(BEING CONTINUED FROM 31/12/12)
The Carmen saeculare is sung by our pueri and puellae:
Quo Sibyllini monuere versus
Virgines lectas puerosque castos
Dis quibus septem placuere colles
A dance is joined to the sacred song 27). In Greek this carmen is called 28), as Cassius Dio informs us. Now we know
that a carmen is a “charm” which is sung, an incantation, as we still say, and that a hymnus is a song in presence of the deity.
Both designations point in the direction not only of a religious song, a “hymn” as we say, but of an effective rite, as Zosimus
still knows who says that the Carmen saeculare was sung in Greek and Roman and speaks of “hymns and paeans ! 29). Sacred song is a direct way of getting into contact with the powers. But it is more. It
establishes the presence of the deity. It is an invocation, i.e. it is a call to the Power invoked. The oldest form is the so-called
Hymnos kletikos of which Plutarch gives us a classical instance in the Hymn of the women of Elis sung to ascertain the epiphany
of Dionysus 30) . When the name of a god is called in song, i.e. to the compelling strains of the carmen, he appears to
the community. Thus it is of the utmost importance to whom the recital of such a hymn shall be confided.
At Rome and in Greece the boys and girls both of whose parents were still living were selected for this holy office.
They “pronuntiant carmen” 31), as Macrobius puts it, and Suetonius tells us that boys and girls of noble birth “carmine modulato”
sing the “laudes” of Caligula on the Capitol 32). “Laudes” like hymnus and carmen has a special liturgical meaning: laudes
dicere is the singing of hymns in praesentia dei. We think of the last stanza of Horace’s poem:
Haec Iovem sentire deosque cundos
Spem bonam certamque domum reporto,
Doctus et Phoebi chorus et Dianae
Dicere laudes 33).
But we also think of the liturgical sense of laudes and laudes dicere in the Church and of the Laude by jacopone da Todi.
In a wider sense also the camilli were the songsters. They are mentioned as the singers of liturgical phrases at sacrifice 34), but
also on other occasions. The Trojan horse was led into the besieged town by “pueri innuptaeque pueUae”, who “sacra
canunt” 35). The song of the Eiresione is sung by the 36). To Venus boys and girls sing “laudes”
to a dance, as again Horace tells us:
Illic bis pueri die
Numen cum teneris virginibus tuum
Laudantes pede candido
In morem Salium ter quatient humum 37).
In the Letters of the same poet the “casti pueri” sing prayers together with the virgins, taught by the vates 38). The holy
rite of gaining a sacred object by song must be performed by chaste ministers, by boys’ and girls: sacrifice becomes effective,
prayer efficient and the praise of the Powers is solidly established by their innocent treble voices. It is Catullus who summarizes
this office of the children in a few beautiful lines:
Dianae sumus in fide
Puellae et pueri integri:
Dianam pueri integri
Puellaeque canamus 39).
It is certainly possible that the stress laid on the part of children in worship by the poets of the Augustan and postAugustan
age was enhanced by the romanticism of those days.
Wagenvoort has given us a very vivid description of the romantic love for children, the doting on all things childish that
characterized the age of Augustus 40). Alexandria was the source whence this rather artificial love for children sprang: the
deliciae alexandrinae were petted in an incredible fashion, but more like animals or toys than human beings. They were bought
by the rich, who let them play naked in their palaces. Cleopatra when she came to meet Antony in a ship was surrounded by a
bevy of Erotes, naked little children. They are the models for those inumerable putti who have since graced the art of Europe from the Roman fresci to Tiziano’s Sacrifice to Venus. But if this is possible, it is quite certain that the function of children
in worship in Greek and Roman Antiquity is rooted in beliefs and conceptions of much older date and reaching into the very
depth of human nature
SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE HOUSE.
The camilli were appointed for some years. But the Annales Fratrum arvalium in telling us th is add that they were at the
service of the Arvales not” ut camilli, sed filiorum instar: ex more vetusto” 41) . The truth is that the camilli and camillae
were originally no others than the sons and daughters of the house. Dionysius Halicarnassensis knows this, as he tells us that
at the origin of Rome Romulus gave to every one a function in ritual according to his “disposition”: for there are some functions
specially male and others specially female. There are also functions which can only be discharged by children, viz. by
; so the wives of the priests ought to collaborate with their husbands and their children should render the
sacred services allotted to them. However if a priest has no family he may choose children from other families, . The boys remain a until they are of age, the girls as long as they are virgins. It is thus that the
institution of the Vestals was created 42).
There are however indications that the ministering children were not only the sons and daughters of priests, but of anyone.
And this is the more probable as in ancient Rome every father of a family was a priest in his own domestic cult. A very
ancient line is quoted by different authors, a sort of counsel given by a father who is a farmer to his young son:
Hiberna pulvere verno luto grandia farra,
Winter dust and spring slime make that you
will harvest big grains of spelt, camillus 43).
In this “rusticum canticum” the father calls his son camillus.
Festus says that the ancients called all boys camillos 44).
The conclusion drawn already by Rossbach is obvious: the camillus. was the son of the house and became an acolyte only
in course of time 45). To understand fully what this means we must try to visualize the ancient Roman farm. lts sacred centre
is the hearth, its priest the pater familias (as it is still in the descriptions Cato gives of rural life), its priestess the farmer’s
wife, and the children, boys and girls serve them in the performing of the rites. This service appertained to the guarding
of the holy fire and the fetching of water in the first place, and both these offices are counted among the tasks of the Vestales,
who are no other than the successors of the girls of the house,the camillae. Another task of both boys and girls was the
fetching provisions from the penus, i.e. that curious institution so difficult to understand to a modern mind which is a compound
of a sacrarium, the seat of the power and the holy strength of the house, and a larder. Columella stresses the necessity that those who are going to touch the sacred stores on which life depends must be chaste; therefore they must wash “priusquam penora contingant. Propter quod his necessarium esse pueri vel virginis ministeriurn, per quos promantur, quae usus postulaverit” 46). The original conditions are still extant in the function of the wives of the Rex sacrorum and the Flamen dialis who are as such priestesses 47). The primitive situation as it was in the cult community of the Roman house is evoked in
a few masterly lines of Tacitus, when describing the ceremonies at the restoration of the Capitol by Vespasian: “dein virgines
Vestales, cum pueris puellisque patrimis matrimisque aqua e fontibus amnibusque hausta perluere” 48). We have already mentioned that the Vestal must be chosen from among the patrimae et matrimae 49).
In this connection the reason why the children serving in worship should possess both their parents is dear. Farnell supposes
that if theywere orphans or semi-orphans, the stain of death would render them impure. On the other hand the patrimi
et matrimi were sure to be full of life I cannot see the validity of this argument. We cannot suppose that orphans in the opinion
of Antiquity were impure during life. The solution seems much simpler: if the patrimi et matrimi originally were the sons and
daughters of the house, it is obvious that they should be in possession of both their parents, for if they are not, the primitive
community is not complete. They cannot be ministers in domestic worship when they are not children in the full sense of the
word. The claim that they shall be patrimi et matrimi is nothing but the consequence of their status as children of the
house. The orphan who has no right, as we saw in Homer,cannot be a servant in the domestic ritual on which all rights
of the family are based.
This is confirmed in a curious way by a story told by Pausanias.
In Messenia it was the custom that a priestess of Hera,who lost a child, resigned 50). The inference is clear: just as a
child cannot serve in worship without a mother or a father, a mother cannot be priestess without a child. At Rome the difficulty
was met by the admittance of patrimi et matrimi from other parents. The more primitive Messenian sentiment refuses
all subterfuge and disqualifies a priestess without a child.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
BY G. VAN DER LEEUW