Flora (goddess)

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She warns us to use life's flower, while it still blooms; for the thorn, she reminds us, is flouted when the roses have fallen away. —Ovid, Fasti

Flora was an ancient Italian deity, the Roman goddess of flowers. At Rome she had two temples. She was represented as a flower-crowned female in the full bloom of youthful beauty. On the occasion of her festival, the Floralia, held at the end of April, the dwellings were decked with flowers, and feasting, dancing and singing prevailed everywhere. The Romans conflated her with the Greek Chloris. Both names have been applied to characters and personae in many literary works, especially since the Renaissance.



Classical sources

  • There is scent of the speech of the Sabines about the altars also, which by the vow of King Tatius were dedicated at Rome: for, as the Annals tell, he vowed altars to Ops, Flora, Vediovis and Saturn, Sun, Moon, Vulcan and Summanus, and likewise to Larunda, Terminus, Quirinus, Vertumnus, the Lares, Diana and Lucina: some of these names have roots in both languages, like trees which have sprung up on the boundary line and creep about in both fields: for Saturn might be used as the god's name from one source here, and from another among the Sabines, and so also Diana; ...
  • About the same time he dedicated some temples of the gods, which had perished from age or from fire, and which Augustus had begun to restore. These were temples to Liber, Libera, and Ceres, near the Great Circus, which last Aulus Postumius, when Dictator, had vowed; a temple to Flora in the same place, which had been built by Lucius and Marcus Publicius, ædiles, ...

Ovid, Fasti v. 183ff.

  • I who now am called Flora was formerly Chloris: a Greek letter of my name is corrupted in the Latin speech. Chloris I was, a nymph of the happy fields where, as you have heard, dwelt fortunate men of old. Modesty shrinks from describing my figure; but it procured the hand of a god for my mother's daughter. 'Twas spring, and I was roaming; Zephyr caught sight of me; I retired; he pursued and I fled; but he was the stronger, and Boreas had given his brother full right of rape by daring to carry off the prize from the house of Erechtheus. However, he made amends for his violence by giving me the name of bride, and in my marriage-bed I have naught to complain of. I enjoy perpetual spring; most buxom is the year ever; ever the tree is clothed with leaves, the ground with pasture. In the fields that are my dower, I have a fruitful garden, fanned by the breeze and watered by a spring of running water. This garden my husband filled with noble flowers and said, 'Goddess, be queen of flowers.' Oft did I wish to count the colours in the beds, but could not; the number was past counting. Soon as the dewy rime is shaken from the leaves, and the varied foliage is warmed by the sunbeams, the Hours assemble, clad in dappled weeds, and cull my gifts in light baskets. Straightway the Graces draw near, and twine garlands and wreaths to bind their heavenly hair. I was the first to scatter new seeds among the countless peoples; till then the earth had been of but one colour. I was the first to make a flower out of Therapnaean blood, and on its petals the lament remains inscribed. Thou, too. Narcissus, hast a name in the trim gardens, unhappy thou in that thou hadst not a double of thyself. What need to tell of Crocus, and Attis, and the son of Cinyras, from whose wounds by my art doth beauty spring?
  • Perhaps you may think that I am queen only of dainty garlands; but my divinity has to do also with the tilled fields. If the crops have blossomed well, the threshing-floor will be piled high; if the vines have blossomed well, there will be wine; if the olive-trees have blossomed well, most buxom will be the year; and the fruitage will be according to the time of blossoming. If once the blossom is nipped, the vetches and beans wither, and thy lentils, O Nile that comest from afar, do likewise wither. Wines also bloom, laboriously stored in great cellars, and a scum covers their surface in the jars. Honey is my gift. 'Tis I who call the winged creatures, which yield honey, to the violet, and the clover, and the grey thyme. 'Tis I, too, who discharge the same function when in youthful years spirits run riot and bodies are robust.
  • A rakish stage fits Flora well; she is not, believe me she is not, to be counted among your buskined goddesses. ... She is none of your glum, none of your high-flown ones: she wishes her rites to be open to the common herd; and she warns us to use life's flower, while it still blooms; for the thorn, she reminds us, is flouted when the roses have fallen away.

Juvenal, Satires

  • And that white-robed wheedler there, dragged open-mouthed by his thirst for office—is he his own master? Up with you before dawn, and deal out showers of vetches for the people to scramble for, that old men sunning themselves in their old age may tell of the splendour of our Floralia! How grand!
  • Why need I tell of the purple wraps and the wrestling-oils used by women? Who has not seen one of them smiting a stump, piercing it through and through with a foil, lunging at it with a shield, and going through all the proper motions ?—a matron truly qualified to blow a trumpet at the Floralia!
  • So you may give up all the performances of Flora, of Ceres, and of Cybele; so much finer are the games of human life.

Late antiquity

  • Now how great must that immortality be thought which is attained even by harlots! Flora, having obtained great wealth by this practice, made the people her heir, and left a fixed sum of money, from the annual proceeds of which her birthday might be celebrated by public games, which they called Floralia. And because this appeared disgraceful to the senate, in order that a kind of dignity might be given to a shameful matter, they resolved that an argument should be taken from the name itself. They pretended that she was the goddess who presides over flowers, and that she must be appeased, that the crops, together with the trees or vines, might produce a good and abundant blossom. The poet followed up this idea in his Fasti, and related that there was a nymph, by no means obscure, who was called Chloris, and that, on her marriage with Zephyrus, she received from her husband as a wedding gift the control over all flowers. These things are spoken with propriety, but to believe them is unbecoming and shameful. And when the truth is in question, ought disguises of this kind to deceive us? Those games, therefore, are celebrated with all wantonness, as is suitable to the memory of a harlot. For besides licentiousness of words, in which all lewdness is poured forth, women are also stripped of their garments at the demand of the people, and then perform the office of mimeplayers, and are detained in the sight of the people with indecent gestures, even to the satiating of unchaste eyes.

Post-classical sources

  • Nature’s confectioner, the bee, ...
    Having rifled all the fields
    Of what dainty Flora yields,
  • But O, young beauty of the woods,
    Whom Nature courts with fruits and flowers,
    Gather the flowers, but spare the buds;
    Lest Flora, angry at thy crime
    To kill her infants in their prime,
    Do quickly make th’ example yours;
                      And ere we see,
    Nip in the blossom all our hopes and thee.
    • Andrew Marvell, "The Picture of Little T. C. in a Prospect of Flowers"
  • See where my Love a-Maying goes
      With sweet dame Flora sporting!
    She most alone with nightingales
      In woods delights consorting.
    • Anonymous, "My Fair A-field",
      Francis Pilkington’s First Set of Madrigals (1614)
  • And May with Flora, did company bear;
    • Anonymous, "The Hunting of the Gods",
      The Nightingale; or, Rural Songster (1800)
  • Nymphs and shepherds, come away,
    In this grove let’s sport and play;
    For this is Flora’s holiday,
    Sacred to ease and happy love,
    To music, to dancing and to poetry.
    Your flocks may now securely rest
    While you express your jollity!
    Nymphs and shepherds, come away.
    Nymphs and shepherds, pipe and play,
    Tune a song, a festal lay;
    For this is Flora’s holiday,
    Lightly we tread o’er all the ground,
    With music, with dancing and with poetry.
    Then trip we round with merry sound,
    And pass the day in jollity!
    Nymphs and shepherds, come away.
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