Why the heart?

As St Valentines Day approaches, I thought we would have a look at what is it, and why we use the symbol of a heart as the universal sign of love…

The heart symbol has absolutely no relation to the heart we have in our bodies, aside from the fact that people in historical times thought that the heart was at the centre of the body, and that it drove our feelings. The heart shape itself has its origins in foliage, fruit and seeds. In ancient Greece, they loved this massive fennel-type plant called silphium. It was the wonder ingredient of its time, the greeks and Romans loved it so much that they consumed it to extinction. Not only could it be used to flavour foods, it was also medicine and used for birth control and its seeds were heart-shaped. Others believe that the fig leaves used to cover the modesty of Adam and Eve were the origins of the heart shape (as are ivy leaves…). Later, in the 13th Century (Tom, that’s for you) a famous French manuscript, ‘Roman de la Poire’ shows a pair being handed to a lover in a title page illumination. Nothing whatsoever to do with a heart – but the shape is similar and the pear represents love and fertility in many different cultures.

It also has its origins in the naive anatomy drawings that started to come out in the middle ages. The artist would base their drawings on the written descriptions of Galen and Aristotle without actually basing it on the real thing!

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