An Ancient Military Valentine – part 4

(continues on from part 3
The ruins of ancient Cyrene - photo by Maher27777

Phormion's travels (continued)

Unfortunately, the precise date for the battle of the Sagra River is unclear (it could fall in any year from 602-540 BC according to the available evidence). What is more, the date and nature of the adoption of hoplite warfare are no longer regarded as certain as they once were; they were once assigned with confidence to the eighth or seventh century BC. The battle of the Sagra River may be evidence of the spread of hoplite arms and tactics to Magna Graecia in c.600 BC, although the lack of a certain date diminishes its ability to be used as such evidence. The association of the battle with Phormion suggests, however, that the visit by the Dioscuri to his house in Sparta occurred before the battle. When they summoned him to Cyrene, Battus still reigned (the last year of his reign was 600). The Dioscuri’s visit, their deflowering and possible abduction of Phormion’s daughter, their gift of silphium, hoplite warfare reforms, and finally Phormion’s possible role (as a Spartan hoplomachos) in spreading that new doctrine of fighting and warfare to Greek colonies in southern Italy (and one which brought an utterly unexpected victory) may well be worth considering. Did the Dioscuri, associated with the essential training for hoplite warfare among their many attributes, ‘replace’ Phormion’s child with a child of a different kind, a new kind of warfare? If this was the case, then ancient warfare and an ages-old symbol of love and romance may be inextricably linked.


Saint Valentine and the 'love heart'

One reason for the association with Saint Valentine and the ‘love heart’ may also come from an association with the Dioscuri and, perhaps the story of their gift of silphium in particular. Several figures in the early Christian Church have been amalgamated into the Saint Valentine commemorated on February 14th. Note, there are twelve Valentines commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church. Valentinus became and remained a common name from the third century. The first Saint Valentine seems to have been a Christian martyr who in AD 269 was put to death at Rome and buried on the Via Flaminia. This Valentine has, in one tradition, also been identified with a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) although they may be two separate individuals. Another candidate was persecuted in Africa. The association with February 14th, however, only dates from 496 when Pope Gelasius I established that date for Valentine’s commemoration. The romantic association with Valentine’s Day stems from a story of a miracle worked by Valentine on the blind daughter of a judge and, when Valentine was condemned to death by the emperor Claudius Gothicus (r.268-270), he wrote to the daughter “from your Valentine.” Several other legends associate Valentine with hearts. He supposedly performed (banned) Christian wedding ceremonies and presented the couples with hearts cut out of parchment. The stories are probably spurious, composed in the sixth or seventh century (see Frank Staff The Valentine & Its Origins (Westport, CT, 1969) and Jack Oruch ‘St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February’ Speculum 56 (1981) pp. 534–565). There is very little evidence of a Saint Valentine’s Day tradition associated with romance until the Middle Ages, but there may still be a connection to the Dioscuri and the gift of the heart-shaped seed of the silphium plant. Check back on Valentine's Day for the finale of this detective story!

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