|“||Lemurs? I'm guessing you don't mean the furry little guys from Madagascar?||”|
Lemures may represent the wandering and vengeful spirits of those not afforded proper burial, funeral rites or affectionate cult by the living: they are not attested by tomb or votive inscriptions. Ovid interprets them as vagrant, unsatiated and potentially vengeful di manes or di parentes, ancestral gods or spirits of the Underworld. To him, the rites of their cult suggest an incomprehensibly archaic, quasi-magical and probably very ancient rural tradition. Four centuries later, St. Augustine describes both the lemures and the larvae as evil and restless manes that torment and terrify the living: Lares, on the other hand, are good manes.
Lemures were formless and liminal, associated with darkness and its dread. In Ancient Rome, May 9, 11, and 13 were dedicated to their placation in the household practices of Lemuralia or Lemuria. The head of household would rise at midnight and cast black beans behind him with averted gaze; the lemures were presumed to feast on them. Black was the appropriate color for offerings to chthonic deities. William Warde Fowler interprets the gift of beans as an offer of life, and points out that they were a ritual pollution for priests of Jupiter. The lemures themselves were both fearsome and fearful: any malevolent shades dissatisfied with the offering of the paterfamilias could be startled into flight by the loud banging of bronze pots.