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Falcon see Hawk

Fall see Autumn

Fame or glory Like a few other entries in this dictionary (e.g., Death, Dream), fame or glory

is a concept that seldom serves as a symbol of something else but is itself

often symbolized in distinctive conventional ways in western literature.

Words meaning ‘‘fame’’ are usually derived from roots meaning ‘‘hear’’ or

‘‘say,’’ since before modern times a persons fame depended almost entirely on

the heard or spoken word. Homers term for it, kleos, derives from the Indo-

European root kleu-, which also yields Greek kluo, ‘‘I hear,’’ klutos, ‘‘heard-of,

famous,’’ Kleio (whence Latin Clio), the muse of epic poetry, and several other

words. The English derivatives of kleu- are ‘‘loud’’ and ‘‘listen.’’ In Sanskrit the

same root generates sravah, ‘‘fame’’ (in the Rigveda), while in Slavic it produces

slava, ‘‘fame’’ (and slovo, ‘‘word, epic tale’’). These words are closely associated

with epic poetry, which was the chief vehicle of glory in ancient times. Latin

fama, which passes through French into English as ‘‘fame,’’ is related to fari,

‘‘to speak,’’ and fatum, ‘‘utterance, something spoken by a god or oracle,’’

which yields English ‘‘fate.’’ An Old English word for ‘‘fame’’ is blaed (as in

Beowulf 1761), which can mean ‘‘breath’’ as well; it is related to blawan, ‘‘blow,’’

and blaest. Latin gloria is of uncertain origin.

Unlike kleos in Homer, fama in Virgil is sometimes a debased version of

poetic fame. Virgil personifies Fama, usually translated as ‘‘Rumor,’’ as a bird

with an eye on every feather and just as many tongues and ears (Aeneid

4.181--83). Shakespeare follows him in the Induction to 2 Henry 4, where

Rumor is ‘‘painted full of tongues.’’ Fame may also be dismissed as mere

breath, fickle and evanescent air, at least on earth. ‘‘Worldly renown is

nothing other than / a breath of wind,’’ Dante writes, ‘‘that blows now here,

now there, / and changes name when it has changed its course’’ (Purgatorio

11.100--02, trans. Mandelbaum). If an enemy speaks ones praise, Shakespeares

Aeneas says, ‘‘That breath fame blows’’ (TC 1.3.244). ‘‘Whats Fame?’’ Pope asks:

‘‘a fancyd life in others breath’’ (Essay on Man 4.237). Byron notes that ‘‘love of

glorys but an airy lust’’ (Don Juan 4.101.2). Great fame may require that breath

be blown through a trumpet. Spenser speaks of the ‘‘trump of fame’’ and

‘‘fame in her shrill trump’’ (Sonnets 29 and 85); Beattie disdains the

‘‘obstreperous trump of Fame’’ (Minstrel 1.2.6); Dryden writes, ‘‘Fame is the

trumpet, but your smile the prize’’ (Epistle 4.18). Clio is also a trumpeter. See

under Trumpet for more examples.

Poets have claimed the privilege of conferring true fame on those who

deserve it, including themselves. The bard Demodocus in Homers Odyssey sings

the klea andron, the ‘‘famous deeds of men’’ (8.73). Some of these deeds, in

fact, were brought about by the gods so that bards might sing them: Troy was

destroyed, according to Alcinous, ‘‘for the sake of a song for those to come’’

(8.580), while Helen says that Zeus brought misery to her and Paris so they

will be the subject of song (Iliad 6.357). Sappho warns a woman that she will

be forgotten because she has no share in ‘‘the roses of Pieria’’ (the Muses) (Frag.

55). Virgil hopes his poem will preserve the memory of Nisus and Euryalus

(Aeneid 9.446--49). Horace notes that many brave men lived before Agamemnon

but, lacking a Homer, they descended unmourned into the darkness (Odes 4.9).

Petrarch claims that ‘‘our study’’ (poetry) makes men immortal through fame

(Rime 104). In Sonnet 8 Milton offers to requite a gentle act of a conquering

soldier by employing the ‘‘charms’’ of poetry to grant him fame. Poetry, says

Foscolo, ‘‘defeats the silence of ten thousand years’’ (‘‘On Sepulchers’’ 233--34).

In Homer, Virgil, and other classical poets, fame rises to heaven, and the

famous one becomes a star. Several examples of this imagery are given under

Star. We may then speak of ‘‘the clear sky of fame,’’ as Falstaff does (2H4

4.3.49), or ‘‘the heaven of fame,’’ as Shelley does (‘‘Ode to Liberty’’ 10).

Fame or Rumor, usually personified as female, may have a house; as Ovid

describes it, it stands on the highest peak, has a thousand openings, and is

built throughout of reverberating bronze (Met. 12.39--63). Chaucer develops

this idea at length in The House of Fame. A grander and nobler version is

Shelleys temple in Canto 1 of Laon and Cythna, where the great poets and

thinkers of the past dwell together.

The word ‘‘glory’’ has lent itself more readily to Christian redefinition --

heavenly glory, to go to glory, and so on -- than ‘‘fame’’ has. In English, at

least, ‘‘glory’’ often suggests a heavenly light, as it does in Wordsworths

‘‘Intimations’’ ode, and has served as a synonym of ‘‘halo.’’ The haloes over

the saints in paintings, then, represent their fame in heaven.

Field see Plow, Seed

Fire Fire is so important to human life and comes in so many forms -- the sun and

stars, lightning, volcanoes, sparks from flint, burning logs on a hearth,

candles, oil lamps, conflagrations of a city or forest -- that its symbolic

meanings in literature are as manifold as the forms a flame may take. Indeed

to Heraclitus its ever-changing shapes suggested that it is the arche or

fundamental substance of the world, the fire that Hopkins celebrates in ‘‘That

Nature is a Heraclitean Fire’’: ‘‘Million-fueled, natures bonfire burns on.’’ The

meanings of fire are not only manifold but sometimes ambiguous: what

warms can burn, what illuminates can dazzle and blind. Fires are found on

earth, in heaven, in hell, and in purgatory; they bring life and death; they can

kill by burning up or by burning out.

Here we shall detail only a few senses: the fire of the Lord in the Bible, the

fire of purgatory, the Promethean fire of culture or intellect, and the fire of

passion (lust and anger).

Like Zeus and Jupiter, the God of the Old Testament sends lightning, ‘‘fire

from the Lord out of heaven’’ (Gen. 19.24), but he is much more intimately

linked to other forms of fire. He descends upon Mt. Sinai in fire (Exod. 19.18),

the sight of his glory was like ‘‘devouring fire’’ (24.17), his angel speaks in a

burning bush (3.2) while the Lord himself ‘‘spake unto you out of the midst of

the fire’’ on the mountain (Deut. 4.12), ‘‘For the Lord thy God is a consuming

fire, even a jealous God’’ (4.24). The wrath of the Lord shall burn the wicked,

says Isaiah, ‘‘as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the

chaff’’ (5.24), ‘‘and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire’’ (9.19). From this

it is but a step to the ‘‘hell fire’’ with which Jesus threatens one who calls his

brother a fool (Matt. 5.22), the ‘‘lake of fire’’ which is the ‘‘second death’’

(Rev. 20.14--15). These fires of wrath are also purifying, for they destroy

only the wicked, the chaff. Daniel and his companions are unsinged in the

‘‘burning fiery furnace’’ (Dan. 3.26). Jesus, John the Baptist prophesies, ‘‘shall

baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire’’; he will purge the threshing

floor and ‘‘burn up the chaff’’ (Matt. 3.11--12). A more benign fire is in the

flames of Pentecost, ‘‘cloven tongues like as of fire,’’ that descended on the

polyglot crowd and let them speak with ‘‘other tongues’’ to each other

(Acts 2).

It is a commonplace that hell is full of fire, but it is worth noting that the

most celebrated literary hell, Dantes Inferno, is not fiery at its center; it is icy

cold, for the worst sins, those of malice rather than passion, are cold-blooded.

On the highest terrace of his Purgatorio, however, the lustful walk in fire, but

this is ‘‘the fire that refines’’ (26.148), a line that Eliot quotes in The Waste Land

(427). Eliot also strikingly combines the fires of Pentecost with those of purgatory

in ‘‘Little Gidding’’: ‘‘The dove descending breaks the air / With flame

of incandescent terror / Of which the tongues declare / The one discharge

from sin and error. / The only hope, or else despair / Lies in the choice of pyre

or pyre -- / To be redeemed from fire by fire.’’ The fire that destroys Rochesters

house, and blinds Rochester himself, in Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre completes

a long skein of significant fire imagery; it is purgatorial, cleansing the Byronic

hero of his past sins.

Prometheus is the ‘‘Fire-Bringer’’ in Greek mythology, fire stolen in a fennel

stalk from Olympus and given to the miserable mortals below, Prometheus

creatures, who had lived like ants in dark caves. Fire is thus both a real boon,

crucial for a truly human life, and a synecdoche for all cultural attainments,

spelled out by Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound: star-lore, numbers, letters,

domestication of animals, seamanship, medicine, divination, mining, indeed

‘‘every art of mortals is from Prometheus’’ (447--506). The Promethean fire in

mortals should lead them to scholarly study, but as Berowne and his friends

in Shakespeares Love’s Labour’s Lost discover, it is womens eyes that ‘‘sparkle

still the right Promethean fire; / They are the books, the arts, the academes’’


The fire of passionate love and jealousy is one of the most widespread

symbols in literature. Perhaps its earliest appearance is in a fragment (31) by

Sappho, quoted by Longinus, in which she says ‘‘a subtle fire has crept beneath

my flesh’’ at the sight of her beloved with a man. In Catullus imitation of this

poem (51) a ‘‘thin flame’’ penetrates his limbs. Horace also imitates it, in Odes

1.13, where he is ‘‘consumed by slow fires within.’’ At Venus command Cupid

‘‘inflames’’ (incendat) Dido with love for Aeneas (Aeneid 1.660); fire imagery

recurs until it becomes literal at her suicides pyre. Ovids Medea conceives a

powerful fire for Jason (Met. 7.9). Seneca has Phaedras nurse urge her to

control her flames for Hippolytus (Phaedra 165). The metaphor is amusingly

elaborated in Guillaume de Lorriss Romance of the Rose: ‘‘The more a man

gazes on what he loves, the more his heart is fried and basted with lard’’

(2345--46). With more decorum one of Spensers characters tells of a time

‘‘when corage hott / The fire of love, and joy of chevalree, / First kindled in my

brest’’ (FQ 1.2.35). After the Fall, Adam feels Eves beauty ‘‘inflame my sense /

With ardor to enjoy thee’’ (Milton, PL 9.1031--32). In Racines Phиdre the queen

‘‘recognized Venus and her terrible flames’’ but could not repel her; now she

wishes to hide her ‘‘flame so black’’ from the light (277, 310). Keatss Porphyro

rides across the moors ‘‘with heart on fire / For Madeline’’ (Eve of St. Agnes


As early as Callimachus ‘‘fire’’ (pyr) could also mean the object of ones

passion (Epigrams 27.5). Horace tells a young man in the throes of love that he

is ‘‘worthy of a better flame’’ (flamma) (Odes 1.27.20); this ode may have inspired

Petrarch to address his beloved dolce mio foco (‘‘my sweet fire’’) (Rime 203) and

Boccaccio to name his lady Fiammetta (‘‘Little Flame’’) in some of his sonnets.

The same use of ‘‘flame’’ is found in a few English poems of the seventeenth

and eighteenth centuries, as in this from Marvells ‘‘The Garden’’: ‘‘Fond

lovers, cruel as their flame, / Cut in these trees their mistress name’’ (19--20).

We still use the phrase ‘‘old flame’’ for a former lover.

In Greek and Latin literature one could also burn with anger or pride. The

chorus of Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus warns Antigone and Ismene ‘‘not to

burn too much’’ over the fate of their father (1695). The youth of Aristophanes

Clouds are enjoined to ‘‘burn’’ (with shame and anger, presumably) when they

are mocked (992). Since then the flames of wrath are almost as common as

those of love.

In the Iliad warriors are fiery. ‘‘They saw Idomeneus like a flame in his

strength’’ (13.330); ‘‘Thus they fought in the guise of a bright fire’’ (18.1). Fire

images blend with images of brightness, such as dazzling light from helmets

and shields (13.341--42) or the glare of a baleful star (5.5--6), and come to a

brilliant climax with the simile that likens Achilles appearance to a signal

flare sent up by a beleaguered city (18.207--14) -- an obvious foreshadowing of

Troys fate. Fire is even personified as Hephaestus, who fights on behalf of

Achilles against the River Scamander (book 21).

A Latin phrase ferrum flammaque, ‘‘iron and flame,’’ means ‘‘total

destruction’’; we would say ‘‘fire and sword.’’ Priam, for instance, sees Asia

falling in fire and sword (Juvenal 10.266).

Fire might symbolize passion of any sort, any warmth of feeling, even

human life itself. Both Jane Eyre and Rochester are fiery characters --

Rochester appreciates Janes ‘‘soul made of fire’’ (chap. 24) -- whereas the

virtuous St. John Rivers is ‘‘cold as an iceberg’’ (chap. 35); many of the novels

intimate and emotional moments take place by the fireside. When Gradgrind,

in Dickenss Hard Times, asks his daughter Louisa if she is willing to marry

Bounderby, she has been so defeated by his educational methods that she

agrees, but as she agrees she notices the ‘‘languid and monotonous smoke’’

from the Coketown chimneys, a symbol of her life, and she adds, ‘‘Yet when

the night comes, Fire bursts out, Father!’’ (1.15). (See Salamander, Volcano).

Flood see Sea

Flower Flowers, first of all, are girls. Their beauty, their beautys brevity, their

vulnerability to males who wish to pluck them -- these features and others

have made flowers, in many cultures, symbolic of maidens, at least to the

males who have set those cultures terms. The most obvious evidence is girls

names. Daisy, Heather, Iris, Lily, Rose, and Violet remain common in English

today; Susan comes from Hebrew Shoshannah, meaning ‘‘lily’’; less common are

Flora (Latin for ‘‘flower’’) and Anthea (Greek for ‘‘flowery’’). Plant names,

whether a flower is implied or not, are also frequent: Daphne (Greek for

‘‘laurel’’), Hazel, Holly, Ivy, Laurel, Myrtle, Olive. With rare exceptions, such as

Hyacinth and Narcissus (from the Greek myths), boys are not given flower

names. ‘‘Custom hath been, time out of mind / With Rose or Lily to compare /

Our favourite maid!’’ So George Crabbe begins ‘‘The Flowers,’’ which likens a

dozen more flowers to different types of maids.

Two of the earliest Greek poems, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the

Hesiodic Catalogues of Women, make the connection between girls as flowers

and their being plucked, raped, or snatched away. In the Hymn, Persephone is

gathering flowers of various kinds and sees a ‘‘marvelous radiant flower,’’ the

narcissus, and as she reaches for it she is abducted by Hades; she herself has a

‘‘flower-like face’’ (8). According to the Catalogues (19), Zeus sees Europa

gathering flowers in a meadow, disguises himself as a bull, and tricks her by

breathing forth a crocus. Moschus in Europa repeats the flower-picking motif,

as Ovid does in Metamorphoses 5 when tells the story of Proserpina


In Euripides Ion, Creusa tells Apollo, who has abducted her: ‘‘You came with

hair flashing / Gold, as I gathered / Into my cloak flowers ablaze / With their

golden light’’ (887--90, trans. Willetts). Similarly Helen is gathering flowers

when Hermes snatches her away (Euripides, Helen 243--46). So is Oreithyia

when Boreas abducts her, according to a fragment of Choerilus.

Milton makes the metaphor explicit when he compares Eve to Proserpina:

‘‘where Proserpin gathring flowrs / Herself a fairer Flowr by gloomy Dis / Was

gatherd’’ (PL 4.269--71). Later, some distance from Adam, Eve is supporting the

drooping flowers, ‘‘Herself, though fairest unsupported Flowr, / From her best

prop so far, and storm so nigh’’ (9.432--33), when Satan appears as the serpent.

When Adam sees that she has fallen he drops the garland of roses he has

made for her (9.892) and tells her she has been ‘‘deflowrd’’ (9.901).

The word ‘‘deflower’’ for ‘‘deprive of virginity’’ has been in English since the

Middle Ages (from Late Latin deflorare), and in many languages ‘‘flower,’’

‘‘rose,’’ ‘‘cherry,’’ and the like are terms for the hymen or maidenhead.

Another prominent source of this symbolism is Catullus choral wedding

song: ‘‘Just as a flower that grows in a garden close, apart, / Unbeknown to

sheep . . . ; / Many boys have longed for it and many girls: / But when its bloom

is gone [defloruit], nipped off by a fingernail, / Never boy has longed for it and

never girl: / A maid too while untouched is dear the while to kin; / But when

with body smirched she loses her chaste bloom [florem], / Shes neither

pleasing then to boys nor dear to girls’’ (62.39--47, trans. Lee). Ben Jonson

incorporated a translation of this passage in his masque Hymenaei.

Ovid advises young women to pluck the flower before age overtakes them

(Art of Love 3.79--80). At the end of All’s Well that Ends Well the King asks Diana,

‘‘If thou beest yet a fresh uncropped flower / Choose thou thy husband and Ill

pay the dower’’ (5.3.327--28). During the Golden Age, according to Lovelace,

‘‘Lasses like Autumn Plums did drop, / And Lads indifferently did crop / A

Flower, and a Maiden-head’’ (‘‘Love Made in the First Age’’ 16--18).

Blake in ‘‘The Sick Rose’’ succinctly restates the metaphor, with echoes of

Miltons version of Eves fall. In his Visions of the Daughters of Albion, the brave

heroine Oothoon accepts an invitation by a marigold to pluck it, whereupon

she herself is raped by Bromion; like the plucky marigold, however, she

recovers from the rape and remains a virgin in her spirit.

Robert Frost finds life in the girl-plucked-while-plucking-flowers motif in

‘‘The Subverted Flower.’’

We speak of the ‘‘bloom’’ of youth of either sex, though more frequently of

girls. The transience of a girls beauty is frequently stated in floral terms, as in

Herreras advice: ‘‘Dont be proud, Leucippe, of your beauty, / For you will not

be lovely always, / For the lily loses its colors, / The rose loses its beauty and

its fragrance, / And the green tree its blossoms’’ (Egloga 77.301--05). According

to Spenser, ‘‘that faire flowre of beautie fades away, / As doth the lilly fresh

before the sunny ray’’ (FQ 3.6.38). It is a proverb that the fairest flower soonest

fades; Milton invokes it in the opening of ‘‘Death of a Fair Infant’’: ‘‘O Fairest

flower, no sooner blown but blasted.’’

And of course anything not eternal, such as life itself, can seem no more

lasting than a flower. ‘‘A life was but a flower,’’ as the pages sing in As You Like

It (5.3.28). The prime source of this thought is Isaiah: ‘‘All flesh is grass, and

all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: / The grass withereth,

the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it’’ (40.6--7; cf. 1

Peter 1.24). The metaphor is reversed in Hugos line, ‘‘the flower passes like

life’’ (‘‘Regret’’ 23).

All these themes appear together in Capulets cry over the young Juliet,

apparently dead: ‘‘There she lies, / Flower as she was, deflowered by him

[death]’’ (RJ 4.5.36). They are united in a different way in the ‘‘gather ye

rosebuds’’ theme common in Cavalier poetry. (See Rose.)

‘‘Flower’’ can also mean the highest or most excellent of a type, as when

one speaks of a ‘‘flower of courtesy’’ or ‘‘the flower of Europe for his chivalry’’

(Shakespeare, RJ 2.5.43, 3H6 2.1.71). As the ‘‘choice’’ or ‘‘pick’’ of a kind,

‘‘flower’’ came to refer to select short poems gathered into a bouquet or posy

(itself from ‘‘poesy’’) and circulated as an anthology. ‘‘Anthology’’ is from

Greek anthologia, ‘‘gathering of flowers’’; it was translated into Latin as

florilegium, occasionally used in English. The Greek poet Meleager compiled a

set of epigrams that he called Stephanos, ‘‘Garland,’’ and likened each poet to a

flower. A collection of excerpts from Apuleius was called Florida. Gascoigne

wrote a collection called A Hundred Sundry Flowers; a sixteenth-century French

anthology bore the typical title Les Fleurs de Poйsie Franзoyse. In an elaboration

of this metaphor, Shelley offers his poem Epipsychidion to Emily: ‘‘Lady mine, /

Scorn not these flowers of thought, the fading birth / Which from its heart of

hearts that plant puts forth / Whose fruit, made perfect by thy sunny eyes, /

Will be as of the trees of Paradise’’ (383--87). Baudelaires deliberately shocking

if mysterious title, Les Fleurs du Mal (‘‘Flowers of Evil’’), plays not only on the

equation of poem to flower but evokes Christian devotional works where

flowers are virtues or prayers.

There is a traditional language of flowers and herbs, with various dialects,

according to which each flower is assigned a meaning. Some of these meanings,

if they are prominent in literature, may be found under various plant

names in this dictionary. Shakespeares Ophelia knows them well, even in her

madness: ‘‘Theres rosemary, thats for remembrance -- pray you, love, remember.

And there is pansies, thats for thoughts,’’ and so on (Hamlet 4.5.175--77).

Perdita passes out appropriate flowers at the sheep-shearing festival in The

Winter’s Tale 4.4.73 ff.). In the eighteenth century Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

wrote about a secret flower code for sending love messages in the Turkish

harem, and the notion appealed to many writers of Europe. The Romantics

sometimes looked on flowers as natures speech, or as speakers themselves,

with silent messages intelligible only to those initiated in natures mysteries.

Friedrich Schlegel begins a poem, ‘‘Flowers, you are silent signs’’ (‘‘Variations’’).

The most famous Romantic flower is the mysterious ‘‘blue flower’’ of Novaliss

novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen, which seems to symbolize a primordial

harmonious realm, accessible only in dream, as well as a womans face. Not

just poems but a poet might be a flower, as in Lamartine: ‘‘The flower falls

while yielding its odors to the zephyr; / To life, to the sun, these are its

farewells; / As for me, I die; and my soul, at the moment it expires, / Is

emitted like a sad and melodious sound’’ (‘‘LAutomne’’).

Another tradition may be singled out as the ‘‘Flowers of Paradise,’’ lists or

catalogues of flowers growing in a garden or bower of love. The earliest is in

the Iliad, where Zeus and Hera make love on a bed of clover, crocus, and

hyacinth (14.347--49). Spensers Garden of Adonis has a myrtle grove with

‘‘wanton ivy,’’ eglantine, caprifole, hyacinth, narcissus, amaranthus, and other

flowers into which lovers were transformed (FQ 3.6.43--45; for Spensers other

flower catalogues see Virgil’s Gnat 665--80 and Muiopotmus 187--200). In the

‘‘blissful bower’’ of Miltons Paradise are found laurel, myrtle, acanthus, iris,

rose, jessamine (jasmine), violet, crocus, and hyacinth (PL 4. 690--703).

Classical rhetoricians recognized a level of style they called ‘‘flowery’’

(antheron or floridum). An embellishment or ornament of speech has been

called a flower, as in the phrase ‘‘flowers of rhetoric.’’ An orator is ‘‘one that

hath phrases, figures and fine flowers / To strew his rhetoric with’’ (Jonson,

Sejanus 2.419--20). We still speak of a flowery speech or florid prose.

Flower entries in this dictionary: Almond, Amaranth, Asphodel, Crocus,

Daffodil, Daisy, Hyacinth, Lily, Marigold, Mistletoe, Pansy, Poppy, Purple

flower, Rose, Sunflower, Violet.

See also Garden, Seed.

Flute see Pipe.

Fly Flies, not surprisingly, are usually considered unpleasant, disease-ridden, and

evil. A swarm of flies is the fourth of the ten plagues Moses sends upon the

Egyptians (Exod. 8.21--31). Egypt was known for its flies, especially when the

Nile was in flood, and Isaiah even calls Egypt itself a fly (7.18). One of the

terms for Satan, or ‘‘the prince of the devils,’’ was Beelzebub (Matt. 12.24),

which has been translated as ‘‘lord of the flies’’ (whence the title of Goldings

novel about the source of evil).

Homer brings out another feature of the fly: ‘‘the boldness of the fly /

which, even though driven away from a mans skin, / persists in biting out of

relish for human blood’’ (Iliad 17.570--72). In Renaissance emblem books the fly

is sometimes a symbol of persistence or pertinacity. That sense may lie behind

Sartres decision to substitute flies for the relentless Eumenides or Furies in

his play about Orestes, Les Mouches (‘‘The Flies’’)

In English poetry ‘‘fly’’ is the generic term for any winged insect, and as

such (like ‘‘insect’’) it symbolizes ephemerality. Indeed, as Bacon writes, ‘‘There

are certain Flies that are called Ephemera that live but a day’’ (Sylva sec. 697).

The chorus of Miltons Samson Agonistes speaks of ‘‘the common rout’’ of men

who ‘‘Grow up and perish, as the summer fly’’ (675--77). Tennyson in an even

bleaker mood sees in ‘‘men the flies of latter spring, / That lay their eggs, and

sting and sing / And weave their petty cells and die’’ (In Memoriam 50.10--12). Its

ephemerality makes it a poignant presence in Dickinsons ‘‘I heard a Fly

buzz -- when I died’’ (no. 465). (See Insect.)

The fly could also mean any insignificant thing, as in Chaucers ‘‘I counte

hym nat a flye’’ (Reeve’s Tale 4192). ‘‘As flies to wanton boys, are we to th Gods,’’

says Shakespeares Gloucester; ‘‘They kill us for their sport’’ (Lear 4.1.36--37).

But if people are like flies in the brevity of their life, then perhaps flies are

like people in their interior lives, which might seem long to them. So Blake

asks a fly whom he has brushed away, ‘‘Am not I / A fly like thee? / Or art not

thou / A man like me? / . . . / If thought is life / And strength & breath; / And

the want of thought is death; // Then am I / A happy fly, / If I live, / Or if I die’’

(‘‘The Fly’’). Shelley speculates in a note to Queen Mab (8.203) that time is subjective,

a function of our consciousness. ‘‘Perhaps the perishing ephemeron,’’

he concludes, ‘‘enjoys a longer life than the tortoise.’’

Shelley also once likens his verses, ill received, to a fly: ‘‘What hand would

crush the silken-winged fly, / The youngest of inconstant Aprils minions, /

Because it cannot climb the purest sky / Where the swan sings, amid the suns

dominions?’’ (Witch of Atlas 9--12). (See Swan.) For other examples of this

metaphor see under Butterfly.

Folding star see Sheep

Foot see Path

Forest Forests used to be places of danger to a degree difficult to appreciate today,

when for modern city-dwellers they are retreats or playgrounds; perhaps only

arctic forests or tropical jungles retain something of the fearful vastness and

strangeness they once implied. Forests are traditionally dark, labyrinthine,

and filled with dangerous beasts.

The earliest literature is sometimes structured on the contrast between city

and wilderness. The Gilgamesh epic, for instance, moves from the walls of Uruk

to the pastures of Enkidu and thence to the great cedar forest of the monster

Humbaba. Euripides Bacchae sets the civic order of Thebes, in the person of

King Pentheus, against the wooded mountain Cithaeron, where the maenads

dance to the alien god Dionysus.

To be ‘‘lost in the woods,’’ or ‘‘not yet out of the woods,’’ remain common

phrases. It is there that one loses ones way or path, which taken allegorically

has meant to wander in error or sin. So Dante finds himself in a selva oscura or

dark wood at the opening of the Inferno, and Spenser sends the Redcross

Knight and Una into ‘‘the wandring wood,’’ the den of Error, where the trees

shut out heavens light (FQ 1.1.7,13). Bunyans pilgrim progresses through ‘‘the

wilderness of this world’’; Shelley, following Dante, goes forth ‘‘Into the wintry

forest of our life’’ (Epipsychidion 249). Hawthornes character ‘‘Young Goodman

Brown’’ leaves his wife, Faith, to go into the forest where he has an experience

that leaves his faith shattered. The natural basis of this symbolism is seconded

by the ancient notion that ‘‘wood’’ (Greek hyle, Latin silva) is fundamental

matter, the lowest stuff -- hence Dantes punishment of suicides, who treated

their bodies as mere matter, is to imprison them in, or change them into,

trees (Inferno 13).

Roman writers treated their country estates as restorative havens from the

corruption and pettiness of urban life, but those estates were not primarily

forests, which remained forbidding. Shakespeare in several plays uses the

natural world -- the forest of Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the forest

of Arden in As You Like It -- as sites of reversal of city relationships and restoration

of right order. With Romanticism a new appreciation of wildness

emerges, especially forests, mountains, and seashores, sometimes with religious

intensity. Coleridge recalls how he pursued ‘‘fancies holy’’ through

untrodden woods and there found ‘‘The spirit of divinest Liberty’’ (‘‘France: An

Ode’’ 11, 21). Wordsworth claims ‘‘One impulse from a vernal wood / May teach

you more of man; / Of moral evil and of good, / Than all the sages can’’ (‘‘The

Tables Turned’’ 21--24). In Germany the forest, especially the Black Forest,

became a symbol not only of the true naturalness of life but also of the

‘‘roots’’ of the German nation. Wanderers and huntsmen abound in the poems

and stories of the period. The Grimm Brothers fairy tales often turn on forest

adventures; dwarves and gnomes and other woodland creatures know things

and do things townsfolk cannot. The Grimms published a journal called Old

German Forests, which linked the forests to the true German culture.

In ancient times the myth of Arcadia countered the more frightening and

realistic image of the forest. In book 8 of Virgils Aeneid Aeneas meets the

Arcadians at the site of future Rome, and their simple forest life stands, perhaps,

both for the natural roots of Rome and for what has been lost with the

building of the great city. Much of American literature deals with the theme

of the ‘‘virgin land,’’ through which brave (usually male) explorers and fighters

penetrate, leaving civilization behind; their more primitive life serves as a

standard for judging the life of (usually female) settled society; but sometimes

there is a feeling that the conquest of the American wilderness is a rape of

the land and an unjust slaughter of the ‘‘savages’’ (the word comes ultimately

from Latin silva), or that to ‘‘go native’’ is itself false or dangerous.

See Nature.

Fort see Siege

Fountain In classical literature, fountains or springs (Greek krene, Latin fons) are sacred

to the Muses and sources of poetic inspiration. According to Hesiod, the Muses

on Mt. Helicon ‘‘dance about the violet-colored spring’’ and bathe in ‘‘the

Horses Spring [Hippocrene]’’ or the streams of Permessus and Olmeius

(Theogony 3--6); Hesiod, whose home was the village of Ascra on Helicons

slopes (in Boeotia), was later reputed to have drunk from the Hippocrene

himself. A later story had it that the Hippocrene was created by Pegasus

stamping hoof (Callimachus, Aitia frag. 2.1; Ovid, Met. 5.256--64). (See Horse.)

Moschus claims that Homer and Bion were both nourished by fountains,

Homer by Pegasus spring, Bion by Arethusa (‘‘Lament for Bion’’ 77); Arethusa

is in the harbor of Syracuse in Sicily, the homeland of pastoral poetry.

Lucretius says ‘‘I love to draw near the untouched fountains [of Pieria] and

drink from them’’ (1.927--28); Pieria, on the north slope of Olympus in

Macedonia, was the original home of the Muses, whence they moved to

Helicon. Horace addresses the Muse ‘‘who delights in clear springs’’ (1.26.6--7).

Virgil tells how Gallus had wandered by the Permessus but one of the Muses

led him to Helicon, where he was taught to sing like Hesiod (Eclogues 6.64--73).

Propertius makes this distinction of sources more explicit when he turns from

love poetry and vows to sing of warfare in the epic mode, ‘‘But as yet my

songs are ignorant of Ascran springs: / Love has but laved them in Permessus

stream’’ (2.10.25--26, trans. Shepherd).

Theocritus, after drinking from a spring in the muse-like Nymphs cave

somewhere in Sicily, gratefully addresses them as ‘‘Castalian Nymphs, who

hold steep Parnassus’’ (Idylls 7.148) -- Castalia being yet another spring, also

sacred to Apollo and the Muses, on Parnassus near Delphi; Milton calls it

‘‘thinspird / Castalian Spring’’ (PL 4.273--74).

Jonsons ‘‘clear Dircaean fount / Where Pindar swam’’ is the river Dirce at

Thebes, where Pindar was a swan (‘‘Ode Allegoric’’ 19--20). (See Swan.)

If holy springs confer fame on a poet, at least one poet, Horace, promised to

confer fame on an unknown spring, in the ode beginning ‘‘O fountain of

Bandusia’’ (3.13); the spring has never been located! And if Homer was nourished

by a fountain, he has become one himself for all succeeding poets:

‘‘Maeonides [Homer], from whose perennial fount / The mouths of poets are

moistened with Pierian waters’’ (Ovid, Amores 3.9.25--26). (See River.)

Although just what spring belonged to what genre of poetry was not consistently

sorted out by the ancients, it is a little odd that the anthology

Englands Helicon (1600) should be devoted to pastoral poetry. Milton is safer in

addressing ‘‘O Fountain Arethuse’’ in his pastoral elegy ‘‘Lycidas’’ (85); he

remains vague, however, in Paradise Lost, where he says he still wanders

‘‘where the Muses haunt / Clear spring, or shady grove, or sunny hill’’

(3.27--28), and later where he mentions ‘‘th inspired / Castalian spring’’

(4.273--74) without saying what it inspired. Pope gives his famous advice to

young poets: ‘‘A little Learning is a dangrous Thing; / Drink deep, or taste not

the Pierian Spring’’ (Essay on Criticism 215--16), ‘‘Pierian’’ here referring to the

Muses, wherever the spring may be. Gray rightly invokes ‘‘Helicons

harmonious springs’’ in ‘‘The Progress of Poetry: A Pindaric Ode’’ (3).

See Sea.

Fox As a symbol of cunning or trickery the fox is inscribed in our language: Old

English foxung meant ‘‘wile’’ or ‘‘craftiness,’’ while today we try to ‘‘outfox’’ an

opponent. It goes back, of course, to the Greeks. Solon accuses his political

opponents of walking ‘‘with the steps of the fox’’ (Loeb 10.5); Pindar praises

the wrestler Melissos for the boldness of a lion ‘‘but in skill he is a fox, which

rolls on its back to check the eagles swoop’’ (Isth. 4.47--48, trans. Race);

Aristophanes several times uses ‘‘foxiness’’ to mean ‘‘trickery’’ (e.g., Lysistrata

1270). The lion-fox contrast becomes standard. Lucretius asks why lions are

innately violent and foxes cunning (3.742); Horace describes someone as a

‘‘crafty [astuta] fox masquerading as a noble lion’’ (Satires 2.3.186). Mocking the

part of the timorous lion in the mechanicals play, Shakespeares Lysander

says, ‘‘This lion is a very fox for his valour’’ (MND 5.1.231). Another famous

contrast comes from Archilochus: ‘‘The fox knows many things, the hedgehog

one -- a big one’’ (118 Edmonds).

Chaucer and Spenser call the fox ‘‘false,’’ Spenser also ‘‘wily’’ and ‘‘maister

of collusion’’ (SC, ‘‘May’’ 219). Shakespeares Venus urges Adonis to hunt ‘‘the

fox which lives by subtlety’’ rather than the dangerous boar (Venus and Adonis

675). The title character of Jonsons Volpone, or, The Fox is as cunning as his

name suggests (from Italian volpe, from Latin vulpes). It is as an emblem of

cunning that Dante introduces the fox in his allegorical pageant of the history

of the church in Purgatorio; there it stands for heresy, a greater danger

than forthright violence (32.118--23).

Foxes are protagonists in many fables from Aesop to modern times; the

most famous is the fox and the grapes, the origin of the phrase ‘‘sour grapes.’’

There is a rich tradition of medieval tales about Reynard the Fox (French

Renard, German Reinecke).

The Bible does not bring out the cunning of foxes -- the Hebrew word for it

might also mean ‘‘jackal’’ -- but a passage from the Song of Solomon, ‘‘Take us

the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines’’ (2.15), has bred many allegorical

interpretations, and might also lie behind Dantes fox (taking the garden--

vineyard in the Song as the church). The Little Foxes is the title of a play by

Lillian Hellman.

Frankincense and


Frankincense is an aromatic gum resin drawn from the frankincense tree. The

word means ‘‘best incense’’: the adjective was applied to plants and trees of

highest quality (‘‘frank-myrrh’’ is attested). That sense of ‘‘frank’’ derived from

its sense ‘‘free (of impurities)’’ or ‘‘noble,’’ both in turn from the ethnic word

‘‘Frank’’ (Latin Francus), for the Franks were the freemen or nobles of Gaul,

which they had conquered. Its Hebrew name lebonah (whence Greek libanos,

libanotos) means ‘‘white (stuff),’’ as the best incense was white when crushed

into a powder. It was burned during sacrifices (Lev. 2.1--2; Herodotus 1.183;

Aristophanes, Clouds 426). Its main source in ancient times was Arabia Felix,

especially the region of modern Yemen and Oman. When the Queen of Sheba

(in Yemen) visited Solomon she brought great quantities of spices (1 Kgs 10.10);

Jeremiah refers to ‘‘incense from Sheba’’ (6.20), while Virgil imagines Venus

temple in Paphos warm with ‘‘Sabaean incense’’ (Sabaeo / ture, Aeneid 1.416--17).

Milton compares the perfumes of Eden with ‘‘Sabaean odours from the spicy

shore / Of Arabie the blest’’ (PL 4.162--63).

Ovid says the phoenix feeds on the ‘‘tears [gum] of frankincense’’ (turis

lacrimis) and ‘‘juice of amomum’’ (Met. 15.394); repeated by Dante (Inferno


Myrrh (Hebrew mor, Greek smyrna, murra) is an aromatic gum produced by

the myrrh tree, which also grew in Arabia, among other places. According to

the Bible it was used as incense, as perfume, and in embalming corpses. Its

taste is bitter, but it was sometimes mixed into wine; such a mixture was

offered to Jesus on the cross (Mark 15.23). Frankincense and myrrh appear

together three times in the Song of Solomon, and they make two of the three

gifts the wise men bring to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2.11). That gold is the third

indicates how costly the two resins were. Its use in embalming lies behind the

metaphor with which Sceve addresses his beloved: ‘‘you will be for me the

incorruptible Myrrh / against the worms of my mortality’’ (‘‘La blanche

aurore,’’ Dйlie).

See also Ovids tale of Myrrha (Met. 10.298--518).

Frog and toad If frogs and toads are distinguished at all, frogs are usually distinctively

raucous, though benign, while toads are distinctively ugly, venomous, and evil.

There is something of a tradition in classical literature where frogs are a

kind of comic chorus, notably in Aristophanes The Frogs, where they are, in

fact, the chorus. (Two other Greek comedies, now lost, had the same title.)

Moschus laments that Bion the poet is now silent while ‘‘it was decreed by

the Nymphs that a frog may sing forever’’ (‘‘Lament for Bion 107). Virgil notes

that among the signs of a storm we hear ‘‘the frogs in the mud croak their

ancient quarrel (Georgics 1.378), possibly an allusion to Aristophanes frogs,

who mocked Dionysus with their croaking skills.

Frogs are one of the ten plagues Moses brings upon Egypt (Exodus 8.1--15).

John of Patmos sees ‘‘three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth

of the beast; they are ‘‘the spirits of devils (Rev. 16.13--14). Horace describes a

witchs potion that includes ‘‘the blood of a hideous toad (or ‘‘frog: Latin

rana) (Epodes 5.18). ‘‘Toad by itself (Latin rubeta) is used by Juvenal to mean its

poison (Satires 1.69--72). A venomous toad is the first ingredient to be tossed

into the three witches pot in Macbeth (4.1.6--9). The biblical and classical

sources combined in the Middle Ages to make toads (and sometimes frogs)

symbols of the devil or of several sins, especially gluttony and avarice. Miltons

Satan was found ‘‘squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve (PL 4.800). Three

times Shakespeares Richard III is called a poisonous toad, and of these twice a

‘‘bunch-backed toad (R3 1.2.245, 1.3.245, 4.4.81).

In folktales, especially German, princes and occasionally princesses are

enchanted as frogs until the spell is broken by a kiss or another act of love. As

small animals, frogs and toads have lent themselves to allegories and fables

(Aesop, La Fontaine, and others), as well as to the comic epic attributed to

Homer, The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice.

Fruit see Apple