Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Just a Bay Leaf? Maybe Not...

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Everything from the Roman Empire, to Gladiators, to Agriculture/Horticulture make up the long and interesting history of Italy. Gladiator fights and mock naval battles were used as entertainment for the nobles of the region and spared no expenses, including both life and money. If you were a gladiator of any kind, by being forced into the job or as devotion to your ruler, you were often rewarded a gold plated crown made of gold for your victory in the arena or any athletic event for that matter. This crown mimicked the vine like laurel leaves and wound into a circle-like crown. When people think Romans they mostly imagine a white toga with the green or bronze colored crown, which is made with the laurel leaves as well. In America we know this as Bay Leaves that are mostly used as an ingredient for cooking. When going to the Boboli Gardens in Florence, the tall hedges were covered in this laurel like vines on the side of a building. While there were many very petty things in the Boboli gardens, this stood out to me because of the ties to the history of Laurels themselves. After studying about the roman culture for many years, gladiators were a symbol of victory with these crowns that were symbols of the Mediterranean culture, prosperity, and purity. The leaves were also symbolic to the Greek culture in a many ways. If you look at a variety of Greek and Italian art, the leaves are present in many of them throughout. It is fascinating how what we use as a cooking ingredient was once used for gladiators and often made in gold. We get the expression of “resting on one’s laurels” from this meaning that multiple victories have been accumulated and while to “look to one’s laurels” means to watch out for your competition.

Fun fact: Another common place to see this laurel is by looking on your diploma after getting your baccaLAUREATE degree or your post- baccaLAUREATE degree. I’ll be looking for that in May!

-Kourtney C. 

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