Love And Brutality: A History of February 14th

It is said that love conquers all. Well this Valentines Day, for better or worse, it has yet to conquer me. However, aside from my heroic, tragic, or somewhere in-between state of singularity this February, today, the 14th, is one in which millions across the world will rejoice in their affection for one another by raiding chocolate vendors, wine cellars, flower stores, and lingerie shops for tokens with which to express their love. Interestingly enough, each of the above items are often just as, if not, more so associated with depression than affection. I am not sure about Mr. and Mrs. reader out there, but I certainly stress eat chocolate more than I sensually feed it to my lover, the only reason I might buy lingerie would be to spice up what has not been working horizontally in my relationships, I send flowers to funerals, and guzzle wine that I might tolerate these funerals. This said, perhaps that is the point of Valentines Day: a last ditch effort for struggling couples around the world to try and make their lives work. Just kidding. Sort of. Anyway, all you couples out there enjoy each other today, and If you happen to be single like me I congratulate you for staying strong. Furthermore, I bid all you bachelors and bachelorettes to grab your romantic comedies, break out the Hagen Dazs and wine (or whiskey if that’s your thing), and mentally prepare for a marathon of wishful thinking. Ladies and gentlemen, the history of Valentines Day…

The story of this great holiday begins, rather ironically, with the brutal whipping of women by their lovers. I am speaking of the ancient feast of Lupercalia celebrated by the Romans (it also possibly pre-dated them). During this festival, which took place from February 13th through the 15th, the men who partook would sacrifice a goat to symbolize fertility and a dog to symbolize purification. Following this sacrifice, the men would make strips out of the animals hides, dip these strips in blood, and proceed in the most logical fashion: by whipping women with them. In fairness, the women actually welcomed this flogging and formed lines to receive lashes as it was said to increase their fertility and decrease the pain of childbirth. Furthermore, the logic behind this practice is consistent with most others in the ancient world where endurance of pain was thought to make one better in many facets of existence. Not to mention, the pain felt by these women was probably forgotten in short order because the rest of the festival of Lupercalia was spent lovemaking with the man who chose you as his match for the day and possibly the rest of his life.

The second great development in the history of this most romantic of days, and the first roots of the holiday as we know it in the 21st century, once again begin with brutality. The name Valentines Day itself is derived from the Christian Saint Valentine. There actually exists three saints by the name Valentine (or Valentinus), but thankfully, they were all barbarically killed so history need not choose just one to use as the poster child for this grand holiday. Two of these men were killed by the Roman emperor Claudius II on February 14th of different years. The martyrdom of these men has spawned countless legends – all of which have been tailored to include romance – and these legends ultimately resulted in Pope Gelasius naming the 14th St. Valentines Day in the 5th century A.D.

Though people used the day as a celebratory occasion for centuries before, it was not until the middle ages that valentines greetings, as we know and love them today, began. The earliest recored valentines come from French and English nobility who sent their affections while they were off battling each other in the Hundred Years War in the 15th century. This practice gradually gained popularity through the years, and with the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare who romanticized the holiday, the gushy, modern gift-givings and cringe-worthy public displays of affection were born. The maturation of the practice finally came in 1913 when Hallmark began mass production of valentine greetings and re-branded the holiday as yet another day of over-indulgent consumerism.

So there you have it. Valentines Day. Hopefully you know a bit more about the holiday now than you did five minutes ago, and if not, it does not really affect me so I do not really care. Couples, I hope you enjoy a day of sensuality and romance Shakespeare style, and single folks, let us snicker at these aforementioned couples with the knowledge that they are simply giving us more room to play the field.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

A Not-So-Well Respected Man

 Side note: Cupid is the Roman god of love, but that is just about the only actual historical tie he boasts to Valentines Day. Sheath those arrows buddy, you’re totally a poser…

To learn more about Claudius II, a man who is largely remembered for most likely killing his mentor who also just so happened to be the emperor of Rome, check out this link:

To learn more about traditional St. Valentine legends, check out this link:

To woo your significant other with poetry from the master poet himself, memorize some of these Shakespeare quotes:

To learn more about the Roman festival of Lupercalia, check out this link:


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