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Original scientific paper

Tam multa in tectis crepitans salit horrida grando (Virgil, Georgics, 1.449)

Marina Milićević Bradač ; Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu

Full text: croatian pdf 367 Kb

page 133-152

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Full text: english pdf 367 Kb

page 133-152

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So thick the horrid hail bounds rattling on the roofs. It is summer, it is hot, the hail has ravaged the vineyards. Virgil’s line in the title of this paper not only vividly conveys the terrible feeling that the rattling of hailstones on the roof tiles excites among people – he calls it horrid grando – but is also brilliant Latin onomatopoeia. As long as there have been farmers and viticulturists, their enemies have always been the same; drought, hail, storm and locusts. Since antiquity these four woes have constantly been repeated in agricultural texts, in prayers, in magical formulae, all having a single aim: save my vineyard (olive grove, field, holding), whatever god, daimon or angel there might be.
The peasant or landowner could fight against hail in two ways. The first was with words. We can find words against hail written in the form of magical formulae and prayers on various objects; there are inscriptions on stone, on terracotta plaques, little sheets of metal and on papyri. Secondly, with actions. These are various magical procedures for protection against hail. Help was sought from the gods, and from gifted individuals, like Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epimenides of Crete or Abaris the Hyperborean, of whom it was said that they could ward off bad weather. Scientific minds like Seneca or Pliny the Elder could not come to terms with this kind of magic and had no faith in the effectiveness of such formulae. Seneca mocked the customs in Cleona where there were special anti-hail guardians (khalazophylakes) who watched when hail-bearing clouds approached and when the peasants though that they would gain favour with the clouds with the blood of victims. The setting of philosopher and intellectual, of educated and well-read people, is one world, and that of peasant and grape-grower another very different one. People in the fields and vineyards were ready to do everything, pay anyone who could halt the catastrophe. Witnesses to such rural magic are the many phylacteries (white magic spells for protection against all evils) which frequently referred precisely to hail. A whole series of phylacteries – inscribed either in lead or in stone – have been preserved throughout the Roman Empire, and tell of this magic of the viticulturists. They invoked various celestial beings, archangels and angels (there are most of them in Late Antiquity, and most of them are Christians) to protect vineyards and farms from the activities of evil beings that bring the hail, such as for example the demon Tartaruc(h)us on a phylactery from Trogir (tabella plumbea Traguriensis). And in literary sources we have recommendations for procedures that should protect the vineyards, most of them preserved in the Byzantine Geoponica , compiled in the 10th century, in an Arabic text known as Nabataean Agriculture, and in earlier agricultural writers like Columella and Palladius. In these procedures, the sovereign substances are the skins of seals, hyenas, hippopotami, hedgehogs, live turtles, live venomous snakes, and objects such as pictures of snakes, of bunches of grapes, wooden figures of bulls or wooden crosses placed in the vineyards, iron mirrors and iron keys. In pagantimes the blood of sacrificed animals also worked, which was in Christian times replaced with symbols of blood like red rags; menstrual blood was also held to be sovereign. Hail could also be stopped by a lyre being played.
There were various theories about what hail was and where it came from; the most frequent suggestions were that it was linked with the moon; in the satirist Lucian we find that on the Moon the vineyards bore bunches of ice-berries, and when the wind shook these vines, hail fell here below. Baron Münchhausen, drawing on Lucian, went to the Moon and repeated the story of the lunar ice vineyards, recommending that it would be useful, the next time the hail fell, to make lunar wine of this ice.


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