An Ancient Military Valentine – part 5

(continues on from part 4) In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Saint Valentine is commemorated in early July (July 6th to be exact). Another Saint Valentine (a fifth-century AD priest and hermit) was associated with July 4th. The day on which the Dioscuri were traditionally celebrated was also in July, on the ides (the 15th) according to Plutarch (Coriolanus 3.5) and the review of young cavalrymen at Rome (the Transvectio equitum) was held every year on July 15 and ended at the Temple of Castor and Pollux (Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 6.13). If the Dioscuri were associated in the Phormion story with the gift of silphium with its heart-shaped seed, then it may have been something also associated with the pair in their celebrations in July. These elements were then perhaps appropriated by Saint Valentine whose commemoration shifted from July to February, and then became cemented as a love-heart ‘Valentine’ presented on February 14th, a date close to the ides of the ancient Roman month of Februarius (usually the ides were on the 13th or 15th of the month). All in all, there is much to ponder over the Dioscuri's gift of the silphium plant, the later history of Saint Valentine's Day and their possible connections with ancient warfare. Happy Valentine's Day!

Further Reading

  • Emilio N. Favorito & Kurt Baty ‘The Silphium Connection’ Celator 9.2 (February 1995), pp. 6–8.
  • Nigel Nicholson The Poetics of Victory in the Greek West: Epinician, Oral Tradition, and the Deinomenid Empire. Oxford: OUP (2016).
  • Verity J. Platt ‘Double Vision: Epiphanies of the Dioscuri in Classical Antiquity’ Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 20 (2018), pp. 229-256.
  • Everett L. Wheeler "The Hoplomachoi and Vegetius' Spartan Drillmasters," Chiron 13 (1983), pp. 1-20.

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