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Fasti, a Latin word, refers to the Roman calendar and almanac; and especially, to a long, unfinished poem on the religious festivals of the Roman year and their mythological underpinnings, by the poet Ovid.

In Roman antiquities, fasti is the plural of the Latin adjective fastus, but more commonly used as a substantive, derived from fas, meaning what is binding, or allowable, by divine law, as opposed to jus, or human law. Fasti dies thus came to mean the days on which law business might be transacted without impiety, corresponding to our own lawful days; the opposite of the dies fasti were the dies nefasti, on which, on various religious grounds, the courts could not sit. The word fasti itself then came to be used to denote lists or registers of various kinds, and especially those that had to do with keeping or marking time.


Ovid's Fasti

Ovid's Fasti is a long, unfinished Latin poem by the Roman poet Ovid. It is believed that Ovid wrote the poem during his exile in Tomis towards the end of his life.

The poem is an extensive treatment on the Roman calendar, loosely imitated from the Works and Days by Hesiod. Each of its separate books discusses one month of the Roman calendar, beginning with January. It contains some brief astronomical notes, but its more significant portions discuss the religious festivals of the Roman religion, the rites performed upon them, and their mythological explanations. These explanations preserve much mythological and religious lore that would have otherwise been lost. The poem was written to illustrate the Fasti, or almanac and official calendar, published by Julius Caesar after he remodelled the Roman year.

Unfortunately, only the first six books of the poem are extant. It is not certain whether Ovid never finished it, or whether the remaining half is lost. Ovid apparently wrote, or at least revised, the poem while he was in exile at Tomis, or whether what we have of the poem reworks earlier material. Ovid also wrote poems such as the Tristia, complaining of the conditions of his exile, at Tomis. The Tristia mentions the poem, and that its completion had been interrupted by his exile; in that poem he mentions that he had indeed written the whole thing, and finished revising six books; no ancient source quotes even a fragment from the six that are not left. The poem is dedicated to Germanicus, a high ranking member of the emperor Augustus's family. These circumstances have led some to speculate that the poem was written on religious, patriotic, and antiquarian themes in order to improve Ovid's reputation and standing with the rulers of Rome, and secure his release from exile.

Dies Fasti and the Roman calendar

The Roman almanac

Fasti Diurni, divided into urbani and rustici, were a kind of official year-book, with dates and directions for religious ceremonies, court-days, market-days, divisions of the month, and the like. Until 304 BC the lore of the calendaria remained the exclusive and lucrative monopoly of the priesthood; but in that year Gnaeus Flavius , a pontifical secretary, introduced the custom of publishing in the forum tables containing the requisite information, besides brief references to victories, triumphs, prodigies, and so forth. This list was the origin of the public Roman calendar, in which the days were divided into weeks of eight days each, and indicated by the letters A-H. Each day was marked by a certain letter to show its nature; thus the letters F., N., N.P., F.P., Q. Rex C.F., C., EN., stood for fastus, nefastus, nefastus priore ("unlawful before noon"), fastus priore ("lawful before noon"), quando rex (sacrorum) comitiavit fastus ("lawful after the rex sacrorum has appeared in the assembly"), comitialis ("assembly day") and intercisus ("divided" --- having an unlawful time sometime within that day.) The dies intercisi were partly fasti and partly nefasti.

Upon the cultivators fewer feasts, sacrifices, ceremonies and holidays were enjoined than on the inhabitants of cities; and the rustic fasti contained little more than the ceremonies of the calends, nones and ides, the fairs, signs of zodiac, increase and decrease of the days, the tutelary gods of each month, and certain directions for rustic labors to be performed each month.

The Roman official chronicles

Fasti Magistrales, Annales or Historici, were concerned with the several feasts, and everything relating to the gods, religion and the magistrates; to the emperors, their birthdays, offices, days consecrated to them, with feasts and ceremonies established in their honor or for their prosperity. They came to be denominated magni, by way of distinction from the bare calendar, or fasti diurni. Of this class, the fasti consulares, for example, were a chronicle or register of time, in which the several years were denoted by the respective consuls, with the principal events which happened during their consulates. The fasti triumphales and sacerdotales contained a list in chronological order of persons who had obtained a triumph, together with the name of the conquered people, and of the priests.

The word fasti thus came to be used in the general sense of annals or historical records. A famous specimen of the same class are the fasti Capitolini, so called because they were deposited in the Capitol by Alexander Farnese, after their excavation from the Roman forum in 1547. They are chiefly a nominal list of statesmen, victories, triumphs, &c., from the expulsion of the kings to the death of Augustus. A considerable number of fasti of the first class haye also been discovered; but none of them appear to be older than the time of Augustus. The Praenestine calendar, discovered in 1770, arranged by the famous grammarian Verrius Flaccus, contains the months of January, March, April, and December, and a portion of February. Th tablets give an account of festivals, as also of the triumphs of Augustus and Tiberius. There are still two complete calendars in existence, an official list by Funda Dionysius Philocalus (354), and a Christian version of the official calendar, made by Polemius Silvius (448). But some kinds of fasti included under the second general head were, from the very beginning, written for publication. The Annales Pontificum different from the calendaria properly so called were annually exhibited in public on a white table, on which the memorable events of the year, with special mention of the prodigies, were set down in the briefest possible manner. Any one was allowed to copy them. Like the pontifices, the augurs also had their books, libri augurales. In fact, all the state offices had their fasti corresponding in character to the consular fasti named above.

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