The fabulousness of a rose….
Although I recognise it is an extravagance, having flowers in my home bestows a sense of calmness and gentle delight (somehow it’s even sweeter when the flowers are bought especially for you — husband hint hint!) The effect is somewhat surprising but I surmise looking at any beautiful object scintillates our emotions. In spite of the fact my favourite flower is not the rose the delicate intricacy of its formation is miraculous. As a child, I used to think blue roses were impossibly beautiful and the height of sophistication. But alas, I learnt they cannot be created naturally. Today I singularly appreciate observing a rose where nature has expertly wielded its palette knife, merging a variety of complimentary colours into a soothing or intense assault on our senses.
But a rose is not just an alluring object. Throughout history cultures have imbued roses with a variety of meaning spanning romance, beauty and even death.
The history of the rose reaches back 35–40million years ago as wild roses have been found in fossils dating from that time. However human cultivation of the rose began much later; about 5,000 years ago in China about and in the Middle East c2,000 years past. According to several gardening sites, the rose of antiquity was not as deftly designed as the forms we see today which have emerged through cross pollination by insects and birds as well as deliberate human intervention. The rose was used for decoration, perfume, a condiment in cooking and the Romans found it specifically useful for medicinal purposes and in garlands to commemorate the dead. Eventually the flower came to Europe via Roman trade as having the ability to nurture a rose garden was seen as an effective demonstration of success and wealth.
Cross pollination is all very well but I admire the more fantastical tales as to how the red and white rose came into existence. The Persian fable describes the flowers complaining to Allah that their Queen, the lotus blossom slept by night. So Allah named the white rose the Queen of flowers instead. The nightingale enamoured of the beauty of this white rose attempted to embrace it. In doing so the bird was pierced by sharp thorns and from the drops of her blood fallen to the ground grew red roses.
In Greek mythology, it is said that fragrant red rose bushes grew from the ground when a mixture of Aphrodite’s tears and the blood of her lover Adonis, who was mortally wounded when hunting a wild boar combined. Another version describes the sea foam of which Aphrodite was born falling onto the ground as she walked spawning white rose bushes. The Roman story proposes that Flora, the Goddess of Spring and of Flowers, discovered the dead body of her most dear nymph. In devastation she begged the Gods for help in transforming her nymph’s body into the most beautiful flower which she wanted recognised as the ‘Queen of all flowers’. According to ludwigroses.cao.za, ‘It is said that Apollo gave her the breath of life, Bacchus bathed her in nectar, Vertumnus gave her fragrance, Pomona fruit, and Flora herself finally gave a diadem of petals, and thus the rose was born’. I have read this story elsewhere but with differently named gods.
In Asia, the rose plays a role in creation and signifies beauty. Vishnu the supreme Hindu god formed his bride Lakshmi from 108 large and 1008 smaller rose petals.
‘It might well be said of this beautiful flower, that nature has exhausted herself in trying to lavish on it the freshness of beauty, of form, perfume, brilliancy, and grace’. Charlotte de la Tour.
And the thorns of such a beautiful object? It is postulated that Eros created these. As he was leaning in to kiss his roses, Eros was stung by a bee from inside a flower. Angered he relates this to his mother who offers him a quiver of arrows which he fires at the roses. The thorns appear where his arrows have missed their mark.
In other notorious instances, Cleopatra was famously meant to have carpeted her bedroom with rose petals in order to seduce Mark Antony and Emperor Nero was thought to have spent lavishly on petals for his banquets. In England confusingly the rose came to symbolise chastity and purity but at some point gained a sexual aspect. Christianity although initially disdainful of the luscious connotations of the rose, relented; associating the red rose with the Virgin Mary and some say this led to the use of the rosary for prayer. The Tudors used the rose as a symbol. The houses of York and Lancaster were respectively represented by white and red roses causing the civil war for the throne in the 15th Century to be named The War of the Roses. At the end of the war, the rose was adopted as England’s national flower. In the 19th century in France, the first hybrid rose was produced and Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine worked to create a decorous rose garden hoping that one day it would contain every rose ever cultivated.
And the nuances of the rose stretch into present day. The Latin term sub rosa (which means literally ‘under the rose’), is still used today to request silence regarding matters discussed in private. It was believed that Cupid (Eros) gave a rose to Harpocrates (goddess of silence) in exchange for keeping the amorous affairs of his mother, Aphrodite secret; hence the term.
Obviously none of what I have set down is relevant to savouring the moment you are diverted by your roses. However it is in our character to imbue objects with meaning and I like to think as you do so, you are partaking in a pleasure seeped in the fabulous and historical making it ever more sweet.