Now is the time of the ancient Roman holiday of the Floralia, celebrated with games and theatrical presentations known as the Ludi Florales. A holiday honoring the Goddess Flora, also known as Chloris, it runs from April 28 to May 3, as officially determined by Julius Caesar when he set the Roman calendar. It was probably the most popular May Day celebration of the ancient world.
The Floralia festival first began in Rome in 238 B.C.E., to beseech the Goddess Flora‘s protection of the tender new Spring blossoms. But it fell out of favor and was discontinued until 173 B.C., when, after a period of extensive damage to tender blossoms due to wind, hail and rain, the senate ordered Flora’s celebration reinstated, and augmented it to also include theatricals, amusements and games (ludi). That was when it became known as the Ludi Florales.
The celebrations in the cities brought copious merriment, drinking, and plenty of lewd behavior. From the records of Valerius Maximus, we learn that theatrical entertainments included mimes, naked actresses and prostitutes. After the theatrical performances, the celebration continued in the Circus Maximus, where animals were set free and beans scattered to insure fertility.
The country folk’s observances, however, were more merry and innocent, as their rites were much more directly concerned with their agricultural prospects and the favors of the Goddess.
For everyone, though, the celebration in honor of Flora included floral wreaths worn in the hair, much like our modern May Day and Beltane celebrations. Tomorrow, May Eve, I’ll have lots more to share about Beltane, Floralia, and this most beautiful, flowering time.