Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Bloody-Weird Origins of Valentine's Day

Today's diabetic-shock inducing Valentine sweetness is a looooong way from its roots in an ancient Roman love festival. In mid-February, the Romans practiced a ritual so old and strange, even they couldn't tell you what it meant and how it started.

Actor Charlie Hunnam @ http://www.worldoffemale.com
It went like this: During the Lupercalia (usually February 15), a group of handsome young men would strip naked, get oiled up and present themselves at the Forum where priests would sacrifice a dog and a goat in front of them. The priests would then smear the young men's foreheads with the blood of the animals.

The nekkid young men would then wipe off the blood and laugh. The laughing part was very important. No one knows why.

Then the priests skinned the goat and dog and made tiny whip-like-thongs out of the skins, handing it to the young men.

The slicked up hotties then chased young women throughout the streets of Rome with the intention of slapping them with the skins. Women thus "annointed" were said to instantly become fertile.

Hmmm. Maybe today's blood-red roses came from the bloodied strips of skin the men offered women! Wait, what do you mean I'm ruining the romance?

Young married women who wanted to get pregnant, as a result, accidentally-on-purpose put themselves in the way of the slicked-up boys. To no one's surprise, there was much drinking before, during, and after this festival. 

By implication there was a lot of er, "romance" happening later too. I guess we've come a long way.  The Romans stripped naked and anointed young women in the name of fertility. Today, we strip our wallets and anoint each other with flowers and chocolate.  Progress, right?


Kara said...

What the f---? Wow...now that is an interesting bit of history! Why didn't we learn about these things in high school? I can tell you I would have paid WAY more attention in World History if they had told this story...My favorite part "... the laughing was very important". :)

Caroline Lawrence said...

Stephen Saylor has a good description of this in one of his books... And so do I! Here's my little QUIZ on Romance in Roman Times! http://flavias.blogspot.com/2012/02/romance-in-ancient-rome-quiz.html

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Kara, the WTF aspect of history is why I love it so much!

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I agree with Kara - if they taught what REALLY happened - it would be much more... engaging. :) e

Stephanie Thornton said...

Wow! I'd actually never heard of that particular ritual. It just reinforces my belief that the Romans were really cool, and really strange.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

I've heard of this before, possibly from your blog or your books. Still pretty shocking every time!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

@Caroline, thanks for the link to your quiz. Great fun!

@e--I agree. And I work hard to keep it clean! ;-)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

@Stephanie-that's a perfect way of describing them--really cool and really strange!

@Carrie--it is so odd, that I figure I need to write about it every year!

Amalia Dillin said...

I love this post. Part of me cannot help but imagine people performing this particular ritual in the modern world. I bet you'd get citations for animal cruelty, indecent exposure, and assault, at the LEAST.

I wish we knew why the laughing was so important. I'm trying to think up some reason it possibly could matter and nothing is coming to mind.