Of Incense & Beans: elusive plants in Greek religion

[~ 6 minutes]

Listening to: Sleepthief feat. Jody Quine, Eurydice

It was the beans’ fault, of course.

Had it not been for the philosopher’s strange obsession with them, Pythagoras would’ve probably been filed away in my memory alongside other mathematically inclined Greek figures.

But he did have something for fava beans (Vicia faba L.), or so the ancients wrote, and everybody has been trying to explain it away ever since. This means he crops up in the most unexpected of places, such as a book on the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) in which ’tis suggested that Pythagoras’ ‘beans’ were not broad beans, as it has been assumed for centuries, but lotus seeds instead.

(This sounds a lot more plausible when you realise that the Greek word for sacred lotus was, indeed, “Egyptian bean”, kyamos Aigyptios. Although I cannot fathom how they possibly found them remotely similar. Of course the Greeks apparently used the word kyamos rather… indiscriminately. They also called henbane ‘pig bean’, hyos-cyamus, and there is NOTHING bean-ish about henbane —or lotus-ish, for that matter).

kyamos-greek-beans

Pythagoras, frankincense and divination: what we (don’t) know

However, I was not expecting to encounter my legendary philosopher-mathematician during my research on olibanum (frankincense, Boswellia sacra). As it turns out, at least one of his biographers, the Roman Porphyry, pointed at him as the introducer of the art of libanomancy* in Greece. Continue reading

Reflections under the lotus leaf

[~ 9 minutes ]

Listening to: Sarah Brightman, In the air

It happened in a quiet corner of an Italian orto botanico, close to the medicinal garden patch.

Love at first sight. You know the feeling?

Not the “overwhelming rush of wild passion” kind, though. A slow, smouldering fascination of the mind. A quiet yearning to meet again…

… lotus.

My first encounter with a lotus pond wrought an unexpected change inside me, one that no plant had ever achieved.

Nelumbo nucifera seed, sacred lotus seed, lotus "bean"

I wouldn’t precisely call it an obsession; I am not seized by sudden bouts of lotus-centric rambling at the dinner table, nor have I sold all my belongings to travel east in search of lotuses; I don’t even consider them my favourite flower.

However, there’s a seed buried in the muddy bottoms of my mind, one that whispers, One day you’ll grow them yourself. You shall get a seed, or a rhizome, and a small cosmic miracle will unfold in your terrace.

It is in no particular hurry to sprout, this seed; it knows how to wait.

Yet, just by virtue of it being present, it turned me into a lotus hunter.

Continue reading

Les non-fleurs de Monsieur Monet {EN}

(that is, Mr. Monet’s Non-flowers)

[~ 12 minutes]

Listening to: Marika Takeuchi, Far Away

{Spanish version can be read here}

Tis the year 1895.

Seven months before the Lumière brothers publicly demonstrate how movement can be captured onto still film, a man works in his garden a few kilometres north of Paris.

Twelve years have passed since he chose to set roots in that corner of the world and began puttering around in his garden, transforming what had once been a provincial patch of nondescript greenery into a little piece of plant paradise. Yet he’s no common gardener: the whole world admires his canvases, his brush-strokes’ exquisite ability to capture the fleeting impression of a moment. He has painted stations, oceans, fields and cathedrals. However, and unbeknownst even to himself, a new chapter in his artistic life is about to begin.

’Tis 1985, and while elsewhere wars are kindled, scientific discoveries made, writers convicted for ‘gross indecency’… in a small French village, a love story between a man and a plant has begun. For no less than twenty-five years, the artist’s brushes shall return to his green muse with the devotion of a loving spouse. And, in his tireless tracing of her oval leaves and stellar bursts of blushing petals, he shall consecrate her status as an iconic flower in the history of painting.

self-portrait-with-a-beret-1886.jpg!Blog

Yes, you do know who I am talking about. The painter is Claude Oscar Monet (1840-1926).

And his green Muse? Why, his beloved Nymphéas, or course. Continue reading