Yeah. We’re a long way away from Hallmark, kids.
The Lupercalia goes so far back even the Romans couldn’t say how it started. We do know, though, how it played out.
|Pretty-boy Purefoy as Mark Antony in |
First, priests sacrificed a goat and a dog and smeared the foreheads of young noblemen with the still warm blood. After wiping off the blood, the young men were supposed to laugh. Then, dressed only in loincloths (or nothing at all according to one historian), the young men ran around slapping women with thongs made from strips of the sacrificed goat’s still dripping skin. Women playfully lashed with these skins were believed to become more fertile and/or have an easy childbirth.
Oh, and to no one’s surprise, there was lots of wine-drinking throughout.
Now, it was supposed to be the young men (emphasis on young) of the nobility who did the chasing and lashing, but one year Mark Antony joined the fray, even though he was forty.
Yeah. So, while his future love, Cleopatra, waited for his boss in Caesar’s villa across the Tiber, a slicked up middle-aged Antony ran around the city playing a mean game of “tag, you’re pregnant!”
Antony then took the opportunity to try to crown Caesar three times in what was likely a highly rehearsed moment of “spontaneous” Caesar-love. Later, Cicero later claimed that Caesar pulled strings to make Antony one of the luperci, the young thong-lashing priests, even though he was twice the typical age. It was, Cicero accused, all an elaborate set-up to crown Caesar as king of Rome.
Which Antony tried to do—three times. Caesar, reading the mood of the mob, declined the honor, but that little bit of theater angered his enemies so much, they gathered together to stick-it to Caesar (literally).
|Plutarch described Antony as Herculean|
in build. Antony claimed his family
descended from Hercules's son, Anton.
The goings-on of the Lupercalia fest are funny enough without imaging a 40-year old Roman general trying to pass himself off as a shiny young man of twenty. It says a lot about Antony’s personality that he was game to “go for it.” It says even more about Caesar’s that he put him up to it.
What Cleopatra thought of these strange events, no one knows. Perhaps if she’d seen him in all his glory acting the young fool she would’ve thought better about pairing up with him later. Or, perhaps it was the fact that she did see him in all his glory that she later did!