of the votaries, a rule was made that none should be admitted who were not under twenty years of age, a time at which the judgment is weak and the passions strong. For some time, although the existence of these rites was generally known, not only by report, but also by the clanging of cymbals and the howlings of the devotees by night (ib. 100.15), their real nature was not suspected. But in B.C. 186 the lewd and criminal character of the meetings was brought to the knowledge of the consuls. P. Aebutius, the orphan of a Roman knight, had been left by the death of his guardians to the charge of his mother Duronia and his stepfather Sempronius Rutilus. The latter had embezzled his property, and in order to escape punishment desired either to make away with the youth, or to get him entirely into his power. Duronia, who was entirely devoted to her husband, determined to avail herself of the Bacchanalia for the corruption or destruction of her son. She informed him that at a time when he was sick she had vowed that he should be initiated into the Bacchic rites, if he recovered, and that now was the time to discharge the vow. Aebutius, taking the matter lightly, mentioned it to a freedwoman, Hispala Fecenia, with whom he had a liaison; but she, in the utmost terror and distress, warned him of the dangers that he was incurring: she, when still a slave, had accompanied her mistress to the orgies, and had seen the vile practices of the votaries. Aebutius, returning to his mother, refused to be initiated, without disclosing his reasons. She in a fury drove him from the house. He took refuge with his father's sister, and at her advice laid the whole facts of the case before the consuls. Hispala was induced by them to confess all that she knew; the senate was consulted; and full powers given to the consuls to investigate the matter. Prompt measures were taken to secure evidence, and to prevent the escape of the guilty. The inquiry led to the belief that more than 7000 men and women were implicated in the affair. Those who were merely initiated, and had taken the oath binding them to every kind of crime and lewdness, were punished with imprisonment; those against whom actual guilt was found--and these, we are told, were the majority--received capital punishment. The women for the most part were handed over to their relations, or to those who were responsible for them, for private execution; the rest were put to death in public. One of the most ancient and precious records of the old Latin language preserved to us is the bronze tablet containing the letter in which the consuls communicated to the magistrates in agro Teurano (Tirioli, in the country of the Bruttii) part (as Mommsen thinks) of the decree of the senate passed on this occasion (op. Mommsen, C. I. L. 1.196; Ritschl, P. L. M. E. tab. xviii.); doubtless it is only a specimen of many which mutatis mutandis were sent throughout Italy. The Bacchanalia are rigidly prohibited: if any one, Roman, Latin or ally, considers himself under a religious obligation bacanal habere, he can only do so by obtaining permission from the praetor urbanus, confirmed by a vote of the senate in which not less than 100 have taken part. No priest, president, or common purse is allowed, nor any kind of common vow. Not more than two men or three women (five in all) should celebrate the rites, except by special permission. These regulations were carried out with unflinching rigour, apparently not without the use of military force (Cic. de Leg. 2.1. 5, 37); but it was some years before the Bacchanalian rites were completely extinguished in Southern Italy (Liv. 39.41, 40.19). It has been supposed, but probably not with justice (cf. Preller, Röm. Myth. p. 718), that a fragment of Varro's satires Preserved by Nonius, p. 112, points to a subsequent revival of these rites at Rome. Otherwise we have no further trace of them in literature or history. The LIBERALIA were of an entirely different character.


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