EVEN Hadrian and Antinous would not have known the precise origins of the Lupercalia ... the ancient rite of spring when young nobles stripped off naked except for fur pelts and ran around the Palatine Hill flinging rawhide strips at females.
But Antinous might well have visited the cave-like grotto ... the Lupercale ... at the foot of the Palatine Hill.
The cave-like structure was found a few years ago and experts are carrying out an extensive archaeological dig at a site which they believe is the ceremonial site of the Lupercale grotto where the caesars honored Romulus and Remus.
It is intriguing to think that Hadrian and Antinous took part in the rites in this subterranean chamber.
For centuries, the cave-like grotto was revered as the sacred site where the "She-Wolf" suckled the orphans Romulus and Remus. Young nobles called Luperci, taking their name from the place of the wolf (lupa), ran naked from the Lupercale grotto around the bounds of the Palatine, and used strips of hide to slap the hands or buttocks of girls and women lining the route ... reenacting a prank attributed to Romulus and Remus as randy teenagers.
Here is how Flamen Antonius Subia explains its significance for the Religion of Antinous:
"The Lupercalia is the festival of the wolf mother of Rome, and sacred festival of Antinous Master of Hounds.
"The Lupercalia remembers the she-wolf who raised Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Venus and Mars, who later founded the city of Rome.
"The wolf-like nature of the twins and of the Roman character was imparted through the milk of the wolf-mother.
"The spirit transferred through the loving milk of the ferocious mother is celebrated on this day, and is integral to the concept of Antinous the Hunter.
"Antinous took his place at Hadrian's feet, and accompanied him bravely and loyally through the forests and lived by the Emperor's side for seven years, which is equivalent to the life of a strong hunting dog.
"The Canine nature of Antinous is celebrated on this day and is seen as an allegory for the Priesthood of the Religion of Antinous."
Antonyus goes on to explain that the Lupercalia festival is a purification rite, cleansing the way for Spring, nourishing the winter spirit of the dormant wolves within so as to fuel the ruthless courage of Roman warriors. A Dog and a Goat were sacrificed, and the young noble youths raced around the city naked except for goat, or wolf skins, whipping any girls or women who they encountered.
Antonius explains, "The Festival is also sacred to Faunus, the Roman Pan...the one who 'drives away the wolf from the flock.'...we usually think of Pan as Goat-horned and cloven hooved, but 'the one who drives away the wolf'...could quite possibly be a sacred Dog. Lupercalia is therefore quite possibly a dog festival...and it is interesting to note that it falls almost exactly opposite the calendar from the rise of the Dog Star."
Antonyus elaborates by adding, "For me, Lupercalia is a time of cleansing and light...the lighted lamp that preceeds the coming dawn of Spring...a preparation for the Flowering....
"So a celebration or ritual to observe the Lupercalia should focus on purification. ..self-purification primarily, but also the purification of the home, and surroundings. A cleansing of negative, stagnant, dusty, mildewy, settled, sedimentary influences that we are ready to clear away...from within and without."
He also outlines rituals for purification and cleansing which members of the worldwide Religion of Antinous will be performing this weekend.
Antonius says the Lupercalia harkens to the most ancient of rites of Spring, and he says the cleansing must come from within.
"And then look into your soul, observe your interactions. ..make changes for the better...be kinder, more polite, or just simply be friendlier to people...and do something strictly for your own pleasure," he says in his Lupercalia Epistle.
He stresses, "It is really a matter of deep and meaningful concentration on cleansing your mind and heart of negative internal influences...so as to strengthen your fortifications against external negative influences."