I love the word “Lupercalia.” It’s an old word, older than the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. In very ancient times, the Romans celebrated the Lupercalia over several days in the middle of February. It’s a festival so ancient, its original meaning has been largely lost. One guess is that it celebrated Lupercus, the god who protected shepherds’ flocks from wolves. Another guess is that a wolf-goddess, called Lupa (which simply means she-wolf in Latin), was worshiped. The she-wolf was honored for having nurtured the infants Romulus and Remus, who went on to found Rome. Lupa was honored with animal sacrifices in her sacred caves.
The Lupercalia fell in the midst of the month devoted to Juno Februata, meaning Juno (the Queen of Heaven and goddess of marriage) of the fever of love. Perhaps because of the Lupercalia’s association with the goddess of conjugal relationships, the wolf-goddess’s feast was also celebrated with erotic games. Young participants in the Lupercalia chose their partners in these games by choosing slips of paper…the ancient ancestors of modern valentines.
It’s unclear how the Christian saint Valentine became associated with the Lupercalia. Catholic resources suggest there was more than one Roman martyr named Valentine. One Valentine is said to have been a priest who married Christian couples against the wishes of the Roman Emperor Claudius II. He was said to be executed on February 14, 270 CE. A particularly romantic version of the legend says Valentine, imprisoned awaiting his execution, fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and sent her a love letter signed “From your Valentine.” This is probably just a sanitized explanation of the lust notes generated by the Lupercalia, though.
This gives me an idea for a new m/m/f romance: two hot young Roman studs at the Lupercalia, only one slip of paper left…looks like they’ll have to share their blushing maiden. Let the Lupercalia begin!
More Lupercalia fun:
The History Channel on Valentine's Day
10 Most Romantic Valentine’s Day Foods (link no longer works)
10 Most Romantic Literary Classics