The myrtle plant (myrtus communis) symbolised beauty, youth and pleasure in antiquity. Its exquisite blooms, evergreen leaves and captivating fragrance is related to the goddess of beauty and love Aphrodite who hid behind a myrtle bush to cover her nudity, when she rose from the sea on the island of Cyprus.
Young brides in antiquity were crowned with myrtle bridal wreaths on their wedding night.
Two myths are connected to the myrtle; in the first, Myrsine was a chaste girl beloved by Athena who outdid all the other athletes, so they murdered her in retaliation. Athena turned her into a myrtle, which became sacred to her. In the second, Myrina was a dedicated priestess of Aphrodite who was either abducted to be married or willingly wished to entered marriage in spite of her vows. In any case, Aphrodite turned her into myrtle, and gave it fragrant smell, as her favourite and sacred plant.
The plant was used to produce one of the most popular perfumes of the ancient world. It was also commonly used to dye hair black. Doctors prescribed it to cure respiratory complaints and intestinal inflammation.
The multiple needle holes on the leaves were caused by Phaedra’s wrath ,who pierced them with her hairpin. Phaedra was the despairing wife of Theseus ,the legendary king of Athens according to Greek mythology.
Myrtle is the English equivalent of the Greek names Myrsini, Myrtis and Myrto, Popular names in modern Greek .A song written by the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis immortalised the name for the future Greeks and F.Scott Fitzgerald named one of his heroines in ‘The Great Gatsby’.
Text: Eleni Premeti
Editing: Zeta Drimaliti
Pictures: Eleni Premeti and http://www.geoponiko-parko.gr
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