Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Love, War, and Saint Valentine

Okay, you think the title is a stretch. But if you look behind the history of the holiday you may conclude that Valentine's Day has less to do with love than war. Legend has it that under the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Claudius Gothicus (A.D. 214-270) (not the Marcus Aurelius played by Richard Harris in Gladiator, but it's a good photo op), the Roman Empire was constantly at war, and in constant need of more soldiers. So what did Emperor Claudius II (his common appellation) do with his perennial shortage of men? He banished love from the empire. And in response Saint Valentine rose up in quiet revolt. For his rebellion Valentine was executed on February 14, 269, leaving a farewell note to the jailer's daughter, whom he had befriended, signed, "From Your Valentine."

Here is how one article describes it:

Another legend touts of a well loved priest called Valentine living under the rule of Emperor Claudius II. Rome was constantly engaged in war. Year after year, Claudius drafted male citizens into battle to defend and expand the Roman Empire. Many Romans were unwilling to go. Married men did not want to leave their families. Younger men did not wish to leave their sweethearts. Claudius ordered a moratorium on all marriages and that all engagements must be broken off immediately. Valentine disagreed with his emperor. When a young couple came to the temple seeking to be married, Valentine secretly obliged them. Others came and were quietly married. Valentine became the friend of lovers in every district of Rome. But such secrets could not be kept for long. Valentine was dragged from the temple. Many pleaded with Claudius for Valentine's release but to no avail, and in a dungeon, Valentine languished and died. His devoted friends are said to have buried him in the church of St. Praxedes on the 14th of February.

More on the legend here, here and here. Somehow knowing the history makes me thankful not just for love, but also that our government demands only a few good men. They make war, so we can make ... well, the best of it on this holiday.

Happy Valentine's Day.

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