1902 Encyclopedia > Carnival


CARNIVAL. This word is probably most commonly written in English as it is here given ; but it is extremely difficult to say what is the most correct orthography. Of course for the solution of any doubt upon the subject we turn immediately to the Italian vocabularies and practice. But on doing so we find ourselves at the beginning not at the end of our difficulty. Fanfani, whose dictionary is constructed on the basis of the Delia Crusca vocabulary, gives only " Carnevale." Moroni also in his ecclesiastical dictionary gives both "Carnevale" and "Carnovale." Boiste, following the " Académie," gives " Carnaval," as the French form. Facciolati in his appendix of low Latin terms gives only Camisprivium. Our mode of writing " Carnival" would seem, therefore, to be the only possible way of spelling the word which is unsupported by the authority of other languages; yet, if that which seems to be the most obvious, and is the most generally accepted meaning and derivation of the word, be the correct one, " Carnival" is surely the most natural form of a word intended to express " farewell to flesh-meat,"—Carni-vale. But there are sufficiently strong reasons for doubting whether such be really the etymology of the word. And the generally received notion seems to have naturally suggested itself to those who, understanding the term in its modern, popular, and specially non-Italian meaning, to signify the few last days of licence and feasting immediately preceding Lent, have supposed that this feasting was meant as a sort of valedictory consolation for the privations about to follow. But such is not the proper meaning of the term, and it is hardly yet popularly so understood in Italy, It is still very commonly taken there to signify the whole of the time from the first day of the year to Shrove Tuesday inclusive. But neither is this accurately correct. Carnival time properly begins with the day following the festival of the Epiphany, that is the 7th of January, and lasts till midnight on Shrove Tuesday. Now, although it may be natural enough for those who consider " Carnival" to mean the three or four days of revelry which immediately precede Lent to imagine that such revelry celebrates their coming forty days of abstinence, it is hardly likely that a season of the year beginning between two and three months before such " farewell to flesh " should be named from thai circumstance. The Delia Cruscans, with Du Cange and Muratori, suppose the word to be derived from Cam-avallare (avallare, Ital. to swallow), from the greatei quantity of flesh-meat used at that time of the year. But the Spaniards,following the older low Latin phrase "Carnis-privium," speak of Carnival as Carnes tollendas. And the phrase met with in the older ecclesiastical writers, Camis-privium sacerdotum (applied to the period beginning with Sexagésima Sunday, from the fact of the regular clergy of most rules having practised a partial abstinence from that day till the beginning of Lent), would not seem to favour the supposition. It is to be observed also that there is another name for the period of carnival, once quite as common in Italy as that of which we are speaking, though now nearly obsolete, Carnasciale ; and Muratori says that he has nothing to oppose to those who think that Carnevale is merely another form of Carnasciale, the meaning of which is to abound in (or use unrestrictedly) flesh,—came scialare. Ferrario, on the other hand, maintains that the word waa originally merely the same with " Carnalia," indicating an origin much earlier than any ecclesiastical observance, and used in the same way as " Saturnalia," " Liberalia," &c.

And, in fact, whatever may have been the origin of the word, there can be little doubt that the origin of the thing dates from ante-Christian times. The Bacchanalian festivals of antiquity were celebrated by the Bomans, who adopted them from older nations, twice in the year, indicating the early connection of those rites with the phenomena of the solar system, in the winter and in the summer. And the primitive church, finding it, doubtless, impossible to sup-press, as it would fain have done, those popular revels, adopted its usual policy of at least fitting them in to its system, and assigning to them a meaning connected with its own practices and observances. The Lupercalian festi-val in honour of Pan and Ceres, observed in February (which Pope Gelasius I., who died in 496, strove to supersede by substituting for them the festival of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, with special illumination of candles on the altar Gandlemass)—also coincided with the period of carnival, as did also (at a little earlier period of the year) the mediaeval celebration of the Festival of Fools, equally a survival of the same old Pagan midwinter revelling. Specially the use of masks and torches can be traced as the continuation of ancient practices.

The spirit of compromise, which has so generally characterized the dealings of the church with " the world " is very notable in its attitude towards the popular observ-ances of carnival ; and more especially so, as needs must have been the case, in those cities in which the Pope was temporal ruler as well as spiritual pastor. For many generations past these carnival gala doings, especially at Rome, were recognized as an important element in the material prosperity of the city. They were good for trade. They induced large numbers of people, foreigners and provincials, to throng to Rome. The Government of the popes, accordingly, not only looked leniently on carnival excesses, but took active steps to promote and assist the revelry. But the Pope was at the same time the universal bishop of souls ! And, as the writer of Moroni's dissertation on the subject says, " If the church tolerates the inveterate custom of carnivalesque diversions, especially the mas-querades, groaning all the while, it promotes exercises of piety at the same time, since the consequences of these travesties are dangerous, as affording opportunités for immoral conduct. And the Bacchanalian revelries of carnival, which are nothing else than an imitation of the abominable debauches of Pagans, when they abandon themselves to their passions, have been constantly denounced by the voice of reason, by that of the gospel, by the sacred canons, by the councils, and by all the pontiffs and zealous pastors of the churches, from the earliest ages down to our own days. The church from Septuagésima Sunday covers her altars, and her ministers assume vestments of penitence. She suspends the song of Hallelujah, and mingles tears and sighs of sadness with the joyous accents of the people. She assumes purple-coloured vestments and altar-cloths in sign of mourning, supresses her hymns, and proposes for our contemplation the fatal fall of our first parents, and the lamentable effects of that great sin." But at the same time the Cardinal Vicar, in whose hands was the police of Rome, was giving special permission for the wearing of masks in the streets, naming the days when people might pelt each other with sham comfits, regulating the exact size and nature of these, and planning the whole arrangement of the revels. Clement IX. (ob. 1669) meanwhile used to shut himself every year during carnival in the convent of St Sabina on the Aventine, that he might at least not see what he could not avoid tolerating. Clement XI., in 1719 and 1721, issued two apostolical briefs with the view of repressing the licence of carnival. Benedict XIII. (ob. 1730) always passed the carnival in the strictest retirement in the Dominican convent of St Sixtus. Benedict XIV. (ob. 1758) strove, by an encyclical letter of the 1st of January 1748, to moderate some of the worst excesses of licentious-ness to which the carnival every year gave rise. But his efforts mainly restricted themselves to the merely formal points of insisting that the revelry should not be prolonged beyond the midnight of Shrove Tuesday, and forbidding the appearance of masks in the streets on Sundays and Fridays; adding a promise of plenary indulgence to all who would contribute to counterbalance the sins of carnival by the practice of certain extra devotional exercises during those days. Nevertheless, in the last years which preceded the destruction of the Pope's temporal power, when the inhabi-tants of Rome were bent on manifesting by every possible means their discontent at the ruling order of things, and their desire to associate themselves with the rest of liberated and united Italy, and for this reason were disposed to abstain from all carnival rejoicings, the priestly Government did everything in its power to promote the usual holiday doings, and excite the people to the accustomed revelry.

The Roman Carnival is recorded by several contemporary writers of records and diaries to have been especially splendid during the papacy of the great Farnese Pope Paul III., 1534-1549,—days when Rome was still over-flowing with wealth sent thither by all tributary Chris-tendom. And the year 1545 is mentioned by several chroniclers as having been marked by special magnificence. The carnival sports seem at that time to have consisted mainly of three divisions, the races in the Corso (which, formerly called the Via Lata, took its present name from them), and the spectacular pageants of the " Agona," now the Piazza Navona, and of the Testaccio. The races seem to have taken place on each of the eight days which were then held to constitute the period devoted to holiday-making. These races seem to have prevailed in one form or another from time immemorial; and before they were run in the Corso, as at present, took place in the open space in the neighbourhood of the Porta St Sebastiano, not far from the present Protestant cemetery. It was in the time of Paul II. (ob. 1471) that they were moved to the Corso. The Piazza del Popolo, which now forms the starting-place, was not then in existence, The races started from the Arch of Domitian, in the immediate vicinity of the Palazzo Fiano, and terminated in the Piazza di Venezia, so named from the huge palace, now the property of Austria, which the Venetian Pope Paul II. (Barbo) had just built. " In these races," says the writer in Moroni's Dizionario, " ran, during the eight days of carnival, old and young, boys, Jews, horses, asses, and buffaloes, the prizes consisting in a certain flag or banner called palio." The institution of these races as they existed subsequently, and still exist to the present day, belongs to a subsequent period. The principal feature of the carnival, however, in the days we are speaking of, consisted in the so-called sports, " giuochi," of the Agona and the Monte Testaccio. The former seem to have consisted of little more than one of those colossal processions of which that age was so fond. A full account of those processions may be found in a MS. preserved in the Albani library, entitled The True Progression of the Festival of Agone and Testaccio, celebrated by the Gentlemen of Rome, on the Thursday and the Monday of Carnival in the year 15 45, according to the practice of the A'licient Romans, together with a True Description of the Triumphal Cars.

The following account of the games at Monte Testaccio is abridged from Crescimbeni, who has preserved the description left by a contemporary writer. The Testaccio is an artificial mound of considerable size, composed of pot-sherds, the accumulation of many generations, long since well covered with turf.

" This place," says Crescimbeni, " is the finest and most conveni-ent for spectacles that can be imagined. To the west there is the Monte Testaccio ; to the east a little eminence on which the monas-tery of St Saba once stood ; on the north that part of the Aventine which Paul III. has fortified, and a few vine-dressers' cottages ; to the south are the walls of Rome, with a tower at every hundred feet. All these positions were crowded with people, and all could see con-veniently. Besides these commanding positions there were a great number of stands and scaffoldings. In the midst is the large open meadow, on the northern side of which was the dais raised for Madama (the beautiful Julia, sister of Paul III., whose recumbent statue may be seen on that Pontiffs tomb in St Peter's), which was entirely surrounded by infantry and cavalry." Then came a procession like that described in the work referred to above, and then " commenced the great hunting match, in which thirteen bulls were slain, and six cars w;ere sent down from Monte Testaccio, on each of which was a red standard and a live pig, in scrambling for which no less efforts were made than in slaying the bulls. Among the many liveried companies seen that day was one of thirty-six mounte-banks clad in red, with iron-shod poles in their hands ; and these were the first to assail the bulls. But the most splendid thing seen was a company of six cavaliers, consisting of the Cardinal Farnese, the Cardinal Santa Piora, the duke of Camerino, the duke of Melfi, the count of Santa Piora, and the prince of Macedonia. These were dressed as knights of old, and their garments were of gold, and silver, and silk with embroidery and lace, and needlework upon needlework,—such an elegance that I (says the worthy canon) have neither the patience nor the courage to describe it! Their horses, too, were adorned with the same splendour, and they performed such feats of horsemanship (these cardinals!) that the people thought it a miracle ! Then three races were run, the first for rider-less horses, with a banner of gold brocade for the prize ; the second for ridden horses, with a banner of crimson velvet for the prize; and the third, for mares, the prize being a banner of purple velvet. On the last day of carnival there was a race of asses and buffaloes, and as usual there was revelling and tumult in abundance. At night there was a comedy in the Caffarelli palace. On the first day of Lent there was a procession to Santa Sabina, which was so grand that many disputed whether the Carnival or Lent was the finest at Konie !" Many other descriptions, some of them extending to great length, may be found in print among the vast quantity of volumes concerning the Eternal City ; there is one especially relating to the doings of 1372. But there is evidence that these games were prac-tised from a much greater antiquity. They were somewhat modified from generation to generation ; but ostentation, magnificence in dress, and blood-thirsty cruelty to animals were the unchanging characteristics of them.

Church writers may represent the excesses of carnival as abhorrent to the church, and may point to the various ordinances of mortification and repentance which she has appointed as a means for atoning for the guilt then con-tracted by the city. But nothing is more certain than that many of the popes were great patrons and promoters of carnival keeping. Paul II., the Venetian Barbo, was one of the most notable in this respect. In his time the Jews of Rome were compelled to pay yearly a sum of 1130 golden florins (the thirty being added as a special memorial of J udas and the thirty pieces of silver), which was expended on the carnival. And we have a decree of Paul II. minutely providing for, and arranging the diversions which were to take place in it. Among other things his Holiness orders that four rings of silver gilt should be provided, two in the Piazza Navona, and two at the Monte Testaccio,—one at each place for the burghers and the other for the retainers of the nobles to practise riding at the ring. The Pope also orders a great variety of races, the expense of which are to be paid from the Papal exchequer,—one to be run by the Jews, another for Christian children, another for Christian young men, another for sexagenarians, a fifth for asses, and a sixth for buffaloes. Under Julius III. we have long accounts of bull-hunts—bull-baits we should rather say—in the Forum, with gorgeous descriptions of the magnificence of the dresses, and enormous suppers in the palace of the Conservatori in the Capitol, where seven cardinals, together with the Duke Orazio Farnese, supped at one table, and all the ladies by themselves at another. After the supper the whole party went into the court-yard of the palace, which was turned into the semblance of a theatre, " to see a most charming comedy which was admirably played, and lasted so long that it was not over till ten o'clock ! " Even the austere and rigid Caraffa, Paul IV. (ob. 1559), used to keep carnival by inviting all the Sacred College to dine with him. The vigorous and terrible Sixtus V., who was elected in 1585, set himself to the keeping of carnival after a different fashion. Finding that the licence then customary and permitted gave rise to much abuse and no few crimes, he prepared for carnival, to the no small dismay and terror of the Romans, by setting up sundry gibbets in several conspicuous places of the town, as well as whipping posts,—the former as a hint to robbers and cut-throats, the latter in store for minor offenders. We find, further, from the provisions made at the time, that Sixtus reformed the evil custom of throwing dirt and dust and flour at passengers, permitting only flowers or sweetmeats to be thrown. The barberi (riderless horses) had by this time begun to run regularly every carnival in the Corso; and Sixtus caused a lane to be enclosed with palisades in the centre of the street, along which the horses might run without the danger of causing the accidents which, it seems then, as now, were frequently the result of this sport. He also compelled the people to desist from the old practice of using every kind of violence and trick to impede the barberi in their course, for the purpose of favouring this or the other among the competi-tors.

It was formerly the custom, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, to suspend all carnival observances during the Anno Santo or jubilee year. Gregory XIII., when he celebrated the eleventh jubilee in 1575, forbade' any of the usual carnival celebrations, and ordered that all the money usually expended for the purpose by the Apostolic Chamber should be used for the assistance of poor pilgrims. Clement X., just a hundred years later, on the occasion of the jubilee of 1675, prohibited all carnival celebration, and granted to the Archconfraternity of Pilgrims of the Holy Trinity the 6000 crowns which the Apostolic Chamber was at that period in the habit of spending on the carnival rejoicings, at the same time compelling the Jews to pay over to the same purpose the sums they annually furnished for the barberi and the prizes of the races. The carnival celebra-tions have also been frequently suspended on account of the appointed day or days for them having fallen on the date of some church festival. When in the pontificate of Innocent XII. the Wednesday in the last week of carnival chanced to fall on the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, the race of the barberi which ought to have taken place on the vigil of that festival, was changed to the previous Sunday. On many subsequent occasions the days of the sports have from similar causes been sometimes postponed, sometimes anticipated, and sometimes sup-pressed. In 1808 Pius VII. forbade all carnival manifesta-tions on account of the French invasion, nor would he permit any to take place in 1809, notwithstanding that the French in the occupation of the city had proclaimed the celebration of the carnival. Of course the Pope had no power to enforce his wish that no sort of carnival rejoicing should take place. But it is remarkable, as indicating the feeling of the population at the time, that the Corso remained entirely deserted and all the shops shut.

The later Popes for the most part restricted the public festivities of the carnival to the last six or seven days immediately preced-ing Ash Wednesday. The municipal authorities of the city, on whom the regulation of such matters now depend, allow ten days. The public are not, however, permitted to do all the things which are understood to constitute the celebration of carnival on all these days indifferently. Some days are appointed for a "gala corso," i.e., a processional driving up and down the Corso of all those who choose to take part in it, with the handsomest carriages and the finest liveries and horses, &c., they can compass ; and on these days con-secrated to finery and ostentation nothing save flowers is permitted to be thrown, either from the balconies and windows to the carriages, or vice versa. Other days are set apart for the throwing of "corian-doli," as they are termed, little round pellets about the size of a pea made of plaster, and manufactured and sold in enormous quantities. These coriandoli are supposed to represent comfits, which tradition declares to have been the only things thrown in the olden time be-fore the spirit of carnival was, as is supposed, spoiled and vulgar-ized by the influx of strangers from the north. But the reader has already seen that the flinging of dust, flour, and disagreeable things of all sorts had to be repressed at a very early time. At the present day the principal fun seems to consist in flinging down bushels on bushels of these plaster coriandoli on the passers in the streets, mainly in the Corso, from the balconies, and in the. return fire of these from the cars which pass up and down the Corso. These cars are huge machines, of which a large waggon forms the basis, built up sometimes in the form of a ship, or a castle, or other such device, and made gay-looking with garlands and abundant bright coloured calico. Some dozen or so of young men, generally in uni-form fancy dresses, stand on these machines, and work hard at returning, with such best vigoiur and activity as they may, the pelt-ing they endure from the balconies. The ladies are mainly the occupants of these. All are masked ; those who are prudent wear masks of wire gauze, for a handful of these coriandoli vigorously and dexterously thrown point blank into the face is not an attack to be despised. Meanwdiile everybody shrieks at the top of his voice, the masks affect a counterfeit and high falsetto note, with which they invariably address the unmasked and each other. Then at a given signal begins the running of the barberi, or riderless horses. Some ten of them are led to the starting place in the Piazza del Popolo, with loosely hanging little spiked machines, contrived to act as spurs, hanging to their sides, and crackers attached to them, which are fired at the moment of starting. A gun gives the signal for the compact crowd in the Corso to make a lane for the horses to run through.

By the aid of the police and soldiers this is more or less satisfac-torily accomplished, and the horses dash through it, the crowd closing behind them as they run. Rarely, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say never, does a Carnival pass without two or three accidents, frequently fatal ones, in consequence of incautious persons getting knocked down by the rushing horses. The race is run in about two minutes. The winning "post" is a sheet hung across the street at the spot hence called Ripresa dei Barberi, in the Piazza di Venezia. The prizes consist, as in olden time, of certain standards of velvet, gold lace, and the like, called "palio," which are after the race paraded through the Corso. In these days sums of money, 300 or 400 francs, are usually added by the municipality. The price of these prizes was formerly furnished by the Jews, as has been seen. And popular tradition says that the Jews were permit-ted to furnish the horses and prizes as a concession to humanity, in lieu of running themselves in propria persona. It is undoubtedly true that they were so compelled to run. But it would seem that they did not do so exclusively, other categories of persons, as the boys, the youths, the old men, having done the same. These races of the barberi were abolished in the year 1874, but were re-estab-lished in 1876, in accordance with the wishes of a large portion of the Romans. It remains to mention the peculiar diversion of the Moccoletti (tapers), which takes place immediately after sunset on Shrove Tuesday. Everybody in the streets, in the balconies and windows, and in the carriages, carries a taper, and everybody en-deavours to extinguish the tapers of his neighbours, principally by means of flapping with handkerchiefs, and keep his own alight. All the other features of a modern carnival are common to all the principal Italian cities, but the Moccoletti and the Barberi are peculiar to Rome. The fun ends by burning at midnight on Shrove Tuesday a colossal figure supposed to represent the carnival. These are. the public and out-door aspects of carnival. But besides this all the theatres have masked balls, called Veglioni (from Vigilare, watch or keep awake, Veglia, a vigil, or keeping awake ; the addition of the intensitive termination one gives the word the signi-fication of "a great keeping awake," i.e., a festival to last nearly all night). In all classes of society also carnival is deemed the especial season for balls, and for festivities of all kinds.

Of the other Italian cities, besides Rome, Venice used in old times
to be the principal home of carnival. But small remains of it are to
be seen there now. A stage, gay with coloured draperies and gas,
set up by the municipality in the great square of St Mark, on which
a few masked and dominoed figures go and dance to music provided
by the town, constitutes pretty well the whole of the once celebrated
carnival of Venice. Turin, Milan, Florence, Naples, all put forth
competing "programmes" for the carnival, all induced by the
same motive,—the good of trade. The institution has become every-
where a matter of pure money-getting speculation. Milan and
Naples are now the most active competitors with Rome in this re-
spect. In old times Florence was conspicuous for the licentious-
ness of its carnival; and the Ganti Carnascialesehi, or Carnival Songs,
of Lorenzo de' Medici remain still, though a somewhat rare book,
to shew to what extent that licence was carried. (T. A. T.)


But the Delia Crusca vocabulario, itself, as well as Du Cange, Mura-tori, and other authorities, give either form, Carnevale or Carnovale

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