Io, Saturnalia!


The Roman festival of Saturnalia was celebrated from December 17 to December 23, which coincided with the Winter Solstice in the Julian calendar. Continue reading


William-Adolphe Bouguereau: The Youth of Bacchus (1884)

Oil on canvas – Private collection

French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau painted in the academic style prevalent in the late 19th century.   He specialized in painting female nudes as present in The Youth of Bacchus.  The painting shows Bacchus (Greek Dionysus), the Roman God of wine, music, and dance, in a celebratory scene.  It captures Bacchus’s ability to free people from the restraints imposed by social norms and powerful institutions; much like the effect from the spirit of Saturnalia.  This painting may reflect how Ancient Romans observed Saturnalia.

The Saturnalian Celebrates Saturnalia

The Temple of Saturn in Rome

December 17 marks the beginning of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which runs through December 23.  Saturnalia was observed in veneration of the god Saturn at the onset of Winter Solstice. Historical accounts describe festivals fraught with indulgence and licentiousness alongside displays of  freedom and egalitarianism.  Poet Catullus lauded the holiday as the “best of days.” Lyricist Horace referred to it as “December liberty.”

Continue reading