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The story so far

As I have already told you, I’m really keen on history, and in particular on ancient Greek and Roman culture (actually, I’ve studied these subjects for long 5 years, and I would have had serious troubles if I didn’t like them at all!). Anyway, it goes without saying that I looked for something about flowers…in the PAST.
I don’t want to bore you with a long story, for sure, but let’s proceed with order.
First of all, the ancients paid more attention to the gardens than to flowers themselves. The Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Egyptians considered the garden as a place for a contemplative pleasure, while for the Greeks it was mostly the expression of their interest for the country and the natural places. According to them, it wasn’t a form of art, but it was rather related to the sacredness, that was a focus point of all Greek culture. Indeed, they gave the great variety of natural landscapes (from the fertile plain to the rough mountains) symbolical meanings, personifying each of them with a divinity. Because of this, the gardens were mostly located near temples and sacred buildings, with a huge variety of plants, flowers and aromatics, but others were also placed close to public buildings, as gyms, gymnasiums (as our contemporary school), street markets and Plato’s Academy.
The private gardens, instead, had another function: thanks to Teofrasto, Licurgo and Epicuro, we know that they were considered as an integral part of the house, they were seen just for their utility, having vineyard, olives, cypresses and roses, imported in Macedonia from King Mida.
Through Alexander Magnum, the Greeks could then appreciate just the aesthetic pleasure of the gardens, as the Orientals and Persians did. Therefore, during the Hellenism, public and private parks could spread in the rich cities of Tebe, Rodi and Pergamo, providing a huge variety of flowers, such as roses, violets and iris, and little trees, among statues, fountains, little temples and niches. I imagine it was a real “locus amoenus”, isn’t it?
Then, the old, great Grece ended to be considered for itself, and it was completely absorbed into the Roman Emperor: in this extent, Roman culture could be considered as a normal prosecution of the Greek one. Some traditions and some concepts were translated as they were. And this happened for gardens and flowers as well: we need just to think to the big gardens of domus, or to the various paintings that decorated their houses to understand it. We can see it in these examples:
 

 

 

 

But, apart from this, a curious and not always underlined aspect should be presented. Nowadays, we usually consider herbs as an exotic cure, but it’s not true. In the West, they have been using herbs as medicines for unmemorable time. We could just think about Circe, Medea or Elena, considered as “witches”, or about the ancient Rome, where there was a sort of  female medicine, based on natural substances, in order to cure gynecologic diseases. But, not so rarely, women used them to poison.
Let’s see just two examples, given by Livio:
  • in 331 B.C., in Rome, many important people died. According to a slave, they were killed by some matrons, whose houses were plenty of poisoned potions. The matrons claimed they were medicines (venena bona, in Latin), but as they were obliged to drink those potions, they died.
  • Between 184 and 180 B.C. a mysterious epidemic broke out, and a board established that the culprits were women, again. This time, they were more than 2000: everyone condemned to death. Someone thinks these episodes are related to a sort of female revolution, instead they could be more strictly linked to the fear of a female knowledge that they were not able to control.
In the Medieval age, a lot of herbals widely spread, collecting, clustering and providing many characteristics, species and useful news about plants, herbs, flowers and essences. Moreover, being a period full of symbolism, inevitably involved art, flowers and gardens as well. The two kinds of garden broadly spread, with a strong symbolic meaning, were Hortus conclusus and Hortus deliciarum. Hortus conclusus is a protected garden, inside a garth, seen as a place which offers shelter and preserves from evil. Hortus deliciarum is the garden of the castles, sung in chivalry romances: it is then the metaphor of the courtly love and represents the path the knight has to do to reach the happiness. Such link to the symbolism continued during the Renaissance, when flowers were represented in many pictures to communicate specific messages. The lily, for instance, symbolized purity and not by chance we can find it in many “Annunciations”.
 

 

 

 

Still, it was only in the XIX  century that the interests for the “language of flowers” reached its great development, linked to the communication of feelings, so that also a specific publishing could spread, specialized in the so-called “flower books”.
 
 
The so-called “language of flowers” was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages. King Charles II brought the art to Sweden from Persia in the 17th Century, but, as we’ve seen, it has originated already long time ago.
Charlotte de la Tour wrote the first flower dictionary in 1819 in Paris. Entitled “Le Language des Fleurs”, it was immediately a big hit. The new floral language appealed to the Romantic poets and spread through England, where Miss Corruthers of Inverness wrote in 1879 an entire book on the subject: Flower Lore: The Teachings of Flowers, Historical, Legendary, Poetical and Symbolic”. Her book became the standard source for flower symbolism both in England and the United States.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, in England, which lasted from 1837 to 1901, the language of flowers was as important to people as being “well dressed”. Victorian women elaborated a silent language that allowed them to communicate many feelings that the strict etiquette of the times would not normally allow.Flowers adorned almost everything: hair, clothing, jewelry, home décor and china. But this language was most commonly communicated through Tussie-Mussies, small bouquets of flowers wrapped in lace and tied with satin. Tussie Mussies were known as “talking bouquets”, and lovers used them to express their feelings to each other. 
 
 
Dozens of dictionaries, therefore, were published to help decipher the coded messages.
 
 
 
…And now, what’s the story?
Letters?  Walkman? Bouquets? Obviously NO! Definitely outdated! In a society so dynamic and oriented to efficiency, everything is constantly moving, is changing very quickly, and nothing survives as it was. Bauman, in his book, has spoken about “Liquid Modernity”: just modernity cannot preserve its shape, it’s concerned with undeterminacy, flexibility, mutability and fragility.
 
 
Following this way, and coming back to our topic, we can easily state: wouldn’t it be odd if nowadays a guy gave you a flower to introduce himself and to declare his love? Wouldn’t it be odd if, in the age of hyper text, emails and world wide web, someone sends you a bunch to express a specific message?
Personally, I hope somone will continue to send flowers in the future, at least to their moms! :-)
They would convey messages of love or dislike depending upon which ones were given, their sizes, how they were held, or also grouped together.
 

 

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