April 28th marks the old Roman feast of the goddess of flowers, Flora. (This is also the name of my grandmother who loved snapdragons.) To celebrate I’m offering 30% off floral designs in my Floralia collection with coupon code FLORALIA16, only at Feralstrumpet.co.uk. Offer ends 30 April, 2016.
As far as goddesses go, Flora is a favourite, and one of the first who caught my attention and wouldn’t let go. I first found her in the text of Fasti, by one of my favourite poets, Ovid. In it, her voice rings clear, as if she is speaking to us and her warnings and blessings are as relevant today as they were in Ovid’s time.
In Rome this celebration was marked with prostitutes dancing in the streets and engaging in mock gladiatorial battles. Send out the hares!— they ran wild in the streets as people were pelted with lentils. That’s what I call a party. Here is an edited bit of the Ovid poem, that you can find in its entirety here.
‘Mother of the flowers, approach, so we can honour you
With joyful games! Last month I deferred the task.
You begin in April, and pass into May’s span:
One claims you fleeing, the other as it comes on.
Since the boundaries of the months are yours,
And defer to you, either’s fitting for your praise.
This is the month of the Circus’ Games, and the victors’ palm
The audience applauds: let my song accompany the Circus’ show.
Tell me, yourself, who you are. Men’s opinions err:
You’ll be the best informant regarding your own name.’
So I spoke. So the goddess responded to my question,
(While she spoke, her lips breathed out vernal roses):
‘I, called Flora now, was Chloris: the first letter in Greek
Of my name, became corrupted in the Latin language.
I was Chloris, a nymph of those happy fields,
Where, as you’ve heard, fortunate men once lived…
(she is raped and married by Zephyrus, alas.)
…I often wished to tally the colours set there,
But I couldn’t, there were too many to count.
As soon as the frosted dew is shaken from the leaves,
And the varied foliage warmed by the sun’s rays,
The Hours gather dressed in colourful clothes,
And collect my gifts in slender baskets.
The Graces, straight away, draw near, and twine
Wreaths and garlands to bind their heavenly hair.
I was first to scatter fresh seeds among countless peoples,
Till then the earth had been a single colour…
(She works some fertile magic for Juno who gives birth to Mars)
…Perhaps you think I only rule over tender garlands.
But my power also commands the farmers’ fields…
…Honey’s my gift: I call the winged ones who make
Honey, to the violets, clover and pale thyme…
…‘Honour touches me too: I delight in festivals and altars:
We’re a greedy crowd: we divine beings…
…But if we’re ignored, we avenge the injury
With heavy penalties, and our anger passes all bounds…
…It would take too long to tell of neglect punished by loss.
I too was once neglected by the Roman Senate.
What to do, how to show my indignation?
What punishment to exact for the harm done me?
Gloomily, I gave up my office. I ceased to protect
The countryside, cared nothing for fruitful gardens:
The lilies drooped: you could see the violets fade,
And the petals of the purple crocus languished.
Often Zephyr said: ‘Don’t destroy your dowry.’
But my dowry was worth nothing to me.
The olives were in blossom: wanton winds hurt them:
The wheat was ripening: hail blasted the crops:
The vines were promising: skies darkened from the south,
And the leaves were brought down by sudden rain.
I didn’t wish it so: I’m not cruel in my anger,
But I neglected to drive away these ills.
The Senate convened, and voted my godhead
An annual festival, if the year proved fruitful…
…The drinker’s brow’s wreathed with sewn-on garlands,
And a shower of roses hides the shining table:
The drunken guest dances, hair bound with lime-tree bark,
And unaware employs the wine’s purest art:
The drunken lover sings at beauty’s harsh threshold,
And soft garlands crown his perfumed hair.
Nothing serious for those with garlanded brow,
No running water’s drunk, when crowned with flowers…
…The reason the crowd of whores celebrate these games
Is not a difficult one for us to discover.
The goddess isn’t gloomy, she’s not high-flown,
She wants her rites to be open to the common man,
And warns us to use life’s beauty while it’s in bloom…
…She nods, and flowers fall as her hair flows…
…All was ended: and she vanished into thin air: yet
Her fragrance lingered: you’d have known it was a goddess.
Scatter your gifts, I beg you, over my breast,
So Ovid’s song may flower forever.