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LECTISTE´RNIUM (στρῶμναι, Dionys. A. R. 12.9, and expressed in the kindred Greek ceremonies by the words κλίνην στρῶσαι: Theocr. 15.127, &c.), a sacred feast at which certain of the gods were represented as reclining (accubantes) on a lectus, each with the left arm resting on a cushion (pulvinus), whence the lectus was called pulvinar. It was set in the open street, and before it was placed a table with offerings of food from the people. Livy (5.13) gives a distinct account of its origin and first celebration: that it was ordained by the Sibylline [p. 2.16]books in a time of pestilence, B.C. 399; Duumviri sacris faciendis were appointed to hold the feast for eight days (Dionysius, l.c., says seven). There was a general celebration also through the city by the citizens from their private resources, the doors thrown open and hospitality offered to all comers, as though to induce forgetfulness of the public troubles. The deities so approached with prayers and a feast on this, the first, occasion were Apollo and Latona, Diana and Hercules, Mercury and Neptune, placed in pairs on the sacred couches; and at all proper lectisternia the deities were placed in pairs: that is to say, their statues, covered with drapery, which Festus (s. v. tensa) calls exuviae deorum, or, as Marquardt prefers to think, draped wooden figures with heads of bronze, wax, or marble, like the Greek acroliths, were so arranged: possibly they were borne to the pulvinar upon sacred tensae as on the (totally different) occasion of the Circensian games. The idea that these statues were merely busts is probably wrong, and rests only on the words in Liv. 40.59, “deorum capita quae in lectis erant,” but here Madvig reads qui. It is an error to confuse this sacred rite with the epulum Jovis, which represented the old family offering to Jupiter Dapalis, with whom were associated the other Capitoline deities, Juno and Minerva, as permanent protectors of the state, and Mercurius, who in this respect bore, like Jupiter, the surname Epulo. The epulum Jovis was an archaic festival superintended by the pontifices, until the special officers called epulones were appointed, and it differed from the lectisternium, as originally instituted, in placing the god on a lectus and the goddesses by Roman custom, conservative in religion, on sellae. In Liv. 22.1 it is said that a lectisternium was given to Juno Regina on the Aventine, and in B.C. 217, after the disastrous battle of Trasimene, there was a lectisternium for three days to six pairs of deities (Liv. 22.10). Livy numbers the lectisternia which fall in his first decade; the 3rd was “pacis exposcendae causa,” the 4th in time of pestilence upon consultation of the Sibylline books, the 5th “placandis diis” at the outbreak of the second Samnite war (Liv. 7.2 and 27; 8.25). It should be noticed that all the early lectisternia were in time of trouble to appease the anger of heaven, not as thanksgivings, being no doubt adopted from the Sibylline books when other means failed.

It appears from Liv. 36.1, 42.30, that there was later a constant or perhaps daily lectisternium, “majorem partem anni,” to certain deities. This must be held distinct from the extraordinary lectisternium ordered for a special crisis. It was no doubt a regular celebration in the different temples, and its method was borrowed from the lectisternium proper. The supplicatio, which was an old Roman rite (Liv. 3.63), became connected with the lectisternium and to some extent confused with it, since it was celebrated commonly “omnibus diis quorum pulvinaria Romae erant,” i. e. to those deities in whose honour the lectisternium also was held. In the imperial times, by a sort of reaction to old Roman feeling, a change was made as regards the lectisternium, that for goddesses it should be a sellisternium (i. e. they should, in old fashion, sit instead of reclining). This alteration is mentioned by Tacitus in a celebrated chapter (Ann. 15.44) as taking place when Nero tried various means, and finally a persecution of Christians, to escape the infamia of the burning of Rome (cf. also V. Max. 2.1, 3).

As regards the origin of the lectisternium, there is some controversy. Preller (Römische Myth. p. 133) maintains that it belonged to the national religion of Rome handed down from the earliest times, and cites in proof a statement of Pliny, Plin. Nat. 32.2, that “cenae ad pulvinaria” had been ordained by Numa, and from Varro (quoted by Servius, Serv. ad Aen. 10.76) that there was a lectus spread before Picus and Pilumnus in behalf of child-birth. It must be recollected, however, that from the familiarity of writers in the late Republic and Empire with the terms of the lectisternium, they were likely to apply them to the old Roman offerings, such as those of Jupiter Dapalis, the Lares, &c.; and these vague notices can hardly weigh against the precise statement of Livy, that the first lectisternium was in B.C. 399. It is safer therefore to adopt Marquardt's view, that it was a Greek custom introduced into Rome, and afterwards more or less amalgamated with other older institutions of native origin. Of this Greek origin there are several indications: (1) The source of the ordinance, the Sibylline books, is Greek. (2) Three of the deities first so honoured were unknown to the Romans of the oldest times--Apollo, Latona, and Artemis (the Delphic Triad)--and a fourth (Hercules) is worshipped in new fashion, since according to Servius, Serv. ad Aen. 8.176, the lectisternium was prohibited at the Ara Maxima. (3) The recumbent position for the gods and goddesses was altogether contrary to old Roman custom: in the earliest times all in the Roman family alike sat, and in later times the wives and children. It may be added also that the number, two on each couch, was Greek, not Roman; for at Rome three was the number on each lectus. We know, too, of this as a Greek rite in early times--e. g. at Athens to Zeus Soter and Athene Soteira (C. I. A. 2.305); to Pluto (C. I. A. 2.948); at Tegea to Athena (Paus. 8.47); to

Pulvinar at the Theoxenia. (From a Greek vase.
Roy. Soc. Lit.,
N. S., ix. p. 434.)

Heracles, as represented in many ancient works of art; at Alexandria to Adonis and [p. 2.17]Aphrodite (Theoc. 15.127); and to th<*> be added the Theoxenia at Delphi, wit<*> A. Mommsen (Delphika, 303) compar<*> lectisternia.

Of the two cuts given, the first, take<*> a Greek vase, represents the pulvinar at <*> Theoxenia of the Dioscuri, and a palm branch upon it, offered by an Olympic victor. The mounted figures supply pictorially the names of the Dioscuri. It must not be supposed that they were actually so shown in the feast. The second cut, representing the pulvinar of a lectisternium, was taken by Mr. Yates from one in the Glyptothek at Munich. (See also

Pulvinar of a Lectisternium. (From the Glyptothek at Munich.)

on this subject Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverwaltung, 3.45, 187.)


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