Valentine Special All about Internet in the Philippines

Beyond the scent of roses
By Marie Alo

One of the pleasures of welcoming February is the thrill of expressing love on Valentine's day. Topping the means of expressions is the giving of roses.

But why the rose? What is it in the rose that makes it so universally admired and so highly cherished specially on Valentine's day? Why has it symbolized women and acquired such meanings as love, compassion, purity and honor?

Learning about the rose's history, therefore, and discovering how and to what extent it has left a mark on the cultures of the world can help us understand why the rose has been attributed all the finest of human virtues. Moreover, it will clarify why it has come to be endowed with such noble functions as the messenger of love, the promoter of religion, and the symbol of gallantry.

Antiquity of the Rose

To most people, the rose is one of the most fascinatingly varied and beautiful of all flowers. Whether it has five, twenty or sixty petals, dwarf or climbing tall, scented or scentless, tiny or large, in bud or full bloom, a rose is welcomed everywhere and by everyone.

Said to be older than man, it has, thus, been the subject of many myths and legends. It has also figured in religious beliefs and rituals as well as in music and poetry of ancient people. Age-old architecture, jewelry, pottery and embroidery designs also attest to the antiquity of the rose.

Myths about the Rose

One of the most interesting myths about the rose relates to its color. According to a story, the rose, which occupied a place in the Garden of Eden, used to be white. However, when Eve saw and kissed it, it blushed and changed to red.

In Greek mythology, the rose was also white. It was said that when Rodanthe, a fair Greek maiden, wads pursued by her suitors, she sought refuge in the temple of Artemis. There, the Goddess of Purity transformed her into a rose. Confronted with the passionate gazes of her suitors, Rodanthe flushed and turned red.

Other stories in Greek and Roman mythologies relate the rose to the God of Love, Eros, the letters of which when rearranged spell rose.

Captivated by stories about the rose and the gods, ancient people soon found themselves dedicating the rose to all the beautiful gods and goddessess.

The Rose and Roman Aristocracy

The ancient Romans were so smitten with the rose that even Nero would have his floors covered with layers of rose petals when he received his guests.

Used to the significance attached by ancient stories to the rose, the Romans then equated it with aristocracy and even extravagance. Hence, to flaunt the status of the privileged few, rose water was allowed to flow freely from their drinking fountains and petals were floated in their wine. Rose petals were also dropped from the ceiling when important people arrive. This may have been the origin of the custom of showering guests and newly-weds with petals after weddings.

The Church and the Rose

Because of the extravagance and corruption associated by the Romans to the rose, the Christian Church, in early days, disapproved its use in religious rituals. But feeling the impossibility of erasing the age-old veneration to the cherished flower, the Church finally approved its use in the sixth century. The Church bestowed religious interpretations to the rose which somehow changed its imaged.

Along with the cross which was the sign of sorrow, the rose was made to represent the blood of martyrs. The five-petalled red rose, for instance, was made to symbolize Christ's five wounds and consequently, His compassion and love for mankind while the white rose came to stand for the purity and virginity of His Blessed Mother.

With the introduction of the rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the eleventh century, the veneration of the rose was further promoted. Gothic cathedrals were adorned with rosette windows and religious songs and poems about the Virgin deliberately included the rose.

This subsequent link of the rose with Mariolatry was seen by historians as a direct influence of the Greeks (i.e. practice of bestowing roses to their gods and goddesses) on the Christian culture.

The Rose as a Symbol of Honor

As time passed, the rose acquired other meaning. Because of its link to religion and the godly virtues that go with it, the white rose has also come to signify innocence of an accused and the resurrection and eternal life of the dead. Hence, the planting of rose bushes on graves.

As the eighteenth century entered, the rose took on a new meaning: honor and gallantry. History books narrate of how the English infantry regiment won over the French army during the Seven Years War in Minden, Germany. The reason for their victory? The rose.

It was said that one of the English infantries, on its way to battle, passed through a rose garden, plucked roses, and stuck them in their caps. They made a surprise attack on the French troop and defeated them in no time. From then on, all English soldiers geared for battle were made to wear white roses to instill in them gallantry and honor.

The Rose in Heraldry

Because of all the virtues associated with the rose, it was used in almost all forms of heraldry all over the world: in coats of arms, on coins, seals, banners, paintings and stamps. In fact, it even became the emblem of England and some of the American states. In all these forms of heraldry, the rose was used to extol human virtues.

The Rose: Ultimate Symbol of the Finest Virtues

In early times, it was customary to use roses symbolically. As a gift, it conveys a special meaning -- red roses for love; carmine roses for condoling with sorrow; pink roses for appreciation of youth and beauty; yellow roses for expressing envy or unfaithfulness or as a symbol that a man loves another, not the recipient of the rose; white roses to signify innocence or to extol purity.

Roses were also used to describe women: first, they were buds sought after by the bees and the butterflies; then they bloom and release scents so inviting as to warrant a pluck; finally, they were overblown, they fade and soon after, barely remembered. During these stages, they can prick and inflict pain with their thorns.

Over time the rose has accumulated different meanings to different people at different eras. But all these seem to emphasize the finest of human virtues worth emulating: love and compassion because of the rose's association with Christ; purity because of its link to Mama Mary; and honor because of the English army's gallantry. These meanings were not made overnight but were handed down by one generation to the next, by one culture to another. It was an unconscious link of influences from one era to another--from the era of myths and legends to the early Romans to the present.

Whatever meaning it conveys and whatever form it takes, therefore, a rose will always be cherished as a source of delight to anyone who welcomes it. So the next time you receive a rose, look beyond its beauty and its scent. For beyond every bloom is a rich cultural heritage that embodies not just love and heroism but the gamut of human existence.

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