I know I am, I cannot help it, it’s just my charisma, my natural magic. But enough of me, even the word ‘fascinating’ is fascinating. It crops up all over the place, the ‘fascinator’ which started off as a light crocheted hood, evolved into a ‘cocktail hat’ which perches precariously on top of the hair, and now apparently we have the hatinator, which is the bastard offspring of the fascinator and the hat.
Now the origin of the term fascinator is reasonable, it derives from the Middle French fasciner, which means ‘to enchant’ or ‘bewitch’. Thus a pretty girl wearing a fascinator can look enchanting or bewitching. Note that this is involves a modern definition of enchanting and bewitching but we’ll let that one pass.
The French term goes back to the Latin, fascinare which also means bewitch or enchant, and derives from the Latin word fascinus which was a charm or enchantment.
Still following me?
But for the Romans, Fascinus was also the living embodiment of the divine phallus. In Rome the Vestal Virgins were the guardians of the cult of the fascinus populi Romani, or the giant phallus which was one underpinnings of the Roman Republic or Empire.
Augustine, in his seminal work, ‘The City of God’ comments about Roman religion
“Varro says that in Italy, at the places where roads crossed each other the rites of Liber were celebrated with such unrestrained turpitude, that the private parts of a man were worshipped in his honour. Nor was this abomination transacted in secret that some regard at least might be paid to modesty, but was openly and wantonly displayed. For during the festival of Liber this obscene member, placed on a car, was carried with great honour, first over the crossroads in the country, and then into the city. But in the town of Lavinium a whole month was devoted to Liber alone, during the days of which all the people gave themselves up to the must dissolute conversation, until that member had been carried through the forum and brought to rest in its own place; on which unseemly member it was necessary that the most honourable matron should place a wreath in the presence of all the people. Thus, forsooth, was the god Liber to be appeased in order to the growth of seeds. Thus was enchantment to be driven away from fields, even by a matron’s being compelled to do in public what not even a harlot ought to be permitted to do in a theatre, if there were matrons among the spectators.”
As the man said, “Thus was enchantment to be driven away from fields.” So there we are, back with the very roots of the word, a charm or enchantment.
So what does this show? Well what struck me was it shows that we don’t really understand our ancestors. What is perfectly normal to one generation can be regarded as utterly bizarre a few generations later. In fact I would go so far as to say that it WILL be regarded as utterly bizarre.
I suppose that this is a hint to us all that an element of humility in our attitudes would not be a bad thing. It doesn’t really matter what you believe, how right-on and politically correct you are in your thinking, your great grandchildren will regard you as some sort of freak, a throw back to the dark ages. As they clean out the attic they’ll look with horror at your ‘Gay Whales Against Racism’ T shirt, your author signed copy of ‘The Female Eunuch’ and your Open University course books on Existentialism, Phenomenology, Structuralism and Post-structuralism and frantically drop them into the shredder before the neighbours notice.
Actually I find this all really liberating. In reality, you don’t have to read that stuff. There is no point in appearing cutting edge and cool, because history has already got you marked down as the barely sentient ancestor whose beliefs we have already advanced beyond.
So revel in your liberation, instead just sit back with a good book. Remember that the bawdy comedy ‘Satyricon’ of Gaius Petronius is read far more often than the worthy and learned letters of Sidonius Apollinaris. So abandon the worthy stuff and read literature that lasts!
May I humbly recommend the much acclaimed book ‘Learning a Hard Trade’ by that celebrated author Jim Webster. It’s much acclaimed because I never shut up about it, and if you buy a copy I promise to celebrate