Building the World

Where did the Valentine Heart originate?


Coin from Cyrene, 630bce, with image of silphium. Image: Kürt Baty, 2006, wikimedia commons.

Where did the Valentine Heart icon come from? Perhaps Cyrene. When the ancient Greeks were told by the Oracle of Delphi to leave drought-stricken Thera (present-day Santorini), pioneering migrants sailed to Libya, settling in Cyrene because of its moist, fertile land. So fertile, in fact, that a magical plant grew there. Some attribute silphium’s powers to the flowering of culture that Cyrene fostered. Resident Eratosthenes measured the earth’s circumference, opened research into prime numbers, and drew a map of the stars (tallied at 675). Silphium stirred minds, and hearts: legend whispered the plant possessed amatory properties. Silphium drew so many people to the new city, stimulating not only the economy but the populace, that the plant’s heart-shaped seed was imprinted on coins. Cyrene became so famous that Pindar wrote an ode in praise. Was Cyrene the origin of one of the world’s first emoticons?

To hear the music of Pindar’s odes:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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