Letter: Classic Advice for a Bacchanal (Updated)

Posted by Dan Curley

Dear Editor,

How glad I am to be on a campus with an active and strong LGBTQ community! I read with interest your Facebook advertisement for your upcoming party, the Bacchanal, and I have every wish that the event will be a success. It's been a long time coming, and you deserve it.

That said, as a public service to any and all groups that have had or will have the notion of hosting classical-antiquity-themed events, here are some ground rules to follow from now until the end of time.

(1) The Greeks did not wear togas, especially not Greek gods. You're thinking of the Romans. Please do not ever associate "Greeks" and "togas" again. If, however, you want to advertise your party with the catchphrase, "We put the TOGA in Saratoga," go ahead. You're welcome.

(2) The word "Bacchanal" is, ultimately, a Latin word, derived from the name of the god Bacchus. Bacchus, as you seem to be aware, was the god of wine and of partying in general. (Though there is more to him than that.) However, since he's more famous as a Roman god, it's very unlikely that Greek gods would show up to his party. Hence, please encourage your attendees to unleash their inner Venus (the Roman Aphrodite) instead -- if she must be unleashed in public and all that.

(3) Apollo is an exception to this rule, since Apollo's Roman name is also Apollo. So encouraging folks to unleash their inner Apollo at a Bacchanal is fine -- provided that you remember he is a god of enlightenment rather than drunken revelry. In fact, he's usually so busy providing oracles, making prophecies, and healing the sick, that I doubt he has time for too many parties. Hence, unleashing one's inner Apollo at a Bacchanal might not be the thing, unless you're looking to end the party. That bright orb that stings your eyes the morning after and calls you back to reason? THAT'S Apollo. Invite him at your own risk.

(3a) Also, the laurel wreath is Apollo's emblem. Hence, when you urge your prospective audience to "think laurel wreaths," you are in fact inviting them to behave like Apollo. (See my remarks under number 3, above.) Please encourage them to "think ivy wreaths" instead: ivy is Bacchus' plant.

(4) You do know that you have a picture of Mercury in the upper left-hand corner of the Bacchanal Facebook page, right? Just checking. On the one hand, he's an apt messenger to get the word out about your event. On the other hand, when you call your event the Bacchanal, it's a little jarring not to see Bacchus himself, or at least his minions: a satyr here, a maenad there. I've mentioned ivy. Consider also a leopard or a stalk of fennel topped with what looks like a pine cone. Or a deer being torn to pieces. If tonight you're going to party like it's 99, then please at least use the appropriate iconography. I'll be watching for the posters.

(5) Thank you in advance for not using Greek sigmas (our s-equivalent) as the letter E to make things look more Greeky and stuff. You know: GR??KY. Don't do that. (You didn't.) It is rumored that such offenses against the language will cause Alexander the Great to rise from the dead and take names. That wouldn't be so bad -- especially if he came looking like Colin Farrell or even Richard Burton -- but (pro tip) you really don't want to hedge your bets when Alex is in one of his moods. For instruction in the proper usage of Greek letters, I invite everyone to take CG 110: Elementary Greek this fall.

(6) So far, I've dished out what I hope will be perceived as good-natured snark. But let me be serious for a moment. Here is perhaps the most important rule of all for any Bacchanal, and one the Greeks and the Romans understood very well: nothing in excess. Forget what you've seen on Spartacus: Blood and Sand or HBO: Rome. To truly shatter some stereotypes, have a party that remains safe in all senses of the word. Safe for people to be themselves without judgment, and safe for everyone's health and well-being. We the faculty and staff (if I can say it myself) care more about your safety and your sanity than you might imagine. This is our campus, too.

(7) Did I mention that the Greeks did not wear togas?

Your compliance with the above rules will be appreciated, both now and in perpetuity.

Wishing you a safe and sound Bacchanal,

Dan Curley

Associate Professor and Chair

Classics Department

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