The heart symbol is everywhere! It is worn on clothes, it adorns jewelry and it is also tattooed on the skin. But have you ever wondered where this symbol came from? What does it mean? When did it first appear? In our article, we explore the history of the heart symbol to discover what makes it so special.
Psyche was a mortal woman whose beauty equaled or exceeded Aphrodite's. Temples to the glory of Aphrodite were even abandoned to worship Psyche. Wishing to take revenge for this affront, Aphrodite asked her son Cupid (Eros for the Greeks) to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous mortal. To do this, Cupid had to shoot one of his famous arrows at Psyche. But, instead of shooting at Psyche, he shoots at himself and falls in love with Psyche.
But, if the symbol of the heart already exists in antiquity, it has no loving meaning. It is simply decorative. The shape would be inspired by the ivy leaf, a climbing plant that is difficult to get rid of, symbolizing resistance and durability. Resistance and durability are certainly always themes linked to love, but the loving meaning of the heart does not yet exist.
As the Wall Street Journal explains, an illustration in the 13th century Romance of the Pear is generally seen as the precursor to the heart symbol. It shows a woman handing a man a pear-shaped object. Although it is not really a heart, since the two lobes are not represented, the pointed and rounded shape is already evident.
In the 14th century, the heart, as an organ, already had a romantic meaning. For example, we can quote this poem by Franceso Petrach (translated into English from Italian) where Petrach says that the only desire he feels in his heart is to see his sweetheart without her veil.
The first representation of the heart symbol, in its present form (clearly very different from its anatomical form!) dates from the 14th century. The current symbol appears for the first time in Alexander Romance. This novel sang of the military victories of Alexander the Great.
Martin Luther, who can be seen as the founder of Protestantism, has, in the sixteenth century, largely contributed to the popularization of the heart symbol and its dissemination in the English-speaking world. Indeed, most of the Christian iconography dating from before the Protestant reformation disappeared with it. However, a red heart symbol appeared in the center of Martin Luther's seal. Since Martin Luther's official writings were authenticated by this seal, and since the Protestant Reformation had a major impact in the English-speaking world, we can understand the impact that Martin had on the universal representation of the heart symbol today.
The poet William Blake wrote many love poems, where the heart is often mentioned. For example in his poem Love's Secret
The nineteenth century also marks the advent of greeting cards in the UK. They are very common, especially for Valentine's Day, and often include heart symbols.
So the next time you send a love letter to your lover or post on their Facebook wall about how much you miss them, remember that there are centuries of tradition behind what you say!
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