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Aphrodite and Roses

August 14, 2009

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2), Shakespeare

The prickles on a rose can cut. Blood can spread across pale skin, marring it forever; or bruises can form, shaped like flowers, spreading their prickles out to cut, cut, cut. Love is much the same: sensuous and beautiful, but deadly. Roses are seemingly delicate, but this natural protection cuts and bruises those who would harm them, who would pluck them from the earth before it is their time. It is Aphrodite’s love, and her son’s fertile earths, that give the roses this double edge: beauty with a price, beauty that bleeds.

Aphrodite and, thus, love, were first associated when she heard of her beloved Adonis’ mortal wounds. She ran, blinded by love, and thorns sliced at her feet as she moved. Her blood mixed with the thorns, bound them into a new shape, dangerously lovely: the red rose. She flew to Adonis’ side, but not fast enough; and she wept as he died in her arms.

Roses are one of Aphrodite’s sacred plants – perhaps she, filled with fury and sorrow, rushed back to where the thorns had cut at her and snatched roses from the earth. Perhaps she thought that they would bring her beloved back, that her blood—mixed with Gaea’s pulsing energy—would be enough to return him to life. Perhaps it worked; perhaps it did not. But roses have since had a history with Aphrodite – and with love.

Other stories tell of how Aphrodite presented a rose to her son, Eros, who in turn gave the rose to Harpocrates to induce silence regarding Aphrodite’s sexual indiscretions. Harpocrates agreed; and in turn the rose became the symbol not just of love and desire, but of silence and secrecy. In the feasts at Athens, young men and women would dance naked together, wearing crowns of roses: and so roses came to symbolise the duality of sex and innocence.

There is no doubt that roses symbolise Aphrodite and her train: thought to be soft and gentle from a distance, but fiercely dangerous when brushed against. They laugh and tease and smile—that much is known, for Aphrodite is nothing if not the goddess of pleasure—but what is truly known of them? Little: they are not slaves to passion, and they are not whores: they kiss and touch at their own discretion, falling in love again and again, revelling in living, revelling in the blood and the sex of the world. They live, then, as roses: swelling, spreading their petals, smiling with dew-coated lips, kissing the skin of those who touch them – and then cutting, bleeding, crackling with blood. Perhaps they are born again and again, perhaps each prick of a finger against a rose spins them into infinity and back – and perhaps not.

They are who they are, though: Aphrodite’s roses, her darlings.

And one would do well to remember that – or the next time that one brushes against a rose to coo over its beauty, one might stumble, fall; and slice one’s throat on the ever-waiting, ever-laughing prickles. Such is the nature of beauty; such is the nature of love; and such, then, is the nature of Aphrodite, heavy-eyed and laughing as she bathes, a crown of roses upon her head.

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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Rambling of a Pointless Nature and commented:
    Such a good story on love, passion, and the rose.



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