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MEGALE´SIA, MEGALENSIA, or MEGALENSES LUDI. It is important to mark the distinction between the celebration of this festival under the Republic, and its later development under the Empire. We find it early in the 2nd century B.C. celebrated at Rome in the month of April and in honour of the great mother of the gods (Cybele, μεγάλη θεός, whence the festival derived its name; Cic. de Harusp. Resp. 12, 24). The sacred stone representing the goddess was brought to Rome from Pessinus in the year 204 B.C., and the day of its arrival was solemnised with a magnificent procession, lectisternia, and games, and great numbers of [p. 2.156]people carried presents to the goddess, whose temporary resting-place was the temple of Victory on the Palatine. (Varro, L. L. 6.15; Liv. 29.14.) The celebration of the Megalesia, however, did not begin till ten years later (194 B.C.), and the temple which had been vowed and ordered to be built in 204 B.C. was completed and dedicated by M. Junius Brutus (Liv. 36.36) on April 10, B.C. 191, after which time the celebration was annual. The temple (Matris Magnae Idaeae) was on the Palatine, a position within the pomoerium, which, as Marquardt points out, shows that she was not regarded as a foreign deity: she came from Ida, the home of their race. The rites were originally under the charge of a Phrygian priest and priestess (Dionys. A. R. 2.19); but the numbers were afterwards greatly increased, and we find an archigallus at their head, as chief priest, and a sacerdos maxima matris, as chief priestess, mentioned in numerous inscriptions. (See Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.368, note 6.) These archigalli bear Roman names; but the ordinary galli were foreigners. The priestly dress is a mitra (Propert. 5.7, 61), a veil, a necklace (occabus), and a purple dress: a small image of the goddess or of Attis in an aedicula was suspended at his breast: in his hand he bore a basket of fruit, cymbals, and flutes. The festival lasted for six days, beginning on the 4th of April (reading Prid. Non. in Liv. 29.14, according to the Cal. Praen.). The season of this festival, like that of the whole month in which it took place, was full of general rejoicings and feasting. It was customary for the Patricians on this occasion to invite one another to their repasts (mutitare), and the extravagance was such, that a senatusconsultum was issued in 161 B.C., prescribing that no one should go beyond a certain extent of expenditure. (Gellius, 2.24; compare 18.2.)

The games which were held at the Megalesia were scenic, but there is some indication that they were also circenses (Mommsen, C. I. L. 1.391). They were at first held on the Palatine in front of the temple of the goddess, but afterwards also in the theatres. (Cic. de Harusp. Resp. 11, &c.) The day which was especially set apart for the performance of scenic plays was the third of the festival. (Ovid. Fast. 4.377; Ael. Spartian. Antonin. Carac. 100.6.) We know that four of the extant plays of Terence were performed at the Megalesia. Cicero (de Harusp. Resp. 12, 24), probably contrasting the games of the Megalesia with the more rude and barbarous games and exhibitions of the circus, calls them maxime cast, solemnes, religiosi: they were under the superintendence of the curule aediles (Liv. 34.54), till in B.C. 22 Augustus took the cura ludorum from the aediles and gave it to the praetor. The procession of galli, which began the festival (Ovid. Fast. 4.179 if.), bore the sacred image in a chariot through the city. The priests sang Greek hymns and collected coins from the people as they went (Cic. de Leg. 2.1. 6, 40): the passage in Lucret. 2.618 ff. describes the procession.

Under the Empire there was a great increase in the ceremonial, which took a new character, more Eastern, and more elaborately symbolical. In its first observance it was a thanksgiving for the aid granted in the Second Punic War, and a time of feasting and theatrical shows for the patrician houses. In its later form Cybele represents the earth and fruitfulness, and it is recollected that the year of her entry was marked by great plenty (Plin. Nat. 18.16). Attis represents the sun, and in this sun-myth it is observed by Macrobius (1.21, 7) that the day of rejoicing (Hilaria) is that day when the sun begins to make the day longer than the night. The tendency to adopt the full Phrygian rites instead of the simpler rites first introduced may perhaps be beginning when Lucretius (l.c.) and Catullus take up the subject, and it appears from inscriptions that the Phrygian rites existed earlier in South Italy (see Preller, Röm. Myth. p. 736): but they were not fully celebrated under the Republic, and perhaps not before the time of Claudius. Preller notes that the first mention of the March ceremonies is in Lucan 1.599 (cf. Suet. Oth. 8). The festival so developed began on March 15, which day stands in the Calendar as canna intrat, because there was then a procession of men and women bearing reeds, which were sacred to Attis. There is some allusion to Attis hiding himself among reeds, and being there discovered by Cybele. There were colleges of Cannophori or Cannofori in several places, the heads of which are called pater and mater. Inscriptions about them have been found at Locri, Ostia, Milan, &c. (C. I. L. 10.24; 5.5850). They have sometimes been confused with κανηφόροι. On March 22 was the day of Arbor intrat, when the sacred pine of Attis (Ovid. Met. 10.103) was borne to the temple of Cybele on the Palatine. The pine was hung with wool and with violet crowns (Arnob. 5.16). For this service there was a collegium dendrophororum Matris Magnae (C. I. L. 6.641). March 24 was Dies sanguinis, on which, to commemorate the wounds of Attis, the archigallus cut his arm with a knife; it was a fast and a day of mourning (Mart. 11.84; Arnob. l.c.): on March 25 was the day of rejoicing (Hilaria), a great festival (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 37; Macrob. l.c.); and, finally, on March 27 a procession of priests bore the sacred image on a chariot down to the Almo (Mart. 3.47; Sil. Ital. 8.365), to wash it in the place where the Almo joins the Tiber near the Ostian road, half a mile from the walls (Burn's Rome and Campagna, p. 329). The image was the sacred black stone (Preller suggests a meteorite), to which a female head of silver was added. The ceremonies ended with a general carnival. The Ludi Megalenses of the original Megalesia, ludi scenici and ludi circenses, were as before for seven days, from April 4 to April 10. It should be noted that the bathing of the goddess was not an entirely new ceremony, since Ovid mentions it as belonging to her first entry, and we hear also of the image being bathed in the sea by order of the Sibylline books in the year B.C. 38 (D. C. 48.43); but this was an exceptional case, and there is no trace of the annual March ceremonies under the Republic. The ceremonies lasted till a late period in various places. Marquardt cites a passage from Gregory of Tours, who says that Simplicius (in the 5th century) saw the procession of the image at Autun, with the attendants singing and playing before it pro salvatione agrorum ac vinearum. (See further on this subject Preller, Röm. Myth. pp. 448 ff. and [p. 2.157]735 ff., and Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, pp. 367-374, where a mass of authorities from ancient writers and inscriptions is given in the notes.)

[L.S] [G.E.M]

hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Cicero, On the Responses of the Haruspices, 11
    • Cicero, On the Responses of the Haruspices, 12
    • Lucan, Civil War, 1.599
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 54
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 29, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 36
    • Cicero, De Legibus, 2.1
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.24
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.84
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.47
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