A Sharp View: The First Valentine was 2,000 years ago

Posted on: 02/13/2018 00:00

As we may be very busy today observing Valentine’s Day and often trying to decide who our Valentine is, we may be overlooking that the first Valentine was dedicated to humanity in general.  This was about 2,000 years ago, when a Roman patrician  named Valentine who had been converted to Christianity from  the Apostle Paul was about to be  fed to the lions for his faith.  This legendary Valentine determined that his last on earth would be a message of love to a woman he had never met– the blind daughter of  Roman guard who admired Valentine and confided to him the despair of his blind daughter.  Valentine just before he was called to his death wrote a message to this woman on a card and handed it to the guard, signing it, “Your Valentine.”

I have re-enacted this story act for my latest holiday Amazon book that I have written – “Who’s Who in the Bible.”  Here it is today from my book.

Few Romans understood they were playing with a terrible fire.  No less than Aristotle had warned them in his writings that they must never present bloodshed on a live stage, even if the action was entirely pretense. Everything that spoke of violence must be reduced to off-stage references and noises and words, but no on-stage blood.  Again and again, the Romans had adhered to this basic Greek rule of bloodless theater as they seasonally staged the plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

But as the Roman Empire grew mightier and less vulnerable to consequences, there were more murmurings that Rome had become too great to be constricted by even a man like Aristotle or any Greek tradition.  The Roman audiences began to stir restlessly out of their seating to the off stage noises and screams of the play Agamemnon.

Everyone became noisier especially at that moment when the king on his return from Troy was stabbed to death in his bathtub by his own wife.

Finally at one Festival of Bacchus in Rome a theater director tried something more daring than before.  He played out the regicide of Agamemnon on Center Stage, before a cheering and yelling audience of Roman citizens.  The Roman theater public could never get their fill of blood on stage after that day.

The Romans soon got tired by dyed red water, and gathered some real blood from executed prisoners to put into Agamemnon’s tub.  The emperor Caligula saw how this real blood would pre-occupy the audiences and decided that staging bloody games in vast arenas might put a tighter control on his vast population of Roman citizens.  So he staged huge games that lasted all day with death meted out to increasing victims in every event.  Caligula even created small armies that were forced to fight against each other in his entertainment arenas.

But the fact of the bloody staging of Agamemnon’s assassination presented day after day finally helped inspire Rome’s Praetorian Guards to assassinate Caligula himself.

All the new escalation of a blood culture in Rome neither stopped or even slowed it – more vulnerable groups of Romans were eventually eaten b it. Under the reign of Caligula’s successor Claudius, the rapidly-growing Christian population been led by a man known as Paul the Apostle, and now many of them were selected to be beaten and eaten by lions in full view of huge audiences under the listings of live theater. 

The Roman audience particularly loved this spectacle of human beings with strange, incomprehensible beliefs being reduced to food for lions. With the world plunder from occupying armies giving Roman citizens all that they needed to eat and live, there were decreasing reasons  for most of them to work, and the citizens began to spend all day just watching people being killed either by animals or other people.

There was one Roman guard in the middle of this carnage who hated his work more every day.  He was Marcus.

Another day had arrived, and Marcus had to tell another group of Christians to walk into the center field of the arena and await the lions.  The audience was prepped to relish the killings of Christians with such an intensity now that they chanted “lions, lions, lions” as the cats prowled into the field.

At every execution, Marcus was compelled to seek out the strongest, most powerful Christian in the group to lead the rest out to their terrible deaths.  This day he chose a tall, rather young man with a noble beard dressed in a patrician’s layered toga.

“Please forgive me,” Marcus said to the young man.  “My name is Marcus.  May I ask your name?”

“Valentine,” said the young man.

“I have to tell you it is time to lead your Christians out to the field, Valentine.  Speaking for myself, I feel terribly sorry for you.”

“No need for that.  We have prayed together.  We are ready to now enter a much better world than what we see here.”

Valentine gestured to the crowd whose voice for blood had turned into a huge animal sound.

“I know,” said Marcus.  “I suppose I am not really weeping for you.  I am weeping over the death of Rome.  This …is the …end of Rome, I know as a former soldier of Germanicus.”

“No need to weep, brother Marcus.  We are about to have the wonderful experience of a miracle in each of our lives.  Have you ever heard of Christian resurrection?”

“I have heard about these miracles, Valentine.  After all the days I have been doing this. I have heard everything.  If I were less of a coward, I would ask for a miracle myself right now.”

 “Oh?” asked Valentine.

“For my poor blind daughter,” said Marcus. “She has lived with her mother and me until she is now nearly twenty. She cries every night.  This was even before she lost her sight over a year ago now.  She knows I used to be a centurion under the great Germanicus.  I think all my daughter’s tears made her blind, because of what I have to do today to support my family.”

“I think there may be more to it than that,” said Valentine.  He took out a piece of parchment from under his layered toga as well as a quill.

“What is your daughter’s name?”

“Her name is Julia.”

Valentine began writing on the parchment.  “This is what we Christians call a card,” he said.  “We send them out to homes to announce our weddings.  In fact, I perform Christian weddings.”

“You do that, Valentine?”

Valentine handed Marcus the card.  Old Marcus read each word twice.

“Dear Julia.  Your vision will return to you someday.  It will be all the more beautiful when it does, but only be patient and remember that God brings back all life back to us, even the sun in the morning,  even yet in the barren grounds that light up with flowers after a storm, and even the life that comes back to us after a deep sleep.  My name is Valentine, Julia, and I today I am with a group of Christians who are about to enter the most wonderful day of our lives, when we will all be reunited with our good fathers and good mothers and good family members who had departed us to go to their Heaven.  My Christian friend Paul and I from that station will wait for you to open your eyes to see all the new Christians in Rome who are creating a new place here worthy of your eyesight.

“Love, your Valentine.”

Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . Sharp's latest book is an Amazon Kindle collection of his published short stories, Every Kind of Angel . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.


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