Poor February

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

February was the end of the Roman year and the name of the month comes from the Lupercalia bacchanal before a statue of Pan, Poussinlatin februa.*  The ides of a Roman month, either the 13th or the 15th were sacred to Jupiter.  On the ides of the last month of the year Roman tradition involved ceremonies and rituals related to cleansing and purification. (see definitional material below)  Presumably this allowed them to enter the new year in March clean of impurities from the old year.

Lupercalia, a celebration which has convoluted possible relations with Valentine’s Day, came to be dominant in Roman times during the ides.  Certain ancients related this celebration to the Lykaen region of Greece where King Lycaon affronted Zeus and brought about his transformation into a wolf.  Lycaos, the mountain after which the region got its name, was sacred to Pan.

Thus, Lupercalia was thought by early Romans to be a wolf festival, partly for Pan and triumph of Pan, Poussinthe wolf-like nature of the Lykaen kingdom, but also, and later more often, association with the she-wolf who suckled the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.  Her cave was near the Palantine Hill and has recently, 2007, been provisionally located.  It was called the Lupercal and was, like Lycaos, sacred to Pan.

The Lupercalia festivities were held near the cave.

February was the shortest month and had an even number of days because, according to Roman belief, odd numbers had favor with the gods.  (Vergil:  God rejoices in the odd number.”  Until the 19th century the Germans called the month Hornung, or ‘the bastard gotten in the corner.’  The Scots Gaeli name, an Gerran, means the gelding.  Poor February.  It also had, in Europe at least, the reputation of having the worst weather of the year.

Much of the above information gleaned from The Oxford Companion to the Year, a 1999 imprint of Oxford University Press.

N.B.  Both of the Poussin paintings here:  Bacchanal Before a Statue of Pan (above) and The Triumph of Pan (below) have been associated with Lupercalia.


*from Lewis and Short via Perseus:

februa , ōrum, n., the Roman festival of purification and expiationcelebrated on the 15th of the month hence called February (v. Februarius); whence, Februālis , Febrūlis , and Februāta ,surnames of Junowho was worshipped at this festival; Februātus , the festival itself; and Februus , a surname of Lupercuswho presided over this festival

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