Monday, 11 March 2013

Livy 40.6: a Macedonian ritual.

In the Netherlands we have an animal welfare party in parliament, having 2 of the 150 seats, The 2 female members would abhor of the following story by Livy. It is a description of a ritual to purify the Macedonian army: a bitch is cut in halve and the army has to march between the two parts each put at the other side of the road.
When years ago we had a seminar about book 40 of Livy, I claimed the part containing this description for commenting upon. Before studying Classics, I graduated in History of Religions and I always liked rituals: the sacrifice of a young woman at the funeral of Viking headman art the shore of the Volga around 800 as told by Ibn Fadlun, the Vedic midwinter-solstice Mahavrata-festival with swinging, arching and ritual prostitution, ritually strangled bodies preserved in moors of 2000 years ago, Shaivite tantric rituals: I have written papers on them all. Fortunately I am better in writing about these rituals than performing them myself! Though I would like to swing at Mahavrata….

Philip V of Macedonia (238-179 BC) had two sons: Perseus - the eldest - by a concubine and Demetrius by his legitimate wife. They were not well disposed to each other, as both were competing for the throne.

Livy Ab urbe condita, 40.6
[6] Forte lustrandi exercitus uenit tempus, cuius sollemne est tale: caput mediae canis praecisae et <prior> pars ad dexteram, cum extis posterior ad laeuam uiae ponitur: inter hanc diuisam hostiam copiae armatae traducuntur. praeferuntur primo agmini arma insignia omnium ab ultima origine Macedoniae regum, deinde rex ipse cum liberis sequitur, proxima est regia cohors custodesque corporis, postremum agmen Macedonum cetera multitudo claudit. latera regis duo filii iuuenes cingebant, Perseus iam tricesimum annum agens, Demetrius quinquennio minor, medio iuuentae robore ille, hic flore, fortunati patris matura suboles, si mens sana fuisset. mos erat lustrationis sacro peracto decurrere exercitum, et diuisas bifariam [duas] acies concurrere ad simulacrum pugnae. regii iuuenes duces ei ludicro certamini dati: ceterum non imago fuit pugnae, sed tamquam de regno dimicaretur, ita concurrerunt, multaque uulnera rudibus facta, nec praeter ferrum quicquam defuit ad iustam belli speciem. pars ea, quae sub Demetrio erat, longe superior fuit. id aegre patiente Perseo laetari prudentes amici eius, eamque rem ipsam dicere praebituram causam criminandi iuuenis.

tempus: this was in the month Xandicus, or March. The ceremony was in honour of Xanthus, a legendary warrior-hero of the Macedonians.
sollemne: ritual ceremony. The same ritual was performed after the death of Alexander the Great.
mediae canis praecisae: of a middle sliced through bitch = of bitch sliced through the middle. Livius has a preference for the construction adjective + noun for noun related to the adjective + genitive of the noun. This is even in the title of his work: ab urbe condita. It is therefore known as an urbs condita construction.
exta extorum: the chief internal organs of the body, significant organs
posterior (pars)
hostia: victim
praefero: to carry in front of (+ dat.)
primo agmini: the first column = the front of the column
arma insignia: either `the distinctive armour’(so P.G. Walsh) or asyndeton `arms and standards’.
Postremum agmen…claudit: closes the rear of the column
Ille: Perseus
hic: Demetrius
suboles, -is (f): sprout
lustrationis sacro peracto: the rite of the lustration being ended
decurro: to hold manoeuvres
bifariam (partem): in two parts
ad simulacrum pugnae: in mock battle
duces…lati: appointed as leaders
ludicer –era –erum: sportive
rudis –is (f): staff for exercise in fighting
laetari: historic infinitive. Translate  `they rejoyced’.
dicere: historic infinitive
praebituram causam criminandi iuuenis: the mock fight itself was not so much the reason for accusing Demetrius to attempt to kill his brother, but the after party of this. They each held a different drinking party and Perseus sent a spy to Demetrius to see what was happening there, but the spy was caught outside by some youths leaving the party and severely maltreated. In the meantime Demetrius got the idea of going to his brother in a kind of reconciliation He took some friends with him, but these friends – afraid that Perseus might take this visit not so light-heartedly, hid swords under their cloaks. Some noticed this and reported to Perseus that Demetrius was coming to take revenge for sending a spy, whereupon Perseus closed the door for Demetrius and the next day told Philip that Demetrius had tried to kill him. The matter was settled but some time later Perseus told his father that Demetrius was about to go over to the Romans and this time Philip believed him and ordered Demetrius to be killed.

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