February Fertility Festivals (Ancient Athens and Rome)

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February has been associated with love, romance and fertility since ancient times. February festivals in ancient Roman and Greek periods.

The association of mid-February with love and fertility goes back to antiquity. While the ancient Athenians celebrated it as the month of Gamelion to celebrate the marriage of the Greek gods, Zeus and Hera, the ancient Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia to honor the Roman gods of fertility: Lupercus and Faunus.

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Origins of Valentine's Day : Lupercalia (History & Priesthoods)

Wolf head, 1-100 CE, bronze, Roman, Cleveland Museum of Art (Source : wikipedia.org)

February celebrations in ancient Athens

Ancient Athens celebrated the period between mid-January and mid-February as the month of Gamelion. They dedicated the month of the festival to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. In Greek mythology, Zeus was the supreme ruler of the ancient Greek gods, while Hera was the goddess of women, marriage and childbirth.

February celebrations in ancient Rome

The ancient Romans celebrated the Ides of February as the festival of Lupercalia to ensure fertility and avoid evil. The Feast of Lupercalia was dedicated to the Roman Gods of Agriculture, Lupercus and Faunus along with Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. A precursor to this festival was held on February 14. The day was observed as a feast in honor of Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses and also considered as the Goddess of Women and Marriage.

During the Febus Fertility Festival of Lupercus, members of Lupercali an order of Roman priests would gather in a sacred cave where it is said that Romulus and Remus were nourished by the wolf or magnifying glass. To mark the beginning of the festival, the priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Young children used to cut the goats into strips and immerse them in sacrificial blood. Later, boys dressed in animal skins would run through the streets of Rome holding bits of goat skin over their heads and gently slapping women and fields with the skin of animals. The women welcomed the slap, as they believed that contact with the goat skin would make them fruitful and facilitate labor. Because young people imitated goats (the incarnation of sexuality), it was believed that the ceremony was in honor of Fanus.

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Another of the unique customs of Feast of Lupercalia was the marriage of boys and girls who would otherwise live a strictly separate life. During the night, all the young marriageable girls used to put a token of their name in a large urn. Each young man used to take the name of a girl from the urn and was paired with that girl for the rest of the year. Very often, the matched couple would fall in love and get married.

Origins of Valentine's Day : Lupercalia (History & Priesthoods)

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility (Source : wikipedia.org)

Later, when Christianity spread through Rome, the custom of finding a partner through the lottery was considered non-Christian and outlawed. People felt that comrades should be chosen by sight and not by chance. Around the year 498 AD, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day in honor of Saint Valentine of Rome, the patron saint of love and lovers. Even today, lovers from all over the world celebrate the Valentine’s Day festival with joy and brio.

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