Monday, May 08, 2006


Wall murals depicting lilies. Knossos, Crete 1600 BC.

It is among the most ancient of cultivated ornamental flower. They appear on Assyrian carvings and Egyptian tombs. In Crete it was the most frequent floral motif of Minoan art. It is depicted in the murals at Knossos. Lily was the Minoan sacred flower, an attribute of the great Minoan goddess Britomartis or Dictynna, who had her origins in Neolithic times. It symbolized purity and grace for the Greeks and Romans from early days and perhaps for the same reason it was grown and applauded by the Hebrews.

Lily murals Knossos. 1580 BC.

Lily was dedicated to the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. Legend has it that it was when Zeus fathered Hercules with the mortal woman Alceme, he wished his son to partake more fully of divinity. To this end he had the baby brought to Hera after he drugged her to sleep and had the baby placed at her breast. As Hercules nursed, Hera awoke in horrified surprise and flung the baby from her. Some of her milk gushed across the heavens and formed the Milky Way. A few drops fell to earth and from those drops sprang the first Lily.

Lily Vases c. 1600- 1580 BC. Heraclion Museum , Crete

Roman legend has it that when Venus rose from the seafoam she saw a lily and she became filled with jealous envy at the whiteness and beauty of it. Seeing it as a rival to her own beauty she caused a huge and monstrous pistil to spring from the lily's snow white center. This myth accounts for the lily being associated with Venus and the Satyrs, who are the personification of lustful ardor.

Knossos Throne Room. Palace of Minos, Crete

In Greek and Roman marriage ceremonies the brides wore a crown of lilies as a symbol of purity and abundance. Lilies are also a symbol of death, and at one time lilies were placed on the graves of young innocents.

Brown glazed vessel with cream white glaze in lily motif.
1600 BC. Heraclion Museum, Crete


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