Death in the garden: eternal source of life

November, the most drooping month of the year, covered by a dark and damp cloak, comes with its myths of death, putrid and senescent. The Underworld becomes close to our reality, to the point that we almost manage to touch it by stretching out a finger.

Autumn in our imagination brings with it melancholy images of pity and sadness which, combined with the ever-increasing duration of darkness, ideally evoke the Kingdom of the Dead. Few of us, instead, think that this moment is not only the end of life but that it can coincide with a rebirth: everything returns to the earth and from it is returned, everything is transformed because the flower, the plant, the trees are the exact symbol of a continuous renewal: they "were, are and will be", in a perpetual and continuous becoming.

This is why man has seen in plants the means of communication between the "here and now" and the underworld, a point of contact between the world of the living and the world of the dead: through the foliage, in constant elevation towards the sky, the tree connects man with his earthly life, while with its roots it projects him towards the dark, underground world. It is from here that it departs with new impetus and impetus toward the heights, in a cyclical cosmic constancy.

Death never leaves the garden and the garden constantly feeds on it with greed, respect and gratitude, aware that the continuous departures are actually the beginning of continuous rebirths.

Giambattista Tiepolo, Death of Hyacinth, 1752
Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Man's need to eternalize in order to overcome the inexplicable, has given rise to the most beautiful stories of mythology, stories in which the passing is not seen as the painful abandonment of earthly life but rather as its apex, to worthy honor and eternal memory of mortal events. In these myths the metamorphoses are nothing more than the prize given to the protagonists by gods moved by their passions or misfortunes.

To symbolize the tears shed for unrequited love towards his father, Myrrh it is transformed into a tree that secretes strips of precious resin. Resin considered by successive traditions as an emblem of the suffering suffered for eternal redemption.

Zeus gives the beautiful Daphne features oflaurel to allow her to escape the sun-god's overwhelming passion. Hyacinthloved by Apollo but inadvertently killed by him, he is compensated with the metamorphosis into a beautiful purple flower, the colour of his spilt blood. And surely one cannot forget the blinding beauty of Narcissus (whose name in Greek means "dizziness") - a sacrificial victim of himself - transformed into the tender bulbous fixation in an eternal and ecstatic bowing.

Gyula Benczúr, Narcissus, 1881
Budapest, Magyar Nemzeti Galéria

The cypress, vegetable funeral symbol par excellence, is linked to the story of Ciparissowho inadvertently kills his beloved golden-horned deer. The torment of the young man is such that Apollo allows him to show eternal mourning: his hair is transformed into shaggy hair and his stiffened body takes flight. And the god, saddened, concludes as follows: "With us you will weep and the others will weep near those who suffer" - [Metamorphosis, X].

Domenichino, The transformation of Ciparisso, 1616-18
London, National Gallery

The eternal struggle between the realm of the dead and that of constant flourishing is found in the myth of Persephone, whose abduction by Hades induces her mother, Demeter, goddess of fertility and harvest, to threaten to make the earth unholy until her daughter is returned. The intervention of Zeus in her favour is, however, partially frustrated by the same girl who eats some pomegranate seeds not knowing that this condemns her to remain in the sad place ruled by her husband. The dispute between Hades and Demeter is resolved by arranging for Persephone to spend part of the year in the afterlife and leave in her mother's kingdom, thus cyclically bringing new life to the earth, in a perpetual fruitful childbirth. As we can see, in the myth that explains the alternation of the seasons everything revolves around a fruit, the pomegranatean ambivalent symbol of prosperity but also of the continuous proliferation of the realm of the dead.

Dante Gabriele Rossetti, Persephone, 1874
London, Tate Britain

All therefore is transformation and never death. Nothing ceases and everything returns. Legendary stories, mixed with historical evocations, mysticism and botanical realities have made the afterlife take on the features of a garden as the most suitable place to celebrate the memory of our loved ones. It is no coincidence that a flower, in its most varied forms, colours and dimensions, becomes the means by which to communicate and honour the memory of the deceased. The idea that the place ready to welcome us after death is a garden is, on the other hand, very ancient. The place of the passage, whether it is in the Elysian Fields, the Garden of Eden or the Garden of Hesperides, is in any case a green space that "belongs to us and awaits us" as a memory and dignity of our primordial roots.

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