“You know it is the feast of Lupercal”: February Traditions Then and Now | Cass via American Shakespeare Center
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar opens on a holiday — but a holiday no one in Shakespeare’s England any longer celebrated. Unlike Twelfth Night, Shrove Tuesday, Whitsuntide, or any other liturgical holiday of the Christian calendar, the Lupercalia was something no one in Shakespeare’s audiences would have had personal experience with, and we are even further removed from it today. But what correlations does it have to Tudor-era traditions and to our modern late-winter festivities? More than you might immediately guess.
So what is this strange Roman festival? Plutarch discusses the Lupercalia, held February 13th-15th, in his “Life of Romulus,” the first of his Twelve Lives. He describes it there as the Romans celebrated it early in the Republic, as a feast of purification, but also as a memorial to the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus after their exposure in the wilderness. He gives the following description of the ceremonies: