Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Lupercalia Ancient Festival

Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral annual festival, observed in the city of Rome on February 15, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia was also called "dies Februatus", purified (literally "februated day") after the instruments of purification called "februa", which give the month of February (Februarius) its name.

Sacrifice

At the Lupercal altar, a male goat (or goats) and a dog were sacrificed by one or another of the Luperci, under the supervision of the Flamen dialis, Jupiter's chief priest. An offering was also made of salted mealcakes, prepared by the Vestal Virgins. After the blood sacrifice, two Luperci approached the altar. Their foreheads were anointed with blood from the sacrificial knife, then wiped clean with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and/or laugh.
The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs (known as februa) from the flayed skin of the victim, and ran with these, naked or near-naked, along the old Palatine boundary, in an anticlockwise direction around the hill. In Plutarch's description of the Lupercalia, written during the early Empire,
...many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also 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 Luperci completed their circuit of the Palatine, then returned to the Lupercal cave.

Locations
The rites were confined to the Lupercal cave, the Palatine Hill, and the Forum, all of which were central locations in Rome's foundation myth Near the cave stood a sanctuary of Rumina, goddess of breastfeeding; and the wild fig-tree (Ficus Ruminalis) to which Romulus and Remus were brought by the divine intervention of the river-god Tiberinus; some Roman sources name the wild fig tree caprificus, literally "goat fig". Like the cultivated fig, its fruit is pendulous, and the tree exudes a milky sap if cut, which makes it a good candidate for a cult of breastfeeding.

Priesthoods

The Lupercalia had its own priesthood, the Luperci ("brothers of the wolf"), whose institution and rites were attributed either to the Arcadian culture-hero Evander, or to Romulus and Remus, erstwhile shepherds who had each established a group of followers. The Luperci were young men (iuvenes), usually between the ages of 20 and 40. They formed two religious collegia (associations) based on ancestry; the Quinctiliani (named after gens Quinctia) and the Fabiani (named after gens Fabia). Each college was headed by a magister. In 44 BC, a third college, the Juliani, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar; its first magister was Mark Antony. The college of Juliiani disbanded or lapsed during Caesar's civil wars, and was not re-established in the reforms of his successor, Augustus. In the Imperial era, membership of the two traditional collegia was opened to iuvenes of equestrianstatus.

History
The Februa was ancient and possibly Sabine. After the month of February was added to the Roman calendar, Februa occurred on its fifteenth day (a.d. XV Kal. Mart.). Of its various rituals, the most important came to be those of the Lupercalia. The Romans themselves attributed the instigation of the Lupercalia to Evander, a culture hero from Arcadia who was credited with bringing the Olympic pantheon, Greek laws and alphabet to Italy, where he founded the city of Pallantium on the future site of Rome, 60 years before the Trojan War.
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