If I asked you what you knew about hyacinth, you would have told me it is a purple flower, right? Did yup know the rich mythology behind this? I bet you don’t, so let me give you a brief history lesson. For this, we need to go way back, back to Ancient Greece. This is the story of Hyacinthus or Hyacinth, a beautiful spartan prince who had Literal Gods battling for his favors.
Hyacinthus was one of the mortals in Greeks history who attracted the eyes of the Gods. He was said to be among one of the most beautiful mortals in all of Ancient Greece and was loved by both mortals and Gods alike. His lineage is highly debated, but most historians believe that his mother was the muse of history, Clio, and his father was king Oeblaus of Sparta.
Hyacinth was described as the most beautiful mortal of youth and his beauty was comparable to Ganymed. He had many lovers and admirers like Thamyris, but his most famous lover has to be Apollo, the God of many things, including music, the sun, healing and truth. Both Zephyrus (God of the West Wind) and Apollo were courting Hyacinth, but after a while of them courting him, he chose Apollo over the former. Enraged by this, Zephyrus swore that if he couldn’t have Hyacinth, then no one would. No one took his treats too seriously and this is where the story turns tragic.
How did he die?
Hyacinthus and Apollo were inseparable and Hyacinth would accompany him everywhere he went in his chariot, which was pulled by swans. Because of course it was, he was the God of music after all and he was dating the most beautiful Spartan out there. But their history didn’t last long, and tragedy had to strike because this is Greek mythology; no one can have a happy ending.
One day when Apollo was teaching Hyacinth, the inevitable happened, and Zephyrus finally got his revenge. This is seen as a murderous crime of passion that was a scheme by a scorned lover and separated the two happy lovebirds. Apollo threw the discus to teach his lover how it works and the latter, giggling, went to catch it, Zephyrus in a fit of furry, changed the direction of the wind making the discus hit Hyacinthus. This emphasizes the pettiness that the Greek Gods were known for and it shows how a mortal and a God can never be together. Even Apollo, who was the God of healing, couldn’t use his skills to revive him.
What did Apollo do to preserve his memory?
In honor of his lover and to mourn his death, Apollo made a flower spring up. The Hyacinth flower was said to have grown from the blood spots of the blood that fell from Hyacinth’s head wound. According to the myth, Hyacinth life is a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life and represents the cycle of life, birth, death and rebirth.
The flower that rose from his blood is said to have a deep blue hue and symbolizes sorrow as it represents Apollo’s loss. However, the Hyacinth in the myth is most closely related to an iris or larkspur rather than the flower we call hyacinth today. After the death of his lover, Apollo was always seen wearing a precious gem that was violet and deep blue, which was called hyacinth because of its color and was held as something sacred by Apollo.
Ovid, a Roman poet, tell us about Apollo love for his lost love with this beautiful verse: “A new flower you shall arise, with markings on your petals, close imitation of my constant moans: and there shall come another to be linked with this new flower, a valiant hero shall be known by the same marks upon its petals.” This is the tragic love story of a Greek god and his mortal companion that can still be seen today thanks to the flower that has his namesake.
Greek history and mythology is pretty wild and extensive and cover a wide range of story like this one. I bet you will look at a hyacinth differently next time. Who knew that such an exquisite flower had such a tragic history. Sound off in the comments below if you learned anything new today and if this story inspired you to plant hyacinths in your garden.