The celebration of the Cerialia is held in honor of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. She represented the earth-mother in connection to the growth of crops, and cereal grains in particular. She was looked upon by the Romans much in the same light as Tellus, the goddess of the earth. Like many other festivals originally celebrated for only one day, the Cerialia was extended over an entire week and made to embrace the ancient festival of the Fordicidia (a.d. XVII Kal. Mai. ‡), when a sacrifice of unborn calves was made to Tellus.
Ceres was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, sister of Iuppiter and Pluto, and mother of Proserpina. She is seen by some as the equivalent of the goddess Demeter in Greek mythology. Her cult is said to have been received from Sicily by the Romans in 496 BC during a devastating famine, when the Sibylline oracles advised the adoption of the Greek goddess andher daughter Kore.
"When the third dawn from the vanishing of the Hyades
Breaks, the horses will be in their stalls in the Circus.
So I must explain why foxes are loosed then,
Carrying torches fastened to scorched backs.
The land round Carseoli's cold, not suited for growing
Olives, but the soil there's appropriate for corn.
I passed it on the way to my native Pelignian country,
A small region, yet always supplied by constant streams.
There I entered, as usual, the house of my former host:
Phoebus had already unyoked his weary horses.
My host used to tell me of many things, including this,
As a preparation for my present work:
`In that plain,' he said (pointing at the plain),
A thrifty peasant woman and her sturdy husband had a small
Plot, he tilled the land himself, whether it needed ploughing,
Or required the curving sickle or the hoe.
They would sweep the cottage, set on timber piles,
She'd set eggs to hatch under the mother hen's feathers,
Or collect green mallows or gather white mushrooms,
Or warm the humble hearth with welcome fire,
And still worked her hands assiduously at the loom,
To provision them against the threat of winter cold.
She had a son: he was a playful child,
Who was already twelve years old.
In a valley, he caught, in the depths of a willow copse,
A vixen, who'd stolen many birds from the yard.
He wrapped his captive in straw and hay, and set fire
To it all: she fled the hands that were out to burn her:
In fleeing she set the crops, that covered the fields, ablaze:
And a breeze lent strength to the devouring flames.
The thing's forgotten, but a relic remains: since now
There's a certain law of Carseoli, that bans foxes:
And they burn a fox at the Cerialia to punish the species,
destroyed in the same way as it destroyed the crops."
Tandem statuere circensium ludorum die, qui Cereri celebratur, exsequi destinata, quia Caesar rarus egressu domoque aut hortis clausus ad ludicra circi ventitabat promptioresque aditus erant laetitia spectaculi.
As the foreign Megalesia honoring Cybele was especially appropriated by the nobles, so the festival of the Roman goddess of agriculture belonged peculiarly to the plebeians, who dominated the corn trade. Little is known about the rituals of her worship, but one of the few customs which has been recorded was the peculiar practice of tying lighted brands to the tails of foxes which were then let loose in the Circus Maximus. The wanderings of Ceres in search of her lost daughter Proserpina were represented by women, clothed in white, running about with lighted torches. The temple of Ceres in Rome was situated on the Aventine hill, and a Flamen Cerealis assisted in her worship. Her cult acquired considerable political importance at Rome. The decrees of the Senate were deposited in her temple for the inspection of the tribunes of the people, and the property of traitors against the republic was often consigned to her temple.
- ↑ Ovid, Fasti IV citation needed(translation and lines)
- ↑ Tacitus, Annals XV.53citation needed(translation)