Guest Author - Julie L Baumler
The rose is the symbol of England and makes constant appearances in English literature, particularly as a symbol of love and romance. While the scene where Romeo tells Juliet that "A rose by any other name would smell so sweet" may be the most famous Shakespeare rose-related quote, roses were a common symbol in his work. The prolific English romance novelist, Betty Neels, known for her particularly British heroines, used roses in several of her book titles - Roses for Christmas, Roses and Champagne, A Girl Named Rose, Roses Have Thorns - and rose gardens regularly appear in her books. It's not just literature, English roses and rose gardens are world famous. "Old English Rose" is one of the classic china patterns. There is even a class of roses known as "English Roses." Knowing all this, one would be forgiven for assuming that roses originally came from England, but that is not the case. Roses originally came, not from England, but either from the Middle East or from China via the Middle East depending on which source you believe.
The rose is a common motif in early Persian and Babylonian art. Written records of roses go back to 3 to 4 thousand years ago to tablets found in modern-day Iraq. Rose oil for perfume has been made in Iran since ancient times and Cleopatra is reported to have soaked the sails of her boat with rose perfume so that the winds would become love drunk and do her bidding. Persia (Iran) today is still famous for it's rose water and rose oil. Even today, the Kabba is washed annually with Iranian rose water. Wikipedia reports that the word for rose comes from Persian, but I could not find any evidence of that. (Of course, it would probably help if my Persian language skills extended beyond the ability to slowly decipher the alphabet.) However, I did find that one of the English terms for rose oil, attar of roses comes from the Farsi term for it, عطر (atar.)
In the language of flowers, Roses symbolize love and beauty and hence are very popular in the west for Valentine's Day. This flower symbolism actually comes from Persia, via Turkey to Victorian England where it was popularized throughout Europe and the Americas. On her webpage documenting the Language of Flowers, Pinkie D'Cruz notes that the Damsk Rose is the "Persian Ambassidor of Love." However, Susan Loy, author of Flowers, The Angels' Alphabet, presents a compelling argument that the meanings actually came from mnemonic poems to aid in remembering the names of flowers and were intended to rhyme, not convey information on meanings. Either way, the language of flowers has had a long tenure in Western imagination.
Next time you exchange roses of true love with your beloved, remember the Middle Eastern connection.
More Fun and Factual Information on Roses