Valentine’s Day has an origin as divided as a broken heart. There are two St. Valentines honored on February 14, and they were both buried on the Via Flaminia in Rome, although in different places—and their bodies were also divided, so you can visit pieces of them in several locations, including one as far away as Dublin. At least one Valentine supposedly had a face-to-face religious duel with the Roman Emperor Claudius II, where they each tried to convert the other, one to paganism and the other to Christianity. Unpersuaded, Claudius sentenced Valentine’s head to be separated from his body.
Before he was executed, however, he performed a miraculous healing, causing the daughter of his jailer to see for the first time. Legend has it that the imminent martyr wrote her an affectionate farewell note that he signed “from your Valentine” and, after his death, she planted a pink-blossomed almond tree at his grave. Love, apparently, is not always blind.
It’s only fitting, then, that we have two articles about romantic love in our February issue, and they tell opposite sides of Valentine’s legacy. In "Voles in Love," Abigail Tucker profiles Larry Young, the world’s leading expert on the intricate body and brain chemistry behind the fascinating monogamous bonds formed by prairie voles—animals that have a thing or two to teach us about the nature of attraction. (The design of the story’s title, by our associate art director Erik Washam, is a tribute to the famous “Love” image by pop artist Robert Indiana.)
In "Valentine's Revenge", our new history columnist, Amanda Foreman, takes a look at love from a darker point of view: the long, twisted and little-known history of divorce.
The flag Blackbeard flew above his pirate ship is sometimes depicted with a red heart on it, but there was nothing romantic about it—it had a spear pointing toward the heart, a warning to those he approached that no quarter would be given. Though Blackbeard is the most famous and infamous pirate in history, his last days have mostly been a fog. Until now. Colin Woodard, author of an acclaimed history of pirates, serves up an exclusive report (“The Last Days of Blackbeard"), based on recently rediscovered archival records, on the last raid Blackbeard conducted before his final, fatal clash with British colonial authorities. Woodard’s book, The Republic of Pirates, is the basis for a new NBC series, “Crossbones,” starring John Malkovich as Blackbeard.
The object Blackbeard coveted most, of course, was gold, a fever shared by many people throughout history—including modern Olympic athletes. We focus on one of the most remarkable of those, Eddie the Eagle, the unlikeliest star of the Winter Olympics this side of the Jamaican bobsled team. In his honor, we made gold the theme of this issue’s Phenomenon section; in it, you’ll find the exploits of a far more successful eagle.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Editor in Chief