Lo! where the rosy-bosom'd Hours,
Fair Venus' train appear,
Disclose the long-expecting flowers,
And wake the purple year!
- from "Ode on the Spring" by Thomas Gray
When my sisters and I were young, we gathered spring flowers and made wreaths to wear on our heads. We pretended to live in the woods and ventured out shyly to dance in the fields. Dandelions made the best wreaths, for their long, flexible stems were easy to braid. It was not till many years later that I began reading about the goddesses and nymphs in mythology that were said to so enjoy spring and the flowers.
With spring comes the promise of new beginnings and rebirth. Daffodils, tulips, crocus, Belladonna Lily, apple blossoms, cherry blossoms, the blossoms of other flowering trees, and all types of flowers send their fragrances and beauty out to all as joyous greetings. Watching over all this beauty is Flora, Roman goddess of flowers and vegetation.
Flora is also associated with fertility. She was married to Favonius, the wind god, and her companion was Hercules, son of Zeus.
Among all that Flora holds dear are the Naiads and Dryads. The Naiads, water nymphs, are kind, playful and elusive. These nymphs resemble young, lovely women -- and they love being around springs and streams in the wild. Dryads are similar to the Naiads but they prefer the woods where quieter and more secluded waters lie in the shady forests. Both are delightful sprites that find the flowers near their waters make lovely adornments for their hair and wispy gowns. At night, when Flora is deep asleep with her nymphs, Diana, the goddess of Moon, watches over them and guards their peace.
In ancient times, Flora was often called upon to protect the growing crops that would be harvested in late autumn. She was invoked to aid in the growth and health of the grain in the fields and the flowering fruit trees so they could bear fruit. Peasants invoked her to keep disease off their crops to insure good harvests.
The festival of Floralia, an ancient Roman tradition, was held on the IV Calends of May, April 27 to May 3, and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life. The festival was a time of dancing, drinking, and flowers. While flowers decked the temples, Roman citizens wore colorful clothing instead of the usual white, and offerings were made of milk and honey to Flora.
There is a legend that the Romans abducted Sabine women to populate the newly built Rome. The resultant war ended only by the women throwing themselves and their children between the armies of their Sabine fathers and their Roman husbands. Some believe that Flora was originally of the Sabine tribe.
Flora's Greek equivalent was Chloris, who was also associated with spring, flowers and new growth. Chloris was abducted by Zephyr, the god of the west wind, and she became his wife. The Roman poet, Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid), wrote of Chloris: "As she talks, her lips breathe spring roses: I was Chloris, who am now called Flora."
When the cold winds and falling temperatures of late autumn come, Flora lies down in her place of peace, surrounded by her precious flowers, and dies with them. As the season of spring returns, Flora rises again and reawakens the beauty of all that flowers.
Flora, goddess of flowers
Artist: Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)