An Ovidian Armitage Elegy

Ovid was an Roman poet par excellence.  Like most people, I first encountered him vis a vis his mythologically themed poem Metamorphoses, a tour through the various and sundry mythological stories of metamorphosis…Daphne, Narcissus, Tithonus et al.  Imagine my surprise when in an advanced class (they save all the good stuff for the advanced classes!)  I found that Ovid was also a very, VERY naughty poet of Latin love elegies.  Unlike Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius and a sole female poet, Sulpicia, whose verses often lean to the love lament, Ovid’s have a tendency to lean to the more sultry side of love elegy (sometimes falling right into raunchy! Let the reader beware of what lies beneath the line of hearts!!)  


In that vein, as a Valentine’s celebRAtion of the lurve and attraction along with the lust and longing inspired by a certain someone, I’ve taken the liberty of a slight reiteration from Ovid’s Amores Book I, Elegy V….

 When he stood before my eyes,

the clothing set aside,

there was never a flaw in all his body.


What shoulders, what arms, I saw and touched!

Chest formed as if it made for pressing!

How taut the belly beneath the slender waist!

What flanks, what form! What strapping thighs….

*Ahem*  I think I will leave it right there (if you’d like to see how it ends, you can find Ovid’s original here)

Happy Valentine’s Day Armitageworld

I’m back baby!!

One of these things is not like the others Richard Armitage…

When I finally got around to downloading the Audible app onto my new phone this morning, it occurred to me that I may well have been the only person in Armitageworld who hadn’t heard Richard Armitage reading Classic Love Poems, just in time for Valentine’s Day.  I listened to the recording on my morning commute.  Romance, passion, lust, obsession.  The stuff love poetry is made of.

Then came a splash of cold water. I Corinthians 13: 4-8.  I have heard this verse trotted out at dozens of Christian weddings over the years and it never fails to leave me a bit chilly.  I find it kind of odd here in that it really is not poetry in any way – nor is it particularly romantic…or passionate.  I suppose the issue I’m struggling with is the context.  I Corinthians is St. Paul’s (Saul of Tarsus as was) first letter to the nascent Christian church at Corinth, Greece, and it is decidedly didactic in tone.  In the previous twelve books, Paul provides detailed instruction as to how the church at Corinth, a tiny Christian island in a sea of polytheistic pagans, should go about their Christian business.  For instance…in a preceding chapter that made me bristle during Sunday service a few weeks ago, Paul instructs on what to do about “idol meat”

corinthians idol meat

And so on and so on.  It’s all pretty unromantic if you ask me.

Now, for romantic biblical LOVE poetry, one needs to look no further than the Song of Solomon.  Flocks of goat and sheep similes aside, the Song of Songs (as the book is also known) is full of all the passion and romance that is typical of the most swoonworthy love poetry…just take a look at the opening verse:

song of solomon

Biblical love poetry is some pretty potent stuff, but I also have a favorite non biblical ancient verse that seems to suit my current mood…

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

…Catullus – Carmen 85

Ah, the ebb and flow of love.  For better or worse, it definitely keeps me on my toes!  🙂

Hearts, flowers, candy and blood sacrifice? Happy Valentine’s Day Armitageworld!


People seem to be very interested in sleuthing out the ancient origins of modern customs, and Valentine’s Day is no different.  I had a general idea of what I’d find when I started looking more closely…and as it turns out, the origins of the romantic-y lovey dovey side of Valentine’s Day are rather murky.  The holiday itself is a Christian feast day in honor of St. Valentine (or Saints Valentine…there seem to have been several martyred by the still pagan Romans), but how it came to be a festival of love and lovers and it’s possible connection to any ancient pagan rite is much less clear.

It is not uncommon to find Christian festival days coinciding with  ancient ones…in fact, I came across entries from several rather irate atheists who are really put out that the Christian church has routinely glommed on to pagan festival days for it’s own nefarious purpose of shoving Christianity down the throats of perfectly happy pagans.  That is just a bit of an overstatement.  It is true that many later Christian holidays coincide with ancient pagan festivals, and sometimes this is deliberate.  Christmas, for instance, was a relative late comer to the holiday schedule.  By the time it was decided to celebrate an official birth holiday, any records of the actual date of Christ’s birth had long disappeared, so a decision was made to overlay the new Christian holiday with the existing Roman festivals associated with the winter solstice – sacred to virtually every culture.  It worked well for a number of purposes…religious syncretism being only one.  Truthfully, the Christian Church would have been left precious few days to choose from if it had been required to avoid all Roman festival days…the Roman Religious Calendar was packed!

Now, back to Valentine’s Day…the closest Roman festival day, which is often linked as an ancient origin, is Lupercalia.  This linkage is pretty flimsy.  Lupercalia was one of the oldest Roman religious festivals and was connected to their remote origins as shepherds.  By the first century BC, even the Romans had either forgotten, or taken great pains to protect the identity of the actual deity and the meanings of many of the rituals.  Without getting too complicated,  Lupercalia was clearly associated with purification and fertility.  Every year on February 15, the Romans celebrated the Lupercalia which included the ritual sacrifice of young goats and young dogs by two young men of noble birth (evidently, all notably sex driven creatures).  They then cut the skins of the sacrificed goats into pieces, using some of it to cover parts of their bodies.  The rest of the skins were cut into strips.  The two young men then ran through the streets of Rome striking people, especially women, with the strips of skin.  Women would actually line up along the streets to get closer since being struck with the goat skin was believed to enhance fertility and ensure them an easy delivery.   Rather a far cry from conversation hearts and assorted chocolates, but, depending on who’s wielding the skins, I might be persuaded to reevaluate my traditional Valentine’s Day celebration….

Queue up ladies...

Queue up everyone…

Felicia Lupercalia Armitageworld!!