Happy Saturnalia!

Today is the first day of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman holiday that I have made a tradition of celebrating on this blog (see here and here). The Encyclopedia Romana describes Saturnalia as follows:

During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. . . Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters’ clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. In the Saturnalia, Lucian relates that “During My week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.”

Sadly, Saturnalia usually falls right around the time when I have to grade large piles of exams. In the spirit of inverting the social order, I have in the past suggested that the responsibility for grading these exams should be transferred to the students. Unruly student commenters on Saturnalia posts from previous years sometimes objected on the grounds that I didn’t propose that I should be the one to take the exam. That, however, was because exams occur before Saturnalia begins. Blame the academic calendar, not me (or perhaps blame those nefarious ancient Roman academics who made sure that Saturnalia only begins after the semester is over). However, I’m actually willing to make that exchange. I’m happy to take the exam if I can get out of doing the grading. After all, I’m the one who wrote the questions, so I’m pretty sure I know all the answers.

We could also perhaps celebrate Saturnalia right here at the VC by reversing our own usual social order. The commenters could write blog posts, and the bloggers could comment. On second thought, however, many commenters are already writing essays that are as long as posts, and many of the bloggers spend a lot of time commenting on our own posts. So a blogging Saturnalia might not be too much different from business as usual. All that remains to do in order to properly celebrate a VC Saturnalia is to choose our official Lord of Misrule.

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