BLOODY FLOWERS

The backstories of our blooms are not so sweet.


If flowers are not the most beautiful things that nature has to offer, they definitely come close to topping the list.

In Greek mythology, however, the origins of certain flowers are less than pretty, despite their sweet-scented delight for our eyes; indeed, one could say these flowers have vampiric connections. In other words, they are believed to have blossomed from the blood of the dead.

NB: there are many versions of these stories, some more well-known than others.

Hyacinth(us)

Hyacinthus was a Spartan prince and a close associate of the god Apollo. Zephyr, the West Wind, was jealous of their relationship. One day, when Hyacinthus and Apollo were training with their discuses, Zephyr altered the wind, deliberately blowing the discus so that it struck Hyacinthus, killing him. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when he could not use his healing powers to save Hyacinthus, a heartbroken Apollo made the flower spring up from Hyacinthus’ blood, to honour his fallen companion.

Narcissus

Narcissus, an extremely vain and cold-hearted man, cruelly rebuffed the affections of a nymph, Echo, who had been cursed by the goddess Hera never to speak her own words again. The goddess Artemis decided to punish Narcissus by showing him his own reflection in a pool, with which he fell in love.


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Upon realising that he would never love another as he loved himself, Narcissus stabbed himself to death in despair. His namesake flower sprang up from his blood.

Metamorphoses shows Narcissus being so absorbed by his reflection (shown to him by the goddess Nemesis) that he eventually succumbed to starvation. As the wood nymphs prepared the pyre, they never found his body, but found a single narcissus flower in its place.

Adonis and the Anemone

Both Aphrodite (goddess of love and beauty) and Persephone (queen of the Underworld) were attracted to a handsome human, Adonis. Unsurprisingly, Adonis returned Aphrodite’s affections, provoking the jealousy of Persephone, who proceeded to inform Ares (god of war and Aphrodite’s husband) of this. An enraged Ares turned himself into a boar, chased Adonis and gored him to death. From Adonis’ blood grew the first anemone. In Metamorphoses, a grief-stricken Aphrodite sprinkled his blood with nectar, from which a red anemone sprang up – very fragile, easily shaken by the winds (Greek word: anemos) that gave the flower its name.

These are not the only flowers believed to have emerged from people. Less bloody examples include Phyllis, whose husband Acamas fought in the ten-year Trojan Wars. She mourned his absence so deeply that she would have died if it were not for the goddess Athena, who turned Phyllis into an almond tree. When Acamas returned and realised what had become of his wife, he kissed the tree in sorrow, causing it to bear its flowers even when its leaves were yet to open. This is believed to be why almond flowers have always blossomed before the leaves appear.

It is interesting that, from all these stories of death and sadness, something so delicate and beautiful can emerge, giving us such joy.


MACKAYAN: bloody flowers

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