Welcome to my blog, "The British Are Coming, Y'all!" From 17–27 November, I'm participating with several hundred other bloggers in the "Gratitude Giveaways Hop," accessed by clicking on the logo on the left. All blogs in this hop offer reader-appreciation giveaways, and we’re all linked, so you can easily hop from one giveaway to another. But here on my blog, I’m posting essays from Relevant History author guests on the theme of gratitude and thanksgiving. We'll give away books and gifts during the eleven days, to show appreciation for our readers. To find out how to qualify for the giveaways on my blog, read through each day’s Relevant History post below and follow the directions. Then click on the Gratitude Hop logo so you can move along to another blog. Enjoy!
Relevant History welcomes back historical suspense author Suzanne Tyrpak, who ran away from New York a long time ago to live in Colorado. Her debut novel, Vestal Virgin: Suspense in Ancient Rome, is set in Rome at the time of Nero, and Tess Gerritsen says, "Her writing is pure magic." "Pure comedic brilliance" is how J.A. Konrath describes Suzanne's collection of nine short stories, Dating My Vibrator. And Scott Nicholson says, "Enter this circus and let Suzanne show you why horror is the greatest show on earth" of Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales. For more information, check her blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Ancient Romans loved to feast and they constantly offered sacrifices to the gods, perhaps more out of fear than gratitude.
One Roman holiday similar to our Thanksgiving was Meditrinalia, a mid-October harvest festival celebrating new and old wine. A favorite saying in association with the holiday was, "Wine new and old I drink, of illness new and old I am cured." I'm sure ancient Romans drank mostly for medicinal reasons. In my novel Vestal Virgin: Suspense in Ancient Rome, there's a description of Meditrinalia:
The streets of Rome were always lively, but during Meditrinalia people from the countryside poured into the city and city residents flooded out of doors—feasting, dancing, drinking. The revelry continued through the night, until it reached a frenzied peak, and finally fizzled out by dawn.
Whichever way Elissa turned she was met with bawdy songs and raucous dancing. Gambling was forbidden, except at festivals, and on every corner people rolled knucklebones and placed bets. Fighting her way through the mob, she crossed the Via Sacra and walked toward the Regia. The horse's head, from that morning's race, was mounted on the wall, proof that the aristocrats had won the competition. Flies buzzed around congealing blood. She hurried past.
Saturnalia might also have some similarities to our modern Thanksgiving, although the holiday took place near the winter solstice, officially on December 17. The festival became so popular that, by the time of Cicero, celebrations continued for a week. Known as the topsy-turvy holiday filled with merry-making, on Saturnalia wealthy citizens of Rome dressed as slaves and slaves dressed up like the aristocracy. The wealthy citizens were supposed to serve the slaves on the holiday, but that ritual might have been more show than reality.
Dedicated to Saturn the god of sowing seeds, the holiday resembles our Thanksgiving in a couple of ways: The celebration fell at the end of planting season, and it involved feasting. The festival began with a formal state sacrifice and was followed by a public feast. Several scenes in Vestal Virgin take place during Saturnalia. Here is a description of the opening sacrifice:
Blood dripped from the altar of the Temple of Saturn, pooling on the marble, soaking the priests' robes, while a band of flute-players drowned the victims' squawks and squeals. The Pontifex Maximus had outdone all expectations, sacrificing not only four score of sheep, six score of oxen, a hundred pigs, but black-and-white striped horses from the plains of Africa, Caspian leopards from Asia, flocks of exotic birds never before seen in Rome. Flavia's meager sacrifice of Romulus and Remus could not compare to Nero's spectacle.
She watched Nero, studying the way he stood, the way he spoke, looking for some glimmer of the desperate child, but he kept his weakness hidden. He stood beside the altar, crowned by a diadem studded with pearls and gemstones, Master of Saturnalia, Lord of The Roman Empire. Her brother's murderer. More than anything, she wanted to see him grovel.
"Let the feast begin," he proclaimed, and the crowd broke into cheers.
The plebs adored their Caesar—his charismatic smile, his penchant for spectacle. Flavia could not help admiring his power. Despite his filthy deeds and perverse ways, she felt strangely attracted to him.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May the coming year be bountiful and filled with wonder.
A big thanks to Suzanne Tyrpak. She'll give away electronic copies of her December 2011 release, Agathon's Daughter: Hetaera, to five people who contribute a legitimate comment on my blog today or tomorrow. (Agathon's Daughter: Hetaera is book one of a suspense trilogy set in ancient Athens—the story of a slave girl who rises through society to become a courtesan, and one of the most powerful women in Athens, at the time of Pericles.) Make sure you provide your email address. I'll choose the winners in a drawing from among those who comment on this post by Sunday 20 November at 6 p.m. ET, then publish the name of the winners on my blog 28 November. Multiple file formats are available. No eReader required.
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