While I acknowledge that people are going to do what they’re going to do anyway, and there’s little I can do to stop them from doing whatever goofy shit they want to do, no matter how wrong it is, I still feel the need to speak up on occasion when something that people are doing has no historical validity — if they still choose to Do Hellenismos Wrong(!), then who am I to stand in their way? Regardless of what one chooses after learning better, I know I’ve said my piece, and that’s good enough for me.
What is St. Valentine’s Day?
Most people in this day and age, even the good Catholics amongst them, drop the “Saint” prefix nowadays. The Catholic Encyclopaedia mentions three saints under the name Valentine, and Wikipedia notes as many as fourteen(!!!), but traditionally, two are most accepted to be the St. Valentine honoured on 14 February; Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. In 1969, St. Valentine’s Day was removed from the Catholic lexicon of holy feasts on the grounds that almost nothing is known of any of the Sts. Valentine, other than names, and (in at least two cases) where they were buried. Still, other Christian calendars honour St. Valentine’s Day, including the Church of England, and plenty of Catholics do still have a religious celebration of the various legends of St. Valentine —and aunt of mine one gave me a gorgeous ornate greeting card from a Catholic bookstore that re-told one of these legends, of how Valentinus of Rome was sentenced to execution for attempting directly to convert the Emperor Claudius II, and just as he was being taken out by the executioner, his jailer’s blind daughter regained her sight after Valentinus taught her about Jesus. From there, she fell in love with Valentinus, now dead (ew), and honoured his death by planting a tree of almond blossoms.
Regardless, the St. Valentine’s Day endorsed by the manufacturers of sweeties, greeting cards, and sellers of amputated plant genitalia bares little resemblance to a the more subdued event traditionally endorsed by churches.
Prior to Geoffery Chaucer, in Parlement of Foules, there was no widespread association between the feast of any Saint and romantic love —or so sayeth the overwhelming amount of leaders in relevant fields. There is, though, reason to associate mid-February’s Christian Saints’ Day with ancient pre-Christian festivals of the Mediterranean:
As per the Attic calendar, the month of Gamelion corresponds with a span of roughly mid-January to mid-February of the Gregorian calendar, and Gamelion is when the wedding of Zeus and Hera is celebrated annually. The corresponding Boeotian month of Hermaios hosts the Daidala festival, which is essentially identical to Gamelia, in intent and mythos; the Daidala festival for this year happens to fall on 19 February.
Then there’s the Roman Lupercalia, a festival that spans 13-15 February, and is a fertility festival to honour the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.
Obviously, fertility symbols mingled, symbols of love mingled, and after Chaucer’s mention of love-birds (For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate,) things just seemed to stick.
What is the Feast of Eros?
While little is known concretely of the Feast of Eros, one this is: It is a springtime occasion. Looking far back enough on HMEPA will confirm that this has consistently been a celebration consistently held after the vernal equinox. Not in February or an equivalent month, not any time in winter.
Eros position in the Hellenic pantheon as a fertility deity certainly means it will share some symbolism with Lupercalia; His associations with romantic love will share some symbols with Daidala; modern celebrants of St. Valentine’s Day certainly have no issue of using “His” image (or rather, that of Cupid; often assumed to be a Roman equivalent, but I have my own opinion on that), even if there is never any intent to honour Him in name.
The fact that the Feast of Eros is a springtime festival probably places it more in line to have syncretic imagery with Easter than to be celebrated as a swap for Valentine’s Day. The date is something rather important here; it signifies the Feast of Eros as one of renewal, youth, beauty, re-birth….
…not to say the winter landscape lacks beauty, and certainly some plants actually need that period of frost to properly germinate, but as a trickster, Eros is a deity who’s in that in-between —like an Equinox— and rather blunt. There’s certainly a beauty to winter, but it’s the beauty of Nyx, His Mother, the beauty unseen by the average person, a short-reigning beauty that will bow out gracefully when it is time for the dazzling Eros to come forth.
This said, I see nothing inherently wrong with honouring Eros on 14 February, as His secular guise is certainly everywhere on that day, and His work certainly afoot. But is it the Feast of Eros? History tells me no. Basic logic tells me no. Most importantly: My instincts tell me no.
There are all sorts of reasons to celebrate different deities, and some have several days in a year to do so, even by ancient calendars. If going by Hesiod, then the fourth of every lunar month is sacred to Eros (in addition to Aphrodite, Hermes, and Herakles), so clearly one can celebrate a deity more than once a year. But certain holidays have certain meanings, and the meanings for St. Valentine’s Day don’t line up with what is known of the Feast of Eros in date, nor in symbolism of their respective dates in particular, so clearly there is little, and that’s assuming there is any logical reason to syncretise the two holidays.
Again, I acknowledge that people are going to do what they wish, regardless of what things actually mean and what nonsense what they’re doing makes, but if anybody wants my opinion on it, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend syncretising St. Valentine’s Day with the Feast of Eros. They are two completely different holidays, set at two completely different dates, and thus two two completely different sets of symbolism.