I was reminded by roguecatholicism that today is the Idea of October and therefore the day for a different sort of Oktoberfest, the ancient Roman rite of the “October Horse”.
Rite of the ‘October Horse’ — one of the many rituals which makes the study of Roman religion so fascinating. On this day a race between two-horse chariots would be held in the Campus Martius, and the right hand horse of the victorious pair would be sacrificed by the flamen of Mars on an altar (in the Campus Martius, of course). After the sacrifice, people who lived in the Via Sacra neighbourhood would fight the people who lived in the Suburra for the right to the head. If the ‘via sacranites’ won, they’d display it on the Regia; if the Suburranites won, it would be displayed at the Turris Mamilia. Meanwhile, the cauda (tail – genitals) would be rushed to the Regia so the blood would drip on the sacred hearth; the Vestal Virgins also probably kept some of the blood for use at the Parilia on April 21.
By the by, Colleen McCullough (yes, we all know what else she wrote) penned a series of books set in ancient Rome beginning with the rise of Gaius Marius in The First Man in Rome and going all the way through the time of Caesar into the whole Anthony and Cleopatra train wreck. One of the books is The October Horse which concerns the assassination of Julius Caesar and the rise of Octavian. The books are well-researched for historical novels. She explains where she takes any liberties and why. They do, however, stick well to the history of the devolution of the Republic and give great explanations of the events, Roman law, religion, culture, the fierce politics and dynamics of families and tradition, the role of the military. The first volume, on Gaius Marius, shows she is just getting her feet wet. She hits her stride in The Grass Crown, about Sulla. Yes, there are objectionable passages, blahhhaity blah blaaaaah. Skip them and don’t get worked up. They are historical novels, but they have a great deal of just straight history in them.
Speaking of horses, yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan, I saw the new exhibit about the time of Kublai Khan. It is worth your time.
There was a moving scroll with from the early 14th century of a stallion, head down, emaciated, walking slowly. The horse’s mane and tail are being swept forward by the wind, blowing from behind (the past). The image by Gong Kai is probably autobiographical, a lament about being a left-over from a past era, after a change of dynasty. The artist explains in the inscription that horses are shown with their slender ribs. Normal horses have but 10. But “Noble Horses”, a “thousand-league” horse has as many as 15. To display all these ribs in clarity the horse must be emaciated.
“I have made this image in order to show that the extraordinary deterioration of this thousand-league horse is not something to be avoided.”
Perhaps this is a good point of reflection for many of us who see so many problems in the Church today as result of a “change of dynasty” as it were, a time of discontinuity and rupture.
If you are in the area of Manhattan, go to see this exhibit before it leaves!
Also look for the Nestorian Cross and the 14th c. hanging scroll depiction of Christ as a Manichean prophet with a Cross emerging from a lotus.