In the Christian feast of Saint Valentine on February 14, and in its popular form with the giving of cards and gifts to one’s beloved, we hear the ancient echo of ideas on affection, love and marriage. In a myth from Mesopotamia we have the earliest account of marriage as a sacred act. Philosophers speculate on the origins of the passion women and men have for each other. Images of rituals, etched on stone monuments and recorded texts, remind us of the seminal place affection, love and marriage have in the culture and heart of human beings and, for that reason, in the heart of culture.
In the Christian feast of Saint Valentine on February 14, and in its popular form with the giving of cards and gifts to one’s beloved, we hear the ancient echo of ideas on affection, love and marriage. In a myth from Mesopotamia we have the earliest account of marriage as a sacred act. Philosophers speculate on the origins of the passion women and men have for each other. Images of rituals, etched on stone monuments and recorded texts, remind us of the seminal place affection, love and marriage have in the culture and heart of human beings and, for that reason, in the heart of culture.

© 2004, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Tenderly, he caresses her, murmuring words of love:
“ O my Holy Jewel! O my wondrous Inanna!”
(Hymns to Inanna, Queen of Heaven [No. 7])

In a 6,000-year-old record there is an account of marriage between the Mesopotamian great goddess Inanna, patron of love, birth and war, and Dumuzi, the god associated with new life and growth on earth. It is in such stories in ancient Sumer, and various other cultures, that we first encounter the reflections of human beings on the sacred dimensions of love and the gift of new life that may flow from the love of a couple. Such couples were depicted surrounded with images of flowers and perfume. These stories and depictions recognized the earth’s life-bearing energy.
Tenderly, he caresses her, murmuring words of love:
“ O my Holy Jewel! O my wondrous Inanna!”
(Hymns to Inanna, Queen of Heaven [No. 7])

In a 6,000-year-old record there is an account of marriage between the Mesopotamian great goddess Inanna, patron of love, birth and war, and Dumuzi, the god associated with new life and growth on earth. It is in such stories in ancient Sumer, and various other cultures, that we first encounter the reflections of human beings on the sacred dimensions of love and the gift of new life that may flow from the love of a couple. Such couples were depicted surrounded with images of flowers and perfume. These stories and depictions recognized the earth’s life-bearing energy.

© 2004, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Affectionate Couple

Affectionate Couple

This mass-produced plaque may have had magical or religious significance. It was recovered in Ur, southern Iraq, by Leonard Woolley.

The British Museum
c. 1900-1600 B.C.E
Terracotta
10.5 x 6.2 cm
ANE 116812.
© The British Museum


“Eros is man's conversion from the sensible to the super-sensible; it is the upward movement of the soul; it is a real force, driving the soul upwards to seek the world of forms.”
(Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, New York: Macmillan, 1937, I:127)

In the ancient Greek pantheon of deities, Eros (Cupid) is the son of Penia (need) and Poros (initiative). Poros is imbued with the virtues of beauty, goodness and courage, but also with impetuousness and cunning. Their union results in Eros, the rash god of love who lies midway between morality and immorality, the carnal and the spiritual, wisdom and ignorance, mortality and divinity. Eros provided the ancient Greeks with a way of speaking about the human experience of division and longing, the desire that propels men and women alike to seek love and love's gifts: wisdom and beauty.
“Eros is man's conversion from the sensible to the super-sensible; it is the upward movement of the soul; it is a real force, driving the soul upwards to seek the world of forms.”
(Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, New York: Macmillan, 1937, I:127)

In the ancient Greek pantheon of deities, Eros (Cupid) is the son of Penia (need) and Poros (initiative). Poros is imbued with the virtues of beauty, goodness and courage, but also with impetuousness and cunning. Their union results in Eros, the rash god of love who lies midway between morality and immorality, the carnal and the spiritual, wisdom and ignorance, mortality and divinity. Eros provided the ancient Greeks with a way of speaking about the human experience of division and longing, the desire that propels men and women alike to seek love and love's gifts: wisdom and beauty.

© 2004, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Amor Carving His Bow

Amor Carving His Bow

Depicted as a man, adolescent, or child, the cute, beautiful, heavenly, mischievous, dangerous, vengeful Cupid is the embodiment of the inherent struggles and joys of love.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie

Oil on limewood
135 x 65,3 cm
613, Inv. 275.
© Erich Lessing


“They attained to know…the time that was at hand, in which no longer should the bullock of the herd be a sacrifice to God, nor the ram of the flock, nor the he-goat, but all these things should be fulfilled in a purely spiritual manner.”
(Athanasius, Festal Letters 19.3-4)

Pope Gelasius I (492–496) opposed the rituals of Lupercalia. Saint Valentine’s Day, February 14, was thus elevated as a feast day for young lovers. Fertility rituals of purification, ordeal, sexual extravagance and sacrifice central to Lupercalia were challenged by the emerging ideas of Christian love under the patronage of a priest and martyr who had lived a short distance from the Palatine hill in Rome and met his death defending the right of lovers to marry. Lupercalia slowly became a feast for Saint Valentine, commemorating the gift of love beyond fertility.
“They attained to know…the time that was at hand, in which no longer should the bullock of the herd be a sacrifice to God, nor the ram of the flock, nor the he-goat, but all these things should be fulfilled in a purely spiritual manner.”
(Athanasius, Festal Letters 19.3-4)

Pope Gelasius I (492–496) opposed the rituals of Lupercalia. Saint Valentine’s Day, February 14, was thus elevated as a feast day for young lovers. Fertility rituals of purification, ordeal, sexual extravagance and sacrifice central to Lupercalia were challenged by the emerging ideas of Christian love under the patronage of a priest and martyr who had lived a short distance from the Palatine hill in Rome and met his death defending the right of lovers to marry. Lupercalia slowly became a feast for Saint Valentine, commemorating the gift of love beyond fertility.

© 2004, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Capitoline She-wolf

Capitoline She-wolf

Brothers Romulus and Remus, being suckled by the wolf, were the legendary founders of Rome. They took part in the first Roman celebration of the Lupercalia, circa 753 B.C.E.

Corey Chimko
Musei Capitolini, Archivio Fotografico dei Musei Capitolini
c. 5th century B.C.E.
Bronze
75 cm
MC1181
© Musées Capitolins


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
• Explain the history and premise of St. Valentine as it originated in ancient Rome
• Demonstrate an understanding of the history of courtship and marriage
• Communicate the connections between contemporary Christian holidays and pagan feasts.
• Describe how historically the notion of romance was broader than physical attraction and reached higher meanings such as courtly love in Medieval times and passionate and divine love in Biblical themes

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