December 5 – The Festival of Faunus

In the ancient Roman calendar, each month had three special days assigned to it: the Kalends, the Nones, and the Ides. The “Kalends” was the first day in each month, and it’s from this Latin word that we get our modern word “calendar”. The “Nones” occurred during the early part of the month. The word comes from the word “nine”, and it fell on the ninth day before the Ides of the month, which would place the Nones usually on the 5th, 6th, or 7th days of the month. The “Ides” took place in the middle of the month, usually on the 15th, but sometimes earlier.

In ancient Rome, the “Nones of December”, which fell on December 5, was the date of the Faunalia, the Festival of Faunus. According to Roman mythology, Faunus was the grandson of the god Saturn, and he was also the father of Latinus, who founded the Latin civilization in west-central Italy sometime around 1,300 BC. Latinus’ grand-daughter Lavinia married Prince Aeneas of Troy, whose descendants would eventually found the city of Rome itself (1).

Faunus is often portrayed as a “satyr”, a horned half-human half-goat creature of Greek mythology who dwelt within the wilderness. Satyrs are often associated with Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and celebration (his Roman counterpart is Bacchus), and they were known for their raucous behavior and their insatiable sex drive. However, according to legend, Faunus was born very much as an ordinary-looking man, despite being descended from a god. Legend says that he was both brave and wise, and he erected a temple to the Greek god Pan upon the Palatine Hill (which is probably why Pan and Faunus are often conflated with each other). In time, he married a woman named Marica (who might have been his sister, but we’re not sure) and fathered a son named Latinus. Faunus was very popular with the people due to his hospitality and his fondness for simple country living, and his subjects declared him to be a god following his death. His widow Marica never married again, and she was held in very high regard for her chastity and devotion to her dead husband (2).

It’s possible that Faunus’ love of the countryside made him associated with the gods and spirits of the wild, and this eventually led him to being recalled in later years as a satyr. It’s also possible that his role as a protector god of farms and livestock pastures, similar to the Greek god Pan who is portrayed as a satyr, contributed to this image (3).

Ceres and Pan, painted by Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Snyders (1620). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

With the cold hand of Winter upon them, people needed to chop firewood in order to keep their homes warm. However, the woods were the abode of Faunus, the half-man half-goat guardian of the forests and wild animals, and he didn’t take kindly to anyone who vandalized his home. Those who were foolish enough to blunder into his woods and cut down his trees without his permission were almost certain to suffer misfortune at his hairy hands. In addition to being a dweller of the Greenwood, Faunus was also a trickster, and it was common for him to reek havoc upon farms and livestock ranches if he took a disliking to you, or he could infect your brain with terrifying nightmares every night (4).

Understandably, people needed firewood from Faunus’ forests in order to keep their hearths blazing through Winter. Faunus was also regarded by shepherds as a protector-god over their flocks, and they needed to propitiate him to make sure that their sheep and goats made it through the Winter. Therefore, on December 5, sacrifices were made to Faunus in order to appease him and stay his vengeance. Incense was burned upon altars, libations of wine were poured, and kids were sacrificed – baby goats, that is, not children (5).

According to the ancient Roman poet Horace, December 5 was declared a public holiday where no work would be done. In his words…

O Faunus, thou lover of the flying nymphs, benignly traverse my borders and sunny fields, and depart propitious to the young offspring of my flocks; if a tender kid fall [a victim] to thee at the completion of the year, and plenty of wines be not wanting to the goblet, the companion of Venus, and the ancient altar smoke with liberal perfume. All the cattle sport in the grassy plain, when the Nones of December return to thee; the village keeping holiday enjoys leisure in the fields, together with the oxen free from toil. The wolf wanders among the fearless lambs; the wood scatters its rural leaves for thee, and the laborer rejoices to have beaten the hated ground in triple dance (6).

In addition to Faunus’ celebratory feast on December 5, this rural countryside sprite also had another festival dedicated to him on the Ides of February (February 13), but that’s a subject for another day (7).

Source Citations

  1. The Anniversary Calendar, Natal Book and Universal Mirror, Volume II. London: William Kidd, 1832. Page 797; Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes, Volume IV: Romans-Revelation. Cincinnati: Applegate & Co., 1854. Page 185; History and Archaeology Online. “The Faunalia Rustica: Pacifying the God of the Wild Wood”, by Natasha Sheldon (December 5, 2018). https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/the-faunalia-rustica-pacifying-the-god-of-the-wild-wood/.
  2. Thomas Forster, ed., The Perennial Calendar. London: Harding, Mavor, and Lepard, 1824. Pages 687-688.
  3. The Columbian Cyclopedia, Volume 11. Buffalo: Garretson, Cox, and Co., 1897.
  4. History and Archaeology Online. “The Faunalia Rustica: Pacifying the God of the Wild Wood”, by Natasha Sheldon (December 5, 2018). https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/the-faunalia-rustica-pacifying-the-god-of-the-wild-wood/.
  5. Horace, “Ode XVIII – To Faunus: A Hymn”. https://erickimphotography.com/blog/the-works-of-horace/; History and Archaeology Online. “The Faunalia Rustica: Pacifying the God of the Wild Wood”, by Natasha Sheldon (December 5, 2018). https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/the-faunalia-rustica-pacifying-the-god-of-the-wild-wood/.
  6. Horace, “Ode XVIII – To Faunus: A Hymn”. https://erickimphotography.com/blog/the-works-of-horace/.
  7. The Anniversary Calendar, Natal Book and Universal Mirror, Volume II. London: William Kidd, 1832. Page 797; Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes, Volume IV: Romans-Revelation. Cincinnati: Applegate & Co., 1854. Page 180.

Bibliography



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