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I'm doing some investigation into the mythology behind Halloween, and am running into contradictory claims about the date of the festival for Pomona, the Roman Goddess of orchard fruits (apples, cherries, etc.), and I'm wondering whether anyone here has already sorted this out.

Some earlier modern authors say that she had her own independent festival, which was at the time of our Halloween, October 31-November 1 (Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Halloween (1919), p. 13; Lesley Bannatyne, Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History (1990), pp. 6-7). But various other sources say it was really an element of the festival of her consort, the god Vertumnus, whose festival, the Vertumnalia, was in August (the 13th) (H.H. Scullard, Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic (1981), pp. 174-75).

The only explanation I've come across for the discrepancy so far is in the Italian Wikipedia article on the Vertumnalia, which says the mistake of dating the Vertumnalia in (late) October is due to a misinterpretation of a passage in Varro Reatinus (De Lingua Latina, 6.20-21). Ovid talks about both deities but sheds no light on the dating. Does anyone have a more thorough explanation based on original or scholarly sources?

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Yeah, the Italian Wiki page is correct. The reading is:

Volturnalia a deo Volturno, cuius feriae tum. Octobri mense Meditrinalia dies dictus a medendo, quod Flaccus flamen Martialis dicebat hoc die solitum vinum novum et vetus libari...

I'll use the Loeb translation with some clarifications:

[There's also the] Volturnalia, from the god Volturnus, whose festival was at that time. In the month of October [was] the Meditrinalia, [which] was named from mederi ["to be healed"] because Flaccus the Flamen Martialis [a type of priest of Mars] used to say that on this day it was the practice to pour an offering of new and old wine to the god...

The very bad scholarship took the meaning of "tum" (at that time) to mean in the month of October, but the language wouldn't work like that. Instead, it would refer backwards, and the preceding passage discusses a festival in August. So the Volturnalia is in August.

Some have taken the god Volturnus to be the same as Vertumnus, but this is actually just a guess. We don't know who exactly Volturnus is. It's possible they're the same, one being pronounced similar to the original Etruscan and one being more Romanized, but again, this is hypothetical.

So the whole Pomona = 31 Oct? That's just bad scholarship that got passed along to non-Classicists writing about Halloween. There's no relationship.

Interestingly, Scullard doesn't mention the festival of Pomona, nor does Beard/North/Price. It is true that Pomona is the consort of Vertumnus, but I'm not seeing anything that's expressly saying she shared part in his worship on Vertumnus, though it's likely that it was the case.

  • Thanks. I too had read Varro and couldn't see a basis for concluding that a festival (even if Velrtumnus = Volturnus) was in October (or November 1), or that Pomona was involved, and I think your explanation for the misinterpretation makes the most sense. I understand from your answer that you saw no other basis in the ancient sources for a Pomona festival in October/November, right? – Arthur George Oct 19 '15 at 4:58
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    Yes, as far as I can tell, there's nothing else concerning Pomona's festival. It's no surprise, either. Some of the flaminate gods (Pomona and Falacer being two) were very ancient, and their cult must have been forgotten some. Despite having the distinction of having a flamen instead of a regular sacerdos lead their cult, they don't have any festival days on the calendar. Of course, a lack of dates means they are ripe for modern invention. – C. M. Weimer Oct 19 '15 at 13:34
  • I'm joining the discussion rather late but while reading Fowler's The Roman festivals of the period of the Republic; an introduction to the study of the religion of the Romans I stumbled naturally upon the Volturnalia that he places on the 27th of August. No mention of a festival for Pomona either. – plannapus Mar 24 '16 at 15:47
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(Note: I'm not the person who asked this question, but when I submitted my answer Stack Exchange replaced that person with me!)

It is sometimes claimed, even in some fairly recent writings about Halloween, that the ancient precedent for Halloween is a Roman festival dedicated to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and orchards (e.g., Bannatyne, Lesley, Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History (1990), pp. 6-7; Kelley, Ruth, The Book of Hallowe’en: the History of Allhallows Eve (1919), pp. 12-13). Some claim that it was celebrated on November 1, others that it was part of an August 13 (or 23) festival dedicated to Vertumnus (god of the turning seasons) called the Vertumnalia. (Kelley, p. 13, claims the Pomona festival was on November 1, and that the Vertumnalia was on August 23.) In his Metamorphoses, Ovid tells a lovely myth about the romance between Vertumnus and Pomona (14.626-771), but in none of his works does he refer to a festival to her. In fact, there is no evidence for a Pomona festival, and it probably never existed (Morton, Lisa, trick or treat: a history of halloween (2012), pp. 17-18). In modern times, the error seems to go back at least as far as the 18th century English topographer William Hutchinson, who wrote, “The first day of November seems to retain the celebration of a festival to Pomona.” This statement was then uncritically repeated going forward (e.g., in Pakenham, J.A.G., “Pagan Rites and Christian Festivals,” The Canadian Monthly and National Review 10:525-33, at p. 530 (July-December, 1876), and in the December 12, 1903, weekly issue of The Churchman, p. 751). One modern writer suggests that Hutchinson was simply inspired by Ovid’s myth (Morton 2012, pp. 17-18), but this would not account for the alleged date since Ovid mentioned no date or even any festival. More likely the error can be traced to a misreading of a passage in Varro’s De Lingua Latina, which actually specifies August as the month of the Vertumnalia. (Specifically, the passage in question (6.20-21) first describes certain festivals in August, and then in a separate sentence says that the Vertumnalia is observed “at that time” without further specifying a date. The sentence after that goes on to describe a festival in October, the Meditrinalia. The phrase “at that time” refers to August, but it is possible that some readers mistakenly thought it refers to October.) Note: The Wikipedia article on the Vertumnalia (note 4) traces the mistake back to a 1696 book by Laurentius Begerus, but so far I have not been able to get my hands on it, which is why I say that the mistake goes back "at least" as far as Hutchinson.

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