A Second Hand Emotion: Some Historical Boundaries of Love from Affective Liberation to Normalizing Consumption

Posted: February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

February was the official beginning of spring for the ancient Romans and was considered a prime time for settling ones home and person for the future through a number of acts of  purification and cleanliness. Homes were the site of a number of ritualistic cleansing and were first purged of dirt and dust through ritual sweeping followed by the sprinkling of salts and wheat though out the abode.  The Festival of the new and purified season was titled Lupercalia, began on the 15th of February (yes, the ides of February), and was to build on the cleansed base as a creator of fertility dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus and the birth twins of the Roman state Romulus and Remus.

Members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the onset of the feast and festivities by congregating in a cave where the infants Romulus and Remus were thought to have been feed and nurtured cared for by a multi-tited she-wolf . In the dark recesses of the sacred cave the priests would sacrifice both a goat (for fertility) and a dog (for purification).

Bachelors from the city ascended en-mass on the site and sliced strips from the hide of the goat and after dipping them in the gathered sacrificial blood of the rite would careen to the streets of a waiting Rome to slap both women and fields of crops with the hide strips as harbingers of prosperity and fertility. The young maidens of the metropolis would wait gleefully for the gentle slap of the hide to ensure life and luck for the coming year. At the waning of the day the mass of unattached young women would insert small chic’s with their names engraved upon them into a urn, which the bachelors of the City would then fish out of the urn to create a pairing which would be held in place for the remainder of the festival, or, if luck was right, for a match of matrimonial inclination.

With the rise of the Christian religion in Rome, and specifically with Pope Gelasius In 496 AD,  the Church, wanting to dispel the pagan roots of this fertility festival (and especially wanting to rid it of the sexual connotations and activities), turned Lupercalia into a Christian feast day and set its observance a day earlier, on February 14. Gelasius, additionally (and to tempt the pagans who still saw this as a festival of mating) proclaimed February 14 to be the feast day in honor of Saint Valentine, a Roman martyr who lived in the 3rd century. It is this St. Valentine whom the modern Valentine’s Day honors.

Though there are four important early Christians (with three actually being saints, and two being executed by Claudius) who go by the moniker of Valentine, it is without a doubt that Pope Gelasius intended the feast to be the Roman Martyr Valentine who was a priest living in Rome around 270 AD in Rome who peeked the irradiation of the Roman emperor Claudius II.

Though the narrative arc of St. Valentine is detailed differently in the Protestant and the Catholic tales both of the stories detail a Valentine who was a Christian Bishop of the era who performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers of the Roman Garrisons in direct opposition to an edict of the emperor directly prohibiting marriage for young men. For this action against the Roman state and monarchy Valentine was executed.

During the Reign of Claudius II the Roman Empire had entered a crisis period. Bureaucratic officials were often placed due to connections and not ability causing a decline in Civic Society. A disrupted Educational base and the interruptions of trade and tax money collected in roman colonies caused a decline in the functioning of the state. Pressures from enemies such as the Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians pushed thin the regulatory administrations of the vast empire along with the weakling of backing from a military to impose standard laws and keep satellite administrations in line. The Size of the Roman Empire created a necessity for a large contingent of battle and legalistically capable men who could form a base of both soldiers and officers. Claudius almost immediately after ascending to the throne addressed the issue by banning marriage to the Guardians of the State as he had determined that married men would place the Empire secondarily to the attachments of the family decreasing their commitment to the Roman Way and generally decreasing the strength of the soldier. Into the tensions of the prohibition Valentine was to take the place of Secret Matrimonial Agent. Lovers knowing the inclinations of Valentine thronged in secret to the quasi-traitorous Bishop who, in secrecy, would perform the banned office of matrimony. Claudius discovering the transgression had the wayward Saint arrested.

During Valentine’s imprisonment the tale tells that the Bishop was approached a jailer, Asterius who, having a blind daughter, begged him to attempt the restoration of her unseeing eyes. With Saintly aplomb Valentine did the miraculous deed and the fair daughters sight was regained.
Because of this act a strong bond was created between the inmate Valentine and Asterius’ grateful daughter.  The coming execution of Valentine caused great grief to the lovely girl who could not bear the mere thought of his impending death. Valentine, knowing her grief, obtained the means of writing her a short note of consolation and supposedly signed his last remarks with  “From Your Valentine”.  Valentine is believed to have been executed on February 14, 270 AD.

Robert Indiana LoveNYC (2007)

Chaucer was believed to be the first writer to definitely link the holiday of St. Valentine’s day and romantic love. And Shakespeare was to elaborate the model and bring it with full force into the era.  Though the exchange of Valentines Greetings (through paper cards) was evident in the Middle ages in wasn’t until the 18th century, that the romantic turn coupled with cards and gifts became an ordinary event to so-inclined lovers.

In the 19th century with the rise of the industrial manufacturing base a new fashion of the factory produced card was created and in the year 1913, the Hallmark Cards Company which was located in the city of Kansas City, Mo., began mass production of the now ubiquitous Valentines Card and the pre-produced sentiment of love and attachment

Valentine’s Day based sales of last year reach the stunning amount of  $17.6 billion USD and the best estimate for the 2011 year is expected to reach $18.6 billion USD (per IBIS World estimates).


Jean-Luc Godard ,  Alphaville,  (1965)

Lemmy Caution and Natacha Von Braun discuss the meaning of love in Jean-Luc Godard’s science fiction classic “Alphaville“.


Les Blank,  Gap-Toothed Women (1987)

A video documentary/Love ode to the beauty of the gap-toothed woman by Les Blank. Blurb: A charming valentine to women born with a space between their teeth, ranging from lighthearted whimsy to a deeper look at issues like self-esteem and societal attitudes toward standards of beauty. Interviews were conducted with over one hundred women, including model Lauren Hutton and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.


Tracey Emin,  Those who suffer Love (2009)

Tracey Emin’s work often charts the abyss of desire, conflict, and the gritty realisms of the power plays of love and lust.

The title for my show is self-explanatory: love rarely comes easily and if it does, it usually goes quite quickly. And there is death, and loss, which at some point in our lives we all have to deal with. I’m constantly fighting with the notion of love and passion. Love, sex, lust — in my heart and mind there is always some battle, some kind of conflict.

This show is essentially a drawings show. Everything is simple and linear, straight to the point. The show is to coincide with the release of my book ‘One Thousand Drawings’ published by Rizzoli.

New works in the show include an animation, made up of many drawings of a woman masturbating. I say, a woman, because I didn’t necessarily mean it to be myself, but it is a symbol of lust and loneliness, as well as self-preservation. Other works in the show date from as early as 1991. There is a simplicity and modesty about this show that has made me feel very happy and complete, like I have gone a full circle and I’m back to what I really know.

Tracey Emin 29 May—4 Jul 2009  Mason’s Yard


Sam Taylor-Wood,   Pieta (2001)

Though a Pieta is traditionally a devotional image of Mary cradling the dead body of Christ, Sam Taylor-Wood has tailored the unfolding and a dynamic temporal breach of love and loss, in the existential presence of weight and matter.

  1. maaretta says:

    Nice Post. Good to finally hear the whole story about Valentine.
    Didn’t quite understand the ideas in “Alphaville”. The characters didn’t seem to come to any conclusion to what love is. But that is a hard task to do really.
    Liked Sam Taylor-Woods video. The original “Pieta” was such a beautiful demonstration of parental love and the grief of loosing ones child. Ms. Taylor-Woods video had an interesting twist to the theme: while the original “Pieta” just expressed sorrow and love as beauty, this “Pieta” expressed the strength required to be able to love so unconditionally and what a hard task it can be.

    Always was confused by “Love” being seen as a “female”-thing. In nearly all mythologies like Ancient Greece, Egypt and Nordic, the god of love was always a woman. Also, the color of love has been labeled as pink, which has also been branded as a “Girl”-color. Personally I think some of the most beautiful things said about love has come from men. Here’s some examples:

    The best definition of love, in my opinion, was stated in George Orwell’s “1984”, where he says a long the lines this: “That was love, Winston supposed. You gave what you could to the person you loved, you gave everything you could, absolutely everything, and when you had nothing left to give, you still gave them love. That’s why his mother had token his sister into her arms to comfort her after he stole his sisters chocolate. That’s why the mother in the war film embraced her child in her arms when they got where bombed. These women could do nothing to help the situation their loved one was in, but still offered the only thing they had left, love”. Perhaps mostly a demonstration of parental love, but could be seen as love in general.

    Surprisingly, Bill Maher said something about love I found interesting in his late night show “Real Time”: “Only love can make a turtle hump a shoe”. He then showed a clip of a turtle just doing so. After some thought I decided that he was probably right. Love does make people do illogical, pointless, silly, a little gross and weird things that in the end are pretty cute. Like what the turtle did.

    The German metal band have made the most sadly honest songs about love called “Amour”. I’ll post it underneath this passage.

    Thank you for the information! Regards, Maaretta

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