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The Lupercalia

Spring was thought to begin on February 5, which was the time for the seed to be sown. It was a time, too, for purification and the expiation of any unintentional offense that might have been given to the gods. The month of February takes its name, in fact, from the instruments of purification (februa) used in such rites, the best known of which is the Lupercalia.

On February 15, the Luperci, young men who were naked except for the skins of goats that had been sacrificed this day, ran from the Lupercal around the bounds of the Palatine, both to purify that ancient site in a ceremony of lustration (lustratio) and, striking the women they met with strips of goat skin, to promote fertility. "Neither potent herbs, nor prayers, nor magic spells shall make of thee a mother," writes Ovid, "submit with patience to the blows dealt by a fruitful hand."

The Sabine women seized by Romulus were barren, as well, says the poet, until struck by the februa. At the foot of the Palatine hill, the Lupercal traditionally was thought to be the cave where Romulus and Remus had been suckled by the she-wolf. The twins, born of Mars and the Vestal daughter of the king, eventually restored their grandfather to the throne and, at the site where they had been left to die, founded Rome.

It was at the Lupercalia in 44 BC that Mark Antony, who as one of the Luperci, ran up to Caesar as he watched from the Rostra and offered him a laurel wreath as a token of kingship, a gesture that some in the crowd applauded. But, when it ostensibly was rejected, there was a roar of approval, which demonstrated to Caesar that his being crowned did not have the support of the people. His statues, too, had been decorated with diadems, which the tribunes, as defenders of the plebs, removed to the loud applause of the people, who called them "Brutuses" because it was Brutus who had deposed the kings of ancient Rome and given power to the senate and people. Caesar, angry at the insult, berated the men and deprived them of their tribuneship.

Exactly one month later, he was assassinated

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