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The Flowers Personified

Section 2



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           “Happy,” said I often to myself, “happy hour when I left the fairy’s garden. The rose on its stem enjoys the homage of universal admiration.; while I, the only living Rose, dispute with it the scepter of beauty. Both as flower and as woman, my self-love enjoyed the gratification of a twofold triumph.”

           The king lavished upon me the most delicate attentions. He called me his precious rose; and following the fashion of the Olympic games, he established, in my honor, under the name of the Games of the Rose, a contest for determining the origin of that flower. The victor was to receive a wreath from my hand, and a kiss from my lips.

           The value of the prize set on fire all the imaginations in the empire. More than six hundred poets entered the lists.

           First came forward a poet, who described the perplexity of earth at that moment when Venus emerged from the foam of the sea. How could she fitly adorn the brow of so fair a creature? She solved the problem by giving birth to the rose.

           According to the second poet, the rose fell from the bosom of aurora, when she was playing with young Tithonus.

           “Neither the earth, nor Aurora,” sung a third, “but a goddess gave us the rose. Learn,” said he, “its origin:” – and he sung the following strophes, to the accompaniment of this three-stringed lyre: –


             “Of all the young girls in Corinth, Rodante is the fairest. June moves not more majestically, nor does the plumage of the doves of Venus surpass the whiteness of her complexion.


             “But to love, Rodante is insensible. She is devoted to Diana.


             “Notwithstanding this, the handsomest and wealthiest youths of Corinth cannot renounce the hope of moving her heart. They hand garlands of flowers over her door; and they sacrifice to Cupid, that he may make her less obdurate.


             “Crito, the son of Cleobulus, and the fiery Ctesiphon, happened one day to meet Rodante, and pursued her to the temple of Diana, where she sought refuge. Here she appealed to the people for aid. They came: and beholding one so beautiful, so noble, and so modest, the crowd exclaimed: ‘It is Diana; it is the chaste goddess herself! Let us offer our homage, and place her on the pedestal.’


             “Rodante besought the goddess to hinder such a profanation; and the goddess, moved by her tears, transformed her to a rose.


             “Since that time the Corinthians render a special homage to this flower; and a young girl, crowned with roses, has become the symbol of their city.”

           He ceased; and a murmur of applause succeeded his song. Other poets followed.

           One described the despair of Venus after the death of Adonis. She bathed with her tears the body of the beautiful huntsman. She wished to recall him to life. Unavailing effort! The decree of Jove is unchangeable. At least, said the goddess, let not his blood flow in vain. Let the reddened ground send forth tufts of roses, to embalm, as it were, the corpse of Adonis.

           Another dwelt on the stratagems of Zephyrus, enamored of Flora. The perfumes which were scattered in the path of the goddess, – the cool breezes that played about her temples, – the strains of harmony which were changed among the trees, – all failed to touch her heart. Flora loved nothing but her flowers. Zephyrus then changed himself to a flower so beautiful, that Flora drew near to admire it. Allured by its perfume, she hung over it, intoxicated, overpowered, entranced by the secret charm. Imprinting a kiss on its corolla, she consummated the union of Zephyrus and Flora.

           This flower was the rose.

           Most of the poets sustained these opinions, though with some slight variations. There were, for example, some who pretended that the rose was born, contemporaneously with Venus, from the sea-foam; and that it retained its whiteness until Bacchus one day let a drop of his divine liquor fall on the rose, which adorned the bosom of Venus.

           Others maintained that Cupid, at a banquet of the gods, had, with a blow of his wing, overset a cup filled with nectar, which the master of Olympus was just conveying to his lips. Several drops fell on the white rose-wreath worn by Venus; and since that time, roses have had the hue and fragrance of nectar.

           Not one of these explanations satisfied the king. He directed, notwithstanding, that valuable presents should be given to the poets; and appointed a renewal of the contest for the following year.

           During this year paganism and the Roman empire fell. The reign of courtesans and that of roses seemed to have terminated forever.

           I have already stated that my existence as a woman has constantly depended on my existence as a flower. I have been happy or unhappy – courted or neglected – just in proportion as mankind have been more or less attached to the rose.