The Roman empire began with a tale of love—or, more accurately, lust—almost three millennia ago. The libidinous god Mars, smitten by the beauty of a Vestal Virgin, snuck into her temple in the town of Alba Longa to sleep with her.
When the disgraced Vestal gave birth to twin boys, remarkable for their size and beauty, the evil tribal king ordered the infants thrown in the Tiber. The cradle containing the babies drifted downstream and washed ashore at the base of the Palatine hill.
According to legend, a lupa (she-wolf) suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. However, their nursemaid may well have been human. Lupa was slang for prostitute, and brothels were called lupanari. Several years ago archaeologists unearthed the lupercale, the sacred cave, decorated with seashells and colored marble mosaics, that may have sheltered the twins and served as a shrine for their worship.
For centuries in this cave, on every February 15, Romans celebrated a fertility festival called the Lupercalia with the sacrifice of a goat. Priests sliced the goat’s hide into strips and dipped them in the sacrificial blood. Boys would run through the streets, gently slapping women with the goatskin strips to enhance their fertility in the coming year.
Later in the day, all the young unmarried women in the city would place their names in a large urn. Rome’s bachelors each selected a name and became that woman’s sexual partner for the year in a sort of trial union that often led to marriage.
As it grew in power, the Catholic Church abolished this pagan practice but created in its stead the most romantic of saints’ days on February 14 to honor a martyred priest named Valentino. Although historical accounts differ, Valentino seems to have served in Rome in the third century A.D., when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men because he believed that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentino, sympathetic to young lovers, defied the decree and continued to perform weddings.
Arrested and tortured, the tender-hearted saint developed a friendship with a young girl—perhaps his jailor’s daughter—who came to visit him. Some say they fell in love; others claim that he cured her blindness. Before being beheaded, the saint sent her a note that he signed “il tuo Valentino” (your Valentino).
Lovers around the world have been using the same phrase ever since. In Italy, which has not commercialized Valentine’s Day as much as in the United States, couples celebrate with una cenetta romantica (or intima) (a romantic or intimate dinner), flowers, or another token of affection.
50 Ways to Say “I Love You” in the Italian Language
“How do I love thee?” Elizabeth Barrett Browning asked. She did the math in English, but the passionate Italophile may well have chosen Italian when she whispered words of love. The most romantic lovers often do. Why not? Like love itself, a dichiarazione d’amore (declaration of love) is lovelier in Italian.
Keep in mind that Italians reserve the words “ti amo” (I love you) only for the loves of their lives. Italian parents and children as well as boyfriends and girlfriends express affection with “Ti voglio bene,” which translates literally into “I want you well,” but conveys an entire universe of best wishes: “I want the best for you.” “I want all good things for you.” “I want what you want because I care so much for you.”
I am celebrating Valentine’s Day in Italy this year, but I wanted to send along some Italian phrases that may help you win the gioco dell’amore (game of love).
1. Sei la mia anima gemella — You are my soulmate.
2. Ti penso ogni giorno — I think of you every day.
3. Senza di te la mia vita non ha senso — Without you my life makes no sense.
4. Vieni qui e baciami — Come here and kiss me.
5. Sei tutto per me. Sei il mio universo — You are everything for me. You are my universe.
6. Non posso vivere senza te — I can’t live without you.
7. Ti voglio –- I want you.
8. Mi piace tutto di te – I like everything about you.
9. Sono pazzo (pazza, if female) di te — I am crazy about you.
10. Mi fai stare bene –- You make me feel good.
11. Siamo fatti l’uno per l’altra — We are made for each other.
12. Sei irresistibile — You are irresistible.
13. Mi sto innamorando di te –- I’m falling in love with you.
14. Mi rendi felice — You make me happy.
15. Sei l’amore della mia vita — You are the love of my life.
16. Ti adoro — I adore you.
17. Voglio stare con te per sempre — I want to be with you for always.
18. Ho bisogno di te — I need you.
19. Abbracciami — Embrace me!
20. Non potrò mai smettere d’amarti — I could never stop loving you.
21. Sei la regina del mio cuore —You are the queen of my heart.
22. Sei la mia anima gemella – you are my soul mate, you are the one
23. Voglio stare con te — I want to be with you.
24. Non posso più vivere senza te — I can’t go on living without you.
25. Voglio fare l’amore con te — I want to make love to you.
26. Sono tuo (tua) — I am yours.
27. Sii mio (mia) — Be mine!
28. Senza te non sono nulla —Without you I am nothing.
29. Sei il mio raggio di sole — You are my sunshine.
30. Voglio soltanto te — I want only you.
31. Tesoro mio — My darling!
32. Farei di tutto per te — I would do everything for you.
33. Mi manchi — I miss you
34. Hai conquistato il mio cuore — You have won my heart
35. Rimani sempre con me — Stay with me always.
36. Non lasciarmi mai — Never leave me.
37. Al cuor non si comanda — You can’t rule your heart.
38. Siamo fatti l’uno per l’altra – we are made for each other
39. Finchè morte non ci separi — ‘Til death do us part.
40. Ti do il mio cuore — I give you my heart.
41. Voglio invecchiare insieme a te — I want to grow old together with you.
42. Sei tutto ciò che voglio —You’re everything I want.
43. Resta sempre al mio fianco — Stay always by my side.
44. Voglio passare il resto della mia vita con te – I want to spend the rest of my life with you.
45. Mi sono innamorata di te a prima vista – I fell in love with you at first sight
46. Solo tu mi capisci — Only you understand me.
47. Ho trovato il paradiso nei tuoi occhi — I have found paradise in your eyes.
48. La nostra è una vera storia d’amore — Ours is a true love story.
49. Mi vuoi sposare? — Will you marry me?
50. Vivremo felici e contenti — We will live happily ever after.
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language.