“That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell so sweet”
Romeo and Juliet Act 2 sc. 2
The history of roses is long and fascinating. With Valentines Day nearly upon us I felt inspired to share with all of you a little bit of rose history.
According to fossil records, this modern day symbol of love is actually millions of years old. So, without further ado, read on…
Although roses have been around for a few millenia, their first pictorial record is from frescoes found in the palace of Knossos (Crete) c. 1600 B.C. Roses feature prominently in antiquity. In Greek mythology the rose is the symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It is said that she gave Eros, the Greek god of love a rose as a gift. Roses are also mentioned in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad. The body of Hector, the mighty warrior was anointed with rose oil (attar).The Egyptians held the rose in high regard. It is said that the lovely Cleopatra used roses to seduce Marc Anthony. By the way, she succeeded. She also used roses in her beauty rituals: rose petals in her milk baths and rosewater for her beauty treatments. The floors of her living quarters were often strewn with a multitude of rose petals. It is also said that the sails of her barge were dipped in rosewater, a not so subtle announcement of her impending approach. We all know that dear Cleopatra was not known for subtleties. Apart from their use as a tool of seduction, roses were employed in religious rituals. Petrified wreaths made of roses have been found in Egyptian tombs.
The Romans valued the rose, sometimes to the point of wretched excess. At an ill-fated dinner banquet, the infamous Emperor Nero is said to have dumped tons(literally) of rose petals on his dinner guests to the point where some suffocated from the intense smell and weight of the petals. The rose was of such importance to the Romans that some nobles dedicated large areas of their estates to the cultivation of roses, for their use in medicine as well as perfumes.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages where roses were grown in monasteries by the resident botanist monk. Yes, there was one! Roses were grown as well in the estates of the nobility where sometimes they were given more importance than crops.
The colonists brought the rose to North America making the lovely rose the longest cultivated flower in North America. And now for some official business: In October 1985 the Senate passed a resolution making the rose the official flower of the United States. In 1986 roses were given the status of national flower by then President Ronald Reagan.
And now that you’ve learned more about roses than you probably cared to, you might never look at a fragrant bouquet of roses the same way again. Ever! Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody!