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LUPERCALIA probably the most ancient of the Roman festivals, was held every year on the 15th of February, in honour of a deity who is described as Faunus or Pan by Ovid (Fasti, 2.268 foll.), Inuus by Livy (1.5), Lupercus by Justin (43.1, 7). The later Romans had lost the secret of the god's real name, and their scholars merely made guesses about it, which are represented in the names above given; Faunus being brought in through his supposed connexion with the Palatine hill, Inuus being an obscure deity of the same character as Faunus, and Lupercus probably a mere invention, based on the name of the festival. Remembering the great multiplicity and fluidity of the names of Roman deities, and the tendency to avoid fixing a god's name in ritual, we may hesitate to form a conclusion where the Romans themselves were uncertain. (Liber is suggested by Servius on Aen. 8.343, who also says that others held the divinity in question to be a deus bellicosus.) The general character of the rites suggests an extreme, possibly even a pre-Roman, antiquity; and though their meaning can be in part explained, they do not suggest any particular deity as specially concerned in them.

These rites were as follows:--On the day in question the members of the two colleges of Luperci (see LUPERCI) met at the cave of the Lupercal, under the. Palatine, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf, where (according to Justin, l.c.) there was a temple and an image of the deity girt with a goat-skin--most probably of comparatively late origin. Here they sacrificed goats and young dogs (Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 68; Rom. 21), and at the same time were offered the sacred cakes made by the Vestal Virgins from the first ears of the previous harvest (Serv. Ecl. 8, 82). Then two young men of birth, themselves perhaps members of the Luperci, were brought forward: these had their foreheads smeared with the knife still bloody from the victims, and then wiped with wool dipped in milk, after which they were laugh. They then, or other Luperci, girt themselves with the skins of the slaughtered goats, and feasted luxuriously; after which they ran round the Palatine hill, striking at all the women who came near them with strips of skin cut from the hides of the victims. These strips bore the name of februa, a word applied by the Romans to many kinds of instruments of purification. (For the above details, see Plut. Rom. 21, Caesar 61; Dionys. A. R. 1.79, 80; V. Max. 2.2, 9; Ov. Fasti, 2.267; Juv. Sat. 2.142.)

The immediate object of this striking was believed to be that of rendering the women fertile--and this is confirmed by a considerable number of parallels in classical antiquity (see Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen, 113 foll.)--and at the same time was regarded as a purificatory rite, or as a lustratio of the Palatine city round which they ran (Tac. Ann. 12.24). This is a combination of ideas which is not hard to explain, if we recollect that other processional ceremonies of the Romans (see LUSTRATIO) had the combined objects of purifying, averting evil, and fertilising land, people, or city. Other parts of the festival are, however, extremely difficult to explain. In the smearing of the young men's foreheads with blood, we may see a relic of human sacrifice, which actually occurred in the somewhat similar worship of the Lycaean Zeus in Arcadia; or this may have been a symbolic or quasi-dramatic act, signifying that the young men had died, like the victims, but had gained a new life with the wiping off of the blood--a resuscitation which may have been marked by the rule that they should laugh. at this point in the rite. If this latter explanation were true, the thing symbolised would be: the revival of the powers of fertilisation with the. return of spring (Mannhardt, op. cit. p. 91 foll.).

The girding on of the goatskins may possibly be partially explained by certain similar usages in which the priest wears the skin of the victim, he has slain. By some this is referred to totemworship--the god himself (cf. Justin, l.c.) and his priests wearing the skin of the sacred totem (Lang, Myth Ritual and Religion, 2.177 and 213; Robertson Smith, s. v. Sacrifice, in Encycl. Brit.).

The victim should, in these totem sacrifices, be the animal which represents the deity, and so. far the popular conception of Faunus bears out the view above given, when we see the statue of [p. 2.100]the goat-footed deity clothed in the skin of the sacrificed goat. (Compare the clothing of the ram-faced god Ammon in the skin of a sacrificed ram, Hdt. 2.42.) As to the sacrifice of the dog, it is perhaps simplest to connect this also with the pastoral use of that animal as protector of the flocks, rather than to refer it, as Preller does, to a worship of infernal powers. (He cites the case of Hecate.) While, however, there is much to be said for the probability of these views, they are at best conjectural. Thus much seems at any rate clear, that the rites are those of a primitive pastoral tribe occupying at first the Palatine, and that they were understood to bring fertility and security not merely of flocks, but of the whole people: for the running round the pomoerium is clearly meant to include the whole existing state.

While (probably) the most ancient festival of Rome, it was also the festival which lasted longest. We find it celebrated in the 5th century, apparently with the approbation of the Emperor Anthemius (Gibbon, vol. iv. p. 281), and finally prohibited, A.D. 496, by Pope Gelasius, who is thought by some to have ordered the Christian festival now held on February 2 (originally February 14), in order to make the populace forget the pagan rites of purification connected with that month. The date, however, at which this Christian festival was first instituted is not quite certain. It is worth noticing, as bearing on the significance of the Lupercalia, that in these later times popular superstition valued them as piacular rites which were a safeguard against pestilence. This seems clear from the arguments against them which are used in the letter of Gelasius (see Fleury, Histoire Ecclés. 30.41). In addition to the authors cited in the article, reference may be made to Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.442; Preller, Röm. Mythol. 342 ff.


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.42
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 5
    • Plutarch, Romulus, 21
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.9
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