Daffodils in Ancient Times

Daffodils in Ancient Times
Daffodils symbolized self love, the underworld and death in ancient times. The plants were grown by ancient people.

In the language of flowers, the narcissus represented self love and stupidity during ancient times. Self love was depicted as a woman holding a daffodil.

Stupidity was depicted as a woman petting a goat. She wore a crown of daffodils and carried daffodils in her hand.

Ancient people also associated daffodils with the underworld. There is a Homeric hymn to Demeter that says the flower was created by Earth to give to Hades, god of the underworld.

To the ancient Greeks, the plant was associated with death. However, they grew these flowers along with various other kinds of bulbs.

The ancient Egyptians considered daffodil to be a flower of the underworld, partly due to the fragrance. They used the flowers in funeral wreaths. Fragments of these have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

In Minoan Crete at Knossos during the second millennium daffodils were depicted in a fresco.

In ancient Rome, Columella wrote about daffodils as well as lilies and snow drops. He wrote about gardening during the first century A.D. in Book 10 of De Re Rustic. In writing about daffodils, he said, “fair narcissus blooms, with fierce lions’ gaping mouths and the whit blooming cups of blooming lilies.”

Early Christian paintings showed the daffodil in depictions of the Anunciation to show that divine love and eternal life prevailed over sin and death.

In India, people entering temples rubbed narcissus oil on their skin.

The garden of the Grand Mufti serving Suleyman the Magnificent featured many kinds of daffodils. This was located near Karaagac.

Beginning about 1000 A.D. and continuing for hundreds of years, depictions of daffodils appeared in paintings of Islamic gardens. One example is the Persian miniatures. This art was used to illustrate various documents and manuscripts in both the Islamic and the Christian world, particularly during the Middle Ages.

One example of such an illustration was used in a plan of an orchard. This plan was used in a manuscript of a poem, which was later copied in 1685 in Europe. Most of the plants in the orchard plan were grown in Europe.

Around 1120 A.D. or so, a list of garden plants used in Islamic gardens, located in Islamic Spain. The list was located in the Bury St. Edmunds Codex of the Apuleius Platonicus Herbarium. The plants included yellow and white daffodils, saffron, white lilies, and irises.

A manuscript entitled “Novelties in description of the Spring” by Ibn al-Baitar mentioned a specific type of daffodil called the pheasant’s eye narcissus. He wrote that it “rivaled the rose in the affections of the Arabs, as well as trumpet narcissus.

One particular Islamic garden in the Hindu Kush was depicted in Persian miniatures and appeared in the memoirs of Babar, which was written during the 1500s. The miniatures showed masses of daffodils carpeting the ground. This memoir was produced in the reign of Babar’s grandson, Akbar.

Babar was founder of the Mughal dynasty in India. He was also an influential garden designer in the Islamic world. He died in Agra in 1530 and was buried in one of his gardens in Kabul where he had planted daffodils and roses.

Around 1050 A.D., al-Biruni compiled a list of garden plants that were featured in Islamic gardens. The list included daffodils.

One Persian miniature painted in the 1590s was used to illustrate a manuscript. It showed a pavilion decorated with daffodils, lilies, and other flowers. The manuscript included these lines, “her eyes are twin narcissi in a garden.”







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Content copyright © 2019 by Connie Krochmal. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.