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Palm Palm trees are common in biblical lands, and the date palm in particular is

highly prized for its many useful products, but they were not frequently

found in ancient Greece or Rome. The Greek word for the palm, phoinix,

points to a Phoenician homeland, while Virgil refers to Idumaeas . . . palmas

(Georgics 3.12), as if they come from Edom.

Homer nonetheless has Odysseus refer to one in his courtly remarks to

young Nausicaa: ‘‘Wonder takes me as I look on you. / Yet in Delos once I saw

such a thing, by Apollos altar. / I saw the stalk of a young palm shooting up’’

(Odyssey 6.161--63, trans. Lattimore). This might be the sacred palm of the

Delian Apollo, the one Euripides calls protogonos or ‘‘first-born’’ (Hecuba 458),

except that Homer makes it ‘‘young’’ to suit Nausicaa. (The Homeric Hymn to

Apollo 115--19 tells how Leto gave birth to Apollo while holding on to the tree.)

Odysseus comparison is a more discreet version of the simile in the Song of

Solomon: ‘‘This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of

grapes’’ (7.7). (The grapes are not in the Hebrew text; the clusters are surely of

dates.) The Hebrew word for palm, tamar, was and remains a common girls


The word ‘‘palm’’ (Latin palma) is the same as that for the palm of the hand:

to the ancients the tree resembled the hand, the branches or fronds looking

like fingers.

In Psalm 92.12 we are told that the righteous ‘‘shall flourish like the palm

tree.’’ Hamlet alludes to this verse as he rewrites the Danish message to

England, hoping ‘‘love between them like the palm might flourish’’ (5.2.40),

and a character in Timon of Athens invokes it when he says, ‘‘You shall see him

a palm in Athens again, and flourish with the highest’’ (5.1.10--11).

Around 400 bc the palm leaf was introduced into Greece as a symbol of

victory in athletic contests. An early reference is Aristotles to ‘‘he who takes

the palm’’ in a game (Magna Moralia 1196a36), but it is not much mentioned in

Greek literature. According to Livy (10.47.3), it was introduced into Roman

culture in 293 bc, and in Latin literature it soon became a commonplace.

Horace begins his first ode by mentioning chariot races and their victors palm

(1.1.5), though he prefers the ivy of lyric poets. In their prologues both Terence

and Plautus refer to the palm as a prize for winners of drama contests

(Phormio 17, Amphitryon 69). Plutarch observes that the palm is an appropriate

prize for athletes because, among other things, both tree and victorious

athlete are resistant and resilient (Moralia 724e). It was soon a commonplace

symbol. Apuleius tells of a man who fought many battles and won ‘‘many

palms of victory’’ (Met. 10.25). In his list of trees Chaucer has ‘‘the victor palm’’

(PF 182). ‘‘To bear the palm’’ becomes synonymous for ‘‘be the victor,’’ as it is

twice in Shakespeares Roman plays (JC 1.2.131, Cor 5.3.117), though it is for

military conquest rather than a game. Horatio seems to coin a new word

when he speaks of ‘‘the most high and palmy state of Rome’’ (Hamlet 1.1.113),

suggesting both ‘‘triumphant’’ and ‘‘flourishing.’’ Wilde refers to ‘‘the palmy

days of the British Drama’’ (Dorian Gray chap. 4).

The New Testament reflects the classical symbolism of the palm. When

Christ enters Jerusalem many people take palm branches and shout ‘‘Hosanna:

Blessed is the King of Israel’’ (John 12.13), a ceremony reenacted in churches

on Palm Sunday. According to John of Patmos, those who are ‘‘sealed’’ or saved

will stand before the Lamb, ‘‘clothed with white robes, and palms in their

hands’’ (Rev. 7.9). These are ‘‘those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms’’ in

Miltons ‘‘At a Solemn Music’’ (14). The palm thus became ‘‘the palm of

martirdom’’ (Chaucer, Second Nun’s Tale 240), the symbol of the victory of the

Christian believer over torture and death.

A pilgrim who went to Jerusalem was called a ‘‘palmer’’ for he brought back

a palm from the Holy Land; then any pilgrim might be called a palmer:

Chaucer so names those who go to Canterbury (CT Gen. Pro. 13). The Palmer,

‘‘a sage and sober sire,’’ is a major character in Book Two of Spensers Faerie

Queene (introduced 2.1.7). At the Capulets ball Romeo and Juliet make elegant

puns on ‘‘palmer’’ as they dance: ‘‘saints have hands that pilgrims hands do

touch, / And palm to palm is holy palmers kiss’’ (1.5.99--100).

Pansy ‘‘Pansy’’ is a common name for a kind of violet (viola tricolor), especially for the

hybridized varieties in gardens. The name is from the French pensйe,

‘‘thought’’; in Spanish it is called pensamiento, in Italian viola del pensiero.

Ophelia reflects its etymology when she says, ‘‘And there is pansies -- thats for

thoughts’’ (Hamlet 4.5.176). Pensiveness often entails remembering, of course,

so Wordsworth chooses an appropriate flower, ‘‘The Pansy at my feet,’’ to ask

whither the visionary gleam is fled that attended him as a boy (‘‘Ode:

Intimations of Immortality’’ 54ff.). When Shelley advises the revolutionary

Spanish to conquer not only their foes but their own desire for revenge, he

tells them to bind their brows with violet, ivy, and pine but not with pansy:

‘‘Ye were injured, and that means memory’’ (‘‘Ode: Arise’’ 35).

Lawrence offers ‘‘a bunch of pansies’’ in his book of poems called Pansies:

‘‘These poems are called Pansies because they are rather Pensйes than anything

else’’ (‘‘Foreword’’).

The viola tricolor is often called, with rather different connotations,

‘‘heartsease’’ (hearts ease).

Panther see Leopard

Pard see Leopard

Path For as long as humans have walked they have made paths or followed natural

ones. So fundamental is the experience of traveling on a path that many

other basic human activities, even the whole of a human life, are described in

cultures everywhere in such terms as ‘‘path,’’ ‘‘way,’’ or ‘‘course.’’ In English

‘‘way’’ is used so often and in so many contexts that its metaphorical origin

has long vanished: we speak of a ‘‘way’’ to do something or a ‘‘way of life’’

without thinking of a road or path. The same is true of words borrowed from

other languages. Etymologically, if something is ‘‘viable’’ it has a ‘‘way’’ before

it (from Latin via, ‘‘way’’); if something is ‘‘obvious’’ it stands in our path; if

something ‘‘deviates’’ it leaves the main road. ‘‘Routine’’ comes from ‘‘route’’

(French, from Latin rupta [via], ‘‘broken or beaten [way]’’); ‘‘method’’ comes

from Greek hodos, ‘‘path.’’

A similar metaphor is the frequent biblical use of ‘‘walk’’ (verb) as ‘‘behave’’

or ‘‘live.’’ ‘‘Enoch walked with God’’ (Gen. 5.22); the Lord tests the people

‘‘whether they will walk in my law, or no’’ (Exod. 16.4); some ‘‘kept not the

covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law’’ (Ps. 78.10); after the

resurrection of Christ ‘‘we also should walk in newness of life’’ (Rom. 6.4)

(Hebrew halak, Greek peripateo). From the verb comes the noun for ‘‘conduct

of life’’: Scott names a righteous woman who has ‘‘an upright walk’’ (Heart of

Midlothian 10); in a more general sense we use the phrase ‘‘in every walk of

life.’’ The Bible generally uses ‘‘path’’ for the noun corresponding to ‘‘walk’’:

‘‘Make me to go in the path of thy commandments,’’ ‘‘Thy word is a lamp

unto my feet, and a light unto my path’’ (Ps. 119.35, 105).

Life is a path or a journey on a path. Dantes Divine Comedy begins ‘‘Nel mezzo

del cammin di nostra vita,’’ ‘‘In the middle of the path of our life’’; Bunyans

Pilgrim’s Progress begins, ‘‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world.’’

We are all pilgrims, making our way on foot. Christ said, ‘‘I am the way’’

(John 14.6), he made the lame walk, and he washed the feet of his disciples.

Bunyan explains in a note that when Christian the pilgrim is wounded by

Apollyon in the foot, it is his ‘‘conversation’’ that is hurt -- his conduct or

capacity to ‘‘walk’’ properly. Tennyson writes, ‘‘I know that this was Life, -- the

track / Whereon with equal feet we fared’’ (In Memoriam 25.1--2). In ‘‘America

the Beautiful’’ Katharine Lee Bates finds beautiful the ‘‘pilgrim feet, / Whose

stern, impassioned stress / A thoroughfare for freedom beat / Across the


The path to salvation, or to any worthy destination, is steep, thorny, rugged,

narrow. Matthew tells us, ‘‘strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which

leadeth unto life’’ (7.14). Dante tells us he lost the right path (Inferno 1.3, 11.9).

Ophelia contrasts ‘‘the steep and thorny way to heaven’’ with ‘‘the primrose

path of dalliance’’ (Hamlet 1.3.48--50; see Macbeth 2.3.18--19). Spensers Knight

and Una pass ‘‘forward by that painfull way . . . / Forth to an hill that was both

steepe and hy, / On top whereof a sacred chappell was’’ (FQ 1.10.46). ‘‘Once

meek,’’ Blake writes, ‘‘and in a perilous path, / The just man kept his course

along / The vale of death’’ (Marriage of Heaven and Hell 2.3--5).

The oldest classical statement of this metaphor is Hesiods: the road to

wickedness is short and smooth, but ‘‘the gods have put hard sweat between

us and virtue. The road to it is long and uphill, and rough at first, though

easier going at the summit, if you get there’’ (Works and Days 287--91). Theognis

imagines himself at a crossroads, wondering whether to take a frugal or

spendthrift path (911--12). Justice tells Parmenides he has chosen the right

path, though ‘‘far indeed does it lie from the beaten track of man’’ (frag. 1.27).

Persius refers to ‘‘the letter which separates the Samian branches’’ (Satires

3.56), i.e., ‘‘the upsilon of Pythagoras of Samos,’’ which resembled a curved ‘‘y’’:

the straight branch was the path of virtue, the crooked, of vice. ‘‘The Choice

of Heracles’’ between Virtue and Pleasure, told by Xenophon (Memorabilia

2.1.22--34), is sometimes presented as a choice at a crossroads (Hercules in bivio).

Another famous and fateful crossroads is the ‘‘triple road’’ where Oedipus kills

his father Laius (Sophocles, Oedipus 716).

Paths and roads have had many other meanings in literature, of course, for

they may be broad or narrow, crooked or straight, circular or irreversible; they

may represent space or time, real things or ideal; they may unite some places

but not others; and they may be literal or metaphorical or both. In America,

to give one example, there has been almost a cult of the road, a belief in

movement itself, notably in Whitmans ‘‘Song of the Open Road’’ and Jack

Kerouacs On the Road.

There is a metaphor in Greek poetry, finally, that presents poetry itself as a

path. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes speaks of the ‘‘bright path of song’’ (451),

and Hesiod reports that the Muses ‘‘set his foot upon song’’ (Works and Days

659). Pindar was fond of the conceit: he has, for instance, ‘‘found the

praiseworthy path of words’’ (hodon logon) in one ode (Olymp. 1.110); at the

outset of another, ‘‘I have countless paths opening on every side’’ (Isthm. 4.1).

Apollo bids Callimachus drive over ‘‘untrodden paths’’ (Aetia frag. 1.27--28).

Lucretius explores ‘‘the trackless haunts of the Muses where no mans foot has

trod’’ (1.926--27).

Peacock The peacock (Greek taos, Latin pavo) is striking for its large colorful tail that

opens erect like a fan; as it struts about in full display the bird seems

inordinately proud. It is not mentioned often in Greek literature (they were

imported into the Mediterranean region from India), but in Latin literature

the bird is sacred to Juno and a byword for beauty and pride: ‘‘the bird of

Juno unfolds (explicat) its feathers’’ (Ovid, Amores 2.6.55). A list of superlatives

in Metamorphoses includes ‘‘prouder than peacocks’’ (13.801). Chaucer presents

a character: ‘‘as any pecok he was proud and gay’’ (Reeve’s Tale 3926); Spenser

describes an image with ‘‘More sondry colours than the proud Pavone / Beares

in his boasted fan’’ (FQ 3.11.47). As doves or swans pull Venus chariot, ‘‘Great

Junoes golden chayre [is] . . . // Drawne of fayre Pecocks, that excell in pride, /

And full of Argus eyes their tayles dispredden wide’’ (FQ 1.4.17). The story of

Argus and how the peacock got its ‘‘eyes’’ is found in Metamorphoses 1.625--723.

The ‘‘paycock’’ in Sean OCaseys well-known play Juno and the Paycock is the

feckless, drunkard husband of ‘‘Juno’’ Boyle; he ought to be Jupiter, perhaps,

but instead he goes ‘‘gallivantin about all the day like a paycock’’ (Act 1) while

she tries to keep her family together.

Pearl From their beauty, rarity, and great price pearls stand, not surprisingly, for

beauty, rarity, or great price, as when we speak of pearls of wisdom or say

that someone was a pearl, in these uses equivalent to ‘‘gem.’’ Othello feels, at

the end, that he ‘‘threw a pearl away’’ (5.2.347). Two biblical passages,

however, have given ‘‘pearl’’ additional connotations.

The more important of these is Christs brief parable: ‘‘the kingdom of

heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: / Who, when he

had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought

it’’ (Matt. 13.45--46). The anonymous medieval dream-poem Pearl, at one level

about a girl lost to earthly life but flourishing in heaven, seems also to be

about lost and restored faith. In ‘‘The Pearl,’’ which cites the Matthew passage

in the title, Herbert claims he ‘‘knows the ways’’ of learning, honor, and

pleasure, has them in hand, knows their value as commodities, but gives

them up and turns ‘‘to thee.’’ Steinbecks novella The Pearl is also based on the

parable. Cowper several times calls truth a pearl, and once seems to rewrite

the parable in asking ‘‘What pearl is it that rich men cannot buy, / That

learning is too proud to gather up; / But which the poor, and the despisd of

all, / Seek and obtain, and often find unsought? / Tell me -- and I will tell thee

what is truth’’ (Task 3.285--89).

The second biblical passage is Christs injunction not to ‘‘cast ye your pearls

before swine, lest they trample them under their feet’’ (Matt. 7.6). Pearls here

are usually taken to mean preaching (the kingdom) or wisdom, thus

seconding the meaning of the parable. Shakespeares absurd pedant

Holofernes praises a saying by the lowly Costard as ‘‘pearl enough for a swine’’

(LLL 4.2.89). Milton felt that the barbarous noise that greeted his pamphlets

was ‘‘got by casting Pearls to Hogs’’ (Sonnet 12).

That the pearl is the ‘‘treasure of an oyster’’ (Shakespeare, AC 1.5.44) allows

the suggestion that it is hidden, or is found among base or ugly conditions.

Touchstone says, ‘‘Rich honesty dwells like a miser, sir, in a poor house, as

your pearl in your foul oyster’’ (AYLI 5.4.59--61). Shelley cleverly evokes the

pearls-before-swine saying in describing his friend Hogg ‘‘a pearl within an

oyster shell, / One of the richest of the deep’’ (‘‘Letter to Gisborne’’ 231--32).

Tennyson consoles himself over the loss of Hallam by vowing to wait until

‘‘Time hath sunderd shell from pearl’’ (In Memoriam 52.16).

Pelican The pelican is mentioned only briefly in Aristophanes (Birds 884), Aristotle,

and a few other classical authors. The name (Greek pelekan, pelekinos) seems to

be related to pelekus, ‘‘ax,’’ because of the way the bird uses its bill. (The

woodpecker is pelekas.)

In the Bible it is listed twice as unclean (Lev. 11.18, Deut. 14.17), and twice as

one of the desert birds that will occupy the land after the Lord lays it waste

(Isa. 34.11, Zeph. 2.14). (The AV renders the latter two as ‘‘cormorant,’’ but

Coverdale, Geneva, and Bishops versions have ‘‘pelican.’’) The remaining

biblical passage, however -- ‘‘I am like a pelican of the wilderness’’ (Ps. 102.6) --

had a fruitful history. Epiphanius and Augustine commented that the pelican

there stands for Christ. In medieval legend the pelican was thought to revive

its young with blood from its breast, and that act made the bird a symbol of

Christ, who redeems us by his blood. Thomas Aquinas has the phrase Pie

pelicane Jesu Domine in one of his hymns. In the Old French Quest of the Holy

Grail, Sir Bors has a vision of the pelican and adopts it as his device. Dantes

Beatrice identifies John the Apostle as ‘‘he who lay upon the breast / of our

pelican’’ (Paradiso 25.112--13).

Without allusion to Christ, the image might stand for the self-sacrifice of a

parent, as when Shakespeares Laertes offers to open his arms to his friends

and, ‘‘like the kind life-rendring pelican, / Repast them with my blood’’

(Hamlet 4.5.145--47); or for the ingratitude of children, as when Gaunt tells

Richard that the blood of his father, ‘‘like the pelican, / Hast thou tappd out

and drunkenly carousd’’ (R2 2.1.126--27), or when Lear laments for ‘‘discarded

fathers’’ with ‘‘pelican daughters’’ (3.4.72,75). The mother in Strindbergs The

Pelican protests to her children that ‘‘Ive nourished you with my lifes blood’’

(scene 3) but it is a lie, as she has devoured them emotionally and nearly

starved them physically.

Byron invokes the pelican ‘‘Whose beak unlocks her bosoms stream / To

still her famishd nestlings scream, / Nor mourns a life to them transferrd

(Giaour 952--54). It is probably this passage that inspired Mussets elaborate

image of the pelican as a symbol of the poet, who offers his heart as nourishment

for the young in a ‘‘divine sacrifice (The Night in May 153--91). Mussets

poem launched pйlicanisme as the term for confessional poetry of the heart

and its sorrows, though Goethe had already described his novel The Sorrows of

Young Werther as having been nourished like the pelican with the blood of his

heart (Conversations with Eckermann 2 January 1824).

Philomel see Nightingale

Phlegm see Humor

Phoenix The earliest reference to a phoenix is found in a riddling fragment of Hesiod

(frag. 304), from which we learn that it was already a byword for great longevity.

Herodotus reports an Egyptian belief in a sacred bird, resembling a red

and golden eagle, that comes from Arabia to Egypt once every five hundred

years to bury the corpse of his father in the Temple of the Sun (2.73). He

says it is very rare; later authors say it is unique -- unica semper avis, according

to Ovid (Amores 2.6.54). Philostratus says it comes from India, and adds that

‘‘the phoenix, while it is consumed in its nest, sings funeral hymns to itself’’

(Life of Apollonius 3.49). Ovid thinks it comes from Assyria, and describes it as

the sole animal that regenerates itself. When it has lived five hundred years

it builds a nest high on a lofty palm, covers it with spices, and dies among

the odors (Ovid says nothing about fire). From the ‘‘father’’ phoenix a little

phoenix is born, and when he grows sufficiently strong it carries the

remains of its father to the Egyptian City of the Sun, Heliopolis (Met.


Pliny, who thinks it might be fabulous, cites a report that it flew from

Arabia to Egypt in ad 36; it has a gleam of gold around its neck, a purple

body, a tail blue and rose; it lives 540 years, a period somehow correlated with

the Great Year (Natural History 10.3--5). Tacitus dates its last visit at ad 34, cites

the belief that it lives 1461 years (the Sothic or Canicular Period when the

calendar year of 365 days realigns with the solar year of 36514

days), and adds

the detail that when it brings its father to the Altar of the Sun it consigns

him to the flames (Annals 6.28).

Despite these variants, the phoenix became an emblem of rarity or

uniqueness. Martial can make a typically extravagant claim that, compared to

a certain lovely girl, the bird is frequens, ‘‘commonplace’’ (5.37.13). Shakespeare

even speaks of ‘‘the sole Arabian tree’’ on which it nests (‘‘Phoenix and Turtle’’

2), or ‘‘that in Arabia / There is one tree, the phoenix throne; one phoenix / At

this hour reigning there’’ (Tempest 3.3.22--24). ‘‘There is but one Phoenix in the

world,’’ says Lyly (Euphues and his England 2.86). (See also Chaucer, Duchess

981--84; Milton, PL 5.272--74.) It is sometimes called ‘‘the Arabian bird’’ (e.g.,

Shakespeare, Cym 1.6.17).

The myth may be Egyptian in origin, as Herodotus reports, for a similar

bird connected with Heliopolis is described in Egyptian texts, but it differs in

several ways, and the name phoinix seems to means ‘‘Phoenician [bird].’’

Clement of Rome cites the phoenix as proof that the Resurrection is

possible (First Epistle). Its usual function in Christian writing, however, is

emblematic. The rebirth of the soul is like that of the phoenix (De Ave Phoenice,

ascribed to Lactantius). Samsons sudden display of strength after his seeming

defeat Milton likens to the bird that ‘‘Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous

most / When most unactive deemd’’ (Samson Agonistes 1704--05). It can

symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ or of a Christian soul. The Old

English poem The Phoenix tells that the bird dwells in Eden, where he rises

each dawn like a lark to sing to heaven; after a thousand years he flies west to

his tree, builds a nest, is consumed in fire, is reborn in an apple but free of

sin, and then flies back to Eden; the bird stands for the chosen servants of

Christ. The fourteenth-century author of Mandeville’s Travels, after describing

the renewal of the bird from its ashes in three days, comments, ‘‘men may

well liken that bird unto God because that there is no God but one, and also

that Our Lord arose from death to life the third day’’ (chap. 7). So Skelton, in

Phyllyp Sparowe, offers an elaborate conceit where the phoenix stands for the

priest who celebrates the mass over the tomb, promising rebirth into eternal

life (513--49).

Pig The pig, however unfairly, is a symbol of uncleanness, stupidity, sensuality,

and/or greed; its wild variety also stands for anger or rage.

Until the nineteenth century ‘‘swine’’ was the most general term in English,

and ‘‘pig’’ originally meant a young swine; ‘‘boar’’ is an adult male, ‘‘sow’’ an

adult female, ‘‘barrow’’ a castrated boar, and ‘‘hog’’ any swine or a castrated

boar; ‘‘farrow’’ once meant a young pig, then a litter of pigs.

To Jews (and Muslims) the pig is ‘‘unclean’’ and may not be eaten (Lev. 11.7,

Deut. 14.8); the Lord shall punish the rebellious ones ‘‘which eat swines flesh’’

(Isa. 65.4, 66.17). An old Greek taunt for stupidity is ‘‘Boeotian pig’’ (Pindar,

Olymp. 6.90), Boeotia representing ‘‘the sticks’’ or backwoods. Another old

phrase is ‘‘a pig contending with Athena’’ (as in Theocritus 5.23): a fool

arguing with the goddess of wisdom or, as we might say, ‘‘teaching your

grandmother.’’ To ‘‘cast pearls before swine’’ is to give valuable things (such

as pearls of wisdom) to those incapable of appreciating them (Matt 7.6). (See


The goddess and witch Circe turns men into pigs and other beasts, as

Odysseus finds out (Odyssey 10). ‘‘Who knows not Circe / The daughter of the

Sun?’’ Milton asks. ‘‘Whose charmed Cup / Whoever tasted, lost his upright

shape, / And downward fell into a groveling Swine’’ (Comus 50--53). ‘‘Drunk as a

pig’’ is a commonplace now; Gower has ‘‘drunk swine’’ (Confessio 5.6894),

Shakespeare ‘‘swine-drunk’’ (AWEW 4.3.255). Virgil tells Dante that many

sinners who are kings above ‘‘will dwell here like pigs in slime’’ (Inferno 8.50).

It is perhaps symbolic that Odysseus, who has spent one year with Circe,

arrives in Ithaca to find his faithful swineherd in charge of 360 swine, one of

which he brings each day to the suitors, who are acting like pigs in his home

(Odyssey 14.13--20).

The wild boar is ferocious and dangerous. Venus warns Adonis not to hunt

the boars whose tusks have the force of lightning (Ovid, Met. 10.550); in

Shakespeares version Venus describes the horrors of ‘‘churlish swine’’ at

length (Venus and Adonis 616--30) but in vain. The Calydonian Boar Hunt was

another popular Greek tale (e.g., Ovid, Met. 8.260--444). The chorus of women

in Aristophanes Lysistrata warns, ‘‘I will set loose my sow’’ (683), meaning ‘‘I

will vent my rage,’’ ‘‘sow’’ being an appropriate change from the expected

‘‘boar.’’ Shakespeare makes much of the fact that the badge of Richard III was

a white boar. He is known simply as ‘‘the boar’’ (e.g., 3.2.11), and his many

enemies call him such things as ‘‘elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog’’

(1.3.227) and ‘‘The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar, / That spoiled your

summer fields and fruitful vines, / Swills your warm blood like wash, and

makes his trough / In your emboweled bosoms’’ (5.2.7--10).

In Orwells political allegory Animal Farm it is the pigs who commandeer

the animals revolution against man, and in the end ‘‘The creatures outside

looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again;

but already it was impossible to say which was which.’’

Pigeon see Dove

Pipe, Flute, Reed,


The Greeks and Romans had many kinds of wind instruments, made of many

different materials, and played on many different occasions. The Greek aulos,

for instance, usually but wrongly translated ‘‘flute’’ (it was really an oboe),

could accompany marches, dances, and choral songs; Plato and Aristotle

thought it could send listeners into a religious frenzy, though others praised

its calming, meditative effect. (Pipes in the Bible are used for both mourning

and rejoicing.) In literature wind instruments appear on a similar variety of

occasions, as when the troubled Agamemnon gazes at the plain filled with

Trojan campfires and hears oboes and panpipes (syrinx) (Iliad 10.13), or when

oboes and lyres play at a wedding (18.495), or when the pipe (lotos)

accompanies the ecstatic dances of the Maenads (Euripides, Bacchae 160).

The syrinx was invented by Hermes, according to the Homeric Hymn to

Hermes 512. In Ovid, Mercury charms Argus with his pipes and tells him how

the pipes were invented: the girl Syrinx, fleeing Pan, is changed into marsh

reeds, which then make a plaintive sound when Pan sighs in dismay,

whereupon he constructs the first panpipes (Met. 1.677--712; see Lucretius

5.1382--83). The panpipes are the most distinctive rustic or pastoral

instrument, but by the time of Theocritus at least all the pipes became

assimilated into one another in the pastoral world. The reed (Greek kalamos,

Latin calamus, harundo) the oat (Latin avena), the tube (Latin fistula) and other

terms all became more or less synonymous: the pipe that shepherds play, the

rustica . . . fistula . . . avenis (‘‘rustic pipe of reeds,’’ Met. 8.191--92).

In the English pastoral tradition we find the ‘‘oaten pype’’ (Spenser SC

‘‘January’’ 72), ‘‘shepherds pipe on oaten straws’’ (Shakespeare LLL 5.2.911),

‘‘Arcadian pipe, the pastoral reed / Of Hermes’’ (Milton, PL 11.132--33), ‘‘my Oat’’

(Lycidas 88), ‘‘a pipe of straw’’ (Wordsworth, ‘‘Ruth’’ 7), and ‘‘The natural music

of the mountain reed’’ (Byron, Manfred 1.2.48), to mention a few. In an obvious

synecdoche the pipe could stand for pastoral poetry itself: Spenser announces

he must ‘‘chaunge mine Oaten reeds’’ for the trumpet of epic (FQ 1 Pro. 1). In

his sonnet on Torquato Tasso, Marino names pipe, lyre, and trumpet as the

three genres of Tassos poetry.

In the ‘‘Introduction’’ to Blakes pastoral Songs of Innocence, the piper

‘‘pluckd a hollow reed,’’ the material of his pipe, but ‘‘made a rural pen’’ out

of it to write his happy songs.

Planet A planet is a ‘‘wandering star’’ (Greek aster planetes). In the pre-Copernican

view of the cosmos, established mainly by Aristotle and Ptolemy, there are

seven of them, seven heavenly bodies that seem to move against the backdrop

of the fixed stars. According to their distance from the earth, the center of the

cosmos, they are the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and

Saturn. Each is fastened to a solid translucent sphere, or perhaps a sphere

upon a sphere (to account for such complications as the retrogression of

Mars), all of which revolve at various speeds around the earth. The eighth

sphere is that of the fixed stars, and the ninth the primum mobile or ‘‘first

movable,’’ the sphere that communicates its motion to all the others.

Each planet has an ‘‘influence’’ on terrestrial life, usually in complex

synergy with stars and other planets, and each is associated with a metal on

earth, a day of the week, a human temperament, and so on. Thus Saturns

influence produces lead on earth, melancholy in people, and disastrous events

in history; Mars makes iron, a warlike temperament, and wars. In English six

of the planets, or the gods they embody, yield psychological terms still in use:

lunacy and lunatic (Latin luna, moon), mercurial, venereal, martial, jovial

 (Jove = Jupiter), and saturnine. Three English day-names, Sunday, Monday, and

Saturday, come directly from the planets, and the other four are based on

equivalent Germanic gods. The Romance languages preserve more of the Latin

names: Italian lunedi is Monday, martedi is Tuesday, and so on.

If a planet has a malign influence it is said to ‘‘strike.’’ At Christmas-time,

according to Shakespeares Marcellus, ‘‘no planets strike’’ (Hamlet 1.1.162). The

great warrior Coriolanus ‘‘struck / Corioles like a planet’’ (Cor 2.2.114). A

character in Jonsons Every Man in his Humour says, ‘‘sure I was struck with a

planet thence, for I had no power to touch my weapon’’ (4.7.121--22). As Sin

and Death spread their bane in Miltons Paradise Lost, ‘‘the blasted stars looked

wan, / And planets, planet-strook, real eclipse / Then suffered’’ (10.412--14).

Traditional astrology takes the sky as a mirror of events on earth. Thus a

comet, for instance, spells a drastic change in regime or empire (see Comet),

and planets, though more orderly in their movements, create intricate

patterns from which astrologers prognosticate, and poets allegorize. We

cannot examine astrology here, but we will give two examples of ad hoc

planetary allegorizing. A mysterious passage in Blakes America claims that

Mars ‘‘once inclosd the terrible wandering comets in its sphere. / Then Mars

thou wast our center, & the planets three flew round / Thy crimson disk; so

eer the Sun was rent from thy red sphere’’ (5.3--5). This is absurd as astronomy

or astrology, but as political allegory it makes sense: Mars, the planet of war,

is imperial England; the three planet-comets are Ireland, Scotland, and Wales,

threatening to leave its empire; the sun is America, now free of Englands

‘‘sphere of influence’’ and attracting the three wanderers. In an

autobiographical passage of Epipsychidion, Shelley makes the women of his life

into planets or comets: the ‘‘cold chaste Moon’’ seems to be Mary, the ‘‘Planet

of that hour’’ is Harriet, the ‘‘Comet beautiful and fierce’’ is Claire, and the

‘‘Incarnation of the Sun’’ is ‘‘Emily,’’ his latest ideal love.

See Moon, Star, Sun.

Plow The plow (or plough) is almost as old as agriculture itself, and all the

civilizations of the ancient world relied on it. The plowman behind his ox or

horse was the typical laborer until quite recent times; indeed in some

languages plowing is the generic form of labor. French labourer means ‘‘to

plow,’’ and in Milton among others we find such phrases as ‘‘labouring the

soil’’ (PL 12.18). Greek erga, ‘‘work,’’ usually meant agricultural work unless

otherwise spelled out; Hesiods poem Works and Days is a georgic, a poem

about farming.

So fundamental to life was tilling the earth that the plow acquired sacred

and symbolic connotations as early as we have record. The Romans used the

plow to mark out the territory of new towns; see Virgils Aeneid 5.755, where

Aeneas delineates town borders. Ancient peoples used to raze conquered cities

with the plow, as if to return them to farmland; that was the actual fate of

Carthage in 146 bc and the legendary fate of Troy -- Aeschylus presents

Agamemnon as the man who ‘‘dug up Troy with the pick-axe of Zeus’’

(Agamemnon 525--26). Micah prophesied that ‘‘Zion shall be plowed like a field’’

(Jer. 26.18). Horace blames uncontrolled rage as the reason that city walls have

been ‘‘imprinted with the insolent enemy plow’’ (Odes 1.16.17--21); as

Shakespeares outcast Coriolanus turns against his city he says, ‘‘Let the

Volsces / Plough Rome and harrow Italy’’ (Cor 5.3.33--34). Byrons General

Suwarrow vows ‘‘that shortly plough or harrow / Shall pass oer what was

Ismail’’ (Don Juan 7.502--03).

According to Plutarch, Athens held several rites of plowing at different

seasons. After the passage where he describes them he gives one of the most

widespread of plowing metaphors. ‘‘The Athenians observe three sacred

plowings . . . But most sacred of all is the marital sowing and plowing for

procreation of children’’ (Moralia 2.144a--b). The figure is obvious and

irresistible. The earth is female, our nurturing mother; rain from father sky

fertilizes the earth; men with plows enter the earth and plant seeds in her. In

Greek aro meant ‘‘to plow’’ and ‘‘to beget [a child],’’ aroter meant ‘‘plowman’’

and (in poetry) ‘‘father,’’ while aroura meant ‘‘tilled field’’ and (again in poetry)

‘‘woman receiving seed.’’ According to Euripides, Priam was the plowman

(aroter) of fifty sons (Trojan Women 135). Theognis speaks of a lustful man who

wants to plow another mans field (582). All three tragedians used the field

metaphor in the story of Oedipus incest with his mother: Aeschylus has him

‘‘sowing the sacred field of his mother’’ (Seven Against Thebes 753--54); Sophocles

has Oedipus say, when he learns the truth, ‘‘Bring me a sword, I say, / To find

this wife no wife, this mothers womb, / this field of double sowing whence I

sprang / and where I sowed my children’’ (Oedipus Tyrannus 1255--57, trans.

Grene); and Euripides has Jocasta tell how Laius was warned not to ‘‘sow

the furrows of fateful sons’’ (Phoenician Women 18). A late Greek version of the

cycle of myths tells that ‘‘Cronus cut off his fathers male plowshare (arotron)’’

and sowed the sea with his seed (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 12.46).

The metaphor was less often used in Latin literature. It is found in

Lucretius, who frowns upon the sensuous movements of a harlot because she

thereby ‘‘diverts the furrow out of the direct path and place of the plow, and

turns away the impact of the seed from its plot’’ (4.1272--73; cf. 1107).

Jean de Meun revives it when he denounces at great length those who will

not plow (preferring celibacy), or who deliberately overturn the plow, or who

plow in sterile fields, and so on (Romance of the Rose 19513--722). Shakespeare

uses it, most succinctly in Antony and Cleopatra: ‘‘He ploughed her, and she

cropped’’ (2.2.228). Less bluntly, he asks, ‘‘For where is she so fair whose

uneared [unplowed] womb / Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?’’ (Sonnets 3),

and Lucio in Measure for Measure announces that ‘‘her plenteous womb /

Expresseth his full tilth and husbandry’’ (1.4.43--44).

A similar metaphor is implicit in our words ‘‘culture’’ and ‘‘cultivate.’’ Latin

cultura originally meant ‘‘tilling’’ or ‘‘agriculture’’ and later ‘‘education’’ or

‘‘cultivation of the mind.’’ Cowper brings this dead metaphor to life: ‘‘Their

mind a wilderness through want of care, / The plough of wisdom never

entering there’’ (Hope 234--35).

A minor tradition links plowing with poetry or with writing. Pindar calls

poets ‘‘plowmen of the Muses’’ (Nem. 6.32), and a poet who won contests ‘‘gave

the Muses a field for their tilling’’ (gave them work to do) (Nem. 10.26). Latin

aro and exaro (‘‘plow up’’) were occasionally used to mean ‘‘write’’; so Ovid: ‘‘to

her brother she plows [exarat] written letters’’ (Ex Ponto 3.2.90); and Atta: ‘‘Let

us turn the plowshare on the wax and plow with the point of bone’’ (quoted

in Isidore, Etymologiae 6.9.2). Greek grapho, Latin scribo, English ‘‘write’’ all go

back to roots meaning ‘‘cut’’ or ‘‘scratch,’’ and the similarity to plowing must

have been noted as soon as literacy arrived. One form of Greek writing, where

the lines go left-to-right and right-to-left alternately, was called boustrophedon,

‘‘turning like an ox’’ (plowing). Latin versus, ‘‘turn,’’ meant a plowed furrow as

well as a line of verse. Spenser likens his narrative line to a furrow where,

late in The Faerie Queene, he remembers some unfinished labor: ‘‘Now turne

againe my teme, thou jolly swayne, / Backe to the furrow which I lately left. / I

lately left a furrow, one or twayne, / Unploughd, the which my coulter hath

not cleft’’ (6.9.1). Blake elaborates a complex symbolism of plow, harrow, and

mill to express three types of artistic labor, and when he says ‘‘Follow with me

my Plow’’ he may be evoking his use of the engraving tool or burin (Milton


The plow, and especially the plowshare, resembled a sword, and the two

tools began to stand for the two ways of life, peace and war. The most famous

instance of this contrast is the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘‘and they shall beat their

swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not

lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’’ (Isa. 2.4,

also Mic. 4.3), but note the less famous reversal, ‘‘Beat your plowshares into

swords, and your pruning hooks into spears’’ (Joel 3.10). It is interesting that

the passage from Oedipus Tyrannus quoted above includes a sword, and so

does the full speech from Antony and Cleopatra: ‘‘Royal wench! / She made

great Caesar lay his sword to bed; / He ploughed her, and she cropped’’


In the Christian tradition the plowman became an emblem of virtue,

especially of grace or charity, or of laboring in ones calling, especially the

calling of the priest or preacher. The source is Christs saying, ‘‘No man,

having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of

God’’ (Luke 9.62), and it was richly elaborated in the Middle Ages. Some

church allegorists identified the plowman with the preacher of the word, and

St. Gregory used the phrase ‘‘plowshare of the tongue’’ (vomer linguae) as the

means by which the heart or mind of the Christian is opened to receive the

word. (Christs Parable of the Sower lies behind this idea as well.) Langlands

Piers Plowman makes extensive use of this tradition. After a spiritual crisis

Piers vows ‘‘Of preyers and of penaunce my plow shall be hereafter’’ (b 7.119),

and another character explains that priests should go about the world ‘‘To

tulien [till] the erthe with tonge, and teche men to lovye [love]’’ (c 11.199).

Chaucer describes his Plowman as ‘‘A trewe swynkere [laborer] and a good was

he, / Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee’’ (CT, Gen. Pro. 531--2), though he does

not preach.

It is interesting, again, that the ‘‘sword of Christ’’ (‘‘I came not to send

peace, but a sword,’’ in Matthew 10.34), was also interpreted to mean the

Word or the Gospel and assimilated to the sword that comes out of the

mouth of Christ in the Book of Revelation (1.16, 19.15). So sword and

plowshare could both serve the idea of preaching the word of God.

The plow finally, has been an emblem of Cincinnatus, the legendary Roman

general who was called from his plow to become dictator during a dangerous

war; he defeated the enemy and immediately resigned his powers and

returned to his farm. When George Washington surrendered his sword to

Congress and returned to his farm at Mt. Vernon, he earned the title of the

new Cincinnatus.

Several metaphorical extensions of plowing have been common in literature

since Homer. In the Odyssey ships often ‘‘cut’’ across the water (e.g., 3.174--75);

more explicitly, Arion has ships ‘‘cutting furrows in Nereus plain’’ (quoted in

Aelian 12.45). Since flying with wings resembles rowing with oars, as in

Aeschylus Agamemnon 52, and chariots leave tracks that resemble furrows,

flying can be described as cutting or cleaving the air, especially flying in a

chariot (Hymn to Demeter 383; Euripides, Phoenissae 1--3).

See Seed.

Pole star see Star

Poplar The white poplar is mentioned only in passing in the Iliad (e.g., 13.389), but

Homers word for it (acherois) suggested a connection with the underworld,

through which the River Acheron flows. So Servius, commenting on Virgil,

tells how Pluto carried off Leuce (from Greek leuke, meaning ‘‘white [poplar]’’)

to the underworld and when she died caused poplars to grow by the Acheron.

When Virgil says that the oarsmen in the racing boats in the funeral games

are crowned with poplar leaves (Aeneid 5.134) he relies on another tradition as

well: that the poplar is the plant of Hercules, patron of athletes. He makes

that explicit later in describing King Evander: ‘‘two-colored poplar leaves were

placed on his hair, / like those which shaded Hercules’’ (8.276--77). Theocritus

phrase, ‘‘the poplar, Heracles sacred plant’’ (2.121), may have been the source

for Virgil, who also mentions it in the Eclogues (‘‘poplar dearest to Alcides’’

7.61) and Georgics (‘‘__________the shady tree of Hercules crown’’ 2.66). A commentator on

Theocritus says that Heracles made a crown for himself after bringing

Cerberus up from the underworld. Servius ties this tale to the abduction of

Leuce, and explains the two colors as the dark of the underworld and the

silvery white bleached by Hercules sweat.

The poplar is the tree described by Spenser as ‘‘the stately tree / That

dedicated is tOlympick Jove, / And to his sonne Alcides, whenas hee / In

Nemus gayned goodly victory’’ (FQ 2.5.31) -- referring to a different labor, the

killing of the Nemean lion. A character named ‘‘Prays-desire’’ (love of honor)

holds a poplar branch (2.9.37, 9).

A famous and seemingly symbolic poplar is the one Tennysons Mariana

looks upon in her desolation: ‘‘All silver-green with gnarled bark: / For leagues

no other tree did mark / The level waste, the rounding gray.’’ When the moon

is low ‘‘The shadow of the poplar fell / Upon her bed, across her brow’’; ‘‘and

the sound / Which to the wooing wind aloof / The poplar made, did all

confound / Her sense’’ (‘‘Mariana’’ 42--44, 55--56, 74--77). The tree seems to stand

for Mariana herself, for the lover who has abandoned her, and for something

like the slow hand of a clock. A possible source for it is the poplar whom

Oenone addresses in Ovid, Heroides 5.23--24; her lover Paris has carved in its

bark a promise never to desert her.

Poppy In several varieties and in several colors, the poppy is a common plant in the

Mediterranean and northern Europe, often found growing amid grainfields.

The Greeks and Romans raised it in gardens and ate its seeds, usually mixed

with honey; from some kinds of poppy they extracted opium. Where it

appears in classical literature the poppy is usually the papaver somniferum, the

‘‘sleep-bearing’’ or garden poppy (Greek mekon), the source of the narcotic.

The poppy, or rather its capsule or head (Greek kodeia), was associated with

the goddess Demeter (Latin Ceres), probably because it often flowers at harvest

time. Theocritus ends his Seventh Idyll with an evocation of Demeter of the

Threshing Floor ‘‘with wheatsheaves and poppies in either hand.’’ Perhaps the

poppy head, filled with seeds, represents fertility; perhaps it stands for the

beginning of the growing season as the wheatsheaves stand for the end; or

perhaps it alludes to the grief of Demeter in her search for Persephone (Latin

Proserpina): the opiate poppy would assuage her sorrow. Ceres, according to

Ovid, gave a child poppies in warm milk to make him sleep (Fasti 4.547--48). In

the Cave of Sleep, where Lethe flows, poppies bloom (Met. 11.605--07). Virgil

calls it the Cereale papaver, ‘‘the poppy of Ceres,’’ in Georgics 1.212 and

soporiferum papaver, ‘‘soporific poppy,’’ in Aeneid 4.486; the poppy is ‘‘perfused

with Lethean sleep’’ in Georgics 1.78.

Spensers Garden of Proserpina has various herbs and fruits ‘‘fitt to adorne

the dead,’’ including the ‘‘Dead sleeping Poppy’’ (FQ 2.7.52). Shakespeare

mentions it only once: it is one of the ‘‘drowsy syrups’’ that induce sleep, like

mandragora (Othello 3.3.330); Jonson also links it to mandrake (and hemlock)

in Sejanus 3.596. Among English poets Keats seems most fascinated with the

poppy. His Endymion is put to sleep by a breeze blowing through poppies

(Endymion 1.555, 566) and has a ‘‘soft poppy dream’’ (4.786). Even where there is

no literal poppy he speaks of ‘‘the poppied warmth of sleep’’ (‘‘Eve of St. Agnes’’

237); Sleep is ‘‘Wreather of Poppy buds’’ and wears a ‘‘poppy coronet’’ (‘‘Sleep

and Poetry’’ 14, 348). In ‘‘To Autumn,’’ the goddess of Autumn is ‘‘Drowsd with

the fume of poppies’’ in the midst of reaping, much like Theocritus Demeter.

Tennyson, in ‘‘The Lotos-Eaters,’’ describes a scene where ‘‘poppies hang in

sleep’’ (Choric Song 11). See also Francis Thompson, ‘‘The Poppy.’’

With this tradition of sleep, peaceful death, and oblivion so firm, it is

surprising that today, at least in Britain and the Commonwealth, the poppy

symbolizes remembrance of the fallen soldiers of World War I. Crimson

poppies were plentiful on the battlefields of France and Belgium, as they grow

easily on disturbed soil. Blood-colored -- the French poet Jammes had called

the poppy ‘‘that drop of blood’’ (Gйorgiques [1911] p. 54) -- they were assimilated

into the tradition in which purple flowers symbolize the death of a young

man or god. ‘‘Poppies, whose roots are in mans veins, / Drop, and are ever

dropping,’’ as the war poet Isaac Rosenberg writes (‘‘Break of Day in the

Trenches’’). In late Victorian and Edwardian England, poppies had gained an

erotic (and homoerotic) significance in the writings of Wilde, Douglas, and

others: Wildes Dorian says, ‘‘I must sow poppies in my garden’’ and Lord

Henry replies, ‘‘Life has always poppies in her hands’’ (Picture of Dorian Gray

chap. 8); this connotation may have fed into the war poetry. John McCraes

immensely popular poem ‘‘In Flanders Fields’’ established the poppys new

significance: ‘‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row

on row / That mark our place.’’

But there are classical sources for the connection between the poppy and a

fallen soldier. In the Iliad, a warrior, hit in the chest, ‘‘droops his head to one

side, as a garden poppy bends beneath the weight of its fruit and the spring

rains’’ (8.306) (see also 14.499). Drawing also from Catullus 11.22--24, Virgil

imitates this beautiful simile in the Aeneid: Euryalus dies, and ‘‘his neck /

Collapsing let his head fall on his shoulder -- / As a purple flower

(purpureus . . . flos) cut by a passing plow / Will droop and wither slowly, or a

poppy / Bow its head upon its tired stalk / When overborne by a passing rain’’

(9.434--37; after Fitzgerald).

See Mandrake, Purple flower.

Purple It seems that the Greek word porphureos, from which our word ‘‘purple’’

derives, did not originally name a color or hue but a sheen or iridescence, a

mixture of light or dark on the surface, like the deep, rich brightness of a

cloth dyed with an extract from the shell of the murex or purpura (Greek

porphura), a snail found in the Mediterranean Sea. In Homer, porphureos can

modify not only ‘‘cloth’’ but also ‘‘sea,’’ ‘‘blood,’’ ‘‘cloud,’’ ‘‘rainbow,’’ and

‘‘serpent.’’ It also occurs three times as a formulaic epithet of ‘‘death.’’ The

glittering movement of the sea may be the primary sense, as the verb porphuro

means ‘‘heave’’ or ‘‘swell.’’ ‘‘And at the cutwater / A porphureon wave rose and

shouted loudly as the ship went onward’’ (Iliad 1.481--82). The term must often

be translated as ‘‘bright,’’ ‘‘sparkling,’’ ‘‘lustrous,’’ ‘‘shining,’’ or the like, rather

than ‘‘purple.’’

Latin purpureus often referred to the hue, but Latin poetry borrowed from

Homer and other Greek writers its application to certain things that are not

purple. Horace writes of ‘‘purple swans’’ whose color is surely white (Odes

4.1.10); Ben Jonson makes them ‘‘bright swans’’ in his translation. Virgil has

Venus breathe the ‘‘purple light of youth’’ onto her son Aeneas (1.590); Dryden

blurs the sense with his translation, ‘‘breathd a youthful vigor on his face,’’

but modern translators do better with ‘‘the glow of a young man’’

(Mandelbaum) or ‘‘bloom of youth’’ (Fitzgerald). See also Aeneid 6.641.

Occasionally in Ovid love (Amor) is purpureus (e.g., Amores 2.1.38), and it may be

at Ovids hint that Milton gives Love ‘‘purple wings’’ (PL 4.764) and Gray writes

‘‘The bloom of young desire and purple light of love’’ (‘‘Progress of Poesy’’ 41).

Another Greek word, phoinikeos (from Phoinikia, Phoenicia, where the dye

originates), was usually applied more narrowly to purple (or dark red) colors.

The same is true of the Latin derivative puniceus. In verse each is sometimes

used synonymously with porphureos/purpureus, as in successive lines (28--29) of

Bions ‘‘Lament for Adonis,’’ describing blood.

Homers purple sea continues in Catullus waves ‘‘glittering with purple

light’’ (64.275) and much more recently in Shelleys ‘‘Oceans purple waves’’ (PU

1.109) and Yeatss ‘‘glimmering purple sea’’ (Oisin 384).

Another striking usage is Virgils ‘‘purple spring’’ (ver purpureum) in Eclogues

9.40; it may mean ‘‘brilliant’’ but perhaps also evokes the color of spring

flowers. Here Dryden keeps ‘‘purple’’ in his translation, while Pope in ‘‘Spring’’

28 varies it to ‘‘purple year’’ (i.e., the phase of the year). The influential

fourth-century Latin poem Vigil of Venus has Venus painting the ‘‘purpling

year’’ (purpurantem . . . annum) with flowery gems (13). In his once-famous

opening of ‘‘Ode on the Spring,’’ Gray follows the Vigil and Pope: ‘‘Lo! where

the rosy-bosomed Hours, / Fair Venus train, appear, / Disclose the

long-expecting flowers, / And wake the purple year!’’ When Milton imitates the

somewhat rare Latin usage of ‘‘purple’’ as a verb in Lycidas 141 -- ‘‘purple all

the ground with vernal flowers’’ -- he is not claiming that all spring flowers in

England are purple in color. Indeed they may be white, as in Thomsons

startling phrase, ‘‘one white-empurpled Shower / Of mingled Blossoms’’

(‘‘Spring’’ 110--11).

Latin poetry occasionally uses purpureus of the sun or its light, perhaps with

the sense ‘‘radiant’’ but perhaps to suggest the color of dawn or sunset.

Shakespeare opens Venus and Adonis with ‘‘the sun with purple-colourd face.’’

Wordsworths phrase, ‘‘fields invested with purpureal gleams’’ (‘‘Laodamia’’

106), and Yeatss ‘‘noon a purple glow’’ (‘‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’’) both have a

classical aura -- or a visionary one.

In The Eve of St. Agnes Keats presents his lover-hero Porphyro as a bringer of

bright color to the pale cold world of Madeline; in an echo of the Homeric

context of both blood and heaving seas, Porphyros thought of stealing into

her bedroom ‘‘in his pained heart / Made purple riot’’ (137--38).

A colorful or florid passage in an otherwise decorous and dignified poem is

called a ‘‘purple patch’’ (purpureus pannus), from Horaces Art of Poetry 15.

Because of both the striking effect and great cost of the murex dye, often

called ‘‘Tyrian purple’’ (from the city of Tyre in Phoenicia), its use was

restricted largely to kings, emperors, and aristocrats (hence ‘‘royal purple’’). In

one of the most spectacular scenes of Greek drama, Clytemnestra insists that

Agamemnon walk upon a path of garments dyed in ‘‘the juice of porphura,

worth its weight in silver,’’ as he enters his palace (Aeschylus, Agamemnon

959--60). Roman consuls wore purple togas, and senators and knights had a

purple strip on their tunics. Drydens Antony gained ‘‘purple greatness’’ (All for

Love 1.1.298). A purple pall was used to cover the coffin of a person of high


In a mocking use of the royal purple, the soldiers of Pilate took Jesus and

‘‘clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his

head, / And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!’’ (Mark 15.17--18).

Blood and gore are typically purple in English poetry as they are in classical

poetry. Shakespeare has ‘‘purple blood’’ (3H6 2.5.99), ‘‘the purple testament of

bleeding war’’ (R2 3.3.94), ‘‘purple fountains issuing from your veins’’ (RJ

1.1.85), and so on. Blood is purple in Spensers Faerie Queene half a dozen times,

and so is gore; we also find ‘‘a purple lake / Of bloudy gore’’ (6.1.37). Among

many other examples, see ‘‘purple gore’’ (Marvell, Britannia 40), and ‘‘purple

Vengeance bathd in Gore’’ (Pope, Windsor-Forest 417). Milton connects the two

most common meanings in Eikonoklastes: ‘‘covering the ignominious and

horrid purple robe of innocent blood that sat so close about him with the

glorious purple of royalty and supreme rule’’ (sec. 28).

Whether from the sign of rank or the color of blood, Horace refers to

‘‘purple tyrants’’ (Odes 1.35.12); Gray repeats it in ‘‘Ode on Adversity’’ 7, Blake in

‘‘The Grey Monk’’ 34; and in fact ‘‘purple’’ is often associated with tyrants in

eighteenth-century English poetry; e.g., ‘‘the purple tyranny of Rome’’

(Thomson, Summer 758), ‘‘the blood-purpled robes of royalty’’ (Southey, Wat

Tyler 2.1).

A Catholic priest is ‘‘raised to the purple’’ when he becomes a cardinal.

Purple is also the ecclesiastical color of Advent and Lent, and of the spirit of

penitence and mourning. Dante uses ‘‘purple’’ (porpora) only once in The Divine

Comedy, as the color of the robes of the four personified moral virtues, but

scholars disagree over its significance: it might mean that these virtues are as

nothing without love, whose color is red (rossa) a few lines earlier; or that, as

the four ‘‘cardinal’’ virtues, they are not only pivotal but raised to the purple

like the clerical office; or that, as the four classical virtues, they wear the

color of empire (Purgatorio 29.131).

See Blood, Dawn.

Purple flower In one of the earliest pastoral elegies, the ‘‘Lament for Adonis,’’ Bion imagines

flowers growing red with grief: purple blood from Adonis fatal wound turns

into a rose, tears from Aphrodite turn into an anemone; then his corpse lies

wreathed in flowers. Moschus begins his ‘‘Lament for Bion’’ by calling on

roses, anemones, and hyacinths to join him in mourning. Thus began the

literary existence of purple (or red) flowers as signs of mourning and as

regular features of the pastoral elegy.

Ovid tells the story of two of these flowers in the Metamorphoses. The

anemone grows from the blood of Adonis (10.731--39), while the hyacinth

grows from the blood of the youth Hyacinthus, beloved of Apollo, who then

inscribes on its petals the word ‘‘ai,’’ the cry of mourning (10.214--16; also in

Moschus 6). In his version of the former story, Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare is

vague as to Adonis flower, saying only that ‘‘A purple flower sprung up,

checkerd with white’’ (1168). Milton in his pastoral elegy Lycidas describes the

hyacinth as ‘‘that sanguine flower inscribd with woe’’ (106); its color decorates

the robe of a mourner, but the flowers strewn on the hearse of Lycidas,

though the valley is asked to ‘‘purple’’ the ground with them (141), come in

many colors. Ovid also tells how the blood of Pyramus turns the berries of the

mulberry tree purple (4.121--27), and how the violet springs from the blood of

Attis (Fasti 4.283ff., 5.226).

Perhaps decisive for this tradition is the Aeneid, where purple flowers

(purpureos flores), not further identified, are cast on tombs on two occasions

(5.79, 6.884).

In his pastoral elegy Astrophel, Spenser tells how the two lovers are

transformed ‘‘Into one flowre that is both red and blew’’ (184). The dead

Adonais, in Shelleys elegy of that name, lies with his head ‘‘bound with

pansies overblown, / And faded violets, white, and pied, and blue’’ (289--90).

Walt Whitmans elegy on the death of Lincoln begins ‘‘When lilacs last in the

dooryard bloomed.’’ John McCraes poem ‘‘In Flanders Field’’ established the

poppy as the symbol of memory for the dead of World War I.

See Pansy, Poppy, Violet.

Pyramid The great pyramids of Egypt, still imposing after five thousand years, have

nonetheless entered literature as bywords for impermanence or for the futile

vainglory of kings. Already to the Romans Egypts day seemed to have passed.

Horace opens his famous ode ‘‘Exegi monumentum’’ with what sounds like a

proverbial expression: ‘‘I have achieved a monument more lasting / than

bronze, and loftier than the pyramids of kings, / which neither gnawing rain

nor blustering wind / may destroy’’ (3.30.1--4, trans. Shepherd). His poetry will

keep him famous as long as Rome survives (longer, as it has turned out).

Propertius tells his girl she is lucky to be named in his poems, for while the

pyramids and other great monuments will be destroyed by wind, rain, and

time, the name achieved by wit shall be immortal (3.2.18ff.). Milton hearkens

to both these poets in his ‘‘On Shakespeare,’’ which begins, ‘‘What needs my

Shakespeare for his honored bones / The labor of an age in piled stones, / Or

that his hallowed relics should be hid / Under a star-ypointing pyramid?’’ He

lives on instead in our ‘‘wonder and astonishment.’’ Shelley often relished the

thought that the monuments tyrants built to guarantee their immortality will

crumble into dust: ‘‘Beside the eternal Nile, / The Pyramids have risen. / Nile

shall pursue his changeless way: / Those pyramids shall fall’’ (Queen Mab


The origin of the word ‘‘pyramid’’ is unknown, but to the Greeks it

suggested pyr (‘‘fire’’). Plato thought that since the pyramid, or tetrahedron,

was the most mobile, the smallest, and the sharpest of the perfect (Platonic)

solids, it was ‘‘the element and seed of fire’’ (Timaeus 56b). It was also thought

to resemble a flame. Miltons Satan ‘‘Springs upward like a pyramid of fire’’ (PL

2.1013). The Pyramid of Cestius in Rome, in Shelleys words, ‘‘doth stand / Like

flame transformed to marble’’ (‘‘Adonais’’ 446--47).