My Blog on Art, History and Crafts
This was actually to be posted just before Valentine’s day but my boyfriend surprised my brother Phoenix and I by arriving a day early for Phoenix’s 13th Birthday. So here it is a wee bit later to keep you in the lovey-dovey mood 🙂
I think if you were to ask people to name a symbol that represents love that roses would be one of the most frequent answers. But where did this idea originally come from?
The oldest written references come from the classical era. Many classical Greek texts describe the rose as sacred to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Roses were one of the most highly regarded offerings given at temples dedicated to Aphrodite. Her name comes from the Greek word aphros, meaning “foam”. According to the Greek poet Anacreon, the Titan Cronos removed the genitalia of Uranus and cast this into the sea. Where it landed foam rose up and Aphrodite came into being from the foam. Some say that white roses also came forth from the foam (white roses are a symbol of purity and innocence).
The rose being used as a symbol of love comes from myths telling of later on in her life, these being in connection to her and her mortal lover Adonis. A previous lover of Aphrodite, Ares the god of War, grew jealous of the lovers and sent a boar to kill Adonis. The vengeful god told Aphrodite of his plan and she went as fast as her legs could carry her to warn her lover. In her haste, she scratched her foot on a white rose bush. The blood that fell from the wound dropped upon the roses and turned them red. Sadly she was too late and Adonis was killed by the boar. As she cried over his body, her tears mixed with his blood and anemone flowers sprang fourth. This change from white roses to red roses could possibly represent the transformation of innocent young love to a more mature sexual love.
As the Romans adopted a large amount of their deities and myths from the Greeks, they also adopted Aphrodite in the form of Venus. She too had the rose as one of her attributes. During the Renaissance period, Botticelli also made reference to this in his painting “The Birth of Venus” as roses are flying through the air in his painting. The son of Venus, Cupid fell in love with Psyche, a mortal so stunning that her beauty even rivalled that of Venus. Naturally Venus, already infuriated by Psyche’s beauty, grew jealous of the couple and carried out many a plan to keep them apart. Luckily they overcame these hateful schemes and could eventually be together. As a celebration of their long awaited union, the god Jupiter sent his daughters (the Hours and the Graces) to go fourth and cover the land in roses.
The connection between roses and love is also present in the Islamic mystical belief: Sufism (tasawwuf in their own language). Only here the word love is meant more in the sense of love between God and man, opposed to human to human. The Sufis mission is to discover divine love and knowledge through personal experience of God. The Sufis were well known for their mystic love poetry. The red rose was an important symbol for them and their love of God as it stood for God’s perfect beauty. This was often combined with a nightingale which represented the soul.
I have merely touched on the references between roses and love here as it is such a broad subject. There are many other love Goddesses that are connected to roses such as Isis, Ishtar, Mary etc. The traditions do seem to mainly spring from Mediterranean European countries and Middle-Eastern countries. My personal feeling why the rose has become such a symbol of love is that a rose is so comparable to the emotion of love. Close your eyes and the smell of the rose is so overwhelming that it seems to dissolve everything else around you, symptoms that could be associated with those of being in love. But if you don’t handle a rose carefully enough it will rip you open causing you great pain, (rose thorn scratches or embedment can even give you blood poisoning, tetanus or the very painful rose-thorn disease). This dark side of the rose is also very true of love when handled indelicately.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, numerous volumes