Wednesday, 2 December 2009


“Feast, n: A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness.” - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

The Roman Calendar specifies today’s date as III Nones December and on this day the ancient Romans celebrated the festival of the Bona Dea. The Bona Dea was a very ancient and holy Roman goddess of women, fertility, virginity, fruitfulness and healing, and was worshipped exclusively by women. Her true name was sometimes said to be Fauna, which means “She Who Wishes Well”. Fauna was considered her secret name, not to be spoken (especially by men). Bona Dea means the “Good Goddess”. Bona, in Latin, has overtones of meaning implying worthiness, nobility, honesty, bravery, health, and rectitude, as well as connections to wealth (a “bonus”, even now, means an extra gift, of money or other good things). Rites in her honour were celebrated annually and the Vestal Virgins officiated. The festival was strictly off limits to men and was attended only by women. Another festival in honour of the Bona Dea was celebrated on the Kalends of May (May 1st).

The festival was celebrated in May in a specially dedicated temple, or in December in the house of the Pontifex Maximus (chief magistrate), in which his wife and respectable matrons of the city played a key role in the very exclusive ceremony. These ceremonies were very secret and males were excluded not only from participating but also from knowing what precisely the rites involved. The presence of a male in the ceremony was a gross sacrilege and great pains were taken to ensure that it was a “women only” affair.

On December 3rd, in the year 62 BC, the celebration honouring the Bona Dea was held in the home of Julius Caesar, then praetor and Pontifex Maximus of Rome. His wife Pompeia and his mother, Aurelia, were in charge. A rash young politician called Publius Clodius, dressed up as a woman and tricked Caesar’s wife into allowing him in the vicinity of the ceremony. He was caught by Caesar's mother and unceremoniously kicked out of the house! The ceremony had to be performed anew after suitable purifications. A great scandal arose when this sacrilege became public knowledge. Caesar immediately divorced his wife, who was innocent and only duped. Caesar’s excuse for this rather harsh treatment was the comment that: “Not only must Caesar’s wife be innocent, she must also be above suspicion of guilt.”

Publius Clodius was sued and at his trial Cicero demonstrated Publius’ guilt by proving his alibi was not genuine. The two men became mortal enemies over the affair. The rites of the Bona Dea seemed to have fallen into disrepute over the events, and by the early empire, Juvenal suggested that the festival of the Bona Dea was nothing but a drunken orgy for girls.

bonus |ˈbōnəs| noun
A payment or gift added to what is usual or expected, in particular.
• An amount of money added to wages on a seasonal basis, esp. as a reward for good performance: The staff were all expecting big Christmas bonuses this year.
• Something welcome and often unexpected that accompanies and enhances something that is itself good: Good weather is an added bonus but the real appeal is the landscape.
• Basketball An extra free throw awarded to a fouled player when the opposing team has exceeded the number of team fouls allowed during a period.
• Brit. An extra dividend or issue paid to the shareholders of a company.
• Brit. A distribution of profits to holders of an insurance policy.
ORIGIN late 18th cent. (probably originally London stock-exchange slang): From Latin bonus (masculine) ‘good,’ used in place of bonum (neuter) ‘good, good thing.’


  1. Very good word. And as usual a history lesson too.

    I have entered into the spirit of Word Thursday this week with Apology.

  2. "On December 3rd, in the year 62 BC" caught my eye...I mentioned Dec. 3rd several times in my latest post's my son's birthday!

    I enjoy your history lessons!

  3. How interesting! I had heard the bit about Caesar's wife being innocent as well as above suspicion, but was not aware of the background. Fascinating!
    Glad the cross-dresser got his just desserts!

  4. ha ha ha
    the crossdresser is the one on the left, yeah?

  5. We've all got baby names on our minds these days because my step-daughter is pregnant. Fauna is such a lovely name, and I especially love the meaning of it. However, my step-daughter is thinking Spanish names. Hmmm....

    TY, Nicholas. Another interesting 'Saint' blog!

  6. Interesting word and history.