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The Origins of St. Valentine's Day

Updated on May 11, 2020
Stella Kaye profile image

Stella has written a selection of articles on dating and relationship issues that include sound advice for online daters,

Everyone is familiar with Cupid, the cute cherub-like figure with his bow poised ready to pierce the hearts of the unattached (and sometimes the attached!)

A cute version of Cupid
A cute version of Cupid | Source

St Valentine and Cupid

The origins of both Valentine’s Day and Cupid date back to Roman times and there are several variations on a theme as to who Saint Valentine actually was. He is a historical figure who was buried in Rome on 14th February 269 AD. The most popular belief is that he was a priest who was imprisoned for performing weddings for Roman soldiers during a time when they were expressly forbidden to marry and was thus executed for this practice. On the night before his martyrdom it is said that he sent a farewell message to the daughter of his jailer who had visited him frequently in his cell. The message simply said: ‘From your Valentine.’

St. Valentine did not however become commonly associated with the concept of romantic love until many centuries later at the time of Chaucer. The legends of Valentine and Cupid have both become further intertwined since then and the characters are now an inseparable duo as far as February 14th is concerned - not unlike the amalgamation of Saint Nicolas and Father Christmas.

Amor - the Roman equivalent of Cupid - a more severe depiction

A painting by Caravaggio 'Amor Vincit Omnia'
A painting by Caravaggio 'Amor Vincit Omnia' | Source

'Amor Vincit Omnia' - love conquers all

The Latin phrase ' Amor Vincit Omnia' is also the title of this painting by Caravaggio (1601) depicting Cupid in a more severe tone as Amor - the winged Roman God of desire, erotic love and beauty (the ancient Greeks called him Eros). He is shown conquering those around him, firing his arrows of love, naked and smiling and ready to trample underfoot valued human achievements. The painting is a keen illustration of how our hearts often rule our heads whenever falling in love is concerned; blinding the enamoured to reality and causing them to put the pursuit of their beloved above everything else.Cupid's arrows of love can be so intoxicating, it is no wonder being in love makes us think irrational thoughts and this is why love is sometimes considered a kind of madness.

So Cupid's arrows of love were all too irresistible and thus he became the ideal Valentine’s Day icon and what better representation for love than the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love? (Aphrodite in Greek mythology).

Cupid has his very own poignant love story too: Cupid and Psyche, which has been the inspiration for many a romantic tale down through the ages. A lesser known fact is that Cupid did not only carry arrows of love; he also carried arrows of hatred. There were golden tipped arrows for love and leaden ones for hatred but on Valentine’s Day at least he will hopefully continue to be armed with the former! If Stupid Cupid makes your heart all a-quiver on Valentine’s Day then tell someone you love them or even take the opportunity to propose to your sweetheart.

"Amor Vincit Omnia" - Love Conquers All - a Latin phrase associated with Cupid

This Latin phrase originally appeared in a collection of poems (Eclogue X of the Eclogues, a collection of pastoral poems by the Roman poet Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC).

Virgil states:"Omnia vincit amor..." meaning "Everything is conquered by love" he then continues by saying ... "et nos cedamus amori" - "let us all yield to love."

"Amor Vincit Omnia" is one of those timeless phrases that can be just as relevant today as when the Latin language was spoken in ancient Rome in Virgil's day. "Love conquers all" is a good enough precept to live by in any time and in any place. This popular Latin phrase has also been used for the title of three songs and an album so it has obviously struck a chord in the heart of the music industry where most popular songs are based on the theme of love. It is also the title of a film.

The phrase Amor Vincit Omnia appears in Chaucer's "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales" and Chaucer used it in his description of the Prioress in his "Nun's Priest's tale;" she wears a brooch which has an inscription of the Latin phrase upon it.

People nowadays are not easily conquered by love. Many are continually on the defensive and too quick to assume there is some ulterior motive if any attempt is made to conquer them with love. They will not readily "Yield to love," as Virgil originally prompted us to do.

The phrase:"Amor Vincit Omnia" has been the inspiration for Valentine's Day jewellery collections and gifts. We all try to conquer with love on February 14th each year but perhaps we would do well to remember that there is infinite love to share with others throughout the rest of the year too!

Stupid Cupid

© 2015 Stella Kaye


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