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Lupercalia

Posted February 15th, 2012 at 01:15 PM by Tobias Binch

I was reminded of this story because to-day is Lupercalia using the Republican/Imperial Roman calendar:

BBC News - 'Naked cowboy' busker says 'Cowgirl' violates trademark

Of course he's not really naked, so it seems like false advertising. The Naked Cowboy has two pairs of y-fronts on. It sounds more salacious, though, to say he's naked. If we didn't look at the picture, there is only one word to tell us the truth.

At the Lupercalia in 44 BC the story goes that Mark Antony offers Caesar a diadem, a crown of sorts. If I recall, Plutarch indicates it has laurel leaves but I don't believe Cicero (who was there) mentions that addition.

Plutarch describes what is worn by the Lupercalia priests as so: γυμνοὺς περιτρέχειν τοὺς Λουπέρκους (Plutach, Romulus section 21). Transliterated it's gymnous peritrechein tous Louperkous, i.e. naked they run around, those Luperci [priests]. And Cicero says of Antony 'enim ille die, populo Romano inspectante, nudus, unctus, ebrius' (phillipics number three section 12/section V) meaning: for them on that day, with ALL [emphasis mine] the roman people looking, he was Nude, Oiled, Drunk.

The text from those times is very clear. Naked is naked.

But in the naked cowboy's case, naked is not naked, so I wonder if the same argument would apply for the ancients. Sometimes we say something because it sounds good.

I wasn't even close to exhaustive in my search. Plutarch, Cicero, and one or two other classical sources were what I used. I didn't look at Livy. I'd imagine Pliny must have something to say about it, but I didn't look. When I thought of it in my imagination, I imagined them having some sort of wolf-skin and a loincloth. Perhaps that's from some Victorian depiction, or maybe I'm not imaginative enough.

Naked or not, I also wonder where he hid he crown. As Cicero notes, you don't just happen to find one on the ground, so the entire episode was pre-meditated. Would they stash it somewhere in the streets beforehand and trust to fate that no one found it in the meantime? Plutarch mentions that Caesar planted people in the crowd to cheer for Caesar when he was offered the crown. He didn't leave that up to fate, so I doubt the rest would be left to it.

The crown-offering didn't happen immediately, so where does a naked man hide a crown?

I was talking about this with someone who asked about the oiled part, unctus. I mentioned to the person that Antony was oiled more as a joke. It makes a funnier picture, to say he was oiled even if that's not how you'd translate the word. Especially if he was oiled and offering the crown. I joked that I wasn't sure which upset Cicero more, Marc Antony displaying the crown or Marc Antony displaying his crown jewels, so to speak.

What I believe was meant (and how dictionaries translated the word) was that Mark Antony was annointed. Classical wrestlers might annoint their whole body with oil, so you can have a full-body annointing, but I don't believe Marc Antony had that, and I doubt it was oil.

I assumed it was blood when I was having the conversation, either from the goats or dogs killed. Blood would be put on two people and wiped off, after which they had to laugh, but I assumed that the blood would also annoint the priests like Marc Antony.

I didn't read it myself, but supposedly there is a reference in Pliny (Natural History 28.9 and 29.30) that indicates new wives would smear (or annoint) their door hinges with wolf-fat. The mention of it also referrenced Ovid in his Fasti (6th book circa line 155), but when I went to that text, I didn't see wolf-fat, just medicinal water and a two-month old pig (though Ovid I must say can be a wise-ass, especially in Fasti, and more often is making his story sound good rather than telling the facts)

I can't remember how topic came up, but the person had told me that her family had a tradition of using racoon fat medicinally, in soups I believe - something about the health benefits of the fat. Since it was just a conversation and I wasn't taking notes, I can't say at the moment (I could have sworn she said the fat was eaten or even rubbed somewhere), but we ended up wondering which was worse and more likely: Antony smeared with blood, with some wolf-fat for luck, or did the dodgy drunk just oil himself up?

It's not really an important question, but it made us wonder for a moment. Fat oil from the sacrifice of the goats and dogs seems a more likely oil if that were used, else perhaps water and blood.
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