Order of the Shining Helmet of Athena: The Lesser Quinquatrus - Ovid

The Lesser Quinquatrus, A Festival of Minerva/Athena

And now I am bidden to tell of the Lesser Quinquatrus.

"Now favor my undertaking, you blonde Minerva. Why does the flute-player march at large through the whole City? What mean the masks? What means the long gown?”

So did I speak, and thus did (Athena) Tritonia answer me, when She had laid aside Her spear - would that I could report the very words of the learned Goddess!

“In the times of your ancestors of old the flute-player was much employed and was always held in great honor. The flute played in Temples, it played at games, it played at mournful funerals. The labor was sweetened by its reward; but a time followed which of a sudden broke the practice of the pleasing art. Moreover, the aedile had ordered that the musicians who accompanied funeral processions should be ten, no more. The flute-players went into exile from the City and retired to Tibur; once upon a time Tibur was a place of exile! The hollow flute was missed in the theater, missed at the altars; no dirge accompanied the bier on the last march. At Tibur there was a certain man who had been a slave, but had long been free, a man worthy of any rank. In his country place he made ready a banquet and invited the tuneful throng; they gathered to the festal board. It was night, and their eyes and heads swam with wine, when a messenger arrived with a made-up tale, and thus he spoke (to the freedman): 'Break up the banquet without delay, for see here comes the master of the rod! Immediately the guests bestirred their limbs, reeling with heady wine; their shaky legs or stood or slipped. But the master of the house, 'Off with you all!' says he, and when they dawdled he packed them in a wagon that was well lined with rushes. The time, the motion, and the wine allured to slumber, and the tipsy crew fancied that they were on their way back to Tibur. And now the wagon had entered the city of Rome by the Esquiline, and at morn it stood in the middle of the Forum. In order to deceive the Senate as to their persons and their number, Plautius commanded that their faces should be covered with masks; and he mingled others with them and ordered them to wear long garments, to the end that women flute players might be added to the band. In that way he thought that the return of the exiles could be best concealed, lest they should be censured for having come back against the orders of their guild. The plan was approved, and now they are allowed to wear their new garb on the Ides and to sing merry words to the old tunes."

When She had thus instructed me, "It only remains for me to learn," said I, "why that day is called Quinquatrus.”

"A festival of mine," said She, "is celebrated under that name in the month of March, and among my inventions is also the guild of flute-players. I was the first, by piercing boxwood with holes wide apart, to produce the music of the long flute. The sound was pleasing....I am the inventress and foundress of this music; that is why the profession keeps my days holy.”

(Ovid, Fasti, VI. 651-710)

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