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Whip me into a pre Valentine frenzy

By Elevenses, Lupercalia, Valentines day

I love Greek  mythology and was intrigued that the story of Zeus and Lycaon may have led to the Roman festival of Lupercalia which took place on 15 February and was subsequently, and according to some sources, intentionally, eclipsed by Valentine’s Day.

The brief story of Zeus and Lycaon is that the latter served the God roast kid – as in child, not goat, for dinner to test his omnipotence. He should have known better because Zeus then turned him into a wolf. The legend led to an initiation ritual for young men; heaven knows what went on but it was enough to leave archaeological evidence.

Joining in the Lupercalia with a Hayo'u Tapper!

Joining in the Lupercalia with my Hayo’u tapper. Not quite goat’s hide; actually not even similar!

Goltzius, Zeus turning Lycaon into a Wolf for serving him a roasted child

Hendrik Goltzius, Zeus and Lycaon from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, 1589

She-wolf symbol of Rome with Romulus and Remus

Etruscan /Antonio PollaiuoloLa Lupa Capitolina, 5th century BC and 15th century AD, Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy

Jump from Greece to Italy and the idea of the Roman holiday of Lupercalia is born – and I haven’t just made a random connection, Livy and Plutarch and various other ancient philosophers and poets write about the fact that the Lupercalia has its roots in Greece.

The Lupercalia was centred around the cave in which Romulus and Remus were supposed to have suckled the she-wolf. Did you know that the famous Capitaline she-wolf sculpture is half Etruscan, from the 5th century BC, half early Renaissance because the figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century, possibly by Antonio Pollaiuolo? It amuses me that ‘Pollaiuolo’ means the son of a chicken farmer. I suppose the she-wolf was too busy to worry about chickens.

Back to the Lupercalia festival which was, as my grandma used to say, a ‘bit of a do’. It involved young boys running through streets in loincloths, although there is an argument to say that they didn’t even wear those, whipping women with the hide of a newly sacrificed goat. Pregnant women thought it would give them a healthy baby so they were completely up for it.

Then, as with many things, it started to get out of hand and was no longer the fun it once was. Step up the martyrdom of St Valentine on 14 February to distract and divert attention away from Lupercalia and towards Valentine’s Day. I think we can say that’s a win for the church!

As I always strive for accuracy, it should be pointed out that this is one hypothesis as to why the celebration of Valentine’s Day became more widespread, and there are almost certainly other factors at play.

Youths whipping women for the ancient festival of Lupercalia

Andrea Camassei, Lupercalia, 1635, Prado, Madrid

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

The Elevenses blog – February Valentine’s Greetings!

By Elevenses, Lupercalia, Talking art, Valentines day

In an effort to be more cohesive in my hitherto fun but scattergun approach, I’ve decided to work on a theme a month for my weekly Elevenses. This means that I can plan in advance, advertise what’s coming up and take the opportunity to use the material for my blog. Project Edutainment (I must find it a proper title!) isn’t forgotten; this is all about making space in my brain and diary to concentrate on the bigger picture.

So, the obvious theme for February is St Valentine. Being me, however, I wanted to do more than scratch the surface. Did you know that there is a possible connection between Greek mythology and Valentine’s Day? I had to verify the article that introduced me to this idea with a good delve into ancient Greek and Roman sources to be sure my facts were correct, and indeed both Plutarch and Livy were happy to confirm this link. Who knew? With some Greek mythology and stories of young men running amok in the streets written about for week 1, clearly the mysterious St Valentine himself had to be addressed. The Catholic Online website is absolutely sure that I’m a curious catholic nibbling around the edges of what they have to offer as I do tend to visit quite often just to get an overview before I invariably head off on another tangent. My tangent this time was the first recorded Valentine’s Day greetings. What I absolutely love about art history is that there are always connections to be made. This one is between ‘Mad Charles VI’ of France of Bal des Ardents fame, and the first ever Valentine written. The discovery made me so happy, as did writing about Cupid. The Valentine offering per se, as in the episode nearest to Valentine’s Day, is all about an aspect of this cheeky chappie that is rarely discussed. Of course it is! Welcome to the Elevenses blog!

I’ll up date the page after each Elevenses with Lynne to reflect the episode. I hope you enjoy it.