Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lupa's story

Lupa is Latin for she-wolf. The she-wolf inhabits the hills of the Palatine which I suspect are the site of a prior Etruscan sacred site. The day I visited the Palatine was really hot and the hills were shining and pink. I wandered over towards them wanting some shade and found this small shrine with no signs to indicate anything of importance here. First of all I saw the bird wolf woman (upper right, as in the previous post). And then I saw the sheep's head (on the lower left). I had not expected to find these two figures together, it seemed as though it was there for my benefit (I know, I know...). Anyway, I was standing there mouth gaping thinking about all the different possible ways to take the meaning of this. Some days later I wrote the following poem and I've been working on it on and off since then.

The word 'lupa' has multiple meanings. It can also mean prostitute (in Italian this has shifted to 'cagna' as in English 'bitch'). It's hard to unpack how words shift in meaning and in societies where women have much more status and freedom the word prostitute can have a range of other meanings, from sexually active to sacred in some way. In Greek and Roman religion the 'bitch goddess' is Artemis or Diana respectively. She is not bossed around by anyone, in fact, she is also called 'mistress of the animals', 'goddess of the wild' and the like.

Lupa’s story

heat is swelling like distended breasts

the day after I whelp my cubs
my dugs full    craving water
I wander down the pink Palatino hill
to the cool by the river
flood-high from summer storms

I smell something on Zephyr’s breath
hear the thin yelp
find them scratched and naked
tumbling from a wicker basket
I lick the caul from their bodies
first one then the other

they attach their mouths to me
almost drain me of milk
like ringlets we curl in the grotto and doze
I know the science of auspex
crows and ravens who bring
morsels of food augure well

there is man-smell in the air
I dare not remain
they are calm now
these pink-fleshed ones
I retreat from sun-glare
into the cave’s umbral arms

he steps out from
behind the fig tree
with his ovine face
his sheepskin wrap

shepherd’s crook
and bumpkin ways

a kindly one our Faunus
he cradles them in his arms
stares into my eyes
carries them to the breasts
of fertile Acca Larentia
who shares my name Lupa

There are so many things going on in this story. The shepherd, Faunus (another name for Pan and probably from the term 'the kindly one') takes the twins back home to another woman who has had ten children. She, like the wolf, is known as Lupa. But these 'lupas' are mothers, they suckle children. That is the most obvious element in the two stories.

Pan or Faunus is a kind of sidekick to Diana and Artemis and that also comes through in this story with the passing of the children from the suckling she-wolf 'lupa' to the suckling woman 'lupa'.

Photos on this page:
1. The shrine on the Palatine Hill, Rome with both bird/wolf/woman and sheep.
2. A Roman coin in the Museum of Antiquities, Turin.
3. The Palatine shrine with bird/wolf/woman.
4. The Palatine shrine with sheeps's head.
5. Lupa sculpture outside the Capitoline Museum (behind it).
6. Lupa sculpture outside the Capitoline Museum at sunrise.

The photo that heads my blog is the Lupa sculpture inside the Capitoline Museum.

1 comment:

  1. At this rate, you won't need a book! Love the commentaries too, they add immensely to the senses. And the pics.