One of the most poignant things I ever read was an account of a small bouquet of flowers found by archaeologists on the floor in the outer chambers of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb. The romance writer in me always thinks about the poor woman mourning her beloved, leaving a last offering of wildflowers to accompany him into the afterlife, just before the tomb was sealed forever. What happened to her next?
We’ll never know…unless I write that story someday perhaps! Flowers don’t figure much in my book Priestess of the Nile, but they do appear in some of the other works in progress in the overall connected series. The Egyptians often wore flower garlands in life and in death or emulated them in precious stones such as coral and turquoise. King Tut’s mummy wore this floral collar:
And here’s another example, made with cornflowers, which has miraculously held its color for over 3000 years.
The Egyptians loved flowers, with the blue lotus of course being the most well known. A form of water lily, the lotus had its own feast day. People would sing songs to the flower and then walk to the Nile, holding a silver bowl shaped like a lotus, candle burning in the center. You made a wish and put your bowl in the river and if the candle continued to float and burn, you’d get your heart’s desire in the coming year.
It was said that a god or goddess was present if the lotus perfume was especially strong in the air. Many tomb paintings depict the human holding a lotus, to attract the gods, win their favor and thus make the person’s journey to the Afterlife smoother. Since water lilies open in the morning and close again at night, the Egyptians quite logically took the lotus as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration in the Afterlife.
A second plant of high importance to the Egyptians was the papyrus. Symbol of fertility and life itself, because of the way it grew in tremendous thickets along the Nile, the papyrus and its flowers was the most commonly used decorative element in the stylized architecture and other objects. The papyrus was the symbol for Lower Egypt, beginning around 2600 BC – almost 5000 years ago – as the civilization became complex, the first “step” pyramid was built and many of the governing structures of Egyptian life were established.
Around the time my book takes place, in 1500 BC, the Egyptians had begun depicting the lotus wrapped around the papyrus in their art. When papyrus was depicted with the lotus – symbol of Upper Egypt – the message was the unification of the two lands, under one Pharaoh.
The people of Ancient Egypt weren’t so different from you and me…and an appreciation of flowers as a romantic or symbolic gesture is one thing we definitely share! What’s your favorite flower to give or receive?