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Valentine’s Day: A watered-down pagan Lupercalia
Romans didn't do festivals half-way.
- Modern Valentine's Day is a far more restrained version of the pagan holiday it replaced.
- During Lupercalia, Romans got naked, drunk, and there was whipping involved.
- Romantic cards? How about simulated penetration?
There's hardly a warmer or fuzzier holiday than Valentine's Day each February 14. It was created in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, or maybe Felix III according to historian T.P. Wiseman. Among those who helped reshape it into a day of romance were Chaucer and Shakespeare, and after Hallmark introduced the first Valentine's cards in 1913 it was on its way to becoming the celebration of hearts and flowers we know today. But it didn't start that way.
When Gelasius — or Felix — marked February 14th as the Feast of St. Valentine, he was absorbing a long-standing Roman, and likely pre-Roman, pagan holiday previously celebrated on February 15: Lupercalia. Forget touchy-feely. Lupercalia was intense. Various sources describe the festivities and their meaning differently, but they all describe a wild festival compared to the rom-com holiday we ended up with.
St. Valentine, uh...
But first of all, St. Valentine. There may or may not have ever been a St. Valentine. Even Gelasius doesn't seem to have known much about him, referring to him as one of those "… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." The story goes that he was a third-century priest who was beheaded by Rome's Christian Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian Roman soldiers get married. That may or many not be true, but it's believed that Claudius had two men named Valentine beheaded in the third century, both of them on February 14th. Somewhere in here was Valentine of Interamna, who may or may not have been the same person as beheaded St. Valentine of Rome. There was also a third Valentine. Maybe.
Center of the action: Lupercal
Lupercal cave was somewhere in Palatine Hill, Rome. Image source: Flickr user Roger W
Lupercalia's "festivities" began in a cave called the Lupercal, which modern archeologists believe they found in 2007 on the north side of Palatine Hill in Rome. It was purported to be the shelter in which the twins of Roman mythology Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf (The Latin word is also slang for "prostitute," by the way, so, hm again.) Fourth-century pagan commentator Servius asserted that the cave was also the location at which the god Mars impregnated the twins' mortal mother, priestess Rhea Silvia.
That couple was said to have founded Rome, and that seems to be when the festival of Lupercalia started. The celebrations were conducted by the Sodales Luperci, a priestly college whose priests were known as Luperci. There were originally by two families, or gentes, within the college descended from the twins, the Quinctilii from Romulus, and the Fabii from Remus. Eventually, Julius Ceasar added the Julii— for "Julius?" — one of whom was Marc Antony.
Lupercalia was a bad day for goats. And puppies!
Relief of a herdsman. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Lupercalia began with sacrifices of two goats and a puppy. Not an adult dog — it had to be a puppy. Why? It may have been a tribute to the she-wolf. However, Plutarch, speculating much later, suggested the tradition might have been handed down from the Greeks, who were apparently very fond of slaughtering adorable young dogs. They did it so often they even had a word for it, periskulakismoi, which is said to mean "purification by puppy."
As for the goats, sacrifice was just for openers. Romans stripped the flesh off of their carcasses and cut the material into furry thongs. (More on them in a moment.) They also spitted their entrails onto sticks to be eaten during the festival.
Also two rich boys
Following the animal sacrifice, Luperci touched the heads of two young male nobles with the blood-coated knives they'd used, after which wool dipped in milk would be rubbed on. Finally, with all that dripping down their faces, ears, and necks, the boys were expected to fake-laugh to conclude the ritual. It may have been about cleansing.
Thongs for the disturbing images
Camassei, circa 1635. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
The goat thongs were called februare. So, yes, these strips of hairy goat flesh are what the second month of the year is named for.
In any event, what happened next is that the Luperci, and perhaps other upper-class men, stripped naked, were oiled and went running through Rome, whipping women with their thongs. (Plutarch suggested their nakedness was for speed.) There was, of course, plenty of alcohol involved for celebrants and spectators.
The intent of the whipping wasn't punitive, and women only pretend to run away from lashes that were believed to enhance their fertility. It may be that the lashes symbolized penetration. After 276 BCE, women were actually encouraged to expose their flesh, too. However, eventually, the men were apparently covering their genitals with loincloths for relative modesty by the time of Christ.
An interesting historical side note. Julius Caesar was offered the throne when Marc Antony placed a wreath on his head as the future emperor watched the Lupercalia festivities. It may be time to rework your mental image of that as being short at least one toga. Antony, as a Juliiian, would have been oiled and stark naked when he approached Caesar with the crown.
And then there’s Lupercus
The wins and the she-wolf, circa 269-266 BC
While the day of Lupercalia involved sharing tales of the Roman Faunus — who bestowed fruitfulness on "field and flocks" — the day was named for Lupercus. According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, Lupercus was an ancient Italian god who was both protector of their sheep from wolves, and a provider of fertility. The Latin root of the name is lupus, or wolf.
Getting it out of your system
Considering that the Romans' new year began in March, it's likely that at least one aspect of Lupercalia was a cleansing of the spirit to start fresh at the new year. The sacrifices and bloody young men seem to fit with this idea, as might the wanton drunkenness and general debauchery of the festival. (There's said to be some overlap between Faunus and Pan.)
Modern Lupercalia, pagan-style
For today's self-proclaimed pagans, Valentine's Day still contains themes from Lupercalia, regardless of the degree to which the wilder aspects have been tamed. Paganhumanismcanada considers it, "A sacred and religious celebration of human sexuality and passion, many of the elements and themes have been retained: valentine's cards [versus februare], red heart shapes, single people going home with partners, married women wanting children, lust, sex, fertility." While there appears to be no universal way to commemorate this day of the wolf, some have devised their own symbolic rituals.
All of which brings us back to Valentine’s Day
Of course, depending on who you ask, Valentine's Day can be every bit as unpleasant as Lupercalia sounds: It's the time of year for an involuntary inventory of one's love life. Singles and those with unhappy connexions can instead celebrate Anti-Valentine's Day. For those whose long-term relationship has settled more into a partnership, it's likely to be met with a household decision to save the candy/flowers/gift money for something more practical.
On the other hand, if for you relationships merit nurturing and romance a refresher, try and put Lupercalia out of mind and seize the day to sweetly make your case, pagan or otherwise.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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