Wednesday, 13 February 2013

"You all did see that on the Lupercal" - The Roman festival of Lupercalia on 13 February


"The exile Evander came from Arcadia to Latin fields, and ferried his gods here. Where Rome is now, the world’s head, were trees and grassland, a few cattle, an occasional hut . . . He taught the tribes man sacred rites, but firstly those of horned Faunus and the wing-foot god. The Luperci in loincloths serve you, half-goat Faunus, when their hide-strips purify the packed streets." (Ovid, "Fasti")




13 February: Today marks the beginning of the Roman festival of Lupercalia , pre-dating Rome's foundation, an ancient fertility and purification rite. The name has its origins in the god Lupercus, probably an aspect of Faunus / Pan, who stood guard over the cave where the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus.

On the Ides of February, i.e. February 13th, his priests sacrificed two goats and a dog, the victims were skinned and two young nobles were dressed up in the goats' hide, equipped with thongs called februa cut  from the skins and sprinkled with blood. The lads than ran around the Palatine, nudus, unctus, ebrius, "naked, oiled, drunk" as Cicero remarks upon Marc Antony the night he offered Julius Caesaer the crown of Rome - but coup d'etats taken aside, the role was, as Shakespeare mentions: "for our elders say, /The barren touched in this holy chase, / Shake off their sterile curse."

The festivals were held for two days each year until finally abolished in the 490s CE when Rome had been Christian already for more than 150 years.