Of course the Internet speeds the exchange of information, allowing scientific communication to accelerate and advancements to be made more quickly, but something I’ve noticed recently is that it has a similar effect on the distribution of historical facts. I have seen more references to Saturnalia this holiday season than in any previous year, and I blame the ease with which the Internet allows us to transmit information. In the case of Saturnalia, it’s likely a side effect of this hubub regarding references to “Christmas” versus “holidays.” Apparently the tide of political correctness is being turned back toward the Christian majority who want to make sure that everyone knows Christ is the reason for the season. I won’t get into that, though .
What I’ve been seeing lately are a flurry of emails and weblinks discussing December 25 and its Saturnalian origins. Much the way Easter was co-opted by the Christians from pagan tradition, so Christmas was conveniently placed at the same time of the Romans’ Saturnalia in an effort to convert the heathens. In fact, most biblical scholars put Christ’s actual birth a few years back into the B.C., and probably in spring or summer, as the Nativity would have been an unlikely scene in the dead of winter. Not many shepherds would keep their flock by night in the fields during the cold season.
Another, completely unrelated historical item I came across today was graffiti from the walls of Pompeii. For some reason I never considered that the scrawlings on the walls of truck stop bathrooms have a long tradition, stretching back very likely to the first days of indoor lavatories. The Pompeii markings read nearly identically to their counterparts in the modern day. The topics are alternately scatalogical (“show us your hairy privates”) and romantic (“Marcus loves Spendusa”). I also never realized “I was here” has been written on walls for millenia. Were we to intuit the central message of humanity from these writings, one could only assume that it would read: “We were here, we had sex, we loved.”
For anyone searching for the meaning of life, the answer may well lie right there.