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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The Lupercalia

by Alberta Mildred Franklin

New York, 1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p1  Synopsis of Chapters

I. New knowledge about the religion of the Mediterranean race offers a new basis for a study of the Lupercalia. The characteristic deity of the Mediterranean race was an earth-goddess, incarnate in all natural objects, the giver of life and death, and worshipped by orgiastic rites. The characteristic deity of the Aryans was a sky‑god, who was honored by a calm, rationalistic ceremonial.

II. The ceremonial rites of the Lupercalia were complex and seemingly incoherent. The Romans had vague ideas about the presiding god, but regarded the purpose of the festival as (a) protection from evil, (b) productivity, and (c) purification.

III. The wolf-deity of the Greeks was Pelasgian; he represented the devouring power of the underworld, and was worshipped by rites of expiation.

IV. The wolf-deities of Italy, among them Lupercus, were also dreaded chthonic powers, and had cults of the Mediterranean type. The Lupercalia originated among the Ligurians, and at first consisted of the sacrifice of a goat to Lupercus, a ceremonial tasting of the entrails, an expiatory flight by the priests, and a feast. It was an apotropaic ceremony designed to ward off evil.

V. The goat‑god of the Greeks was a Pelasgian fertility god. His fertilizing power was often appropriated by anthropomorphic gods.

VI. In Italy the goat‑god was also the giver of fertility, and originated among the Ligurians. Juno was closely associated with the goat, and some of her fertility rites were added by the Romans to the Lupercalia: the Luperci girded themselves with goat-skins and, as they ran about the Palatine, struck the women with goat-thongs as a fertility charm. Henceforth the gift of fertility was one of the important purposes of the Lupercalia.

VII. The dog‑cults in Greece were Pelasgian, mainly of Thracian origin; and had especial potency for purification.

VIII. The dog‑cults of the Italians seem to have been borrowed from the Greeks of Southern Italy and Sicily. The Sabines, who adopted many Mediterranean customs, who were familiar with  p2 the purificatory power of the dog, and who exerted a powerful influence over the religion of Rome, probably added the sacrifice of a dog to the Lupercalia. Thus purification came to be an important element of the Lupercalia.

IX. The blood-ceremonial of the Lupercalia finds no parallel in Roman cults, but is similar to certain rites of the Orphics which sought to assure complete union with the deity. It is probable that these Orphic elements were added to the Lupercalia during the war with Hannibal or the years immediately following, when many orgiastic cults of the Greeks were brought into Rome. Thus the Lupercalia was​a spiritualized by new rites of cleansing and by the assurance of kinship with the deity.

X. In its development the Lupercalia reflected the development of the Roman people.

Thayer's Note:

a The Latin word Lupercalia is plural, and the better, more widespread, and traditional usage, both in English and in other modern languages, is to keep it so, all the more so that the feast is properly a feast complex of accreted elements: in Franklin's text, however, the word is consistently singular.

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Page updated: 4 Feb 13