The rose has always had a magic appeal, symbolising perfection, beauty and love.
As the emblem of Venus, the goddess of love, it has been revered since ancient times and has inspired great poets, writers, artists and composers.
Wild roses rambled on earth long before human existence, and today this elegant, fragrant bloom continues to charm and delight. Fossils date back more than 30million years, and ancient clay tablets from Babylon tell of a king returning from battle, bearing vines, figs and roses, and describing the extraction of oil from the fragrant flowers.
Another way of enjoying roses is through essential oil of rose which is considered to be e great luxury. Aromatherapy is a great way to combat and manage stress and deceases.
Archaeologists in Crete found a mural, painted before 1450 BC, which featured a five-petalled pink rose, and ancient treasures have been uncovered of vessels adorned with roses, gold jewellery pins topped with a rose in full bloom, and chalices decorated with sprays of roses.
Rose motifs were popular in early Persian paintings and manuscripts, and the poet Omar Khayyam sang of roses and nightingales. A Damask Rose was planted on his grave at Naishapur in Northern Persia where it ‘wept’ its petals on his tomb.
In ancient Egypt the beautiful Cleopatra stood knee deep in a carpet of roses to welcome Antony’s barge and to woo him, covered her bed with fresh roses every day.
During the Roman Empire the rose became a national mania. The flowers were used to decorate homes and streets, as well as tombs, monuments and statues of the Gods. Mattresses and cushions were stuffed with rosepetals and fountains ran with rosewater.
At banquets rose petals decorated tables and carpeted floors, while slaves wearing roses served food to nobles who consumed rose pudding, rose honey, crystallised rose petals, rose vinegar and then washed themselves in rosewater. Nero is reputed to have covered a beach in rose blooms, and at a banquet he unintentionally stifled two of his guests under the weight of a rain of roses falling from the ceiling.
Victorious Roman armies returned to a welcome on rose-covered streets, and these flowers became such an important part of daily life that the fertile fields were converted from olive groves and the production of food to grow roses.
When the excesses of the Romans and their degenerate behaviour led to the decline of the Roman Empire, the rose was cast into disrepute with Christians, who used it only for medicinal purposes. During illnesses and plagues, rose petals were strewn about houses to counteract the lack of sanitation and eliminate odours. King Edward’s 1306 Bill of Medicines made special mention of Rosa gallica (the Red Damask rose) which was brought to England from Damascus by a Crusader from the Holy Wars.
The western world eventually rekindled its love for the rose, and in the 13th century its fragrance became the basis for a thriving perfume industry which had its centre in Provins, near Paris, and Provins Rose Conserve also became famous all over France.
As early as the 14th century, the poet Dante wrote his Divine Comedy in which Paradise itself was designedas a rose. The great English bard, William Shakespeare, in the 16th century wrote of the wild Dog Rose, the Sweet Briar or Eglantine, and the Sweet Musk Rose. The Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote the well-known ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer’, while Scottish poet, Robert Burns, likened love to ‘a red, red rose’, making the flower an enduring token of love. Poets such as Keats, Robert Browning, Thackeray and Tennyson all wove the romantic rose into their verse.
Also symbolic in war, men fought and died under the banner of the rose. During the vicious medieval Wars of the Roses the noble house of York used the white rose as its symbol, while the house of Lancaster chose the red rose as its emblem. Prince Charlie’s Scottish Highlanders also wore a single white rose in their bonnets as they marched to England.
The beauty of the rose has been an inspiration to artists and crafts people the world over. In Holland, roses cascaded in abundance from the canvases of Jan Brueghel in Germany, Albrecht Durer established his reputationwith his ‘Madonna of the Roses’; and Botticelli’s famous painting, ‘The Birth of Venus’, shows the goddess of love rising from the sea in a shower of roses. Early tapestries and embroideries found the rose a rewarding flower to immortalise in intricate stitching.
Music has also been captivated by the rose. Richard Strauss’ opera ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ is based on the old German custom where a cavalier presented a silver rose to his love. In modern times the voice of Nat King Cole can be heard gently serenading ‘The Rambling Rose’.
The earth has been blessed by the rose since time immemorial, and many young hearts have been won and lost under its influence. In today’s modern age of progressand new technology, its significance and symbolism has endured. The beauty, perfume, elegance and romance associated with this flower will see it remains a symbol of love and beauty into the new millennium.