Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

The Festival of Violets

The mild Italian winter passed, spring came, and with it the season of violets: beautiful fragrant violets which grow so freely in Italy.

"Come, little sister, to-day is the festival of violets," cried Terentia as she wakened Livia early one morning.

Livia opened her eyes. She did not know just what Terentia meant, but she thought it must be something nice, for she loved the violets, and besides, Terentia looked so eager and happy.

The girls were soon in the atrium, and there they found Gaia and her maidens busily at work making wreaths from the beautiful flowers.

Terentia was soon helping, and Livia, too, for she could hand the blossoms to her mother as she fashioned them into wreaths.

When Gaius came in, with Marcus and Lucius following, the morning offering was made to Vesta at the family altar, and immediately after breakfast the ceremonies of the festival began.

On one side of the atrium of Gaius' home were the cabinets of ancestors. These cabinets were of carved and polished wood, the doors of which were usually closed. But on the morning of the festival of violets they were opened, and the children stood before them with a feeling of reverence, mingled with curiosity.

The cabinets held the wax masks or images of Gaius' ancestors. Each mask was fitted over a carved bust, so that they were very much like the sculptured busts of great men that we see in the art stores of to-day, only that the mask of wax looked more lifelike than one of stone or clay.

The family stood before each cabinet as it was opened, and Gaius told them of the life and deeds of the man before them; of the debates that he had led in the Senate, or of the brave deeds that he had performed in battle.

Then one of the members of the family crowned the bust with a fragrant wreath of violets.

Many of Gaius' relatives and friends had been invited to the house. Each one was furnished with great bunches of flowers, and after the busts had been crowned with violets they all set out for the family tomb, which was outside the gates of the city, on the Appian Way.

The Romans had great reverence for their dead, but these festivals were looked upon as holidays and not as a time of mourning.

"Come, let us look inside," said Marcus to Terentia, when they had reached the tomb.

"It is beautiful," said Terentia, stepping in and looking about her.

The inner walls were tinted in soft colors, beautiful lamps were burning, and artistic vases were placed about. It looked like a quiet, stately room.

"See," said Marcus, "here are the weapons of the general, our uncle," and he bent to examine a richly wrought sword.

"And, look," added Terentia, "at the ornaments and combs and mirrors of his wife, our aunt.

"And, oh," she added, a moment later, "I suppose these belonged to their little girl," and she turned to a table upon which were arranged a doll, a string of beads similar to those Livia wore, and several toys.

Among the weapons, the ornaments, and the toys, Marcus and Terentia laid lovingly the bunches of fragrant violets which they carried. Wreaths had already been hung about the tomb by Gaius, Gaia and their friends, and offerings of food were placed upon a table.

"Come, children, the feast is ready," called Gaia.

Outside, the guests were seated upon the green grass, and Marcus and Terentia took their places near Gaia. Then all were served to a supper of bread and wine, vegetables and eggs.

"Have you had a nice time, Livia?" asked Terentia, as they walked home.

"Oh, yes," said Livia. "The violets are so sweet."

"I liked it better than the Ambarvalia at the farm," said Terentia.

"It is nice to have a feast like this," said Marcus, "but I like the Ambarvalia better, with its sacrifice of many animals."

"The feast days are all fine," said Terentia, "but I love the festival of violets best of all."