Flowers in Greek Mythology

Look closely and you'll find Greek among your favorites plants, especially flowers. It's true that we recognize ancient Greeks more for their contributions to language, architecture, art, and government than gardening. However with such a lovely Mediterranean climate, floral life naturally abounds in Greece, making their contribution through mythology and names natural.


The Amaryllis is a stunning flower, grown from a bulb, that is native to Chile and Peru. It was named "Amaryllis", meaning sparkling, derived from Greek, by a physician from Leipzig who was on a plant expedition. While we associate Amaryllis with the flower, in ancient Greece it was a popular woman's name.


Aphrodite, the goddess of love, fell in love with a handsome mortal, Adonis. Ares, the god of war, was Aphrodite's ex-lover and was very jealous of the new couple. Aphrodite and Adonis were hunting together in the woods when they encountered a wild boar, really Ares in disguise. The boar attacked Adonis and seriously wounded him. Aphrodite tried to save Adonis, but
was not successful. As she carried his body out of the woods, drops of his blood fell to the ground. Anemones sprung from his blood.


In Greek myth, Iris was a messenger of Zeus and Hera. She would deliver messages by travelling on a rainbow. Her name meant "eye of heaven" since she travelled from "heaven" to earth.


The Greek myth about Narcissus is a classic "origins myth" - a story to explain why and how something in nature has come to be. Narcissus was a handsome youth who fell in love with his own image. He died by drowning as he tried to reach out to his own image in a pool of water. The flower grew in that place to commemorate his death. Another Greek myth tells of Persephone, Demeter's (goddess of agriculture) daughter, who was picking daffodils (or Narcissi). As she wandered away from her companions, Hades (god of the Underworld) snatched her and took her to be his bride. Thus Greeks and Romans associated daffodils with death, the afterlife, and rebirth.

Laurel Tree

In Greek
mythology, Daphne was a beautiful young nymph. She was dedicated to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and had no interest in the many suitors who wanted to marry her. She even refused the advances of Apollo, son of Zeus. Apollo was very much in love with Daphne and couldn't accept that she wouldn't marry him. As Apollo chased her through the woods, Daphne prayed to her father Peneus, a river god, to help her. Peneus transformed her into a laurel tree. Thus the laurel tree (called daphe in Greek) became sacred to Apollo. The laurel wreath symbolized excellence to the ancient Greeks and was used as a crown of victory for Olympic champions.

Read more in the book "The Language of Flowers: Symbols and Myths" by Marina Heilmeyer.



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