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Friday Morning Latin Lesson: Vol. CV

February 15, 2013

Thank Gods it's the Day of Venus!  See what I did there?  A little bit of Latin/English bastardization!  It's brilliant, I tell you!

Fine.  Be that way.

Anyway, we're sliding down the back-half of February now as yesterday was the mid-point of our only four-week month.  There was something else that went on yesterday, too, but we've already covered that a few times in ye olde blogge.  Yes, I'm a shameless self-promoter.  Actually, I'm just backing up my claims with...well, not fact, since a lot of that was speculation.  So, yeah, shameless self-promotion it is!

The fifteenth of February, though, marked the final day of the Roman celebration of Lupercalia.  The Lupercalia was a three day festival, beginning February 13th and running until the 15th, in which the Romans honored the god Lupercus, sometimes identified with the (somewhat more recognizable) Faunus, who really resembled the Greek deity Pan.  Lupercus was the god who watched over shepherds.  More importantly, Lupercus stood in (and presumably helped protect) the cave where the twins Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf lupa when they were abandoned in the wild.  You might remember that Romulus grew up and later founded the city of Rome (after bashing his brother over the head with a shovel).

Incidentally, a slang word for "whore" in Latin is lupa...not a very loving remembrance for what could be considered the city's matriarch.

So...if we celebrate the Lupercalia in February, why is February not Luperary?

It all boils down to where the month falls on the Roman calendar.  This is the time of year when the world begins to emerge from its long winter slumber (the world here being the Mediterranean...when Minnesota conquers most of the known world, then we'll talk about when spring arrives).  As such, thoughts turn to planting of crops and birthing of babies, which all ties back to fertility.  Februus was a Roman god of purification, and in order to get the world ready for planting of crops, it was time for purification.  Februus is possibly linked to a much older purification and fertility rite, Februa, which was probably adopted in after the Romans conquered the Etruscans.

There is also a chance that Februus is tied to the Roman goddess Febria, who was the goddess of the fever.  The fever (also associated with malaria) was seen to be a sort of internal purification flame; if you survived it, your body was purged of whatever ills had caused the fever, and you were the stronger for it.  Remember, viruses were a couple of thousand years away from being known.

While we were busy celebrating the purification of the world and preparation for planting and birthing the spring clutches of agricultural animals, we might as well throw in human babies as well, right?  So, all of the celebrations about purifying the land and body were lumped in with the Lupercalia.  The final day of Lupcalia was recognized as the Februa.

Lupercalia involved young men of the city running around the city walls.  It wasn't a race so much as it was just a tradition.  All of the women of the city who were pregnant or who were hoping to be pregnant, or who might get pregnant, lined up along the streets and the course of the run, holding out their hands.  The youths running through the streets and around the walls struck the waiting ladies' hands with thongs made from the skin of the goats sacrificed in the name of Lupercus (because wolves like eating goats and sheep--get it!?!?).  This would then bless the women of Rome with ripe, fertile uteri, ready to be impregnated.  It was also to help ease the pain of childbirth and to make sure healthy babies were born, so it wasn't all just foreplay.

As Christianity took hold in the Empire, the Lupercalia was frowned upon (as were most pagan rituals); it was essentially phased out by the fourth century.  There is no real proof, but given the church's predilection toward placing "major" Christian feasts and holidays around popular pagan rituals, there is a chance that the Saint Valentine story was retconned so that he conveniently died during the middle of the Lupercalia.  Here, instead of celebrating a guy with furry goat legs, let us celebrate a man who may not have existed and who was martyred for performing these Christian weddings.  Killing goats, bad; beheading peaceful men, good.

As someone who grew up in northern climes, we didn't start thinking about such things as planting and such until much later in the year.  February was always pretty harsh--it was cold, snowy, and there was a lot of flu and colds going around.  Maybe, for the folks in the south, Februus and his prepping the land for planting season makes sense, but for those in the frigid north, Febria is more appropriate.

Either way, these days February usually invokes images of cold and snow, which provides a perfect backdrop for today's Latin lesson:

Quoniam figeo, tremo!
Pronounced:  "Kwo-nee-ahm fri-gay-oh, tray-moh!"

Shaky translation in the hovertext

As if on cue, the master prognosticators of the area have told us to be ready for snow over the weekend.   It's not supposed to be much, which means that the mass panic will be somewhere short of riotous stampedes in the street, but with minor bouts of teeth-gnashing and wailing.  Thank God no one has decided to name this "winter storm".  Regardless, stay safe, stay warm, and brew up an extra pot of coffee.  I might drop in for a visit.


Scope said...

I just linked to one of my favorite pictures ever.

And I always say that in Chicago, spring really starts on a different saint's day.