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OSCILLA were small figures or masks, representing either the whole human figure or a part of it, generally the face, which is no doubt its original meaning, for we may assume the etymology to be a diminutive of os, “a face,” through osculum. A less acceptable derivation is suggested from Osci, on the theory that the custom was derived from that nation--a theory which has no value except so far as it records a belief, that the custom was indigenous in Italy. These figures or masks were hung up as offerings in various ways, and in connexion with various rites. We may notice especially (1) the figures like woollen dolls hung up to Mania=Larunda, the Mother of the Lares [see COMPITALIA]. An account of this deity is given under the name Mania in the Dictionary of Biography and Mythology, but it must be observed that there is an error in the statement that these were figures of Mania, for which the authority of Macrobius (1.7) is cited. Marquardt is undoubtedly right in saying that, in the passage “effigies Maniae suspensae,” Maniae is the dative. The true account is that, as Mania and the Lares were invoked to protect the household, images of this sort, one to represent each member of the family, were hung up as propitiatory (or expiatory) offerings at the cross ways and at the house-doors (Macrob. 1.7, 34). These images were also themselves sometimes called maniae, not because they were figures of Mania, but because they were used in her worship. In some parts of Scotland (perhaps of England also?) there is or was not long ago a custom, possibly of similar origin, of hanging up in cottages wheat and oats from the last harvest-loads, tied up with ribbons into some sort of doll-shape and called “Maidens:” it may perhaps be a question whether this name signifies dedicated to the Virgin, or figures of maidens like the pupae; and again whether the custom dates since the introduction of Christianity or is an older pagan survival. One form of Roman oscilla was also called pila, as in the fragment ap. Non. p. 538, 14, “Suspendit Laribus manias, molles pilas;” and in Festus, “pilae et effigies muliebres ex lana compitalibus suspendebantur in compitis, quod hunc diem festum esse deorum inferorum, quos vocant Lares, putarent, quibus tot pilae quot capita servorum, tot effigies quot essent liberi ponebantur, ut vivis parcerent et essent his pilis et simulacris contenti.” This passage has important bearing on the expiatory significance, of which more will be said further on, and it also suggests that the pilae were not, as Marquardt says, the same as maniae, but were a ruder sort of woollen bundle, perhaps signifying a human being, but not so carefully shaped--the use of these pilae stuffed with wool in the amphitheatre is well known--in the Compitalia then the members of the family are represented by effigies as oscilla, the slaves by the ruder pilae.

(2.) Oscilla were hung up at the Feriae Latinae, and we are told also that oscillatio (swinging) was a part of the ceremony. The explanations given are rather suspicious. In Schol. Bob. p. 256 we are told that there was a reminiscence of the fact that, the bodies of Aeneas and Latinus being undiscoverable, their animae were sought in the air. Festus (s. v.) says that swinging was called oscillatio because persons who indulged in “this sort of amusement” masked themselves “propter verecundiam.” We may surmise that this was a comparatively modern addition, and that the swinging of the old religion was not of living persons amusing themselves, but of oscilla, which represented, as is explained below, rites of expiation and purification. If, however, from the first those who partook in the festival really did swing themselves (as some assert of the wholly distinct Greek festival AEORA), we may assume that the significance was still that of purification (as in Verg. A. 6.740), and not that of a search after the bodies of Aeneas and Latinus.

(3.) The oscilla at the festival of Sementivae and in the country Paganalia are perhaps the best known, from the famous lines of Virgil (Georg. 2.382-396). These masks or figures, whether in honour of Bacchus, Liber pater, or any deity connected with the fruits of the

Offerings at a rustic festival. From an ancient engraved cup. (Bötticher.)

[p. 2.305]

earth, were hung upon the boughs of trees--not always the fruitful vine or olive, for Virgil speaks of a pine--offerings were made below, and songs were sung, like those of the Ambarvalia. The whole scene, as described in Virgil, appears very well in the representation on the onyx cup, figured above. It should be observed that though there can be little doubt that the oscilla here also, as in the festivals before mentioned, represented sacrifices, yet the custom had arisen of making the mask a face of the deity himself to whom it was offered.

(4.) On the Saturnalia presents were made of little pottery figures or faces (Macrob. 1.11, 1).

As regards the ordinary material of the oscilla, that depended no doubt on the wealth of the household: oscilla in marble and in pottery may be seen in the British Museum,

Marble Mask of Bacchus, in the British Museum.

the former with a metal loop for the suspension (the metal is ancient also), the latter with holes at the sides of the mask: but these durable oscilla were not the commonest: the epithet mollia in Virgil probably refers to the material. Surely we may reject the views cited by Conington ad loc., that mollia = mobilia, or that it is “because of the beautiful, mild expression:” the expression of many of the oscilla in museums is neither one nor the other. Ladewig's suggestion that it means “waxen” is nearer the truth, and no doubt the ordinary mask-shapes were of wax, but many also were, as has been seen from the passage of Festus quoted above, figures of wool: the word mollia would express either: it is likely that wood also was a less common material.

The true significance is a more important point, and there can be no doubt that we have in these oscilla a relic of human sacrifice, either expiatory or propitiatory, or both together. This is stated distinctly by Macrobius (l.c.), who says that in the time of Tarquinius Superbus (the date is immaterial) human sacrifices were offered to the Lares and Mania, “ut pro capitibus capitibus supplicaretur. . .ut pro familiarum sospitate pueri mactarentur Maniae deae, matri Larum;” and he proceeds to say, that in later times the images hung up at each door sufficed instead “periculum expiare:” and the words of Festus, quoted above, show even more clearly the appeasing of a dreaded power by a simulated atoning sacrifice. The same substitution for human sacrifice appears in the rush images of the Argei thrown from the bridge [ARGEI; PONS], and in the customs and traditions connected with the somewhat similar Greek Aeora [AEORA], where no doubt the images swung represented atoning human sacrifices of earlier times. (It may be doubted, as in the Feriae Latinae, whether there was really originally any “swinging” at these rites except of these images.)

As Dionysus was in the older times propitiated by the real bodies sacrificed, life offered for life, so he was afterwards by the unreal, and this is precisely the view of Macrobius in the similar rite, “ut faustis sacrificiis infausta mutarent inferentes Diti, non hominum capita, sed oscilla ad humanam effigiem arte simulata.”

We have then the propitiation by human sacrifice, once real and afterwards simulated, at festivals of Jupiter and of gods connected with death, Saturnus (to whom human sacrifice especially belonged, Lactant. Inst. 1.21, 6) and the Lares. Further, in the supplication of country or fruit-giving deities, we have a combination of several superstitions: we have the actual tree worship (on which see Bötticher, Baumcultus, passim) and the worship of the deities who presided over trees and crops in general, and could give or withhold the fruits; and there is moreover a double symbolism in the swinging images, not only the symbolical sacrifices for the real sacrifices, mentioned before (with which we may suppose the tree-divinities as well as the personal deities to have once been propitiated), but also a symbolical purification by air, which is the doctrine of Verg. A. 6.640, “aliae panduntur inanes suspensae ad ventos:” on which Servius says that there are three modes of purification, “either by fire or water, or by air, which was the mode in the sacred rites of Liber;” that is, by the oscilla. [See also LUSTRATIO] Hence the swinging images were a lustration of the crops, as, well as a propitiation of the Powers, who could give fruitfulness, by an expiatory offering. If the actual swinging of those who partook in the festival was originally part of the Feriae Latinae and the Aeora, then there was also in them a symbol of purification by air; and, at least in the latter case, there was (as Bötticher remarks, citing Serv. ad Verg. A. 12.603) a parentatio.

Whether the Italian rite was indigenous or borrowed from Greece, must be regarded as uncertain. Probus (ad Verg. Georg. l.c.) says that it came from Attica: at the same time there is so much suggestion of antiquity in the expiatory sacrifice to the Lares, that one is inclined to regard both this and the offerings to trees and gods of the country as older than the introduction of the Greek rites, and to think that the similarity with the Aeora is accidental. The hanging up of propitiatory offerings or thank-offerings in the form of waxen limbs, figures, &c., is common enough in many religions and many countries to allow such a coincidence. The chain of connexion afterwards with Liber, Bacchus, and the Aeora is easy; and it must be recollected

Olive-tree with oscilla, fistula, and pedum. (From and engraved gem.)

that the oscilla, which we have surviving, represent not only Bacchus, but various rustic deities. It should be stated also that in the oscilla of collections there may be some confusion between the oscilla properly so called and representations of masks hung up by players in the festival, not as a symbolical sacrifice, but [p. 2.306]merely as a dedicatory offering along with other articles used, such as a thyrsus or syrinx: we find also many discs with figures in relief; but though Bötticher treats these also as oscilla, it must be a question whether they are not merely offerings placed on the walls of shrines. The theory that the name oscilla could be applied to the heads of the sacrificed animals, hung up on the trees, is also put forward, but is hardly consistent with the precise definitions of the word which we have: we see them so hung in ancient works of art, and they may have been compared to oscilla (as in a passage cited by Bötticher), but the true oscilla were probably always manufactured.

In the illustrations given (1) is from an onyxcup in the Paris collection; (2) is a marble oscillum of Bacchus in the British Museum (described in Guide to Greek and Roman Sculpture, 1873, Part 2.131); (3) is from a gem (Maffei, Gem. Ant. 3.64). (Marquardt, Staatsverw. iii.2 192, 200; Preller, Röm. Myth. 105, &c.; Bötticher, Baumeultus der Hellenen, pp. 80-91; Hermann, Gr. Alt. § 27.)


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