Friday, 8 August 2014

Ovid, Fasti 2, 571-82: a ritual to ward off curses.

Ovid’s Fasti deals with Roman festivals during the year. Only January – June are treated as Ovid was unable to finish this work due to his exile to the Black Sea.
Sir James George Frazer (1854 – 1941) prepared an edition for the Loeb library which was published in 1931 at a time he was already becoming almost blind. Contrary to most (old) Loeb editions, this edition had notes, appendices and a critical apparatus now and then. Frazer studies classics but after his study he soon turned to cultural anthropology with a focus on the relation between myth and ritual. In 1890 this study would result in the publication of The Golden Bough, first in 2 volumes but later increased to 12 volumes:  thousands of pages of myths and rituals, both classical and from what was then called `primitive tribes’.  He got his information from missionaries, field anthropologists and civil servants working in the colonies of the British Empire. The theoretical frame work is completely outdated, but it is still a mine of information. Frazer never met a `primitive’ himself. Asked whether he would like to, he said: `Good heavens, no!’
The following passage is part of a description of the Feralia, a festival celebrating the manes of deceased forefathers.  Part of this was a ritual for the goddess Tacita `the silent one’, to be performed by an old women sitting within a circle of maidens. The aim was to ward off evil words .
As usual there is a lot of tongue in cheek humour in Ovid’s description:  anus annosa, Tacitae …vix ipsa tamen tacet, plus tamen ipsa bibetebria exit. It is impossible to say to what extent this description reflects a real common usage still practised in the days of Ovid, but we should remember the he was first of all an imaginative poet and not an anthropologist.

Ovid, Fasti, book 2, 571-582

Ecce anus in mediis residens annosa puellis
     sacra facit Tacitae (vix tamen ipsa tacet),
et digitis tria tura tribus sub limine ponit,
     qua brevis occultum mus sibi fecit iter:
tum cantata ligat cum fusco licia plumbo,               575
     et septem nigras versat in ore fabas,
quodque pice adstrinxit, quod acu traiecit aena,
     obsutum maenae torret in igne caput;
vina quoque instillat: vini quodcumque relictum est,
     aut ipsa aut comites, plus tamen ipsa, bibit.               580
'hostiles linguas inimicaque vinximus ora'
     dicit discedens ebriaque exit anus.

anus annosa: an old woman advanced in years (of course it is a wordplay)
sacra facit: performs rituals
tus turis (n.): incense
limen liminis (n.): threshold
vix: hardly
mus muris (m. and f.): mouse
ligo: to bind, tie
fuscus: dark
licium: thread
plumbum: lead
faba: bean                                     
quodque pice adstrinxit, quod acu traiecit aena, obsutum maenae torret in igne caput: obsutum…caput is the main clause `she roasts the sewed (obsutum) head of a small fish (maenae, I could not find the exact species). The sub clauses tell us what had been done with the head before. The mouth has been besmeared with pitch (pix, picis f.) in order to keep the jaws together and if that is not enough, it is also stitched with a bronze needle (acus aena).  
instillo: to pour in/on
vincio vinxi vinctum: to bind, fetter
ebrius: drunk

Here is the English wiki link about Dea Tacita, but the German link is far more informative:

The Loeb translation with notes:

Translation by J.G. Frazer:
[571] Lo, an old hag, seated among girls, performs rites in honour of Tacita (“the Silent Goddess”), but herself is not silent. With three fingers she puts three lumps of incense under the threshold, where the little mouse has made for herself a secret path. Then she binds enchanted threads together with dark lead, and mumbles seven black beans in her mouth; and she roasts in the fire the head of a small fish which she has sewed up, made fast with pitch, and pierced through and through with a bronze needle. She also drops wine on it, and the wine that is left over she or her companions drink, but she gets the larger share. Then as the goes off she says, “We have bound fast hostile tongues and unfriendly mouths.” So exit the old woman drunk.


Dea Tacita (source unknown)

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