Cardea or Carda was the ancient Roman goddess of the hinge (Latin
cardo, cardinis) and a new estate near Stanground, Roman doors being
hung on pivot hinges. The Augustan poet
Ovid conflates her with
another archaic goddess named Carna, whose festival was celebrated on
Kalends of June and for whom he gives the alternative name Cranê
or Cranea, a nymph. Ovid's conflation of the goddesses is likely to
have been his poetic invention, but it has also been conjectured
that Carna was a contracted form of Cardina, and at minimum Ovid
was observing that their traditions were congruent.
Cardea and doorways
2 Carna and the Bean-Kalends
3 In Ovid's Fasti
3.1 The rape of Cranaë
3.2 Carna and the striges
Cardea and doorways
Allegorical depiction of the Four Seasons (Horae) and smaller
attendant figures that flank a Roman double-doorway representing the
entrance to the afterlife, on a mid-3rd century AD sarcophagus
Christian polemic of the Church Fathers,
Cardea is associated
with two otherwise unknown deities who preside over doorways:
Forculus, from fores, "door", plural in form because double doors were
common on public buildings and elite homes (domūs); and Limentinus,
from limen, liminis, "threshold" (compare English "liminal"). St.
Augustine mocks the apparent triviality of these "little gods" in one
of his "attacks against the multitude of Gods," noting that while
one doorkeeper is adequate for a human household, the Roman gods
require three: "evidently Forculus can't watch the hinge and the
threshold at the same time." Modern scholarship has pointed out that
this particular set of divinities belongs to rituals of marking out
sacred space and fixing boundaries, religious developments
hypothesized to have occurred during the transition from pastoralism
to an agrarian society. Among Roman deities of this type, Terminus was
the most significant.
Stefan Weinstock conjectured that these three doorway deities had a
place in cosmology as the Ianitores terrestres, "doorkeepers of the
earth," guarding the passage to the earthly sphere. In the schema
presented by Martianus Capella, the Ianitores terrestres are placed in
region 16 among deities of the lowest ranks, while Janus, the divine
doorkeeper par excellence, is placed in region 1. This arrangement
may represent the ianuae coeli, the two doors of the heavens
identified with the solstices.
Isidore of Seville
Isidore of Seville says that there
are two ianuae coeli, one rising (that is, in the East) and one
setting (the West): "The sun advances from the one gate, by the other
Isidore's definition is followed immediately by an explanation of the
cardines (plural of cardo), the north-south pivots of the axis on
which the sphere of the world rotates. These are analogous to the
top-and-bottom pivot hinges of a Roman door.
In addition to the meaning of "door hinge," the cardo was also a
fundamental concept in Roman surveying and city planning. The cardo
was the main north-south street of a town, the surveying of which was
attended by augural procedures that aligned terrestrial and celestial
space. The cardo was also a principle in the layout of the Roman
army's marching camp, the gates of which were aligned with the
cardinal points to the extent that the terrain permitted.
Carna and the Bean-Kalends
Macrobius (5th century) says that the name Carna was derived from
caro, carnis, "flesh, meat, food" (compare English "carnal" and
"carnivore"), and that she was the guardian of the heart and the vital
parts of the human body. The power to avert vampiric striges, which
Ovid attributes to the conflated Cardea-Carna, probably belonged to
Carna, while the charms fixed on doorposts are rightly Cardea's.
Carna's feast day was marked as nefastus on the calendar; that is, it
was a public holiday when no assembly or court could convene. Mashed
beans and lard — a dish perhaps to be compared to refried beans or
hoppinjohn— were offered to her as res divinae, and thus the day
was known as the Kalendae fabariae, the Bean-Kalends, since at this
time the bean harvest matured. Beans had many magico-religious
properties in ancient Greece and Rome in addition to their importance
as a food crop.
William Warde Fowler took Carna to be an archaic goddess whose cult
had not been revivified by religious innovation or reform and thus had
lapsed into obscurity by the end of the Republic. Auguste
Bouché-Leclercq considered Carna a goddess of health. Her elusive
nature is indicated by the wildly divergent scholarly conjectures she
has prompted: "she was considered a chthonic divinity by Wissowa, a
lunar goddess by Pettazzoni, a bean-goddess by Latte, and a patroness
of digestion by Dumézil".
In Ovid's Fasti
The rape of Cranaë
In the Fasti of Ovid, the nymph Cranaë is raped by Janus, a god
otherwise portrayed by the poet as avuncular and wise. As a poetic
work of art, the Fasti is a unique fabrication blending authentic
folklore, antiquarian knowledge, and fictional elaboration. It has
been interpreted as Ovid's challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of
Augustus's religious reforms, which were often innovations of Imperial
propaganda under the cloak of archaic revivalism.
Ovid begins by noting that the first day of the month is dedicated to
Carna. He then identifies her as the goddess of the hinge, who is
elsewhere known as Cardea, a name
Ovid does not use: "By means of her
divine presence (numen) she opens things that have been closed, and
closes things that have been opened." The source of her powers (vires)
have become obscured by time (aevum), but he promises that his poem
(carmen) will clarify the matter (6.101–104).
The setting is the sacred grove (lucus) of the otherwise unknown god
Alernus, for whom,
Ovid claims, the state priests still carry out
sacra, sacred rites. The nymph named at that time Cranaë was born
there. She was a huntress, often mistaken for the "sister of Phoebus,"
that is, Diana, except that she used hunting javelins and nets rather
than a bow and arrow. When her many would-be lovers attempted to
seduce her, she demurred claiming lack of privacy, and played the same
trick on each one: "lead the way to a secluded cave, and I'll follow."
As the gullible youth went ahead, Cranaë held back until she was
camouflaged among the bushes (6.105–118).
Janus too was seized by desire for the nymph. She responded to his
sweet-talk (verbis mollibus) by attempting the same ruse; however, as
Ovid points out in a characteristic moment of comedy and cruelty
colliding, the two faces of Janus allow him to see what goes on
behind, and Cranaë was unable to elude him. She was powerless (nil
agis, "you can do nothing," the poet repeats twice); the god "occupies
her with his embrace," and after overpowering her to achieve his goal,
treats the encounter as contractual: "In exchange for our intercourse
(pro concubitu), the right (ius) of the hinge will be yours; take that
as payment for the virginity you deposited" (6.119–128).
As a pledge, he gives her the whitethorn, or hawthorn, which has the
power to repel injurious influences from the entrances to houses
(6.129–130). This is the "hinge" or turning point of the unnamed
Cardea's transformation from a maiden nymph of the wild to a goddess
who polices the threshold or boundaries (limina) of domesticity.
The tale of Cranaë's rape, though stocked by Roman rather than Greek
figures, would be not out of place in Ovid's Metamorphoses: the
heroine doesn't change into a tree, but her transformation resides in
the token of the whitethorn tree.
Carna and the striges
The aition of the whitethorn explains why,
Ovid says, a branch or twig
of it is used to repel tristes … noxas, "baleful harms," from
doorways (fores). Why is this necessary? Because there are greedy
winged creatures ready to fly in and suck the blood from sleeping
infants so young they still take only breast milk.
these creatures (6.131–142) as having a large head, prominent eyes,
and beaks suited for snatching and carrying off; their wings are
white, and their talons are like hooks. They are given the name
striges, singular strix, the word for an owl as a bird of evil omen
and supposedly derived from the verb strideo, stridere, "shriek." At
the same time,
Ovid says that they are the winged creatures who
tormented the marooned
Phineus by stealing the food off his table —
that is, the Harpies. They are a "disconcerting composite" that
recalls images on certain curse tablets, one of which shows a
"heart-feasting Hecate" that matches Ovid's description. The
poet himself emphasizes that it's hard to tell what they really are,
whether they were born as birds, or whether they had been transformed
by an incantation (carmen, the word
Ovid has just used to describe his
own account). He then glosses carmen as "a crone's Marsian chant"
(neniaque … Marsa …anūs).
^ Newlands, Carole E. (1995), Playing with Time:
Ovid and the Fasti,
Cornell University Press, p. 14
^ Fowler, William Warde (1908), The Roman Festivals of the Period of
the Republic, London, p. 131.
^ Thomas Keightley, Ovid's Fasti (London, 1848, 2nd edition), p. 210.
^ McDonough (1997), "Carna, Proca, and the Strix on the
June," Transactions of the American Philological Association 127, p.
^ Melissa Barden Dowling, "A Time to Regender: The Transformation of
Roman Time," in Time and Uncertainty (Brill, 2004), p. 184.
^ Augustine of Hippo, De civitate Dei 4.8; Tertullian, De corona
militaris 13 and De idolatria 15; Cyprian, De idolorum vanitate 4.
^ Maijastina Kahlos, Debate and Dialogue: Christian and Pagan Cultures
c. 360–430 (Ashgate, 2007), p. 139.
^ Roger D. Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult
(University of Illinois Press, 2006), pp. 246–247.
^ McDonough (1997), p. 333.
^ Stefan Weinstock, "
Martianus Capella and the Cosmic System of the
Etruscans," Journal of Roman Studies 36 (1946), p. 106. See also René
Guénon, Fundamental Symbols (Cambridge: Quinta Essentia, 1995),
chapter 37, "The Solstitial Gate."
^ Isidore of Seville,
Etymologiae 13.1.7: Ianuae caeli duae sunt,
oriens et occasus. Nam una porta sol procedit, alia se recipit.
^ See drawings of Roman door hinges in Harper's Dictionary of
Classical Literature and Antiquities, vol. 1, p. 279
^ Alan Richardson, in a series of articles in Oxford Journal of
Archaeology: "The Numerical Basis of Roman Camps," 19.4 (2000)
425–437; "The Order of Battle in the Roman Army: Evidence from
Marching Camps," 20.2 (2001) 171–185; "The Orientation of Roman
Camps and Forts," Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24.4 (2005) 415–426.
^ Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.12.
^ Fowler, Festivals, pp. 131–132.
^ McDonough (1997), p. 315.
^ McDonough (1997) pp. 328–329, 339–341.
^ Fowler, Festivals, p. 130.
^ Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, Histoire de la divination dans
l'antiquité (Jérôme Millon, 2003, originally published 1879–82),
^ McDonough (1997), p. 316.
^ Ovid, Fasti 6.110ff. Riley, Thomas H. (1851) tr., Fasti, p. 214ff
^ Newlands, Playing with Time, pp. 126, 144, et passim.
^ McDonough (1997), p. 310.
^ Thomas Habinek, The World of Roman Song: From Ritualized Speech to
Social Order (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), pp. 17–19.
^ For other child-stealing demons and creatures who prey on infants in
the folklore of the
Mediterranean world or Near East, see Lilith,
Lamashtu, Gello, and Abyzou. See also Christopher A. Faraone, "The
Undercutter, the Woodcutter, and Greek Demon Names Ending in -tomos
(Hom. Hymn to Dem. 228–9)," American Journal of Philology 122.1
(2001) 1–10, on the "woodcutter" demon who might cause pain in the
gums of teething babies.
^ McDonough (1997), pp. 324–326.
^ For the drawing, see John G. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells
from the Ancient World (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 181 online
(also on the cover).
McDonough, Christopher Michael (1997). "Carna, Proca and the Strix on
Kalends of June". Transactions of the American Philological
Association. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 127: 315–344.