The violet has a charming and long history of mythology. Greek myth states that Zeus fell in love with Io. Zeus was afraid that Hera, his wife, would discover him and Io, so he made Io into a white heifer. Zeus created the sweet-scented flower that we know as the violet for Io to eat while she was a heifer. Hera placed an insect pest on Io as the white heifer, so she roamed all over the land trying to free herself from the pest. Zeus finally caught the heifer and put his hand on her, and she turned back into Io. She gave birth to their child, who founded many nations.
Another Greek myth states that Persephone, a young lady, was walking in a field of violets when Hades saw her and fell in love with her. Hades took her to his kingdom of death and the world became barren. Hades allowed Persephone to return in the spring, and the violets returned as well. However, Persephone must go back to Hades at the end of autumn, and the world becomes barren until she returns again in spring.
In the Middle Ages, the violet was a symbol of humility, chastity, faithfulness and modesty, and was a symbol for Mary, Jesus’s mother, who is known for these attributes. It is easy to see how these traits became associated with this plant when you look at a violet in bloom. The blooms are pretty much under the dark green, heart-shaped leaves, and appear to peek out from under the leaves. The plant is small in stature and not bright in color.
Violets are also self-pollinators, meaning that a bee or other plant is not necessary for the violet to bloom. This symbolizes the belief of the virgin birth.The violet also has meanings of immortality, resurrection and spring.
A real love story, with violets, is that of Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte. The favorite perfume of Josephine was violets. Violets were planted in the beautiful gardens that Josephine planned in France. When Napoleon visited Josephine’s grave he picked violets to leave on her grave. When Napoleon died, in his locket were violets and a lock of Josephine’s hair. That is a real romance. Perhaps that is why violets were chosen for the month that celebrates love and romance in a single day called Valentine’s Day. Violets later became a heraldic symbol of Napoleon and his family.
In the Victorian era, words of romantic expression were discouraged, so the language of flowers was very important. Purple violets meant “I’ll always be true,” and violet and cream-colored violets said, “Let’s take a chance.”
Not only are violets the official flower for celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary but they’re also a sign of intuition and spiritual connection. Having five heart-shaped petals typically surrounding a white center, these early spring bloomers can be found anywhere from wooded glens to grassy meadows. While most grow wildly in nature, violet lovers will be pleased to know that many greenhouses now carry samplings in a variety of different colors for those who wish to cultivate a crop in their own backyard.
A diminutive flower, the violet has a whole array of meanings, many to do with color, many to do with its gentle size and appearance. Most meanings are pleasant ones, and the fondness people have for the flower has placed it in the calendar as the flower for the month of February and made violets the state flower of Illinois, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Rhode Island. With a history connected to many myths, it isn’t surprising that the violet is the flower of Greece.
Folklore says the violet connotes a love that is delicate. The sensibility of delicacy is also associated with the violet from ancient mythology. Roman and Greek myths recount a tragic story of one of the goddess Diana’s (Artemis) nymph companions, all of whom had sworn to stay maidens. The nymph was unrelentingly chased by Diana’s twin brother, Apollo, so that Diana changed the nymph into a violet to protect her. The modesty of the nymph is attributed to the violet.
Violets, both the flower and the color inspired by it, have much meaning in Christianity. One important meaning associates the violet with Mary and modesty. Indeed, the religious name of Viola odorata is Our Lady’s Modesty. Violets also denote spiritual wisdom, humility and faithfulness. These meanings make violets, along with yellow roses, the flower to give for a 50th wedding anniversary. Religious art uses violets in paintings to denote humility.
Inspired by mythology, Victorian floriography—the language of flowers—assigns to the violet a meaning of retiring modesty. The white violet, in the Victorian mind, means candor; innocence, too. It was much the same during the Renaissance, when the meanings of flowers were not just simple assigned values but reflected an essence that led to an understanding of the Divine. Under the influence of Classical scholarship and religious symbolism, the violet during the Renaissance also meant modesty.
Function in Dreams and Death
In dreams, violets are positive. For instance, according to folklore, dreaming of violets is a sign that a fortune is coming your way. It is also supposed to mean your future spouse will be your junior. The violet does have a more sobering side, though, in that the flower is associated with death–and resurrection. The symbolism likely springs from antiquity, when a number of myths featured violets in the death of heroes and even an Earth God named Attis. Combining this death symbolism with modesty and maidenhood creates a meaning for violet of death too soon. Shakespeare’s tragic Ophelia was linked to violets in “Hamlet.”
Color Theory and Violet Meaning
The color violet was named after the purple-blue flower. Purple as a color means royalty and power. Following from that, purple also means confidence. Blue means spirituality and, possibly because of its spiritual association, violet also means intuition. The white found in some violets just increases the violet’s association with chastity: White means purity and innocence, among other things.