The Volokh Conspiracy

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Happy Saturnalia!


Today is Saturnalia, an ancient Roman holiday traditionally celebrated here at the Volokh Conspiracy. We are pleased to continue that tradition at our new home at the Washington Post! In truth, it's only a tradition in so far as I put up a post about it every year. But that's as traditional as any blogosphere custom is likely to get.

The Encyclopedia Romana has a good description of Saturnalia:

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."

As usual, this year we have no shortage of candidates for the position of Lord of Misrule here in the Washington, DC area. Indeed, the November election—like many previous elections—has given us a large number of formidable new candidates for the title.

In an earlier Saturnalia post, I discussed the implications of the holiday for law school exam grading:

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…. suggested that the responsibility for grading these exams should be transferred to the students. Unruly student commenters… 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.

Happy Saturnalia to all the friends, Romans, and Volokh Conspiracy readers out there!