Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Valentine's Origin Myth

By Lisabet Sarai


To kick off the topic for this week (which is, of course, Valentine’s Day), I thought that I’d discuss the history of this beloved holiday. When I did some research, however, I discovered a great deal of confusion. In fact, the history of Valentine’s Day is one big muddle.

First, there was not one, but three Saint Valentines, all martyrs during the first few centuries after Christ, when Rome was working to suppress the subversive new religion. Second, there appears to be no relationship whatsoever between any of these saintly figures (who were celibate priests) and the topics of romantic love or sex. Yet by Chaucer’s time, such an association existed, at least tentatively, and the notion was well-established by Shakespeare’s period, as indicated by an extended passage from Hamlet:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

The holiday was commercialized in the mid-nineteenth century, when the sending of cards, flowers and gifts became popular. I’m more curious, though, about the original inspiration. How did Saint Valentine become the patron of lovers? There must be something missing from the historical record. Given the lack of any clues, I decided to offer my own Valentine’s origin myth based (extremely loosely) on what we do know about the mysterious martyr.

The Origin of Valentine’s Day (according to Lisabet Sarai!)

The priest Valentinus lay on the straw pallet in his cell. Final rays from the setting sun pierced the slits in the stone walls and made gold streaks on the floor. Valentinus sighed at the thought that this would be the last he would see of the glorious orb. Soon, though, I’ll will be with Christ, in the heart of glory, he reminded himself. Still, his heart was as heavy as the granite enclosing him.

Claudius had just left in a fit of pique, after failing again to make him recant. Despite the emperor’s epithet, “The Cruel”, Valentinus understood that the august ruler respected him, and did not want him to lose his head. It was all political for Claudius; he hadn’t a spiritual bone in his body. The new religion offered too much of a challenge to the state to be tolerated. If the priest would renounce his faith and publicly bow to Jupiter, Claudius would free him in an instant, an example to the self-righteous ramble who followed the new prophet.

Valentinus was a different sort of man. He believed in divine love and ultimate resurrection. His faith had kept him strong and pure for more than fifteen years, since the trip to Ephesus when he had first encountered the True Church. For his faith, he would lose his life. But he would save his soul.

Dusk deepened to full night. The pitch torch smoked and sputtered. Valentinus prayed, there on his back. He knew that his Lord did not require the discomfort of bony knees on a hard floor.

The iron door squealed. Valentine sat up. It was too early for his last supper. A slight feminine figure swathed in white linen slipped into the cell and pushed the recalcitrant door shut behind her. She approached the pallet and removed her outer wrap.

Golden curls tumbled down over her shoulders, brilliant as the vanished sun. A chaplet of myrtle bound her brow. Youth shone in her eyes, but the body he glimpsed under her finely-woven robe was the ripe form of a woman. Ancient desire stirred in him. He suppressed it with the ease of long practice.

“Who are you, lady? Why have you come to disturb my final meditations?”

“Lord Valentinus, I am Lydia, priestess of Juno. The Holy Mother is affronted by your stubborn refusal to pay her homage. Tonight is the festival of Lupercalia. Tonight, maids and youths throughout Rome will be celebrating the marriage of Juno and Jupiter, the rulers of heaven. Yet you languish here, refusing to accept the gift of love, scorning the generosity of the gods.”

“Your gods are not mine, lady. I neither honor nor scorn them. They are irrelevant to me.”

“Relevant enough to take your head,” Lydia commented.

“My body is unimportant. Soon enough, my soul will be with God.” Despite his brave words, though, her beauty was working her spell on him. The rod of flesh between his legs grew stiffer by the minute.

Lydia untied the sash that fastened her robe. The diaphanous garment floated to the floor, revealing her lush, perfect body. “I’ve come to offer you Juno’s gifts, nevertheless.” She approached the pallet and took his face in her hands. “I know I cannot change your mind, Valentinus, or make you renounce your faith. But allow me to provide one last taste of the pleasures of earth, before you leave it.”

“No, wait. I am sworn to celibacy...” Valentinus began. Yet he did not resist when she gathered him to her sweet breasts, when she parted the ragged cotton robe that covered him and laved his aching nipples with her tongue. He cried out, but did not push her away, when she swallowed the stubborn pillar jutting from his groin. He grabbed her hips and arched into her when she straddled him and settled his shaft in the liquid depths between her thighs.

They moved together, not speaking aloud, but joined in spirit. She is not like the other Romans, realized Valentinus, even as pleasure surged through him in ecstatic waves. She does not care about material things. She is a creature of faith, a true daughter of her gods. I can touch her soul as well as her body.

Moonlight crept through the window-slits, painting their skin silver. Their passion rose and fell, smooth and silent as the Tiber rolling toward the sea. Their pleasure crested and ebbed and then climbed again. They never broke the connection. Through the night he remained within her, their limbs entwined, their minds and hearts united.

At last they slept. At dawn came the squeal of the rusty hinges and the guards, unexpectedly gentle when they saw Valentinus and Lydia together. Without shame, ignoring the lustful gaze of the centurions, Lydia rose and donned her robe. “Remember me,” she told the priest, with a last kiss. “It will ease the last pain.”

“And remember me,” said Valentinus, unfazed by his apparent fall from grace. “Here, take this.” He handed her a scroll, his copy of the Scriptures. “I know I will not woo you from your gods to my God, but let this be my keepsake.”

“Sign it,” she said, and he did, before the guards led him to the execution ground.

Lydia returned to the temple, rejoicing in the trickle of Valentinus’ seed down the insides of her thighs. She did not wish to see his final moments. She knew that she would be in his thoughts as the sword came down. She made her obeisance to the majestic gilded image of the Mother before returning to her modest room. There, she unfurled the scroll and read her lover’s dedication.

“To my beloved Lydia whom I look forward to meeting in heaven,
For I know that no God or gods would be cruel enough to separate us.
From your devoted Valentine.”

Tears fell on the parchment, smearing the charcoal-based ink.

They were tears of joy.




Happy Valentine’s Day to all of our readers!

Grand Re-Opening Contest Winner

Thanks to all who contributed to our grand re-opening week by reading and commenting. We received 133 distinct, non-anonymous comments (not including comments by Grip authors). All I can say is WOW.

Our randomly chosen winner is blessedheart. Please email me at the email address you will find on my website (http://www.lisabetsarai.com/links.html) and tell me your preferred email address, so that we can send you your gift certificate.

Once again, thanks to everyone who visited. We do hope that you'll continue to drop by the Grip and offer your thoughts.

15 comments:

  1. This story is as delicious an origin to St. Valentine's day as any other. Perhaps if no one discovers the connection between love and the name Valentine then generations from now people will think this is the true legend. They have to start somewhere.

    Wonderful story Lisabet.

    Ray

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  2. Lovely story, Lisabet!

    Congrats blessedheart!!!

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  3. I loved your story! Very nicely done.

    Congrats to blessed heart!

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  4. Thanks, Ray,

    Yes, I'd love to add to the confusion!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  5. Loved the story!

    Congratulations on blessedheart!!!

    tamjeang1@msn.com

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  6. Congrats to blessedheaart and Wow! What great stuff on VAlentine's Day! Thanks for a great blog.

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  7. Wow! Thank you, everyone, and Happy Valentin'e Day!

    God Bless,
    Rhonda :0)

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  8. Rhonda, I thought that was you... Congrats again!

    Jamie

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  9. Lisabet, what a touching story. Are you sure that's not really the way it happened? I agree with Ray.

    Way to go, Rhonda!

    Donna

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  10. Beautiful story, Lisabet, thank you!

    Rhonda, congratulations! I hope you enjoy your shopping spree.

    Hugs

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  11. Very luscious story,Lisabet, it really makes me want to celebrate Valentine's Day!
    As an ex catholic, it has special resonance, too :)
    Happy Sunday.
    Renee
    (Garce's friend)

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  12. Lisabet! Wow! You're still the champ.

    The experience of Romance is a kind of sore spot for me, so I'll have to think pretty hard to sort out my feelings about what Valentine's Day means, if anything, to me. That's a toughy.

    Garce

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  13. I think that both love and spiritual reverence are universal, crossing the boundaries of religion, culture and all the other artificial labels that we use to define ourselves. That's what I was trying to say with this story. It's beyond romance... which now that I think of it would make a fine future topic for OGG!

    Thanks to all for your comments, and Rhonda, your gift certificate should have arrived!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  14. Lovely version of the mythology Lisabet. Can't think of a better way for people to get past their religious differences.

    Congratulations Blessedheart!

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  15. Lisabet, you are such a romantic! Such a lovely tale from a lovely lady. Your story makes me sigh... and then cackle when I realize how I'm going to stomp all over romantic notions on Friday };D

    Bwa ha ha ha!!!

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