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May 01, 2014

May Day: The eternal spring blowout with badness and sass.

May Day is a bit unique among the many old pagan holidays. For 2,200 years, at least in Europe, it's had a long and colorful run on its own, albeit in different forms. But unlike other pagan celebrations, May Day in Europe was never Christianized or abandoned as Christianity spread throughout Europe. It somehow managed to survive and flourish on its own. The first May Day holiday we know much about began in republican Rome about 250 BC. It was a one-day spring festival in honor of the goddess Flora, a fertility deity. Eventually the holiday grew to six days of special events and serious reveling, on April 28-May 3. Known as the Floralia in Roman religion for nearly 600 years, Rome's May Day was a "peoples" or plebeian holiday that took place at the Temple of Flora. (If you've been to Rome even once, you likely looked over the ground where the temple once stood. It's on the edge of the Aventine, a few hundred yards southwest of the Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill.) The Floralia featured drinking, mock gladiator games, animal sacrifices, "the pelting of the crowd" with vegetables (the first food fights?), dancing, nakedness, prostitutes (sex workers were specifically included and often featured), dancing naked prostitutes, theatre, colorful costumes and drinking. Below, one of the the greatest painters of the 1700s gives us a baroque take on the festival and its raw, fun and feral spirit.

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"The Empire of Flora", 1744, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770). The scene is supposedly based on Ovid's description of The Floralia.

Posted by JD Hull at May 1, 2014 04:06 AM

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