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Friday, February 9, 2018

In Advance of Lupercalia

I decided to post this in response to Robyn Alana Engel's  general invitation regarding opinions on the 2/14 celebration and, of course, chocolate.

               
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This essay originally appeared in February of 2013 and was entitled
Romance Books, My Favorite Hot Parts but it seemed appropriate to trot it out again in observance 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. The serious questions and subject matter it deals with will doubtless withstand a 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.

35 comments:

  1. Chuckling away to myself, here, Geo. :D

    I hope in your keen drive to "tighten up" your essay, you didn't scissors out any similarly chuckle-inducing parts - that would be awful!

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    1. Kind Jenny, I believe this essay is pretty much intact after 5 years. Your encouragement inspires me to not fiddle with it.

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  2. The Romans were logical about romance.

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    1. They were logical about a lot of things, Emma, except maybe being astonished that one chariot could go faster than another. I think we're all still working on that.

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  3. Who needs wind, solar, nuclear, steam, gas or coal power when we've got those Velcro climbing horses? A marvel for the ages, indeed.
    I'm not surprised the 1904 series of Modern Romance (Engineering-Inventions-Petroleum) was never adapted for the screen or stage. But I am impressed by the saucy titles.

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    1. Tom, I only have the engineering volume in my library but it has enough racy parts to keep me from seeking out the invention and petroleum ones.

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  4. A most appropriate and interesting post, Geo. As intriguing as Lupercalia sounds, my days of running naked through city streets are over. But they might return when senility sets in....
    As for Velcro, I think I need it on my boots in order to navigate these perilous TN slopes.

    I checked out Robyn Alana's blog and those raspberry Hostess cupcakes look darn good.
    Have a sweet Valentine's Day - -, and go easy on the preservatives (*smile*).

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    1. Jon, the way my hair's thinning, I may have to get Velcro implants just to keep my hat on. Is anybody working on this? Gone, I fear, are the days when running naked was a sign of nobility --what's this world coming to?

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    1. Thanks for the amusing musing, Bruce. And Happy Lupercalia!

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  6. I've come across some odd smells in elevators but not once did it occur to me that it might be the horses. I'll check into it. Question....why couldn't they use the other side of the scroll?

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    1. Might not be just horses in the elevator shafts, Delores. The drivers work long hours in there and can get pretty gamey at the end of a shift. As to scrolls, there are still some rolls of paper we only use one side of. Good thing too!

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  7. I cannot imagine anything much more ridiculous than Plutarch's description of Lupercalia. I take it that it was the women who did all the laughing [with many a hoot, forsooth] at the malenesses on display. Oh what sport?

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    1. Tom, I have seen various drawings and paintings depicting that Roman frolic and chose the one with least lash-marks for this post. Women seemed to be mainly puzzled observers but the men whipped their own shins bloody --at least in some depictions. I believe I would have declined all invitations had I been there.

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  8. My gosh, running naked through town and striking those they met with shaggy thongs sounds like a cross between the late 1960’s and today’s 50 Shades of Grey. (which, I hear, did involve some mechanics).

    I hope you and Norma have a lovely Valentine’s Day, Geo. Be gentle with the Velcro.

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    1. My dear Arleen, I am thankful that St. Valentine redirected Lupercalia. It REALLY needed reforming. Although I came of age in the late '60s, I am not mature enough for "50 Shades..." However, I happily wish you a lovely Valentine's Day in return --and assure you I'd install a chin-strap before I'd hold my hat on with Velcro.

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  9. Fascinating random facts that made me laugh. All along, I thought Valentine's was about Robyn and jackasses, not Romans and horses.
    Happy Valentine's time, my friend.

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    1. Thanks Friend Robyn. Believe me, someday you'll find the the perfect jackass --my wife did, and kept me.

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  10. While math is tres romantic, requiring French adjectives, I believe romance is primarily cloud based.

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    1. I wholeheartedly agree. Clouds have always rewarded the time I spend with my head in them.

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  11. I feel this is one of the most vital information for me. And i am satisfied reading your article.
    However want to commentary on few normal things, The web site style is great, the articles is truly excellent :
    D. Just right job, cheers

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I don't remember when I last heard my "articles is truly excellent" but I appreciate your friendly message.

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  12. Ha, certainly made me smile, Geo!
    Yes...I, too, am put in mind of a cross between Fifty Shades and 60's "free love" - although, when was anything actually free?? LOL
    Now...running naked through the streets though...yes, I can relate to that!
    Would be truly liberating - only not in these temperatures! I am rather fond of my extremities!! 😉

    Have a great day!

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    1. Dear Ygraine, If people saw me running naked through the streets in this era, the police would leave me less than liberated. And indeed, even in mildly chilly California, my extremities would also suffer. Glad you enjoyed my scholarly essay!

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  13. Aha, I remember this post from the velcro-horse elevators!

    I keep forgetting about Valentine's Day...

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    1. Dear Squid, those elevators were unfortunately high-maintenance. The shafts would fill from the bottom up with horse exhaust. The problem went unsolved until the invention of stairs.

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  14. Stubbornly I prefer odd numbers, and for no logical nor romantic reason I can fathom.
    It's a bit chilly here in February, I imagine the lashings would at least warm a body up... considering giving it a go. As long as no one is around to make an engraving of our efforts.

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    1. I'm a bit odd too, Lisa. No lashings though --over the years, I've decided pain hurts. But I'm proud to share Valentine's Day with you.

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  15. This just in from AP and Reuters Press: Thucydides and Herodotus's bones were felt stirring under the floor of their crypt in Athens......If aliens come in a thousand years and your blog is all that's left of earth's history.....well, that and the Tesla headed towards Mars...
    Good post, pal.
    Mike

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    1. Dear Mike, could Thucydides and Herodotus be rolling over? Thousand years? I venture to suggest our web of tickled electrons equate to history writ in disappearing ink, but it's a nice thought. Thanks, and keep transmitting, my friend.

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    2. Well, Orson Scott Card did some interesting 'reinvention' of history, e.g. "Pastwatch, the Redemption of Christopher Columbus", so you're in good company. (even if Card is in bad odor with many now because of his anti feminist views...)

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    3. Orson Card's work has been remarkable, despite justifiable accusations of anti-feminism and homophobia. Remember, California borders Utah and the two states try not to aggravate each other --especially in matters of alternative history.

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  16. Dude! You've outdone yourself. I don't even know where to begin. For one thing, I'm very grateful that the streaking and thrashing with shaggy thong events of the Lupercalian festival made way for our more civilized Valentine's Day heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and bouquets of roses. (For most people, anyway... we chose to buy some live blue crabs and steam them... :) ) For some ladies, having a hubby or beau who forgot to mark the 14th with an appropriate gift might have led to him being marked with... what else?... a shaggy thong, of course.

    Have a super weekend.

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    1. My dear Susan, considering the changes and permutations of the "Thong", from summercamp leather-craft to flipflop sandal to underwear-- I must say I'm happy to have never been --or deserved be?-- whipped by a shaggy one. Wait a moment --that didn't come out right--oops, I hit publish!!! You have a good weekend too (and don't you worry about me, even a teensy bit. I got stuff going on).

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    2. Ok, dude. I hope your stuff resolves itself soon. You've made such a special splash in the blogosphere, the waters are sadly sedate without you. (But it's my heart, and I'll worry if I wanta... )

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