Laurel leaves crown the best poets and the most seasoned soldiers. It is true that “weapons and the letters” quite frequently go together, but it is curious that the same decorative and symbolic element that rewards intelligence and art also serve as recognition of the value and military courage. The bay also has other values that should know, but why?
Trees, plants in general, play an important role in the symbolic and religious life of all the peoples. In many cases and places they are sacred elements; and there are sacred forests where the genius or sacred power of divinity hide and sacred trees, inhabited by the gods, consecrated or identified with them. Each species is related to a deity and to a specific function. Its elements, such as leaves or , are used as symbols or simply as decorative elements. Thus, for example, crowns of various kinds are used according to their meaning.
We know how Athena, the Minerva of the Romans, gave Athens her name and tree, the olive tree. The tree of Dionysus or Bacchus, god of wine, of course must be the vine and ivy. Myrtle is this of the Venus, goddess of love.
Virgil clearly expressed it, for example, in their Bucolics,VII, 61-64:
“The poplar doth Alcides hold most dear,
the vine Iacchus, Phoebus his own bays,
and Venus fair the myrtle: therewithal
Phyllis doth hazels love, and while she loves,
myrtle nor bay the hazel shall out-vie.”
(J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1895.)
Populus Alcidae gratissima, uitis Iaccho,
Formosae myrtus Veneri, sua laurea Phoebo;
Phylis amat corylos; illas dum Phyllis amabit,
Nec myrtus uincet corylos, nec laurea Phoebi.
The laurel is the tree of Phoebus or Apollo, the sun god, the god of wisdom, of artistic creation, of poetry, music and divination. The laurel is the tree in which the virgin nymph Daphne, pursued by Apollo, to escape the god, was transformed.
The laurel, always green, is a tree that is therefore associated with the fire of the sun and the prophecy.
Apollo issued oracles * to men who request it. In his famous sanctuary of Delphi, forced destination for the Greek, to know the future, he issued them by a priestess or a medium, the Pithia, the Pythoness **.
* From Latin oraculum and this from orare, speak, etymologically it means message, parliament.
** At Delphi Apollo killed the Python snake; hence the term also applies to a powerful and feared constrictor snake that kills its victims by suffocation curling environment.
It seems that the oracle was obtained from the fire, throwing bay leaves to it; if the leaves frizzle and crackle, this was good signal and if they did not frizzle, the signal was bad. Who obtained a good oracle, they returned home crowned with laurel. In addition laurel caused premonitory dreams.
In the Renaissance, Alciatus reminds us in his Book of Emblems, CCX (aliter CCXI) the laurel knows the future and placed near produces precognitive dreams:
The laurel tree
Knowing what is to come, the laurel tree bears signs of safety: placed under a pillow, it creates dreams that come true.
Praescia venturae laurus fert signa salutis:
Subdita pulvillo somnia vera facit
In the same Book of emblems reminds us an appointment of Tibullus on the same issue:
Tibullus, Book II, 5, v. 79 et seq.
Such was the olden time. O Phoebus, now
Of mild, benignant brow,
Let those portents buried be
In the wild, unfathomed sea!
Now let thy laurel loudly flame
On altars to thy gracious name,
And give good omen of a fruitful year
Crackling laurel if the rustic hear,
He knows his granary shall bursting be,
And sweet new wine flow free,
…. (Translated by Theodore C.Williams. Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company. The Riverside Press. Cambridge,1908)
Haec fuerant olim; sed tu iam mitis, Apollo,
prodigia indomitis merge sub aequoribu.
Et succensa sacris creepitet bene laurea flammis
Omine quo felix et sacer annus erit.
Laurus ubi bona signa dedit, gaudete coloni:
Distendet spicis horrea plena Ceres…
And another of Propertius Book. II, 28, 35
Now cease the wheels whirled to the magic chant, the altar fire is dead and the laurel lies in ashes. (Translated by H.E. Butler,M.A. The Loeb Classical Library)
The chanting of magic, the whirling bullroarers cease, and the laurel lies scorched in the quenched fires. (Translated by A. S. Kline)
Deficiunt mágico torti sub carmine rhombi,
Et iacet extincto laurus adusta foco
And Lucretius in his De Rerum Natura, VI, 154-155
Nor is there aught that in the crackling flame
Consumes with sound more terrible to man
Than Delphic laurel of Apollo lord.
(Transated by William Ellery Leonard, Ed.)
Nec res ulla magis quam Phoebi Delphica laurus
Terribili sonitu flamma crepitante crematur
The laurel is a symbol of glory; the palm is symbol of victory and the olive branch of peace. The leaves of various plants are used to crown the winners.
A corona is a circular leaf ornament or tree branches, flowers or herbs metal ornament that is placed around the head in recognition or memory of the special value of a person's intelligence, his art or his military merits.
In ancient Greece they will likely be used initially as a decorative element and later used in the world of athletic games (ex. Olympics) as a reward for the winners and also of poetic games. Recall that with athletic games, poetic and literary competitions are also held.
From the world of competitive sport certainly it went to the world of the war (from which incidentally athletic games come ) and from Greece came to Rome. Although today what really is estimated is actually prize money, the Crown or similar tool as a symbol of victory is still used.
As I said above, probably it came into use as merely ornamental element and soon served to crown the victors in the poetic or literary games that were developed in parallel with athletic games, of which the Olympics are the best example, but also "Pythian" in honor of Apollo and the "Isthmian" in honor of Neptune. We may even think that in the case of the Pythian games at first only artistic competitions are held, as befits the god Apollo, and eventually athletic competitions would be added as in Olympia in honor of Zeus. And again in Olympia art competitions would be introduced, like the "Pythian".
In relation to the Pythian games and laurel we can quote a few lines from Ovid, I century before and after Christ, so far from their origin, but they are illustrative. Ovid in his poem recalls the victory of Apollo over the serpent Python.
Ovid, Metamorphoses I, 445-ff.
Lest in a dark oblivion time should hide
the fame of this achievement, sacred sports
he instituted, from the Python called
“The Pythian Games.” In these the happy youth
who proved victorious in the chariot race,
running and boxing, with an honoured crown
of oak leaves was enwreathed. The laurel then
was not created, wherefore Phoebus, bright
and godlike, beauteous with his flowing hair,
was wont to wreathe his brows with various leaves.
(Translated by Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.)
Neve operis famam posset delere vetustas,
instituit sacros celebri certamine ludos,
Pythia perdomitae serpentis nomine dictos.
Hic iuvenum quicumque manu pedibusve rotave
vicerat, aesculeae capiebat frondis honorem:
nondum laurus erat, longoque decentia crine
tempora cingebat de qualibet arbore Phoebus.
So soon they also meant the triumph of the great athletes, who conferred so much honor to their hometowns. Since the athletic games, in turn, are clearly related to the military tasks of the early Greek warrior aristocrats, it could easily bee moved the meaning of laurel to the military world and thus prove the military glory.
This meaning is especially developed among the Romans, who were almost always at war throughout his history. With laurel the undefeated generals and emperors are crowned, and the victorious weapons are adorned with laurel, such as spears, bows of ships or letters and tablets which brought news of victory. So Roman generals at the ceremony of victory, who also in their hands carry a branch of laurel, and the lictors and soldiers parading in the procession.
Even a small digression, I will comment that the Romans greatly developed the typology of the crowns as symbols of very specific functions; on another occasion I will comment in more detail. Suffice now a hasty catalog of crowns: obsidionalis (for breaking the siege of a city), civica (for saving the life of a Roman citizen), navalis (for being the first in the collision or by a naval victory) muralis ( for being the first to climb a wall), castrensis (for going into the enemy camp), triumphalis (the triumph is the greatest reward the General winner), etc. There are also the convivalis (of the banquet), the funebris (it needs no explanation), the nuptialis (for wedding), the natalitia (for birth: of olive if a boy, of wool if a girl), etc.
Going back to early Greece, Pindar (518? -438 BC), for example, tells us how the winner is crowned with olive leaf crowns on the occasion of the chariot race of the year 452 B.C. . In Olympic IV, 11ff, dedicated to his friend Psaumis of Camarina:
For the procession comes in honor of Psaumis' chariot; Psaumis, who, crowned with the olive of Pisa, hurries to rouse glory for Camarina. (Translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien. 1990.)
And Pliny, who described the various types of laurel reminds us how properly the laurel is the decorative element, in Natural History, XV, 39 (127):
The laurel is especially consecrated to triumphs, is remarkably ornamental to houses, and guards the portals of our emperors and our pontiffs: there suspended alone, it graces the palace, and is ever on guard before the threshold. Cato speaks of two varieties of this tree, the Delphic and the Cyprian. Pompeius Lenæus has added another, to which he has given the name of "mustax," from the circumstance of its being used for putting under the cake known by the name of "mustaceum." He says that this variety has a very large leaf, flaccid, and of a whitish hue; that the Delphic laurel is of one uniform colour, greener than the other, with berries of very large size, and of a red tint approaching to green. He says, too, that it is with this laurel that the victors at Delphi are crowned, and warriors who enjoy the honours of a triumph at Rome. The Cyprian laurel, he says, has a short leaf, is of a blackish colour, with an imbricated edge, and crisped. (John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed)
Laurus triumphis proprie dicatur, vel gratissima domibus, ianitrix Caesarum pontificumque. sola et domos exornat et ante limina excubat . duo eius genera tradidit Cato, Delphicam et Cypriam. Pompeius Lenaeus adiecit quam mustacem appellavit, quoniam mustaceis subiceretur: hanc esse folio maximo flaccidoque et albicante; Delphicam aequali colore viridiorem, maximis bacis atque e viridi rubentibus ac victores Delphis coronare ut triumphantes Romae; Cypriam esse folio brevi, nigro, per margines imbricato crispam.
Virgil remembers how the sailors placed wreaths of flowers (and laurel in the prows of boats in victory and peace, in his Georgics, I, 303-304:
As laden keels, when now the port they touch,
And happy sailors crown the sterns with flowers.
(Translated by J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.)
Ceu pressae cum iam portum tetigere carinae,
Puppibus et laeti nautae imposuere coronas
Pliny also reminds us it in Natural History XV, 40 (133):
This tree is emblematical of peace: when a branch of it is extended, it is to denote a truce between enemies in arms. For the Romans more particulary it is the messenger of joyful tidings, and of victory: it accompanies the despatches of the general, and it decorates the lances and javelins of the soldiers and the fasces which precede their chief. (Translated by John Bostock, M.D.,F.R.S. and H.T. Riley, Esq. B.A. 1855)
Ipsa pacifera, ut quam praetendi etiam inter armatos hostes quietis sit indicium. Romanis praecipue laetitiae victoriarumque nuntia additur litteris et militum lanceis pilisque, fasces imperatorum decorat.
Saint Isidore also considered the laurel as a symbol of glory and victory. In his Etymologies XVII, 7.2 he derives its name from the word laus (praise), and explains why it crowns the head of the winners:
"Laurel" (Laurus) is so called from the word laudis (praise). The heads of the victors were crowned with praise with this tree. Among the ancients it was called laudea; then the letter D was abolished and replaced by R and it was called laurus, just like auriculis (ears) which was at first pronounced audiculae and medidies (midday) which is now pronounced meridies. The Greeks call this tree δάφνη (Dafne) δαφνην because it never loses its verdure; and for this reason the winners are crowned with him. The common people believe that this is the only tree that can not be struck by lightning.
Laurus a verbo laudis dicta; hac enim cum laudibus victorum capita coronabantur. Apud antiquos autem laudea nominabatur; postea D littera sublata et subrogata R dicta est laurus; ut in auriculis, quae initio audiculae dictae sunt, et medidies, quae nunc meridies dicitur. Hanc arborem Graeci δάφνην (dafnen) vocant, quod numquam deponat viriditatem; inde illa potius victores coronantur. Sola quoque haec arbor vulgo fulminari minime creditur.
Apollo, whose tree is the laurel, is the patron god of poetry, of music and of the arts in general. Its perennial verdure is the best symbol of the enduring value of poetry and art. A greater specialization seems to require the laurel for epic poetry which sings the victorious heroes and the myrtle for lyric and pastoral poetry:
Virgil, Bucolic: VIII 11-13:
Take thou these songs that owe their birth to thee,
and deign around thy temples to let creep
this ivy-chaplet 'twixt the conquering bays.
(Translated by J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1895.)
Carmina coepta tuis, atque hanc sine tempora circum
Inter uictrices hederam tibi serpere laurus.
This symbolic value of the literary glory survived in the Middle Ages, it gained new importance in the Renaissance and endures today.
Mostly it has been used, appropriated, translated, recreated the famous fable or myth of Apollo and Daphne. Daphne δάφνη is precisely the Greek name for the laurel. The myth was divulged by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, I, 452 et ff.:
Apollo, proud of their victory over the serpent Python, mocked Cupid, who being a child used arms of an adult; Cupid took revenge wounding him with a golden arrow and inflaming his heart with an irresistible love for the nymph Daphne while he wounded her with an arrow of lead, which generated disgust and rejection.The supplications of Apollo were useless , and they did not soften the heart of the nymph; Apollo, desperate chases her through the woods and he is about to reach her when Dafne implores the help of his father, Peneus River, who turns her into laurel; Apollo desperate and tearful embraces the tree, which made its emblem and its tree. And the laurel is also the symbol of unrequited and unhappy love.
Well, no Medieval or Renaissance literary or Baroque author who does not remember, imitate or reproduce this myth.
I will comment on a curious question. Often in the literature, with an epic or lyrical character appears a comic element that downplays the grandeur of earlier. Thiat happens with laurel: given its culinary value to flavor stews and cooked, it is not uncommon in the Baroque Literature of contrasts appear burlesque versions of the value of laurel.
An example is the famous Spanish playwright and poet Lope de Vega, who under the name of his heterónimo Tomé Burguillos, is the author of this great sonnet which ridicules the desire of poets to receive laurels and awards. I offer only Spanish text without translation to avoid damaging the poem:
Llevóme Febo a su Parnaso un día,
y vi por el cristal de unos canceles
a Homero y a Virgilio con doseles,
leyendo filosófica poesía
Vi luego la importuna infantería
de poetas fantásticos noveles,
pidiendo por principios más laureles
que anima Dafne y que Apolo cría.
Pedile yo también por estudiante,
y díjome un bedel: “Burguillos, quedo:
que no sois digno de laurel triunfante”
“¿Por qué?”, le dije; y respondió sin miedo:
“Porque los lleva todos un tratante
para hacer escabeches en Laredo.”
This comic contrast between the two functions of laurel, the sublime to crown the head of the poets and this of the prosaic culinary seasoning, remains a continuing reflection today. For example, the writer, journalist and Spanish writer Manuel Vicent reminds us in his article in the newspaper El País of 22 July 2001 "Glory":
.. So they you want you, dedicated to the verses in the horatian village, between chickens and lettuce, you contemplating the twilight and they filling the sack. The laurel has two destinations: the head of the hero or the stew. Maybe one day you were a rebel: it was that day when you were willing to die for no bend yourself. That is the moment of glory that belongs to you.
But Laurel does not exhaust its virtuality in this symbolic work; its branches also serve as a shield against lightning, which increases the idea of symbol of immortality. Pliny tells us how Tiberius crowned himself with bay when there was a storm:
Naturalis Historia, book XV, 40 (134-135):
Another reason, too, may be the fact, that of all the shrubs that are planted and received in our houses, this is the only one that is never struck by lightning…. It is said that when it thundered, the Emperor Tiberius was in the habit of putting on a wreath of laurel to allay his apprehensions of disastrous effects from the lightning.
et quia manu satarum receptarumque in domos fulmine sola non icitur. ..Ti. principem tonante caelo coronari ea solitum ferunt contra fulminum metus.
Saint Isidore picked up the belief in his Etymologies (XVII, 7, 1), as we saw above:
The common people believe that this is the only tree that can’t be struck by lightning.
Sola quoque haec arbor vulgo fulminari minime creditur.
Even today in some towns, they are placed on the balconies branches of laurel to ward off the danger of lightning.
Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca) had very easy to pun on the name of his immortal beloved, Laura, "Laurel" in many poems of his Songbook; so, Song XXIX:
She is a star on earth, and she keeps
her chastity as laurel stays green,
so no lightning strikes her, no shameful breeze
can ever force her.
(Translated by: A.S.Kline)
ch'è stella in terra, et come in lauro foglia
conserva verde il pregio d'onestade,
ove non spira folgore, né indegno
vento mai che l'aggrave.
and in song CXXIX
where the breeze is fragrant
with fresh and perfumed laurel.
(Translated by: A.S.Kline)
ove l'aura si sente
d'un fresco et odorifero laureto.
Also the laurel is a common element in the ideals gardens (locus amoenus) ideal scene, despite the redundancy, for love. So Petronius does it in his Satyricon , chap. CXXXI,8,
Shorn of its top, the swaying pine here casts a
And quivering cypress, and the stately plane
And berry-laden laurel. A brook's wimpling waters strayed
Lashed into foam, but dancing on again
And rolling pebbles in their chattering flow.
It was Love's own nook,
(Translation by W. C. Firebaugh)
Mobilis aestiuas platanus diffuderat umbras
et bacis redimita Daphne tremulaeque cupressus
et circum tonsae trepidanti uertice pinus.
Has inter ludebat aquis errantibus amnis
spumeus, et querulo uexabat rore lapillos.
Dignus amore locus …
And even occasionally it may appear in funeral environments, recalling the perennial glory of the deceased.
Finally, only the olive tree can compete in the ancient world in symbolic value with laurel.
So the meaning of laurel as a symbol of artistic and military triumph was preserved throughout the Middle Ages and of course in the Renaissance, where it can also be a symbol of triumph in love, given the similarities with these the poets present the two battles, war and love, and in Baroque periods and so to this day. Appointments are innumerable. And even a piece remains of its magic value in the custom of placing branches on the balconies, custom now generally Christianized by putting olive branches in Palm Sunday.
I will transcribe as an example of the emblem of Alciato cited above aimed at Charles V for his campaign in Tunisia and two quotes from Cervantes in Don Quixote with evident ironic tone:
Alciato's Book of Emblems
The laurel tree is owed to Charles for his victory over the Poeni:
may such garlands adorn victorious heads.
Debetur Carolo superatis Laurea Poenis:
Victrices ornent talia serta comas.
Don Quixote (II, 18):
When Don Lorenzo had finished reciting his gloss, Don Quixote stood up, and in a loud voice, almost a shout, exclaimed as he grasped Don Lorenzo's right hand in his, "By the highest heavens, noble youth, but you are the best poet on earth, and deserve to be crowned with laurel, not by Cyprus or by Gaeta—as a certain poet, God forgive him, said—but by the Academies of Athens, if they still flourished, and by those that flourish now, Paris, Bologna, Salamanca. Heaven grant that the judges who rob you of the first prize—that Phoebus may pierce them with his arrows, and the Muses never cross the thresholds of their doors. Repeat me some of your long-measure verses, senor, if you will be so good, for I want thoroughly to feel the pulse of your rare genius." (Translated by John Ormsby)
Don Quixote (II, 55):
(aimed for his donkey)
! O comrade and friend, how ill have I repaid thy faithful services! Forgive me, and entreat Fortune, as well as thou canst, to deliver us out of this miserable strait we are both in; and I promise to put a crown of laurel on thy head, and make thee look like a poet laureate, and give thee double feeds."
Etymological note: “laureate”, of course, means crowned with laurel. Who perform secondary education are the laureates with the bacca, which according to the dictionary of the Royal Academy is the fruit or berry laurel; they are bacca laureati, ie "bachelors" (word derived from "Baccalaureatus").
I then offer a long quotation from Pliny, at the end of Book XV on the bay, their classes, their symbolism and wonders. This gives us an idea of the importance that the laurel was in the ancient world and detail with which it is studied.
Pliny, Natural History, 39-40
39. (30.)—The laurel; thirteen varieties of it.
The laurel is especially consecrated to triumphs, is remarkably ornamental to houses, and guards the portals of our emperors and our pontiffs: there suspended alone, it graces the palace, and is ever on guard before the threshold. Cato speaks of two varieties of this tree, the Delphic and the Cyprian. Pompeius Lenæus has added another, to which he has given the name of "mustax," from the circumstance of its being used for putting under the cake known by the name of "mustaceum." He says that this variety has a very large leaf, flaccid, and of a whitish hue; that the Delphic laurel is of one uniform colour, greener than the other, with berries of very large size, and of a red tint approaching to green. He says, too, that it is with this laurel that the victors at Delphi are crowned, and warriors who enjoy the honours of a triumph at Rome. The Cyprian laurel, he says, has a short leaf, is of a blackish colour, with an imbricated edge, and crisped.
Since his time, however, the varieties have considerably augmented. There is the tinus for instance, by some considered as a species of wild laurel, while others, again, regard it as a tree of a separate class; indeed, it does differ from the laurel as to the colour, the berry being of an azure blue. The royal laurel, too, has since been added, which has of late begun to be known as the "Augustan:" both the tree, as well as the leaf, are of remarkable size, and the berries have not the usual rough taste. Some say, however, that the royal laurel and the Augustan are not the same tree, and make out the former to be a peculiar kind, with a leaf both longer and broader than that of the Augustan. The same authors, also, make a peculiar species of the bacalia the commonest laurel of all, and the one that bears the greatest number of berries. With them, too, the barren laurel is the laurel of the triumphs, and they say that this is the one that is used by warriors when enjoying a triumph—a thing that surprises me very much; unless, indeed, the use of it was first introduced by the late Emperor Augustus, and it is to be considered as the progeny of that laurel, which, as we shall just now have occasion to mention, was sent to him from heaven; it being the smallest of them all, with a crisped short leaf; and very rarely to be met with.
In ornamental gardening we also find the taxa employed, with a small leaf sprouting from the middle of the leaf, and forming a fringe, as it were, hanging from it; the spadonia, too, without this fringe, a tree that thrives remarkably well in the shade: indeed, however dense the shade may be, it will soon cover the spot with its shoots. There is the chamædaphne, also, a shrub that grows wild; the Alexandrian laurel, by some known as the Idean, by others as the "hypoglottion," by others as the "carpophyllon," and by others, again, as the "hypelates." From the root it throws out branches three quarters of a foot in length; it is much used in ornamental gardening, and for making wreaths, and it has a more pointed leaf than that of the myrtle, and superior to it in softness, whiteness, and size: the seed, which lies between the leaves, is red. This last kind grows in great abundance on Mount Ida and in the vicinity of Heraclea in Pontus: it is only found, however, in mountainous districts.
The laurel, too, known as the daphnoides, is a variety that has received many different names: by some it is called the Pelasgian laurel, by others the euthalon, and by others the stephanon Alexandri. This is also a branchy shrub, with a thicker and softer leaf than that of the ordinary laurel: if tasted, it leaves a burning sensation in the mouth and throat: the berries are red, inclining to black. The ancient writers have remarked, that in their time there was no species of laurel in the island of Corsica. Since then, however, it has been planted there, and has thrived well.
40.—Historical anecdotes connected with the laurel.
This tree is emblematical of peace: when a branch of it is extended, it is to denote a truce between enemies in arms. For the Romans more particularly it is the messenger of joyful tidings, and of victory: it accompanies the despatches of the general, and it decorates the lances and javelins of the soldiers and the fasces which precede their chief. It is of this tree that branches are deposited on the lap of Jupiter All-good and All-great, so often as some new victory has imparted uni- versal gladness. This is done, not because it is always green, nor yet because it is an emblem of peace—for in both of those respects the olive would take the precedence of it—but because it is the most beauteous tree on Mount Parnassus, and was pleasing for its gracefulness to Apollo even; a deity to whom the kings of Rome sent offerings at an early period, as we learn from the case of L. Brutus. Perhaps, too, honour is more particularly paid to this tree because it was there that Brutus earned the glory of asserting his country's liberties, when, by the direction of the oracle, he kissed that laurel-bearing soil. *
(Note *: He alludes to the circumstance of the priestess being asked who should reign at Rome after Tarquin; upon which she answered, "He who first kisses his mother;" on which Brutus, the supposed idiot, stumbled to the ground, and kissed the earth, the mother of all.)
Another reason, too, may be the fact, that of all the shrubs that are planted and received in our houses, this is the only one that is never struck by lightning. It is for these reasons, in my opinion, that the post of honour has been awarded to the laurel more particularly in triumphs, and not, as Massurius says, because it was used for the purposes of fumigation and purification from the blood of the enemy.
In addition to the above particulars, it is not permitted to defile the laurel and the olive by applying them to profane uses; so much so, indeed, that, not even for the propitiation of the divinities, should a fire be lighted with them at either altar or shrine. Indeed, it is very evident that the laurel protests against such usage by crackling as it does in the fire, thus, in a manner, giving expresssion to its abhorrence of such treatment. The wood of this tree when eaten is good as a specific for internal maladies and affections of the sinews.
It is said that when it thundered, the Emperor Tiberius was in the habit of putting on a wreath of laurel to allay his apprehensions of disastrous effects from the lightning. There are also some remarkable facts connected with the laurel in the history of the late Emperor Augustus: once while Livia Drusilla, who afterwards on her marriage with the Emperor assumed the name of Augusta, at the time that she was affianced to him, was seated, there fell into her lap a hen of remarkable whiteness, which an eagle let fall from aloft without its receiving the slightest injury: on Livia viewing it without any symptoms of alarm, it was discovered that miracle was added to miracle, and that it held in its beak a branch of laurel covered with berries. The aruspices gave orders that the hen and her progeny should be carefully preserved, and the branch planted and tended with religious care. This was accordingly done at the country-house belonging to the Cæsars, on the Flaminian Way, near the banks of the Tiber, eight miles from the City; from which circumstance that road has since received the title "Ad gallinas." From the branch there has now arisen, wondrous to relate, quite a grove: and Augustus Cæsar afterwards, when celebrating a triumph, held a branch of it in his hand and wore a wreath of this laurel on his head; since which time all the succeeding emperors have followed his example. Hence, too, has originated the custom of planting the branches which they have held on these occasions, and we thus see groves of laurel still existing which owe their respective names to this circumstance. It was on the above occasion, too, that not improbably a change was effected in the usual laurel of the triumph. The laurel is the only one among the trees that in the Latin language has given an appellation to a man, and it is the only one the leaf of which has a distinct name of its own,—it being known by the name of "laurea." The name of this tree is still retained by one place in the city of Rome, for we find a spot on the Aventine Mount still known by the name of "Loretum," where formerly a laurel-grove existed. The laurel is employed in purifications, and we may here mention, incidentally, that it will grow from slips—though Democritus and Theophrastus have expressed their doubts as to that fact.We shall now proceed to speak of the forest trees. (Translated by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855).
Naturalis Historia, XV, 39-40
Laurus triumphis proprie dicatur, vel gratissima domibus, ianitrix Caesarum pontificumque. sola et domos exornat et ante limina excubat. duo eius genera tradidit Cato, Delphicam et Cypriam. Pompeius Lenaeus adiecit quam mustacem appellavit, quoniam mustaceis subiceretur: hanc esse folio maximo flaccidoque et albicante; Delphicam aequali colore viridiorem, maximis bacis atque e viridi rubentibus ac victores Delphis coronare ut triumphantes Romae; Cypriam esse folio brevi, nigro, per margines imbricato crispam. postea accessere genera: tinus — hanc silvestrem laurum aliqui intellegunt, nonnulli sui generis arborem — differt colore; est enim caerulea baca. accessit et regia, quae coepit Augusta appellari, amplissima et arbore et folio, bacis gustatu quoque non asperis. aliqui negant eandem esse et suum genus regiae faciunt longioribus foliis latioribusque.
iidem in alio genere bacaliam appellant hanc quae vulgatissima est bacarumque fertilissima, sterilem vero earum, quod maxime miror, triumphalem eaque dicunt triumphantes uti, nisi id a Divo Augusto coepit, ut docebimus, ex ea lauru quae ei missa e caelo est, minima altitudine, folio crispo, brevi, inventu rara. accedit in topiario opere Thasia, excrescente in medio folio parvola veluti lacinia folii, et sine ea spadonina, mira opacitatis patientia, itaque quantalibeat sub umbra solum implet. est et chamaedaphne silvestris frutex et Alexandrina, quam aliqui Idaeam, alii hypoglottion, alii danaen, alii carpophyllon, alii hypelaten vocant. ramos spargit a radice dodrantales, coronarii operis, folio acutiore quam myrti ac molliore et candidiore, maiore, semine inter folia rubro, plurima in Ida et circa Heracleam Ponti, nec nisi in montuosis. id quoque quod daphnoides vocatur genus in nominum ambitu est; alii enim Pelasgum, alii eupetalon, alii stephanon Alexandri vocant. et hic frutex est ramosus, crassiore ac molliore quam laurus folio, cuius gustatu accendatur os, bacis e nigro rufis. notatum antiquis, nullum genus laurus in Corsica fuisse, quod nunc satum et ibi provenit.
Ipsa pacifera, ut quam praetendi etiam inter armatos hostes quietis sit indicium. Romanis praecipue laetitiae victoriarumque nuntia additur litteris et militum lanceis pilisque, fasces imperatorum decorat. ex iis in gremio Iovis optimi maximique deponitur, quotiens laetitiam nova victoria adtulit, idque non quia perpetuo viret nec quia pacifera est, praeferenda ei utroque olea, sed quia spectatissima in monte Parnaso ideoque etiam grata Apollini visa, adsuetis eo dona mittere, oracula inde repetere iam et regibus Romanis teste L. Bruto, fortassis etiam in argumentum, quoniam ibi libertatem publicam is meruisset lauriferam tellurem illam osculatus ex responso et quia manu satarum receptarumque in domos fulmine sola non icitur. ob has causas equidem crediderim honorem ei habitum in triumphis potius quam quia suffimentum sit caedis hostium et purgatio, ut tradit Masurius, adeoque in profanis usibus pollui laurum et oleam fas non est, ut ne propitiandis quidem numinibus accendi ex iis altaria araeve debeant. laurus quidem manifesto abdicat ignes crepitu et quadam detestatione, interna eorum etiam vitia et nervorum ligno torquente. Ti. principem tonante caelo coronari ea solitum ferunt contra fulminum metus.
Sunt et circa Divum Augustum eventa eius digna memoratu. namque Liviae Drusillae, quae postea Augusta matrimonii nomen accepit, cum pacta esset illa Caesari, gallinam conspicui candoris sedenti aquila ex alto abiecit in gremium inlaesam, intrepideque miranti accessit miraculum. quoniam teneret in rostro laureum ramum onustum suis bacis, conservari alitem et subolem iussere haruspices ramumque eum seri ac rite custodiri: quod factum est in villa Caesarum fluvio Tiberi inposita iuxta nonum lapidem Flaminiae viae, quae ob id vocatur Ad Gallinas, mireque silva provenit. ex ea triumphans postea Caesar laurum in manu tenuit coronamque capite gessit, ac deinde imperatores Caesares cuncti. traditusque mos est ramos quos tenuerunt serendi, et durant silvae nominibus suis discretae, fortassis ideo mutatis triumphalibus. unius arborum Latina lingua nomen inponitur viris, unius folia distinguntur appellatione; lauream enim vocamus. durat et in urbe inpositum loco, quando Loretum in Aventino vocatur ubi silva laurus fuit. eadem purificationibus adhibetur, testatumque sit obiter et ramo eam seri, quoniam dubitavere Democritus atque Theophrastus.
Nunc dicemus silvestrium naturas.