Saturday, November 11, 2023

Red Poppies & Thousands of Years of Remembrance - Veterans Day

In the 21st Century  Poppy Field Remembrance, Adam Borman in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

From the classic myths of Greece & Rome, to poets Ovid & Martial during Classical Antiquity, to the fields of 19th Century Europe, to World War I at Flanders Fields, to the 21st Century - honoring & remembering those who have died.

 Walter Field (British painter) 1837 - 1901

The red poppy has become a symbol of war remembrance throughout much of the world. People in many countries wear the poppy to remember those who died in war or those who still serve in their nation's armed forces. In many countries, the poppy is worn around Veterans Day (or Armistice Day) on November 11th.

Hippolyte Camille Delpy (French painter) 1842 - 1910

In both Greek & Roman myths & classical antiquity, poppies were associated with sleep, death, & remembrance. The symbolic significance of poppies, particularly in the context of honoring the dead, can be traced to various mythological & literary traditions.

Anthonore Christensen (Danish painter) 1849 - 1926

In Greek mythology, the poppy was often linked to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, & her daughter Persephone, who was abducted by Hades & became the queen of the Underworld. According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, poppies grew in the meadows where Demeter mourned the loss of her daughter, symbolizing both the cycle of life & death.

In Greek lore, poppies were also associated with Hypnos, the god of sleep. In various myths, Hypnos is depicted wearing a crown of poppies, signifying the sleep-inducing properties of the plant.

Anthonore Christensen (Danish painter) 1849 - 1926

In Roman mythology, the festival of Floralia, dedicated to the goddess Flora, involved the wearing of wreaths made of flowers, including poppies. This celebration marked the renewal of life & the coming of spring.

The association of poppies with death & remembrance persisted in Roman culture. Poppies were often used in funerary customs & rituals to honor the deceased.

Dora Hitz (German painter) 1856 - 1924

During Classical Antiquity the Roman poet Martial wrote about poppies being scattered on tombs, emphasizing their connection to death & remembrance. Marcus Valerius Martialis (born between 38 & 41 AD – died between 102 & 104 AD) was a Roman poet born in Hispania (modern Spain) best known for his 12 books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 & 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva & Trajan. 

Ovid, another Roman poet, mentioned poppies as symbols of both sleep & death in his works. Publius Ovidius Naso 43 BC – AD 17/18), known in English as Ovid was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. He was a younger contemporary of Virgil & Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature.  Although Ovid enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime, the emperor Augustus exiled him to Tomis, the capital of the newly-organised province of Moesia, on the Black Sea, where he remained for the last 9 or 10 years of his life. 

Alexander Mark Rossi (British painter) 1840 - 1916

The symbolism of poppies honoring the dead was later revived & popularized in the early 20th century during World War I. The famous war poem "In Flanders Fields" by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918) refers to poppies growing amidst the graves of soldiers in Flanders, Belgium. The poem inspired the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served or died in war. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae was a Canadian poet, physician, & soldier during World War I, & a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He died before the war ended. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem "In Flanders Fields."

Anthonore Christensen (Danish painter) 1849 - 1926

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields. 

"In Flanders Fields" was first published in December 1915. Within months, this poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of all who were fighting in the First World War. 

 Robert Vonnoh (American painter) 1858 - 1933

Today poppies are often associated with memorial ceremonies honoring military personnel who have lost their lives in conflicts & to those still serving their country.

Olga Wisinger-Florian (Austrian painter) 1844 - 1926 (2

See Christa Zaat for many more poppy paintings.

See Adam Borman in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada