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She-Wolves, Lupercalia, and Prostitutes


History of Lupercalia

Lupercalia conventionally starts with the founding of Rome (traditionally, 753 B.C.), but may be a more ancient import, coming from Greek Arcadia and honoring Lycaean Pan, the Roman Inuus or Faunus. [Lycaean is a word connected with the Greek for 'wolf' as seen in the term lycanthropy for 'werewolf'.]

Agnes Kirsopp Michaels [see the sources at the end of this article] says Lupercalia only goes back to the 5th century B.C. Tradition has the legendary twin brothers Romulus and Remus establishing the Lupercalia with 2 gentes, one for each brother. Each gens contributed members to the priestly college that performed the ceremonies, with Jupiter's priest, the flamen dialis, in charge, from at least the time of Augustus. The priestly college was called the Sodales Luperci and the priests were known as Luperci. The original 2 gentes were the Fabii, on behalf of Remus, and the Quinctilii, for Romulus. Anecdotally, the Fabii were almost annihilated, in 479. at Cremera (Veientine Wars) and the most famous member of the Quinctilii has the distinction of being the Roman leader at the disastrous battle at Teutoberg Forest (Varus and the Disaster at Teutoberg Wald). Later, Julius Caesar made a short-lived addition to the gentes who could serve as Luperci, the Julii. When Mark Antony ran as a Luperci in 44 B.C., it was the first time the Luperci Juliani had appeared at the Lupercalia and Antony was their leader. By September of the same year, Antony was complaining that the new group had been disbanded [J. A. North and Neil McLynn]. Although originally the Luperci had to be aristocrats, the Sodales Luperci came to include equestrians, and then, the lower classes.

Etymologically, Luperci, Lupercalia, and Lupercal all relate to the Latin for 'wolf' lupus, as do various Latin words connected with brothels. The Latin for she-wolf was slang for prostitute. The legends say that Romulus and Remus were nursed by a she-wolf in the Lupercal. Servius, a 4th century pagan commentator on Vergil, says that it was in the Lupercal that Mars ravished and impregnated the twins' mother. (Servius ad. Aen. 1.273)

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