Old and new festivals


in Books and literature, Daily updates

House in Jericho

The month of February is derived from the Latin word februare, meaning ‘to purify,’ and was the last month of the Roman year. The association between February and purification, however, precedes the founding of Rome. On the 15th of that month was a pagan festival called Februatio. Later, it was called Lupercalia, after Lupercus – the cave near Palatine Hill where a female wolf supposedly suckled Romulus and Remus. The festival was meant to purify the settlement where it was held, releasing health and fertility.

William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar begins during this festival, one way in which the Shakespearean history of Caesar’s life differs from that of Plutarch. Indeed, the crown with which Antony “thrice presented him” was a symbol of that ancient festival, and Caesar’s refusal to accept it cited in Antony’s comments following his death (III, ii). This goes to show that refusal to participate in public festivities can be dangerous for you, if you are a person of influence. In 494 CE Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with the feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

By contrast, the association between the feast of the obscure Saint Valentine and romantic love was apparently the work of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese [chose] his make [mate].

It seems that Hallmark is not entirely to blame, after all, nor is the Christian replacement for the festival of Lupercalia. Those wishing to invoke the spirit of either the new, as opposed to the ancient, celebration may do well to emulate the Squire from The Canterbury Tales:

So hootehotly he lovede that by nyghtertaleat nighttime.
He sleep namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale.

For those not so fortunate, or who prefer to keep February as a time of purification, there a mass of fine, free literature out there. Reading some would be a lot more charitable than sacrificing two goats and a dog to Lupercus, as was traditionally encouraged.

[Update: 11:59pm] Mica has a Valentine’s Day video up. It has his standard lighthearted charm, and may be just the thing for people who face this day with bitterness (provided that it is of the sort that can be assuaged, rather than the kind deeply rooted in your very soul).

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan February 14, 2007 at 6:07 pm

It seems like a lot of other people had the clever idea of blogging about Lupercalia today.

Anonymous February 14, 2007 at 6:31 pm

Dubious as some of the history you grabbed from Wikipedia and posted here may be, it is a lot more sound than this guy’s thinking. You neglected to include a section on “Why Paganism Is Wrong.”

Sunshine February 14, 2007 at 8:53 pm

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Sure, it’s a phony holiday, but why not wish a person well.

Milan February 15, 2007 at 12:22 am

I can only manage faked historical asides (those based on Wikipedia and vague memories of high school). At least, that is true when I am operating in a limited timeframe.

R.K. February 14, 2007 at 11:00 pm

Those with real erudition spend Valentine’s Day researching the history of the word ‘dildo.’

Jessica February 15, 2007 at 3:10 pm

I like Warren Ellis’ description better:

“Valentine’s Day is a Christian corruption of a pagan festival involving werewolves, blood and fucking. So wish people a happy Horny Werewolf Day and see what happens.”

Antonia February 15, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Warren Ellis wins me over again.

Milan February 15, 2007 at 7:05 pm

While I certainly cannot comment on the specific history of Lupercalia, it does seem at least plausible that it was demonized somewhat subsequently.

T.E. February 15, 2007 at 8:24 pm

Mandatory for VD:

Shall I compare thee to a prairie vole?
Thou art more faithful and monogamous.
Rough winds may blast thee, stress may take its toll
And botox leave thy brow impervious;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
And oft thy sun-cream UV rays lets through;
And every perfect pout at last declines
Into a wrinkled spouse’s sulking moue.
But our strong love shall not its power lose
While opioids keep us on the straight and narrow
While oxytocin does its magic prove
And vasopressin binds us one to other.
So long as men can keep their hormones potent
They’ll be romantic as that model rodent.

Milan February 15, 2007 at 8:38 pm

The obligatory response:

“Scientists have proven
A fact I find distracting.
When we fall in love
It’s just chemicals reacting.
I console myself however
At their lack of sensitivity,
In the knowledge that their thinking’s
Just electrical activity.”

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