Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Lupercalia!

So how did a Roman Catholic Saint, of all people, come to be associated with the holiday intended for the expression of intense physical love? Good question.

Like many modern holidays (I'm looking at you, Xmas), what we celebrate today is just a patch early christians threw on over pre-existing pagan rituals (Saturnalia, anyone?). That explains why, say, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with eggs and bunnies-- the christian element was overlaid on a pre-existing springtime fertility ritual.

St. Valentine's day is a similar case. Nobody is sure which St Valentine we're celebrating exactly (there were at least three) but his day is an overlay of the ancient Greco-Roman festival of Lupercalia, in which was celebrated both the holy marriage of Zeus (Jove) and Hera (Juno), as well as in Rome the founding of their city (Romulus, Remus, wolves, "Lupe"-- it's all connected). There was all sorts of courting between young folks of both sexes, and it was generally very frolicky. Lupercalia was a very, very  ancient festival, and it had replaced (more absorbed, really) an even more ancient one, Februa, which, you may guess, is where we get  the name for the month of February. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

My drawing is of the sacred couple themselves, Zeus and Hera, in embrace, behind a water lilly, one of Hera's sacred flowers.


  1. Actually, Lupus/Lupa in Latin meant "wolf", and the er replacing the us/a means an adjective-transformation, possibly in genitive, and cal (calia) is some derivative of cave, owing to the name of the cave generally said to be Romulus' mama-wolf's old home (it's called the Lupercal). Thus, the Lupercalia is "Day of the Wolf-Cave".

  2. I love this picture. Zeus looks so much in love. Thanks for the info. about the holiday. Teresa

  3. They look like they're so much in love!