Saturday, 13 June 2015

Patroness of Flute Players

A three day festival of Minerva/Athene as the patroness of flute players starts on the 13th of June. The guild of flute players was very important in ancient Rome, and at this time they honoured the goddess by masked processions through the city and a banquet held in her honour in the temple of Jupiter.

Ovid has the Goddess herself explaining the origins or the festival:

'In the times of your ancestors the flute player was much employed and held in great honour. The flute played in the temples, it played at games, it played at mournful funerals.. The labour was sweetened by its reward, but a time followed when the traditions were broken, and the flute players were sent into exile.
Plautius then devised a plan for their return. In order to deceive the Senate as to their persons and their numbers, Plautius commanded that their faces be covered with masks; and he mingled other with them and ordered them to wear long garments, to the end that women flute players might be added to the band and in that way the return of the exiles could be concealed'

Minerva then explains why she is the patroness of the flute players:

'I was the first to make the long flute pipes resonate with music, by cutting holes at intervals in boxwood. It pleased me to play the flute, but when I saw my face reflected in a pool of clear water, my youthful cheeks were all puffed out.
The sound of the flute is not worth that!
Goodbye, dear flute, I said.
Nevertheless, I am the inventor of the flute and the first composer of flute music.
That is why this day is sacred to flute players.'

From Ovid's words it sounds like it was the Senate who decided to get rid of the flute players, perhaps because they were played by women as well as men, but this was obviously not a popular decision, and was thwarted by Plautius. He made it so that the identities of the players was hidden, and their sex also, enabling both men and women to once more play the flute for celebrations and religious rites.

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