Chloris and the Alchemic Transformation of the Rose
While Aphrodite is most famously associated with the rose in Greek myth, and in some accounts created the rose, another story regarding the birth of the rose stems from the goddess of flowers and spring, Chloris. According to Ovid (Roman poet, ca. 43 BCE–18 CE), Chloris had undergone her own transformation from a nymph of the Elysian Fields, or Isle of the Blessed, to the goddess of flowers. From the written account, Zephyrus, the west wind, abducted her and then married her. He then made her a goddess, and her name was changed to Flora.1 It should be noted that written versions of these myths often reflect a patriarchal viewpoint.
In the tale of the rose, Chloris was walking in the forest when she came across the body of a lifeless woodland nymph.* Saddened by the nymph’s fate, Chloris breathed new life into her body transforming the nymph into a flower. However, a simple flower was not the blossom Chloris desired. She requested Zephyrus to blow the clouds away so that Apollo’s sun could shine brightly on this new blooming being with its warming presence. She beseeched Aphrodite who gave the bloom of her own Divine Beauty. Dionysus bestowed a drop of the god’s nectar for the flower’s intoxicating aroma. Finally, the Graces, or Charites—Thalia (Flourish/Bloom), Agleae (Beauty), and Euphrosyne (Joy) echoed the other deities’ gifts providing incandescence, enchantment, and elation. In some accounts, Chloris crowned the rose with a diadem of dewdrops.
Acknowledged as the “queen of flowers,” Aphrodite named the beautiful blossom “rose” and consecrated the bloom to her son, Eros. Eros would have his own tale regarding his beloved rose; as he went to kiss the blossom, a bee gathering nectar in the bloom stung him. In retaliation, Aphrodite offered Eros a special quiver of arrows to provide the bees a taste of their own medicine. Where Eros’s arrows missed, the thorns of the rose appeared.
While a symbol of love, passion, and beauty in both antiquity and alchemy, the rose has also symbolized regeneration; death and rebirth; secrecy, confidentiality, and silence (from which we get the term sub rosa); and union, both of the masculine and the feminine, as well as matter and spirit.2,3
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1Kloris. Theoi Project website. Accessed January 27, 2022. https://www.theoi.com/Nymphe/NympheKhloris.html.
2Cavelli TF. Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam; 2002.
3Montovani E. The symbolism of the rose. Paradox Ethereal Website. January 1, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2022. https://www.paradoxethereal-magazine.com/rose-symbolism-mantovani/.
*The myth of Chloris and the rose does not appear to have ancient antecedents. Some of the websites describing the myth include https://www.charentonmacerations.com/2014/10/29/mythological-rose/, https://theredseeds.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/chloris-and-the-creation-of-the-rose/, and https://stephanienikolopoulos.com/2012/05/21/chloris-and-the-greek-myth-of-the-rose/. Accounts of the story also appear in Lust JB. The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications; 2014, and Rich VA. Cursing the Basil and Other Folklore of the Garden. Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions; 2010.