14 February 2019

14 February 2019

 14 February 2019 is Valentine’s Day, remembering the death of a possibly mythical Christian leader whose achievements are known only to God. In modern times it is a day devoted to making those of us without “significant others” in our lives feel unwanted and unloved. And it’s Statehood Day here in Oregon and also in Arizona.
As Valentine’s Day falls near the old Roman festival of Lupercalia it is felt that the two must somehow be related. We are told that Roman men used to strip and don goatskin girdles before racing through town striking people with leather thongs—a startlingly similar custom to our present ritual of handing out cards, flowers, and candy to loved ones. No, wait. I meant dissimilar. A bit of traditional doggerel preserved in Gammer Gurton’s Garland alludes to a custom of selecting Valentine’s Day partners by lot:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it should be you.
According to somebody (online sources say Alban Butler) such a custom went back to Roman times, but was replaced by having girls draw the names of saints instead—but I haven’t found any evidence for it, and there’s a gap of at least a thousand years between the last celebration of Lupercalia and the beginnings of Valentine’s Day. Maybe Tim O’Neill will have something to say about the connection some time or other.
The historical Valentine—assuming there ever was such a fellow—was supposedly executed for his faith on 14 February 269. The feast commemorating his martyrdom has been celebrated apparently since 496. By then two centuries had passed and nothing seems to have been known of the guy or the circumstances of his martyrdom. Legend has added many details, all of them seemingly worthless. But that’s antiquity for you.

1 comment:

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