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Friday, February 13, 2015

Lupercalia And Romance



This essay originally appeared in February of 2013 and was entitled
Romance Books, My Favorite Hot Parts but I thought it appropriate to trot it out again in observation of St. Valentine's Day. There are a few alterations  in  an  attempt  to "tighten it up" like I  was  taught to do in  school  but  they have largely failed. I believe the serious questions and subject matter it deals with will withstand its few flaws in construction and research.
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What is romance really, hah? Having got to another Valentine's Day, we still have little idea how it came to represent romance, especially since the saint it is named for didn't have any head --clearly not an ostentation of sentimentality. I am more inclined toward the Roman frolic it replaced, Lupercalia, which took place from February 13 through 15 and included the 14th --our modern Valentine's Day-- as a sort of recess reserved for apologizing to relatives and livestock and trying to stand up.
                                [The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing, circle of Adam Elsheimer : Luperci dressed as dogs, goats, Cupid etc.--source Wikipedia (public domain)]


Plutarch described Lupercalia: "At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs." The apt pupil of the human pageant has no difficulty understanding the decline of this strenuous recreation and its replacement by "romance books" --a very popular genre in our less aerobic modern culture.
 

One of my favorite romance books is The Romance Of Modern Engineering, by Archibald Williams (also author of The Romance Of Modern Inventions, The Romance Of Petroleum, etc.). It was published in 1904 and contains interesting descriptions of the Panama Canal, Niagara Falls Power Co. and the Bermuda Floating Dock. But we cannot life-longly spend our noses in romance books, can we?

No. We must consider for ourselves what truly comprises the most Romantic technological and engineering milestones of all time. I would choose Velcro, gas-driven airplanes, two-sided paper and "even" numbers.

Velcro, still widely used, was invented by the Romans specifically for early horse-drawn elevators. They needed something to keep the horses' hooves stuck to the walls. It allowed horses enough traction to climb vertical shafts, pull elevators up from floor to floor, then back them down again.

Unfortunately, Romans failed to solve other modes of automatic ascension. Nothing short of propellers spun by internal combustion could lift the limitations of the horse-drawn airplane, which was confined to very low altitudes and velocities, but elevators are powered by Velcro-climbing horses to this day.

Romans wrote everything important on scrolls, or a single long strip, which they rolled up onto spools and corded on library shelves. If you check a scroll's table of contents, you'll find all subjects, chapters, everything listed on page one. That is because a scroll technically only has one page. It was not until the invention of two-sided paper that modern books appeared and tables of contents made any sense. Mathematicians were called in to decide what to call the back of page one. They suggested "two" and the even number was born.

Now if that isn't Romantic, I give up.

32 comments:

  1. "The Romance of Petroleum" would make one heckuva good Valentine's Day gift.

    I've experienced Lupercalia (or reasonable facsimiles) more than once when I lived in Hollywood. I remember noble youths running naked through the city, but things went blank after I was struck with shaggy thongs........

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    1. Jon, I hope they have noble naked youth crossings posted now for everyone's safety.

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  2. Which is why I always have carrots with me when I need to use an elevator.

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    1. A good idea for slow elevators, Delores. Also, young people don't seem to understand when we yell WHOA when our floor is reached.

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  3. Happy Valentine's Day Mr. Romantic! (ha, I could not resist!)

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    1. Thanks Margie. I can tell you like good engineering too!

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  4. Interesting that this innovative paper with two sides is now old-fashioned: My Kindle again has only one-side.

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    1. Good point! Maybe history repeats itself backwards as well as forwards.

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  5. Too funny. I have never considered engineering romantic

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    1. We find romance by various routes, Sage. Personally, I can't get very excited about gas-driven aircraft but I still get called "Mr. Romantic" sometimes.

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  6. You are a romantic soul. My idea of the most romantic invention is the indoor toilet. In the beginning when one felt the need for relief one found a bush and hid behind it until finished. When people began to live in more permanent abodes a pit was dug and a wooden shelter from the weather was placed strategically above the pit. Unfortunately there were drawbacks such as odor and the occasional filling of the pit not to mention the need to traverse to the outhouse in all sorts of weather. With time and technology a porcelain apparatus was placed inside the permanent abode. To prevent odor and filling the apparatus allowed water to run through it to flush waste products away. No more odor and it was consistently empty. It was more hygienic and provided for comfort from the weather. What a way to go.

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    1. As one who spent his early childhood on a medieval Portuguese truck farm, I agree wholeheartedly. The outhouse was, as the saying goes, 100 yards too far in winter and 100 yards too close in summer --come to think of it, that's not a bad description of romance. But, by golly, we managed, didn't we?

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    2. We did manage with the "house out back". I hope to never have to do that again.

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  7. You've brought all the information beautifully together. What an insight into this particular day.......it's also my oldest son's birthday but sadly, he ain't no Saint!

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    1. Kind Helena, thank you. And happy birthday to your son. Sainthood too often includes martyrdom to qualify as a 1st career choice. So son chose prudently.

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  8. Good lord.....you've probably set science back a century or two, at the minimum. I guess I should congratulate you, or offer some award.

    But with a wink and a nod, you carry this off quite well. Well indeed.

    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Thanks Mike. Sometimes I have to set science back so I can catch up.

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  9. Hi Geo, All this time, I thought the Romans invented demonic possession and that's how they got the horses to walk up the wall. I always thought that sounded kind of dangerous. This makes so much more sense.

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    1. Romans did consider using demons when horses were in short supply but researched alternatives and came up with stairs, which were unknown before then.

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  10. Those ancient cultures had all the fun! I've never trusted elevators, and now I trust them even less. I have no idea what to make of all the twists and turns of cosmology. I look at my hands, and I know they are mostly space containing particles that you can't pinpoint as they fly around in waves of probability. But they're my hands and have been with me since birth. My head has been messed up since I encountered Heisenberg and Schrödinger. Meanwhile I'd love to read "The Romance of Petroleum!" My favorite romance book has to be Richard Halliburton's "Royal Road to Romance." It was the first of a series of his travel books that I devoured as a child (even though they were adult books). Have a good one!

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    1. Oh my gosh, Fundy Blue! You're the only other person I know who read Halliburton as a kid. We had "The Book Of Marvels" and "Seven League Boots" at our house and I read them both twice. And I don't worry about about the uncertainty principle and that cat. I just try not to bump my head on a black hole --well, not again anyway.

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    2. High Five! My grandmother MacBeath had Richard Halliburton's "The Flying Carpet" in her bookcase which I was poring over at seven and eight. I swore then that I would see the headhunters of Borneo and Petra. Well, I did spend two nights at an Iban longhouse in Sarawak, Borneo ~ fabulous! But I'm still trying to get to Petra! It's looking a little dicey right now! :( Have a good one!

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  11. That's an interesting post. I've never heard of those books, but I have marveled at the Panama Canal from up close. I was stationed there in 1972 and 72.

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    1. Wow! A decided adventure, Rick, to be stationed at one of the 7 wonders of the modern world --and in the last years of its American possession. Little while ago I was answering Fundy Blue's mention of R. Halliburton who swam the length of the Panama Canal and payed the lowest toll in its history—36 cents.

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  12. Those crazy Romans! What can I say?

    Poor horses. I wonder how many horses the Romans went through in one day.

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    1. I don't know but I suspect they took some care not to upset the elevator horses. Stampede could blow the roof out.

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  13. Naked people whopping each other with leather thongs, huh? Hmmm, sounds a lot like "Fifty Shades of Gray," from what I've heard. AND the movie was released smack dab in the middle of Lupercalia, too! A coincidence? I think not...

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    1. You're onto something there, Susan. No coincidence. Don't know much about the "50 shades". I'm only a boy of 65 and afraid to watch such stuff until I finish puberty.

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  14. Lupercalia is very popular here but we get the dates muddled up: celebrating from February 15th to February 13th makes the 14th a total headache. Sometimes also liver failure. Romance and engineering become incomprehensible. Thank goodness the horses know what they're doing!

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    1. One of my favorite practical philosophers, W.C Fields, said, "Horse sense is a good judgement which keeps horses from betting on people."

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  15. When we can figure out three-sided paper, we'll really be on to something.

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    1. Good heavens! It would decrease the bulk of junk-mail by 1/3. Is anybody working on this?

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