Evelyn De Morgan,  Leighton,  myth

Sorrow and Sunflowers

'Clytie', Evelyn De Morgan
‘Clytie’, Evelyn De Morgan

Clytie was a beautiful water nymph who loved the sun god Apollo (Helios).  Apollo, however, didn’t return her love.  The rejected Clytie could not move on and her love for Apollo grew into an obsession.  She remained in one spot, staring at the sun as her unrequited love guided it across the sky each day in his chariot.  Never eating or drinking, her only nourishment came from her own tears as her face followed the sun.

Eventually, her legs formed roots and her face transformed into a sunflower, doomed to follow the sun’s daily movement across the sky.

At some point in our lives, have we all been Clytie?  Rooted in place, unable to move on?

Myths may seem to be archaic tropes, but dust them off  and there’s timeless wisdom.  Clytie is a cautionary tale and the sunflower should be embraced as a symbol of what can happen when we become rooted in unhealthy ideas we can’t let go of — not growing into ourselves, but into something else completely.  Are sunflowers a symbol of Clytie’s sorrow, then?  Not necessarily.  I say they are symbols of hope.  We can look at them and say “Not me.  Not today.  I am moving forward.”

'Clytie', Frederic Leighton
‘Clytie’, Frederic Leighton

She wasted away, deranged by her experience of love. Impatient of the nymphs, night and day, under the open sky, she sat dishevelled, bareheaded, on the bare earth. Without food or water, fasting, for nine days, she lived only on dew and tears, and did not stir from the ground. She only gazed at the god’s aspect as he passed, and turned her face towards him. They say that her limbs clung to the soil, and that her ghastly pallor changed part of her appearance to that of a bloodless plant: but part was reddened, and a flower hid her face. She turns, always, towards the sun; though her roots hold her fast, her love remains unaltered. (Ovid,Metamorphoses IV:256-273)


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