I.e., specters or spirits of the dead, which were believed by the Romans to return to the upper world and injure the living. Some writers describe Lemures as the common name for all the spirits of the dead,1 and divide all Lemures into two classes; viz. the souls of those who have been good men are said to become Lares, while those of the wicked become Larvae. But the common idea was that the Lemures and Larvae were the same;2 and the Lemures are said to wander about at night as specters, and to torment and frighten the living.3
In order to propitiate them, and to purify the human habitations, certain ceremonies were performed on the three nights of the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May every year. The pater familias rose at midnight, and went outside the door making certain signs with his hand to keep the specter at a distance. He then washed his hand thrice in spring water, turned round, and took black beans into his mouth, which he afterwards threw behind him. The specters were believed to collect these beans. After having spoken certain words without looking around, he again washed his hands, made a noise with brass basins, and called out to the specters nine times: "be gone, you specters of the house!" This being done, he was allowed to look round, for the specters were rendered harmless.
The days on which these rites were performed were considered unlucky, and the temples remained closed during that period.
- Apuleius. De Deo Socratis, p. 237 (ed. Bip.); Servius on Virgil's Aeneid iii, 63; Martianus Capella, ii, 162; Ovid. Fasti v, 483.
- Augustine. City of God ix, 11.
- Horace. Epistles, ii, 2. 209; Pers. v, 185.
- Festus, s.v. Fabam; comp. Hartung, J.A. Die Religion der Römer. Vol. 1, p. 55 ff.
- Ovid. Fasti v, 419 ff.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
- Varro, ap. Nonius, p. 135.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.