Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ve tasked myself with leading you on a meandering tour of the virtual garden of delights and curiosities and thoughts that make up my world – all through the lens of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words.
J is for…
jacinth: 1. Hyacinth 2. Orange or red-brown zircon
I do enjoy words with definitions that are wildly divergent. And this word is a double win for me as I love both flowers and stones.
First up, let’s talk about hyacinths. A friend often said “hyacinths for the soul” to refer to special things she was grateful for, and I fell in love with the expression. I didn’t know then she was referring to John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem:
“If thou of fortune be bereft,
and in thy store there be but left
two loaves, sell one, and with the
dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
Somehow those words seem even more poignant and inviting in these times, don’t you think?
I always love origin stories, and hyacinth has a beautifully tragic one. Greek mythology tells of Hyacinth, a Spartan prince who was Apollo’s lover. Hyacinth was admired by others including the winds Zephyrus and Boreas, and a mortal man Thamyris; but Hyacinth chose Apollo over all the rest, and they had wonderful adventures with Apollo teaching him many things.
One day they were playing a game of quoits, and Apollo’s throw slit the clouds with the force of his toss. In an effort to impress Apollo, Hyacinth ran after it to catch it, but when the metal ring hit the ground, it bounced back and fatally wounded him.
Although Apollo used all his healing skills, Hyacinth died, and Apollo was bereft, blaming himself. He promised he would always remember Hyacinth, and where Hyancinth’s blood had spilled, Apollo created a flower. On the petals, he inscribed “Al Al” as an expression of his grief.
In the wild, hyacinths are usually blue. They were introduced to Western Europe in the 16th century, and the Dutch became masters at breeding cultivars. Now the flowers are available in a rainbow of colors. Although I think they’re beautiful in all their shades, blue is definitely my favorite in both it’s color and scent.
The fact that jacinth is also the traditional name for orange or red-brown zircon is curious.
There is an Old Testament biblical reference to the jeweled breastplate of Aaron, that’s contains a mention of jacinth. But it’s not entirely clear what gemstone it referred to as at that time gem names were really only color descriptions. So jacinth might actually have been a blue-violet stone. How jacinth came to refer to the orange/red/brown ziron is unknown. Another of life’s many mysteries.
So tell me – what do you consider hyacinths for your soul? What’s your favorite flower, your favorite stone? Do tell – you know I love to hear.