Roses. One of the most beautiful and elegant flowers. And one of the most ancient. There have been rose fossils found dating back tens of thousands of years, and evidence of cultivation of roses for thousands of years.
There have been a multitude of meanings for roses. White roses are common at weddings because they are a symbol of purity. Red roses are a symbol of passionate love and are often associated with the goddess Aphrodite. This makes them an ideal gift for a partner. Pink roses represent platonic love. Like friendship.
It is in Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s well-known plays, that Juliet, a Capulet, bemoaning the fact that Romeo is a Montague, comments on the fact that a rose, even if it were called something other than “rose” would still smell just as sweet. This is the origin of that phrase a rose by any other name would smell so sweet. What Juliet is pondering here is the meaning of the name of the plant. Is the identity of the rose tied up in its label or in its actual characteristics. Much like the identities of the two young star crossed lovers, who are from warring families. If they cast aside their labels can they maintain their essence and escape the problem that is making everything difficult for them? Sadly, in the end, both Juliet and Romeo are unable to escape the constraints of the labels society has put upon them: Capulet and Montague. They end their love after their secret marriage in suicide. It is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
I think that one moral of Romeo and Juliet is the lesson for us is in this quote about the rose. That given any other name it would still smell just as sweet. If we renamed the rose “fishbait” we would go around talking about the lovely scent of fishbait and adding fishbait water to our baths and spritzing ourselves with fishbait after our showers. Relabeling it would not alter the essence of the rose. It would still be a rose no matter what symbol system we used to identify it.
Why does this matter? Because it is not only objects like flowers and groups like warring families that have labels that cause us to make assumptions. We do that to one another as well. You know how they say not to judge a book by its cover, well perhaps you should not judge it by its title either. You never know what is between the pages until you actually take a look.
by Julie Morse