From Prostitute to Goddess

Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women: Flora (Part II)

(For Part I, please see yesterday’s post, Flora F**ks for Financial Freedom.)

“This Flora, however, (to come to my point) when the end of life was approaching, had no son but a desire of perpetuating her name. Employing, as it seems to me, her feminine cunning, she declared the Roman people to be the heirs of her property for the future glory of her name. In this will, however, a part of her property was set aside so that all of the annual interest would be spent on an anniversary of her birthday with public games. Nor did her opinion deceive her. For, when she had gotten hold of the goodwill of the Roman people through the dispensation of her will, she easily obtained the institution of the annual games in her name. In these games, the people saw among other shameful things (as I think, it was a spectacle calculated to show her profession to posterity) nude prostitutes performing the business of the mimes to the highest delight of the spectators, and exercising themselves in various obscene gestures. From this disgraceful display it was brought about that, whether from the aforementioned interest or from the public treasury, the plebeians (always prone to enjoy sexuality) insisted upon games of this sort, although they were of the most holy character. These games were then called the Floralia after the woman who instituted them.

Yet indeed, after some time the senate, being conscious of the origin of the Floralia, grew embarrassed by the fact that the city which was now the mistress of all the world was being blotted by such an obscene stain, when everyone rushed to sing the praises of a prostitute. When the senate noticed that this stain could not easily be effaced, it imposed upon the initial baseness a detestable and ridiculous error.

The senate fabricated a story for the glorification of Flora, the famous maker of the will, and recited it to the then ignorant public. The story asserted that she had been a native nymph of miraculous beauty, named Clora, who was most ardently beloved and then married by Zephyrus (whom they called Favonius in Latin). This wind, whom she was numbering among the gods due to her own stupidity, gave her either as a gift or as a dowry the status of a deity. To this was added the duty that at the beginning of spring, she would adorn the trees and hills and meadows with flowers and stand forth among them all. Thereupon, her named was gradually changed from Clora to Flora. And since fruits would follow from the blossoms, as – her deity having been satisfied by the games – she would grant them fruits with a certain ample liberty and bring them to fruition, a sacrificial offering and altars and games were granted to Flora by the ancients.

Deceived by this fiction, the Romans numbered along with Juno and the other goddesses this Flora, who while alive had frequented the brothels, laid out before anyone for even a small payment; and they treated her as though Zephyrus carried her into the heavens with his wings. Thus, through her own intelligence and the gift of fortune from ill-gotten money, Flora was converted from a prostitute into a nymph and enriched by the marriage of Zephyrus and the power of divinity, she was celebrated by mortals as sitting in temples with divine honors to such an extent that not only was she changed from Clora to Flora, but she was made famous everywhere though she started off as a remarkable prostitute in her own time.”

Image result for roman floralia
Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Hec autem, ut eo tendam quo cupio, adveniente mortalis vite termino, cum nullus illi filius esset et nominis perpetuandi cupido, ut reor, femineo astu, in futuram sui nominis gloriam, romanum populum substantiarum suarum sibi dixit heredem; in hoc tamen parte divitiarum servata, ut, quod ex ea annuum susciperetur fenus, in anniversarium natalis sui, ludis publice factis, erogaretur omne. Nec eam fefellit opinio. Nam cum gratiam romane plebis ex hereditate suscepta captasset, annuos in memoriam sui nominis fieri ludos obtinuit facile: in quibus, spectante vulgo, ad eius puto questum posteris ostendendum, inter alia turpia, nude meretrices mimorum officium, summa cum inspicientium voluptate, gesticulationibus impudicis et variis exercebant. Qua illecebri ostentatione actum est ut, seu ex fenore suscepto, seu ex ere publico, annis singulis cum instantia ludi huiusmodi, tanquam sanctissimi, a plebe, in libidinem prona, peterentur; et florales ab institutrice etiam dicerentur.

Sane tractu temporis cum senatus, originis eorum conscius, erubesceret, urbem, iam rerum dominam, tam obscena maculari nota, ut in meretricis laudes concurreret omnis, adverteretque illam facile deleri non posse, ad ignominiam subtrahendam, turpitudini detestabilem atque ridiculum superiniunxit errorem.

Finxit quippe in splendorem Flore, inclite testatricis, fabulam, et ignaro iam populo recitavit: illam asserens iam dudum mire pulchritudinis indigenam fuisse nynpham, nomine Cloram, et a zephyro vento, quem latine favonium dicimus, ardentissime amatam et postremo in coniugem sumptam; eique, ab eodem quem, stultitia sua, inter deos nominabant, dotalitio quodam munere, seu propter nuptias, ut fit, deitatem fuisse concessam: hoc cum officio, ut vere primo arbores colles et prata floribus exornaret eisque preesset; et inde ex Clora, Flora etiam diceretur; et quoniam fructus ex floribus sequerentur, ut, deitate eius placata ludis, illos ampla quadam liberalitate concederet et in fructum deduceret, eidem dee sacrum aras ludosque a vetustate fuisse concessos.

Qua seducti fallacia, eam, que vivens fornices coluerat, a quibuscunque etiam pro minima stipe prostrata, quasi suis alis zephyrus illam in celum detulerit, cum Iunone regina deabusque aliis sedere arbitrati sunt. Et sic ingenio suo Flora et fortune munere ex male quesita pecunia, ex meretrice nynpha facta est zephyrique lucrata coniugium et deitatis numen, apud mortales, in templis residens, divinis honoribus celebrata, adeo ut, non solum ex Clora Flora, sed clara ubique locorum, ex insigni sui temporis scorto, facta sit.

2 thoughts on “From Prostitute to Goddess

  1. Pingback: Women’s History Month, Week 2 – SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

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