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Gods and Goddesses in the Garden

Gods and Goddesses in the Garden: Greco-Roman Mythology and the Scientific Names of Plants

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Gods and Goddesses in the Garden
    Book Description:

    In this delightful book, botanist Peter Bernhardt reveals the rich history and mythology that underlie the origins of many scientific plant names. Unlike other books about botanical taxonomy that take the form of heavy and intimidating lexicons, Bernhardt's account comes together in a series of interlocking stories. Amateur and professional gardeners, high school teachers and professors of biology, botanists and conservationists alike will appreciate this book's entertaining and informative entry to the otherwise daunting field of botanical names.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4472-4
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Botany & Plant Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface: The Face in the Flower
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Disclaimer
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 In the Cyclop’s Orchard: The Why and How of Scientific Names
    (pp. 1-27)

    The Roman poet Ovid (43 b.c.e.–17 c.e.) put these honeyed words into the mouth of a one-eyed, lovesick monster, Polyphemus the Cyclops. Considering the period in which this passage was written, we know that Polyphemus must have cultivated plants associated with the walled orchards and wild, hilly countryside around imperial Rome. The imaginary monster had some apple trees (Malus Χdomestica) and two breeds of grapes (Vitis vinifera; purple and yellow varieties had the same wild ancestor). There were alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca), sweet cherries (Prunus avium), and European chestnuts (Castanea sativa). These plants are so familiar to most readers...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Constructing a Centaur: The Informative Art of Scientific Names
    (pp. 28-42)

    The Greco-Roman myths offered habitats for creatures far uglier than Polyphemus the Cyclops. Many members of this monstrous menagerie had multiple heads or an odd number of limbs. Most were hodge-podges of unrelated animal parts, with snakes sprouting from their heads instead of hair. Centaurs were exceptions to the rule “ugly is as ugly does.” Although the majority of centaurs were depicted as stupid, untrustworthy, and dangerous, classical sculptors gave them a sort of rude nobility. Greek culture regarded young men and horses as the most beautiful of living things. A centaur had a human face and torso but his...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Mother Earth and Her Children
    (pp. 43-66)

    The poet Hesiod believed that the oldest being in the universe was a shapeless mass, neither male nor female, called Chaos. The first child to emerge out of Chaos was Mother Earth, a mighty goddess. The Greeks called her Ge (1) or Gaia (2).* Other poets insisted that Gaia was only one of the many grandchildren of Chaos. In this version, Darkness was the oldest being and the mother of Chaos. When the mother and son mated, Darkness gave birth to four beings she named Nyx (Night), Day, Erebus (Underworld Darkness), and Air. Air and Day were the parents of...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Triumph of Zeus
    (pp. 67-94)

    Cronus now ruled the universe, but he ruled in fear of his father’s curse: “Someday one of your wife’s children will overthrow you!” Unfortunately, his wife, Rhea, was a fertile mother goddess who gave birth to five babies. Each time, Cronus snatched the infant from its mother’s arms and swallowed the newborn whole. The king of the Titans thus disposed of three daughters and his first two sons. Rhea was determined that her sixth child would escape. She gave birth in the dead of night on a mountain in Arcadia where her husband could not see her. Unattended, Rhea’s only...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Gods of Olympus
    (pp. 95-134)

    With mortals confined to earth, and many gods living in the sea or the underworld, Zeus needed dependable messengers to carry his proclamations. His first herald was Iris (1), winged daughter of a Titan and a sea nymph. She used the rainbow to run from heaven to earth. His second messenger was his own son Hermes (2) (Roman, Mercury) (3). The boy’s mother was Maia (4), one of the many daughters of Atlas. The month of May is named in her honor. Hermes was an unusually precocious baby. Within twenty-four hours of his birth he made a lyre out of...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Mortal Monarchs and Monsters
    (pp. 135-168)

    The first kings on earth were not human. King Cecrops of Attica was half man and half snake. Nevertheless, he built a great citadel called the Cecropia (1). Inachus, a river god, was king of Argos, and Pan ruled Arcadia. Pan was such a lazy and placid monarch that his impatient and impertinent subjects often blamed him for unsuccessful hunting trips and scourged the goatish god with squills (2).

    Some minor goddesses became the wives of mortal kings. King Cadmus built the first version of the city of Thebes and then married Hermione (Harmony), a daughter of Aphrodite. When Cadmus...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Troy and Its Aftermath
    (pp. 169-193)

    Some say that colonists from Crete settled the country around Troy. Others say the first pioneers came from Athens in Greece. All agree that Teucer (1) was the first king of the region, long before Troy’s walls were built. Teucer welcomed Dardanus, a son of Zeus and Electra, to his land. Dardanus built a kingdom called Dardania and passed it on to his son Erecthonius. Tros and Ilus were sons of Erecthonius, and they built settlements near Dardania. Eventually the city of Troy (Tros) merged with the kingdom of Dardania and the town of Illium (Ilus). Troy was guaranteed fresh...

  13. Epilogue: A Plant for Persephone?
    (pp. 194-200)

    In this computerized age, there have been radical calls to replace the Linnaean system of double Latinized names with something shorter and more to the point. Some taxonomists recommend giving each species a number or a combination of numbers and codes. Each code would represent the physical feature(s) that makes the original description of each species unique (bfl = big flowers). A colleague of mine recently pointed out the problem with this proposed system of digital taxonomy. It is perfect for a computer’s memory but hard on human minds and tongues. Do you have trouble remembering your license plate number...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 201-208)
  15. Selected and Annotated Bibliography
    (pp. 209-216)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 217-230)
  17. Index of Scientific Names
    (pp. 231-240)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)