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PROF. DEUBNER'S THEORY OF THE LUPERCALIA

(See pp. 34 and 106)


In the Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, 1910, p. 481 foll., Prof. Deubner has published an interesting study of this puzzling festival, to which I wish to invite attention, though it has reached me too late for use in my earlier lectures.

It has long been clear to me that any attempt to explain the details of the Lupercalia on a single hypothesis must be a failure. If all the details belong to the same age and the same original festival, we cannot recover the key to the whole ceremonial, though we may succeed in interpreting certain features of it with some success. Is it, however, possible that these details belong to different periods,--that the whole rite, as we know it, with all the details put together from different sources of knowledge, was the result of an accretion of various features upon an original simple basis of ceremonial? Prof. Deubner answers this question in the affirmative, and works out his answer with much skill and learning.

He begins by explaining the word lupercus as derived from lupus and arceo, and meaning a "keeper off of wolves." The luperci were originally men chosen from two gentes or families to keep the wolves from the sheepfolds, in the days when the Palatine was a shepherd's settlement, and they did it by running round the base of the hill in a magical circle (if I understand him rightly). If that be so, we need not assume a deity Lupercus, nor in fact any deity at all, nor need we see in the runners a quasi-dramatic representation of wolves as vegetation-spirits, as Mannhardt proposed (see my Roman Festivals, p. 316 foll.). This view has the advantage of making the rite a simple and practical one, such as would be natural to primitive Latins; and the etymology is apparently unexceptionable, though it will doubtless be criticised, as in fact it has been long ago.

But in course of time, Prof. Deubner goes on, there came to be engrafted on this simple rite of circumambulation without reference to a deity, a festival of the rustic god Faunus; and now there was added a sacrifice of goats, which seem to have been his favourite victims (kids in Hor. Odes, iii. 18). The luperci, who had formerly run round the hill quite naked, as in many rites of the kind (see p. 491), now girt themselves with the skins of the goats, in order to increase their "religious force" in keeping away the wolves, with strength derived from the victims.

But the luperci also carried in their hands, in the festival as we know it, strips of the skins of the victims, with which they struck at women who offered themselves to the blows, in order to make them fertile. This, Prof. Deubner thinks, was a still later accretion. Life in a city had obliterated the original meaning of the rite--the keeping off wolves; but a new meaning becomes attached to it, presumably growing out of the use of the skins as magical instruments of additional force. Here, too, Juno first appears on the scene as the deity of women, for the strips were known as amicula Iunonis (R.F. 321 and note). The strips may have been substituted for something carried in the hand to drive away the wolves; the goat, it should be noted, is prominent in the cult of Juno, e.g. at Lanuvium. The mystical meaning of striking or flogging has been sufficiently explained in this instance by Mannhardt (R.F. p. 320), and is now familiar to anthropologists in other contexts.

In the period when the fertilisation of women became the leading feature of the rite, the State took up the popular festival, and it gained admittance to the religious calendar, which was drawn up for the city of the four regions (see above, Lect. IV., p. 106). The State was represented, as we learn from Ovid, by the Flamen Dialis (Fasti, ii. 282).

But we still have to account for some strange detail, which has never been satisfactorily explained in connection with the rest of the ceremony. The runners had their foreheads smeared with the blood of the victims, which was then wiped off with wool dipped in milk; after which, says Plutarch (Romulus, 21), they were obliged to laugh. These details, as Prof. Deubner remarks, seem very un-Roman; we have no parallel to them in Roman ritual, and I have remarked more than once in these lectures on the absence of the use of blood in Roman ceremonial. I have suggested that they were allowed to survive in the religion of the city-state, though actually belonging to that of a primitive population living on the site of Rome. Prof. Deubner's explanation is very different, and at first sight startling. These, he thinks, are Greek cathartic details added by Augustus when he re-organised the Lupercalia, as we may guess that he did from Suet. Aug. 31. They can all be paralleled from Greek religion. We know of them only from Plutarch, who quotes a certain Butas as writing Greek elegiacs in which they were mentioned; but of the date of this poet we know nothing. Ovid does not mention these details, nor hint at them in the stories he tells about the festival. (It is certainly possible that Augustus's revision may have been made after Ovid wrote the second book of the Fasti; it could not have been done until he became Pont. Max. in 12 B.C., and perhaps not till long after that, and the Fasti was written some time before Ovid's banishment in A.D. 9.) That Augustus should insert Greek cathartic details in the old Roman festival is certainly surprising, but not impossible. We know that in the ludi saeculares he took great pains to combine Greek with Roman ritual.

The above is a mere outline of Prof. Deubner's article, but enough, I hope, to attract the attention of English scholars to it. Whether or no it be accepted in whole or part by learned opinion, it will at least have the credit of suggesting a way in which not only the Lupercalia, but possibly other obscure rites, may be compelled ultimately to yield up their secrets.




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