Love, or something like it

Valentine from Christa, 1969
Valentine, 1969

Ah, Saint Valentine’s Day! Do you suppose that Hallmark sends a card to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where the skull of this venerable Catholic matryr rests in a golden television set? Well, one of the several Saints Valentine, anyway, as it seems it was a common name when years only had three digits.

Of course there’s no evidence at all that any of the Valentines had anything in particular to do with love. One of them was a priest, one allegedly beheaded for secretly marrying Christian couples during the persecution of Claudius Gothicus, but love and marriage had little connection in the first centuries of the Common Era. (Arguably they have little to do with each other today, but that an entirely other discussion.) Oddly enough the linking of Saint Valentine with romance seems to be an invention of Geoffrey Chaucer — yes, Chaucer of The Canterbury Tales — although there is no record of his having illuminated a trite mash note with a depiction of a human heart.

And although it’s a popular theory in some circles, there’s no smoking gun connecting the establishment of Saint Valentine’s Day in mid-February with the pre-existing celebration of Lupercalia, the festival honoring the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. I do, however, know a few people who would prefer trading in boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses for drunkenly running about clad in nothing but a goatskin. On reflection, though, the part about striking women they meet to ensure pregnancy might not survive the initial negotiations.

Now, of course, there’s no longer a headless saint involved, nor even a symbolic man-wolf. In these more civilized days we pray at the same altar as we do all other holidays: Mammon. Two hundred million valentines will change hands this year in the US, and almost as many roses will be delivered, never mind the nearly sixty million pounds of chocolate. And of course nothing says “I love you” like a relatively common crystal with artificially managed scarcity, so Americans will be spending an estimated $3.5 billion dollars on jewelry to try to get that special someone to do that special something you’ve always wanted to try but whenever you ask they get this horrified look and you wonder if you still have the receipt for the goatskin so you…

I’m sorry. Where was I?

Anyway, if this is a holiday you celebrate, I hope you enjoy it. Should it be a holiday you loathe and despise, may it pass uneventfully, and quickly become that sacred celebration, “Half-Price Candy Day.”


Valentine from Christa, 1969 (reverse)
Valentine from Christa, 1969 (reverse)

Should you be so inclined, an entire neighborhood of Hidden City is devoted to True Romance. If you are new here I recommend starting with these three:

  • Christa: “She was clearly smarter than me. It was love at first report card.”
  • Prom Night: “Formal wear, white linen tablecloths, the Beautiful People — these are not things for which my Kentucky upbringing had prepared me.”
  • All Good Things: “I guess the detail which surprised me the most was the genuine compassion in the judge’s voice.”

3 thoughts on “Love, or something like it”

  1. Chaucer got all that courtly love business from the troubadors who in turn got it from the Arabs. I’m trying to rack my brain which Canterbury Tale mentioned Valentine — geez I only wrote a master’s thesis on Troilus and Criseyde and the evolution of romantic love. Do you know which one it was, Kevin?

  2. It wasn’t in the Tales, Maria, but rather in “Parlement of Foules.” In the context, I’m sorry to report that “Foules” means “Birds,” because “Parliament of Fools” would be a much funnier (and possibly more appropriate) translation.

    And a Happy V Day to you, too.

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