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p748 Megalensia

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p748 of

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

MEGALE′SIA, MEGALENSIA, or MEGALENSES LUDI, a festival with games celebrated at Rome in the month of April and in honour of the great mother of the gods (Cybele, μεγάλη θεός, whence the festival derived its name). The statue of the goddess was brought to Rome from Pessinus in the year 203 B.C., and the day of its arrival was solemnised with a magnificent procession, lectisternia, and games, and great numbers of people carried presents to the goddess on the Capitol (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.15; Liv. XXIX.14). The regular celebration of the Megalesia, however, did not begin till twelve years later (191 B.C.), when the temple which had been vowed and ordered to be built in 203 B.C., was completed and dedicated by M. Junius Brutus (Liv. XXXVI.36). But from another passage of Livy (XXXIV.54) it appears that the Megalesia had already been celebrated in 193 B.C. The festival lasted for six days, beginning on the 4th of April. The season of this festival, like that of the whole month in which it took place, was full of general rejoicings and feasting. It was customary for the wealthy Romans on this occasion to invite one another mutually to their repasts, and the extravagant habits and the good living during these festive days were probably carried to a very high degree, whence a senatusconsultum was issued in 161 B.C., prescribing that no one should go beyond a certain extent of expenditure (Gellius, II.24; cf. XVIII.2).

The games which were held at the Megalesia were purely scenic, and not circenses. They were at first held on the Palatine in front of the temple of the goddess, but afterwards also in the theatres (Cic. de Harusp. Resp. 11, &c.). The first ludi scenici at Rome were, according to Valerius Antias, introduced at the Megalesia, i.e. either in 193 or 191 B.C. The day which was especially set apart for the performance of scenic plays was the third of the festival (Ovid. Fast. IV.377; Ael. Spartian. Antonin. Carac. c6). Slaves were not permitted to be present at the games, and the magistrates appeared dressed in a purple toga and praetexta, whence the proverb, purpura Megalensis. The games were under the superintendence of the curule aediles (Liv. XXXIV.54), and we know that four of the extant plays of Terence were performed at the Megalesia. Cicero (de Harusp. Resp. 12), probably contrasting the games of the Megalesia with the more rude and barbarous games and exhibitions of the circus, calls them maxime casti, solemnes, religiosi (see Ovid. Fast. IV.179‑372; P. Manutius, ad Cic. ad Famil. II.11).


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