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The botanical name of the genus, Narcissus, is considered to be derived, not as is often said, from the name of the classical youth who met with his death through vainly trying to embrace his image reflected in a clear stream, but from the Greek word narkao (to benumb), on account of the narcotic properties which the plant possesses. Pliny describes it as Narce narcissum dictum, non a fabuloso puero, 'named Narcissus from Narce, not from the fabulous boy.'
In Greek mythology Narcissus was a young man who spurned the love of the nymph, Echo, who died of a broken heart in a cave; her bones turned to stone and all that was left was the echo of her voice. The gods punished Narcissus by causing him to fall in love with his own image which he saw reflected in the water. He died of languor, being unable to avert his gaze. Then the gods, pitying him, changed him into the flower which bears his name.
The classic Asphodel and the Narcissus are the same, from which it may be seen that the plant dates back as far as man's records go. Fernie, in his excellent Herbal simples, from which we gather the preceding, also says: "An extract of the bulbs applied to open wounds has produced staggering numbness of the whole nervous system and paralysis of the heart. Socrates called this plant the Chaplet of the Infernal Gods,' because of its narcotic effects."
The popular English names Daffodowndilly, Daffodily Affodily, are a corruption of Asphodel, with which blossoms of the ancient Greeks this was supposed to be identical. It is in France the fleur d'asphodèle, also 'pauvres filles de Sainte Claire.'
Herrick alludes in his Hesperides to the Daffodil as a portent of death, probably connecting the flower with the asphodel, and the habit of the ancient Greeks of planting that flower near tombs.
The daffodil as alluded above was formerly known as affodil, affodilly and daff-a-down-dilly. On seeing their first daffodil of the spring children would recite:
Daff-a-down-dilly has now come to town
In a yellow pettycoat and a green gown.
The daffodil is the flower of Lent and was known as Lent lily or lents; it was sold at this time by poor children for pins, as it was thought unlucky to take money. Another name, tide-lily was used in some counties - lide signifying the month of March.
Daffodil and yew together are an emblem of the Resurrection, making them a suitable decoration for churches at Easter. In Roman mythology Proserpina (a Latin corruption of the Greek Persephone), wore a wreath of daffodils when she was abducted and taken to the Underworld. Shakespeare wrote:
For the flowers now, that frightened thou let'st fall
From Dis's waggon! daffodils
That come before the swallow dares and takes
The winds of March with beauty.
The word 'take' is used here in the Elizabethan sense, meaning to charm or bewitch. Many flowers that hang their heads were considered unlucky and in some parts of England it was thought unlucky to bring it into the house. To point at a daffodil was supposed to prevent it blooming. In Wales, to be the person who finds the first flower means that you will have more gold than silver in the coming year. It was widely believed that a plant could indicate one's fortune. The poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) refers to this allusion:
When a daffodil I see
Hanging down her head t'wards me,
Guess I may what I must be
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead.
Lastly, safely buried.
Daffodils today are almost certainly the best-known and best-loved flowers of spring, and everyone knows Wordsworth's wonderful evoca-tion of them:
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
Daffodil is the birthday- flower for 23 August and symbolizes unre-quited love. It is a flower of narcotic properties, hence deceitful hope. In heraldry the daffodil stands for chivalry, and it is the floral emblem of Wales.