How did St. Valentine’s Day become a day associated with hearts and flowers and all things romantic? One account puts a definitely sinister spin on the origin of this holiday. It begins back in the third century with a fellow named Claudius the Cruel. As you might guess, Claudius is not going to be the hero of this tale.
Claudius (II, if you’re counting) was the Emperor of Rome, a barbarian that proved that any young boy can grow up to be emperor if he believes. Valentinus, or Valentine, was not a saint at the time, but he was a holy priest.
Claudius, in addition to his barbarianism and cruelty, was a bit of a warmonger. Continually involved in bloody campaigns to destroy upstart nations throughout the region, Claudius needed to maintain a strong army. But it was a constant battle to keep his military at full strength what with Christianity gaining a toehold and everyone into family values. The men for their part were unwilling to be all they could be in the army because of their annoying attachment to wives and families.
Claudius had a fairly simple solution; he banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, part of whose livelihood was the performing of marriages, thought this decree unjust and defied the emperor by continuing to marry young lovers on the sly. Claudius, as emperors will, got wind of Valentine’s doings and, true to his name, ordered that Valentine be put to death. Valentine was arrested and condemned to be beaten about the head, and then have said head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, 278.
Legend has it that while in jail, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, with whom he had had a brief relationship (that will not be explored here), and signed it “From Your Valentine.” There may have been other cute little Valentine poems as well, but they have been lost to history.
For this, Valentine was named a saint and had a holiday created after him, though not a legal one with school closings and such. Conspiracy theorists will naturally jump up and down, saying there were several St. Valentines and the holiday could have been named after any one of them. Or it could have come from the pagan festival Lupercalia, a day of wanton carrying on. They should mind their own business.
Sweet Sugar Cane, Part 3: The Weigh-In
“Quiet please,” said the judge, ‘or I’ll empty the class. .er . . Courtroom.” They obediently reverted to subdued snickering. “Well, gentlemen,” said the judge turning to the defendants. “I guess it’s time to hear your version of these strange events. Prisoner Rollo, I sense that you’re somehow instrumental in this curious business. Why don’t you go first?”
Rollo stood. “I was drunk, your honor.”
“I was drunk, too,” Napoleon chimed in.
“I know that,” said the judge. “Please continue.”
“I am the owner of a drinking establishment known as Leeward Lounge. On occasion I purchase rum from Mr. Napoleon, because I know he needs the money and I try to help in my own little way.”
“He pours it into bottles with fancy labels,” said Napoleon.
“On the day in question,” continued Rollo, “he came into my place at about noon and called for two drinks which I served up. He said: ‘this one’s for you, dear friend.’ To be polite, I sat down and drank with him, and in turn I produced two more drinks. He did the same again, and I did the same again and so on – you know how it goes, your honor.”
“No I don’t, but please continue.”
“Well, it got to be evening and we were fairly tipsy.”
“We were wicked drunk, your honor,” Napoleon interjected.
“Napoleon starts getting very serious and starts talking about how he needs money for new equipment and he just doesn’t know what he’ll do. When I show reluctance, he suddenly says, ‘I’ll sell you my wife.’ Well, I was quite surprised. The woman is fairly unattractive, as you here in court can see, but I’ve been without a woman for some time and I was drunk, as you know. So I asked him how much he’d sell her for. He didn’t seem to have thought that part out. I suppose the whole idea had been a spur of the moment thing.”
“And I was drunk,” said Napoleon.
“He thought for a while then said ‘I’ll sell her for two thousand dollars.’ I told him I thought that was too much and we went back and forth a bit. We somehow reached the point where we agreed the price should be based on her weight, but we were both guessing at it, and we were a good thirty pounds apart. Being drunk, that didn’t discourage us. It just made the whole transaction more interesting, a gamble. We finally settled on the amount of fourteen dollars per pound. Being a devoted husband, Napoleon insisted that the price be higher than the finest cut of beef.”
Napoleon grinned and turned red.
Sweet Sugar Cane is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.