Feb. 10, 2010 12:00

VALENTINE'S DAY MYTHS AND LEGENDS

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ST. VALENTINE

It’s the time of year again where we trot out the old Valentine’s Day meme here in the Ten Best. This go-round we’ll be looking at some of the facts and fallacies associated with the holiday, starting with the man himself — or should we say, men. There were at least three Saint Valentines, none of whom is documented to have ever done anything particularly romantic. The holiday we celebrate traces its roots back to Ancient Rome, where a tribute to Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni, took place around Feb. 14.

CUPID

The lesser deity known as Cupid has come to represent Valentine’s Day, but his origins go back much farther. Cupid — Eros, to the Greeks — was the son of Venus and Mercury. And he not only had the power to convey love upon mortals, depicted in the popular culture with a quiver of arrows with heartshaped heads, he also held sway over the dead in Hades, the Titans of the sea and the very gods of Olympus themselves.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Cupid was how the ancient world explained the phenomenon known as “love at first sight.” And the Italians later came to call it “the thunderbolt,” if you believe what you read in The Godfather. But modern psychologists say that what we know as “love at first sight” is more a function of the individuals and the way they are feeling at the moment than any supernatural chemistry. I prefer to call it by its more common name: lust.

LUPERCALIA

The most likely predecessor to the modern holiday, Lupercalia was celebrated in Ancient Rome to run evil spirits from the city as to allow fertility and prosperity to flourish. Lupercus was the Roman equivalent to Pan, a shepherd god named

for the cave in which Romulus and Remus were raised by wolves before growing up and founding the city. It was pretty much a street orgy, with men wearing goat or wolf skins, women offering themselves for mating and the sacrifice of two dogs and a goat.

ABLARD AND HELOISE

This timeless love story perhaps symbolizes the holiday more than any other. Heloise d’Argenteuil was an aristocrat in 12 th century France. Peter Ablard was a philosopher and scholar. Together they engaged in a forbidden romance that resulted in a bastard child, Astrolabe.Heloise’s uncle arranged a secret marriage, and when Heloise denied it, he sent her to a convent and had Ablard castrated.

HEART-SHAPED CROCK

Little, symmetric heart shapes abound this time of year, symbolic, I suppose, of the love that flourishes even as the skies are ash gray. But in reality, the human heart looks nothing like those little candies that say “Squeeze me” or that little shape on the playing cards that makes your straight so much better. It actually looks more like a bloody fist with big, ugly tubes running through it.

ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE

Yep, this one’s real. Al Capone and Bugs Moran got tangled in Chicago over supply lines for Canadian liquor. Capone fled to Florida, while a crew of his men dressed as Chicago cops appre hended seven of Moran’s men, lined them up in a North Side warehouse and killed them all on Feb. 14, 1929.

GREETING CARD VISIONARY People have been sending Valentines for hundreds of years, with a surge around 1840 in Europe when Valentine’s Day was given a reboot as a romantic holiday. But Esther Howland, an American from Worcester, Mass., was the first to mass-produce Valentine’s Day Cards. Today more than a billion Valentines are sent every year; the best is honored with an Esther Howland Award by the US Greeting Card Association.

THE COLOR PINK

Pink is the official color of Valentine’s Day, also princesses (with purple), Appalachian prom dresses, the good kind of cotton candy, the bad kind of peppermints and the prison in Davidson County while Gerald Hege was sheriff. Hege felt it had a calming and soothing effect on his inmates, much like Pepto Bismol.

CHOCOLATE AND FLOWERS

Convention says that candy and flowers make perfect Valentine’s Day gifts, but according to the website askmen.com, convention is pretty lame. “Originality is worth a lot on Valentine’s Day, especially when all of her friends will be getting the usual flowers and chocolates. Stand out by getting her something out of the ordinary. Does she like to travel? Get her a subscription to a travel magazine. Does she like music? Get her concert tickets.”

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