Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anecdote on the Fleur-de-lys

I have a particular fascination with the fleur-de-lys, said Princess Haiku. Perhaps because in my family heraldry there exists a man wearing a cap with a fleur-de-lys upon it. After discovering that tidbit of family lore, the fleur-de-lys began to assert itself into my dreams.

Lis and Iris in French

The first use of the word "iris" in French is in a 13th c. manuscript, Le Livre des Medecines Simples, where it says: "iris porte roge flor et ireos blanches." The word existed before, to name a prism, or rock through which the light diffracts into a rainbow (here the etymology is clear: Iris, messenger of the Gods). How it came to designate the plant I don't know (ref: Godefroy: Dictionnaire de l'Ancienne Langue Francaise, vol. 10, Kraus reprints, 1969).

The first instance of the word "lis", plural of an unattested "lil" from Latin lilium, is around 1150 for the flower. The word is often found as metonymy for the lily flower, and used in numerous metaphors for whiteness, purity, etc. For example, in Erec et Enéide by Chrestien de Troyes (ca. 1170): "plus ot que n'est la flor de lis, Cler et blanc le front et le vis" (forehead and face pale and white more than the lily flower) (example taken from: Tobler-Lommatzsch: Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch). The word fleur de lis is also used as metaphor for the Virgin Mary (1223). First clear-cut use of the word "fleur de lis" in its heraldic acception is in 1225 in Durmart le Gallois, although Victor Gay (Glossaire Archéologique du Moyen-Âge, vol. 1, Paris, 1887) claims that the word is used in an ordnance of Louis VII (1137-1180), without giving any reference.

What is really strange is that the lily was such a constant metaphor for whiteness, and would become a golden charge. As mentioned before, lilies are usually white, not yellow.


d. chedwick bryant said...

the fleur de lis is a favorite symbol of mine--French grandparents and my Mr. (or Monsieur, heh) is French Canadian. so he loves the fleur de lis too.

The Guerlain Bee Bottle was designed so that the bees, when viewed upsidedown resemble fleur de lis

My father loved iris--

funny how certain flowers remind you of a certain person

She Who Flies said...

I'm back online and settling in my new home and country. Thanks for the comments and inquiries you posted on my blog. I shall update it really soon (just got my broadband connection set up this evening :-)

I too love the Fleur de Lys. Always have. Such a perfect design and symbol. Any affinity for Mary Magdalen too?