Ovid for our time

January etymologically both closed and opened its doors nearly a month ago, for Janus has two heads, one looking back at the forgone year, one looking forth, to new beginnings, like Bilbo Baggins…

Now that February too is almost spent, I thought I’d entertain you in some well-seasoned Ovid:

January is done, and the year advances with my song.
As the second month runs, so let the second book.
For the first time, my verses, sail with more canvas,
Your theme, I recall, has been slight till now.
I found you ready enough servants of love,
When I toyed with poetry in my first youth,
Now I sing of sacred rites and calendar days:
Who’d have thought it would lead to this?
Here’s my soldiering: I bear the weapons I can,
My right hand isn’t useless for every service.
If I can’t hurl the javelin with a mighty throw,
Nor sit astride a war-horse’s back,
No helmet on my head, no sharp sword slung,
(Any man can be handy with those weapons)
Still I promote your titles with a dutiful heart,
Caesar, and your progress towards glory.
Come, then, and cast your eye on my gift awhile,
If pacifying enemies leaves you a moment free.
The fathers of Rome called purification februa
Many things still indicate that meaning for the word.
The high priests ask the King and the Flamen
For woollen cloths, called februa in the ancient tongue.
When houses are cleansed, the roasted grain and salt,
The lictor receives, are called by the same name.
The same name too is given to the branch, cut from a pure
Tree, whose leaves wreathe the priests’ holy brows.
I’ve seen the priest’s wife (the Flaminica) ask for februa,
And at her request she was given a branch of pine.
In short anything used to purify our bodies,
Had that title in the days of our ancestors.

from Fasti, book II

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