Sub Rosa

What’s under there?
Photo by Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash

On Monday, I shared the secret ingredient in my coffee cake with you all. Don’t tell my housemates, because they shun yogurt and sour cream. Mention using bacteria in order to “culture” milk? You should see the looks on their faces. The recipe’s one cup of yogurt is hidden under the rose, sub rosa.

What the heck does that mean? What do roses have to do with secrecy?

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite gave her son Eros a rose, who passed it to the god of secrets and silence, Harpocrates, as a bribe intended to keep Aphrodite’s many indiscretions secret.

And who was Harpocrates? The Greeks based this deity on Horus, Egyptian child god of the new day. Artists depicted Horus with his finger to his mouth, mimicking the hieroglyph for child. The Greeks misinterpreted the image as “Sshhh, don’t tell” and made him the god of discretion and silence.

If Harpo Marx, the silent brother, comes to mind, as he did for me, alas, there’s no connection. Harpo borrowed his name from the harp that he frequently played. (Harp, the instrument, is Germanic in origin.) Apparently Groucho did once joke that Harpo’s name came from Harpocrates. What a guy, that Groucho. Not only funny but smart.

Anyway, ever since the rose was bequeathed to Harpocrates, the Greeks, Romans, and moderns have all associated the flower with secrets and secret societies. Romans painted roses on banquet hall ceilings as a reminder that what happens in the banquet hall stays in the banquet hall. Councils and secret societies did the same, or carved roses on their doorways. Roses similarly appeared on the doors of confessionals to represent the sacred confidentiality of the sacrament.

Maybe I should paint a rose on my kitchen ceiling.

What secrets does your kitchen hold?

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4 Responses to Sub Rosa

  1. Kathy says:

    Jewel–Funny that the rose on the ceiling conveyed that message. Human culture is complicated!

  2. Kathy says:

    Sarah B: That’s the thing. They never know. Unless I leave the yogurt container out.

  3. Sarah Becker says:

    Sneak plain yogurt into instant onion soup for dip: half sour cream, half yogurt. They will never know!!!

  4. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Favorite one from this blog post: what happens in the banquet hall stays in the banquet hall! Amen to that!

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