History for the Rest of Us

Faunalia or Faunalia Rustica

Faunalia or Faunalia Rustica

Dec 6, 2012

On February 13 and December 5, festivals were held in Rome to honor Faunus. According to legend, Faunus was one of the first kings of Latium and the grandson of Saturnus. He succeeded his father King Picus (who was turned into a woodpecker by Circe after spurning her love), and was succeeded by his son Latinus. He reigned before Aeneas and his Trojans, and even before the foundation of Rome by Romulus. He was considered a rustic god of woods and flocks, fields and shepherds. According to Virgil he was the husband of Marica. Faunus was also considered an oracular and prophetic divinity and was believed to reveal the future to man in dreams or through voices of unknown origins in sacred groves. He was also considered to be the author of spectral appearances and terrifying sounds. He promoted agriculture and the breeding of cattle among his subjects. Faunus lived in the woods and was said to be fond of nymphs. Originally thought to only be a local god, evidence of his cult has be found in England. He was the Roman equivalent of Pan. Legend has it that Numa was able to compel Faunus and his father Picus, through stratagem, to reveal the method for calling lightning down from heaven. Faunus has also been identified as Lupercus (“he who wards off the wolf”) who was originally worshiped at the Lupercalia, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple, February 15, when his priests (Luperci) wore goat-skins and hit onlookers with goat-skin belts. The wolfskin, wreath, and a goblet are his attributes. On Mount Caelius in Rome there was a round temple of Faunus, surrounded with columns and in 196 BC, another was built on the island in the Tiber. It was here that sacrifices were offered to him on the ides of February, the day on which the Fabii had perished on the Cremera. Virgil described the rites observed on the island in the Tiber: a priest offered up a sheep and other sacrifices; and the person who consulted the oracle had to sleep one night on the skin of the victim, during which the god gave an answer to his...