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p608 Hilaria

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p608 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

HILARIA (ἱλάρια) seems originally to have been a name which was given to any day or season of rejoicing. The hilaria were, therefore, according to Maximus Monachus (Schol. ad Dionys. Areopag. Epist. 8) either private or public. Among the former he reckons the day on which a person married, and on which a son was born; among the latter, those days of public rejoicings appointed by a new emperor. Such days were devoted to general rejoicings and public sacrifices, and no one was allowed to show any symptoms of grief or sorrow.

But the Romans also celebrated hilaria, as a feria stativa, on the 25th of March, in honour of Cybele, the mother of the gods (Macrob. Sat. I.21); and it is probably to distinguish these hilaria from those mentioned above, that Lampridius (Alexand. Sever. c37) calls them Hilaria Matris Deûm.a The day of its celebration was the first after the vernal equinox, or the first day of the year which was longer than the night. The winter with its gloom had passed away, and the first day of a better season was spent in rejoicings (Flav. Vopisc. Aurelian. c1). The manner of its celebration during the time of the republic is unknown, except that Valerius Maximus (Val. Max. II.4 §3) mentions games in honour of the mother of the gods. Respecting its celebration at the time of the empire, we learn from Herodian (I.10, 11) that, among other things, there was a solemn procession, in which the statue of the goddess was carried, and before this statue were carried the most costly specimens of plate and works of art belonging either to wealthy Romans or to the emperors themselves. All kinds of games and amusements were allowed on this day; masquerades were the most prominent among them, and every one might, in his disguise, imitate whomsoever he liked, and even magistrates.

The hilaria were in reality only the last day of a festival of Cybele, which commenced on the 22d of March, and was solemnised by the Galli with various mysterious rites (Ovid, Fast. IV.337, &c.). It must, however, be observed that the hilaria are neither mentioned in the Roman calendar nor in Ovid's Fasti.b


Thayer's Notes:

a The Calendar of Philocalus, A.D. 354 (q.v.) lists two specific Hilaria: one on the 25th of March, and another, of Isis, on the 3rd of November.

b Two superficially similar feast days are noted in the traditional Christian calendar: Laetare Sunday in mid‑Lent, and Gaudete Sunday in mid‑Advent. Instituted long after paganism was dead, they are related to the Hilaria only by the natural human impulse to have a happy holiday now and then.


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Page updated: 14 May 09