Since ancient times, flowers and herbs with healing properties have been mentioned in myths, legends, tales and epics. Almost every such plant in the mythological plane received a well-defined image or several images that indirectly echoed its useful qualities. Modern mythologists explain this by the fact that medicinal herbs have repeatedly exalted themselves over others and due to this they have obtained a certain collective anthropomorphic image, for example, a female healer who knew how to cure any even incurable disease. In some ethnic groups, they were completely deified, and the deity that was associated with the healing power of nature could usually even raise the dead. Ordinary plants, in turn, remained simply components of the familiar world, creating a prototype of those gods who embodied the earth itself in the beliefs of the peoples.
Later, healing plants, like all mythological archetypes, migrated to fiction, under the pen of writers and poets. In some works, they are served openly, as an easily recognizable symbol. So, in Scott Westerfeld’s novel “The Overnight”, one of the main characters – a telepath girl – is named Melissa. The heroine is able to influence human consciousness and subconsciousness, and if she is very angry, she can cause a “mind gap” and make the victim go insane. The analogy with the properties of lemon balm is quite obvious. In other works, it is more difficult to recognize such a myth, referring to healing plants. Many such implicit references can be found in Umberto Eco, in the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, for example in The Snow Queen, and even in the detective queen Agatha Christie, who often uses symbols, in particular plant symbols, in order to implicitly point the reader to the killer …
It all starts with the myths
Few plants have the same long and mysterious history, including literary, like amaranth. Legends come from two continents at once, and historical information confirms that the myths about amaranth did not appear from scratch. And this information goes back to the millennia – in the literal sense.
Amaranth in the history and legends of Central and South America
According to historians, amaranth was one of the main cultures of the ancient Incas – the indigenous population of South America and was successfully cultivated in areas close to the equator about 8 thousand years ago. The Inca’s legends that have remained since then say that amaranth raises the fighting spirit of a warrior and thereby brings it closer to immortality (this theory has quite obvious, according to historians, grounds: the fighting spirit of a warrior simply reduces the risk of being killed during the next conflict). This belief led to the fact that on certain holidays the soldiers were smeared with amaranth paint obtained from red flowers, and from the seeds of amaranth, mixed with the blood of prisoners, made flat cakes and ate them.
There is a legend about a young warrior whose bride was stolen by a neighboring tribe. The abductors were numerous, and the warrior tribe could not resist them in numbers. Then the young man, in the period of violent amaranth 2 flowering, went to the place where the plants were most, and spent the night there, and the next morning, smeared with amaranth paint, he prepared a handful of seeds, saying that he would return with the head of the kidnapper and drink his blood with these seeds. He intended to make such a sacrifice to the deity who brought amaranth to earth. On the question of the tribesmen that he had conceived, the warrior answered that now he is immortal and will be able alone to save his bride. That day he left. The deity really helped him: he managed to follow in the footsteps of the kidnappers, and late in the evening he made his way to their leader and demanded to return the girl. The leader was frightened by the enemy who came alone and brought his bride to him, and the warrior fulfilled his intention and cut off his head. Late in the evening he stole a girl from an enemy lair, but as soon as they moved away from the Inca camp, the enemies who had discovered the death of their leader chased after them. The deity and here saved the warrior: amaranth really gave him immortality, and no one could cope with it. But the same ritual did not have time to hold his bride and, not protected by a deity, was killed by her captors. Returning alone, the young man threw the head of the leader on a handful of seeds and said that he had no right to sacrifice and drink the blood of the enemy.
Since then, all the warriors who went to battle, took with them a sprig of blooming amaranth in order to be able to independently protect those who were not protected by the deity.
The history of the later time and logic suggest that certain Inca mystical rituals did occur in the Incas, since the Spanish conquerors, having entered their territory, prohibited the “devil’s grain”. (True, later they themselves brought the seeds of American amaranth species to Europe.)
Not only the legend of the warrior and his bride came to us from overseas. In Mexico, there are also myths that mention amaranth, and one of them is the myth of a hungry peasant. In it, a peasant, who ran to the mountains to roast chicken and eat there, added to his dish spices, including amaranth. In the mountains, he met a stranger who turned out to be Death, but Death, seeing what the peasant was doing, did not take him away, but only asked to give him a piece of chicken.
The fact that amaranth was distributed in the territory in which Mexico is now located is confirmed by scientific information. Not so long ago, Mexican archaeologists during excavations of the monument of the late Bronze Age found traces of a large number of seeds stored by the ancient people, and according to all data they are amaranth seeds.
There is information that the ancient Aztecs learned to bake amaranth bread, therefore, most likely, the legends of South and Middle America have some grounds. About amaranth in the Aztec culture, we, by the way, wrote a little earlier.
Amaranth and Ancient Greece
More information, of course, came from ancient Greece. “Of course” – because the very name “amaranth” is certainly Greek and came from two Greek words: “amaranton” is unfading and “anthos” is a flower. The Greeks so called amaranth because of its long flowering period. But already then the healing properties of the leaves and seeds of those varieties of amaranth that grew in the territory of ancient Greece were discovered. Therefore, on the graves of warrior-heroes amaranth was planted both as a symbol of healing and as a symbol of immortality.
Ancient Greek mythology, too, did not ignore this plant. According to myths, amaranth chose Artemis as its “own” plant. Another version says that the amaranth was dedicated to Artemis by the ancient Greeks themselves. Whatever it was, the temple of Artemis Amarint, in which the royal priest of Artemis, the ruler of the hunt Amarint, commanded the amaranth, belonged to the goddess of belonging to the goddess.
Amaranth in world literature
The mystical rituals of the ancient Incas inspire some South American and not only writers to adventure and fantastic novels and novels to this day. But it is to the Greek belief, which later spread to Rome and beyond, that we owe to the image of amaranth that has been used in world literature for the last centuries and continues to emerge – in the form of references or as an independent image – until now.
The most succinct characteristic of amaranth as a symbol in literature can be seen in the “Aesop’s Fables” in the fable about Rose and Amaranth. It is small, so you can bring it here entirely:
Rose and Amaranth
Rose and Amaranth grew up side by side in the garden. So Amarant says to her neighbor, Rose:
– How I envy your beauty and aroma! It is clear why they love you so much!
But Rose answered with sadness in her voice:
– Oh, my friend, I bloom not for long. My petals soon wither, fall, and then I myself perish. Well your invisible flowers do not wilt, even when they are cut off, because you are an evergreen plant.
The term of beauty is short.
The theme of beauty and longevity, based on the image of amaranth, was raised by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his famous novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. Among others, there is a heroine named Amaranth, who predicts a long but lonely life itself Death. The fate of the Amaranth confirms this prediction. , in the youth of Amaranth and her second cousin Rebecca fall in love with Italian Pietro Crespi, and the Italian chooses Rebecca. Later, Rebecca throws him, but Amarante rejected Pietro is no longer interested. In the years of her youth, other young people are interested in her, but Amaranth continues to “bloom” and does not pay attention to them either. Having lived alone all her youth and already an adult woman, she rejects another potential partner – Colonel Marquez. Over time, people stop paying attention to her, although former fans still sometimes remember her. As a result, Amaranth dies a virgin in extreme old age: the prediction of Death comes true.
Interpretations of this novel are numerous, and even the name of the heroine pushes literary critics into various assumptions. But all of them are somehow connected with the properties of amaranth. Some researchers of the Colombian novelist do not interpret Amaranth’s death as withering in old age and solitude, but emphasize that she, on the contrary, did not wither, as she remained virgin and pure. Others adhere to the opposite point of view: that even the immortal amaranth sooner or later withers and dies, and consequently, there is nothing that could conquer death – even female beauty, even the ever-blooming amaranth.
Amaranth as a symbol in literary fiction
Amaranth named American science fiction writer Charles Sheffield in his science fiction novel Summer Tide, part of the Heritage Universe saga. Here, the symbol is played up ironically: Amaranth, whose name is consonant with the priest Artemis, a symbol of strength, life and immortality, Sheffield is nothing but … a dwarf star, just a satellite of Mandel – the central planet of the star system. Interestingly, Amaranth from Sheffield is adjacent to a star called Gargantua, which sends us to Rabelais.
Sheffield is not the only science fiction writer who chose to use the image of an amaranth in his novels. Immediately adjusts the reader to the appropriate tune of John Wright, an American prose writer, in the book The Mists of Everness (parts of the fantastic epic The Chronicles of Everness). The first chapter is called “Amaranth Fields” and begins like this:
Then they lived in a shining field where amaranth and moths grew. A light wind was blowing, swinging the shiny flowers of amaranth and forcing tall grass to bow …
(translation by A. Virokhovsky)
This is a direct reference to the poem of the famous English poet Alfred Tennyson, author of the unforgettable “Sorceress of Shallot.” The poem is called “Tasteful Lotus”, and amaranth appears in it as an eternal, undying plant, full of sun and light and embodying the whole power of life.
Amaranth and one of the most prominent masters of American symbolism, Nathaniel Hawthorne, did not ignore. In the beautiful garden of a beautiful woman, who would later have to poison his betrothed with his own body, an unfading, ever young plant grows. This “Daughter of Rapachini” is one of Hawthorne’s favorite works of musicians from all over the world. On it put operas and musicals. One of these radio shows was performed by the German goth-metal-grroup Aeternitas, thus popularizing the piece.
Amaranth in other works
The family of Saint-Amaranth is also found in the 19th century French poet and romantic writer Alfons de Lamartine in his most famous work, The History of the Girondins. To some extent, this is the story of the French Revolution, but written in an artistic way, and therefore dazzling with hints and references to events in reality and to real people, some of them occupied quite visible posts in France at that time. Surname Saint Amaranth is no exception.
Amaranth inspired by modern writers – professionals and amateurs. For example, Russian writer Elena Skvortsova wrote a science fiction novel, which is called “Amaranth”.
Separately, it would be worthwhile to single out the category of writers who used the image of amaranth in poems and poems. Surprisingly, the overwhelming majority are English poets, among whom, besides the already mentioned Alfred Tennyson, are masters such as John Milton, John Keats. But amaranth in poetry is a separate topic, which we will raise another time.