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Seems to me that airy paperwhites, from the Narcissus family, bridge winter’s fury and spring’s first blushing. Easily cultivated indoors, the dun-colored bulbs, the size of Ping-Pong balls, line watery bottoms of open vases whose tangled roots are stabilized within chips of marble or other stones.

Rotating the potted vases within the sun’s late morning warming facilitates the growth of straight green blades and stirs anticipation for what is coming. After three weeks of tending and waiting and loving, clusters of white flowers exude heady perfume that sweetens kitchens, or wherever placed.

Aside from the paperwhites’ beauty, others take solace in its symbolism: purity, simplicity, new beginnings, and innocence—Even virginal in its wholeness.

However, a review of the Narcissus myth, as told by the Roman poet Ovid and others, affords a different spin on the origins of this delicate flower. Its first flowering resulted from the over-infatuation of the handsome Narcissus, of godly parentage, his spurning other’s attention, and his death related to extreme isolation by the side of a river. Through this tragedy, the gods must have perceived some kind of deliverance and marked its significance by this fragrant flower.

However this story evolved in its multiple versions, it was often represented on the frescoed walls of the wealthy, especially in Pompeii, and the works of Renaissance artists.

But the paperwhites, from the Narcissus genus, still arouse my spirit and fill me with gratitude for their Sacred fragrance.

Each spring, an ancient fresco stirs my imagination and relocates me to another world in which greening is paramount.

Only 38 x 22 cm in size, the fresco depicts the Roman Goddess Flora, barefoot, her back to us as she plucks a white flower from a nearby tree to add to the basket in her other arm. Her full figure suggests pregnancy, fathered by the Spring Wind, Zephyrus. Their story is recorded in Metamorphoses (8 BCE) composed by the Roman poet Ovid.

An unknown artisan fashioned this fresco of Flora upon the one of the bedroom walls of the Villa Arianna in Stabiae, a wealthy seaside resort known for its architecture, frescoes, and statuary. Unfortunately, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy, 79 CE., buried the resort and neighboring towns under five meters of tephra ash where Flora remained until 1749; then, archeologists under the initiative of Charles III of Spain discovered Flora and numerous other artifacts that were later restored to the National Archeological Museum of Naples.

Yet, there’s something about Flora’s graciousness, stopped in time for our continued reflection. Perhaps that unknown artist caught her splendor-in-living for which she was revered, first by the Greeks under the name of Chloris, then, Romanized by Flora. Her devotees glimpsed in her the continuation of flowering, both plants and themselves, critical for survival.

Within such freshness and delicacy as Flora images, I glimpse Eternal Spring for which we all yearn—Thus her appeal through the centuries.

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