Careful readers will notice that this piece contains an Elephant Trap; in previous years, it has generally caught at least one unsuspecting victim, despite being accompanied by a very obvious Trigger Warning. Who'll be first this year?
Festum Ovorum, the Feast Of Eggs, is how they describe today, the Saturday before Lent, year by year in the Oxford University Diary, despite the fact that for some centuries only the occasional Oxford eccentric has even thought of celebrating this entertainingly named day.
The origin and purpose of Festum Ovorum is pretty certainly exactly what each one of you will have guessed from first principles: as on Mardi Gras, to have a binge before Lent. It has stayed on the University Calendar since the Middle Ages ... just as, in this University, All Soul's Day and Corpus Christi and the Assumption survived the 'Reformation' (I bet they didn't in the Fens). We know that this was not just a custom in alma academia, but flourished throughout the neighbouring country areas, where, in their endearingly unlatinate way, the rude but worthy yokels just called it Egge Satterday. (There must be some poignantly laboured witticism about Yolks and Yokels. Or tongue-twisters? "The yokels liked yolks for lunch"?)
However, purely by coincidence, it became, in this University, linked with an academic deadline: the last day on which bachelors were allowed to 'determine'; that is, to complete the exercises for the degree of M.A.. And academics had a 'Determination Feast' to celebrate this, which goes back at least to the time of Lord Richard Holland (nephew of Richard II the monarch who dedicated this realm of England as the Dowry of our blessed Lady) who had his Determination Feast on the 21st and 22nd of February, 1395 (yes, I have checked that date in Cheney). As late as 1603, "all the bachelors that were presented to determine did after their presentation go to every college where they were determining
I suppose all this was quite an exotic spread in those days. Now we could buy most of it in Waitrose where, before Covid, we could pop in for our free Coffee and our free copy of The Times. Except for the muscadines, which are sweetmeats made from a pod near the fundament of an asiatic deer (its secretion may have been a sexual attractant) and regarded as an aphrodisiac since the days when the trade routes brought both it, and its Sanskrit name, from India to Byzantium. It is now vastly expensive since the poor things have been hunted almost into bio-undiversity ... ah, the compulsions of homo insipiens, the so-called animal rationale ... fortasse potius animal dicendum venereale. But I gather that chemists now produce a synthetic version of musk. (I wonder what their motives are.)