Wednesday, February 6, 2013



Many, many years ago, as a young college student, I had one of the most entertaining Roman History classes I've ever taken.  The professor was a popular one, his class filled up within an hour of registration, and there was never an empty seat.   Sometimes, when the subject matter was particularly juicy (Caligula anyone?) it was standing room only.  It was from this professor that I learned about the month of February's ancient history.

In ancient Rome, the Feast of Lupercalia took place between February 13-15.  Nominally it was a national holiday, celebrating Romulus and Remus (the wolf-raised founders of Rome), but in reality it was a drunken fertility celebration.  According to Plutarch, "many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy."  Alternately, I was taught that it was the ladies who struck the naked young men with untanned goat skins (or "februa") for ensured fertility.  My research shows both versions.  Good times.  Whatever truly happened, Christianity came along, and flailing strips of goatskin have gone the way of the dodo.  Today we have the much less messy hearts and flowers we give as offerings to potential lovers at Valentine's Day, though I think it would be fun to see a pack of young men run through the streets in loin clothes.

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