Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Roman Feast of Turducken

For this week, a word that you’ll have little occasion to use unless you time-travel or decide to revive certain pagan traditions. (If you do either of these, please email me; I’m certain I’ll have many questions for you.) Often, when the Greeks combined multiple animals into a single entity, the result was a monster, such as the chimera (lioness + goat + snake) or the manticore (lion + human + shark, sometimes + dragon as well). The Romans, who I’m pretty sure would have known of these mix-and-match boogeybeasts, had one specific to their culture. It’s far less scary and, until the part with the bloodletting, kind of cute.
suovetaurilia (swo-vih-tah-RILL-ee-ah or swo-wih-tah-RILL-ee-ah, depending on how you pronounce your Latin) — noun: an ancient Roman ceremony in which a pig, a sheep and a bull were sacrificed.
Not unlike the kinda-sorta American counterpart, turducken, suovetaurilia — also spelled suovitaurilia — gets its name from the various animals who give their lives so that this thing can exist. In order, there’s the Latin sus (“pig,” which comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as swine and sow), ovis (“sheep,” like the English ovine, “pertaining to sheep” ) and taurus (“bull,” like the Red Bull ingredient taurine).

Suovetaurilia_kidicarus222

Decidedly unlike turducken, the animals involved in suovetaurilia don’t crawl inside one another matryoshka-style. Instead, they got paraded around the plot of land that was to be blessed by Roman bigwig deity Mars. Contrary to modern parade procedures, the grand marshals were usually slaughtered upon completion of the walk. The result, if the ceremony was performed properly: agricultural bounty.

May this be a lesson to today’s stewards of the land.

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