Wednesday August 18, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Vinalia Rustica

On this Day:

In 293 BC, the oldest known Roman temple to Venus was founded, starting the institution of Vinalia Rustica (grape harvest festival).

Venus is a Roman goddess, whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity, and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the ancestor of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus was central to many religious festivals, and was revered in Roman religion under numerous cult titles.

The Romans adapted the myths and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite for Roman art and Latin literature. In the later classical tradition of the West, Venus became one of the most widely referenced deities of Greco-Roman mythology as the embodiment of love and sexuality. She is usually depicted nude in paintings.

The Vinalia were Roman festivals of the wine harvest, wine vintage and gardens, held in honour of Jupiter and Venus. The Vinalia prima (“first Vinalia”), also known as the Vinalia urbana (“Urban Vinalia”) was held on 23 April to bless and sample last year’s wine and ask for good weather until the next harvest. The Vinalia rustica (“Rustic Vinalia”) was on 19 August, before the harvest and grape-pressing.

The Vinalia Rustica was held on 19 August. It was originally a rustic Latin harvest festival, celebrating the grape harvest, vegetable growth and fertility. At the Roman Vinalia Rustica, kitchen gardens and market-gardens, and presumably vineyards were dedicated to Venus Obsequens, the oldest known form of Venus. In Roman mythology, it marked the fulfillment of a vow by the ancient Latin allies of Rome’s legendary ancestor Aeneas, who promised all wine of the next sacred vintage to Jupiter, in return for victory against the Etruscan tyrant Mezentius. According to some sources, the warlike Mezentius had claimed this vintage as his due, not Jupiter’s. Roman opinions differ on which deity presided at the Vinalia Rustica; Varro insists that like the Vinalia Urbana, it was sacred to Jupiter, who controlled the weather that governed the growing and ripening of grapes; moreover Jupiter’s priest picked the first bunch of grapes, blessed the first sacred pressing and offered a sacrifice; these observations are borne out by Pliny the Elder. In practice, however, the festival had strong popular and cult connections to Venus as patron goddess of ordinary, religiously “impure” wine (vinum spurcum). Some of the rites took place at her various temples. The sacrificial victim offered by Jupiter’s priest, a female lamb (agna) may be evidence if not of Venus herself, then of an ancient, rustic Latin goddess very much like her. An account of the origins and rise of this festival is given by Festus (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers, and says “Five glasses of wine, please.”

Second, a Song:

Peter Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014) was an American folk singer and social activist.

A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, Seeger also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of the Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene”, which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Members of the Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. In the 1960s, Seeger re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, counterculture, workers’ rights, and environmental causes.

A prolific songwriter, his best-known songs include “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (with additional lyrics by Joe Hickerson), “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)” (with Lee Hays of the Weavers), “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” (also with Hays), and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, which have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement. “Flowers” was a hit recording for the Kingston Trio (1962); Marlene Dietrich, who recorded it in English, German and French (1962); and Johnny Rivers (1965). “If I Had a Hammer” was a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary (1962) and Trini Lopez (1963) while the Byrds had a number one hit with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in 1965.

Seeger was one of the folk singers responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” (also recorded by Joan Baez and many other singer-activists), which became the acknowledged anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, soon after folk singer and activist Guy Carawan introduced it at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. In the PBS American Masters episode “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”, Seeger said it was he who changed the lyric from the traditional “We will overcome” to the more singable “We shall overcome”.

Pete has an extensive history and received many tributes and awards.  His full history can be found here.

(“Give Me That”) “Old-Time Religion” (and similar spellings) is a traditional Gospel song dating from 1873, when it was included in a list of Jubilee songs—or earlier. It has become a standard in many Protestant hymnals, though it says nothing about Jesus or the gospel, and covered by many artists. Some scholars, such as Forrest Mason McCann, have asserted the possibility of an earlier stage of evolution of the song, in that “the tune may go back to English folk origins” (later dying out in the white repertoire but staying alive in the work songs of African Americans). In any event, it was by way of Charles Davis Tillman that the song had an incalculable influence on the confluence of black spiritual and white gospel song traditions in forming the genre now known as southern gospel. Tillman was largely responsible for publishing the song into the repertoire of white audiences. It was first heard sung by African-Americans and written down by Tillman when he attended a camp meeting in Lexington, South Carolina in 1889 (per Wikipedia).

Now Pete Seeger revised “Give me that Old-Time Religion” with references to non-Christian deities including Aphrodite, among others. I was hoping to find a video of Pete performing this song before a live audience but I could only locate a recording of a live performance. I trust you can imagine the audience reacting to Pete’s version. 

Here is Pete Seeger performing his version of “Give me that Old-Time Religion”. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Venus’s life story across 5,000 years reminds us not to trivialise the power of desire: the ancients were right to never underestimate its influence.” – Bettany Hughes

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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