Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day


What does Valentine’s Day have to do with the Romans? Not much really, though they did have their own fertility festival around the same time of the year (on the 15th of February). It sounds much more fun than our modern celebrations; here’s how Plutarch describes it:

At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with strips of goat hide. And many women purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The festival was called the Lupercalia (from the Latin word lupus, wolf), and the ritual may also be connected with the legendary wolf that raised Romulus and Remus.

In any case, in honour of St Valentine (whoever he may or may not have been), here’s part of a poem from Ovid, describing his own experience of love:

esse quid hoc dicam, quod tam mihi dura videntur
strata, neque in lecto pallia nostra sedent,
et vacuus somno noctem, quam longa, peregi,
lassaque versati corporis ossa dolent?

nam, puto, sentirem, siquo temptarer Amore.
an subit et tecta callidus arte nocet?
sic erit; haeserunt tenues in corde sagittae,
et possessa ferus pectora versat Amor.

cedimus, an subitum luctando accendimus ignem?
cedamus! leve fit, quod bene fertur, onus.
vidi ego iactatas mota face crescere flammas
et rursus nullo concutiente mori.

[Ovid, Amores I.2]

What is happening to me? My bed seems so hard, my blankets don’t sit straight on my bed,
and no matter how long I try, I spend my night empty of sleep, and my tired bones and my body ache from tossing and turning?

Surely I would have felt it, if I were the victim of some attack of Love- or has he snuck up on me, and done his damage by secret trickery?
That must be it. His invisible arrows have fixed in my heart, and cruel Love torments the heart he has captured.

Do I give in, or do I feed this unexpected flame by struggling? Let me give in: a burden readily borne becomes light.
I have seen flames blaze up, fanned by shaking a torch, and I have seen them die when left alone.

[But is Ovid really in love? He’s caught the fever, but doesn’t realise at first, doesn’t actually ever mention a girl. He asks whether he should give in to love, but the eagerness of his acquiescence makes us suspicious of his sincerity. The love he describes also fits all the clichés (a fever, a fire, a struggle, torture) a bit too neatly. He seems rather to be in love with the idea of Love, or even with the idea of being a Love poet.]

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Happy Valentines Day mr morrison!

Sarah S said...

I really liked that poem! It's so good! By the way, I just came to your blog to get the link to William Whitaker, so that I can do my homework.

Sarah S said...

I came for the William Whitaker link again, but it doesn't work! William Whitaker is died! I was going to actually do my homework. And now I don't think I can. Sorry Mr Morrison! I will try to do the grammar questions though, and tomorrow I will not talk to Julia as much as usual.

jm said...

sarah, 11:01 is not a good time to start your homework. william whitaker can be a bit unreliable, if it's down you can try one of these.

Mathea said...

"william whitaker can be a bit unreliable" - no, but, but, but I love william whitaker... Any particular online/computer dictionary the most accurate or the best one to use?

Thank you!

jm said...

whitaker is the best one to use- it's the site that's unreliable. of the two other dictionaries linked above the perseus one is excellent but slow, the other one looks quick and easy- but it won't give you the level of detail of the other two.