Monday, July 27, 2009

A Crazy Roman Custom

I've been on a bit of a Roman history binge lately, so I thought I would share a rather bizarre fact.

The ancient Romans every year, from April 12 to April 19, celebrated the Cerialia in honor of the goddess Ceres. This feast, as far as modern historians can determine, had agricultural roots--Ceres was the goddess of farmers. The Romans, however, had one peculiar custom on the last day: they attached lighted torches to the tails of foxes and let them run around. Ovid mentions this bizarre tradition in his Fasti:

So I must explain why foxes are loosed then,

Carrying torches fastened to scorched backs.

(Ovid, Fasti, Bk. IV, ll. 681-682)
Who ever got the idea to put a torch on a fox's back and let it run around? Was there ever any deeper significance to this custom?
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