The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look that she turned when he rose. –Sir Thomas Moore
I read several versions of “the sunflower myth” a few days ago, and I can’t say any of them are pleasing. The story generally follows the plot below:
Clytie, was a water nymph. She was the daughter of the Titans, Oceanus and Tethys. She was the lover of the sun god Helios, who eventually deserted her to pursue Leucothea, the daughter of Orchamus. Clytie was enraged and told Orchamus about the love affair. He sentenced his daughter to death by burying her alive. Clytie thought that the death of Leucothea would make Helios return to her, but it only made him think less of her. In the end, Clytie lay naked for nine days on the rocks, gazing at the sun when he rose and as he passed through his daily course to his setting. Her tears and the chilly morning dew were her only food. On the ninth day, her limbs rooted to the ground, and she was transformed into a flower, the heliotrope or turnsole [sunflower], which turns towards the direction of the sun. –from Greek Mythology
Like the Disney princess stories, which either vilify or victimize women, this story bothers me for many reasons: the rivalry between women over a “man;” an overprotective and abusive father; a daughter’s punishment [in this case, murder] for disobedience(?); the scorn of a former lover.
The contradiction between the cheerfulness of the sunflower and the misery and rejection that birthed it in this story is troubling, to say the least. What bothers me most, though, is the romanticization of pain that sends the message that there is beauty in mutilating oneself or pining away for love.
I’ll spare you the full rant and focus on the sunflower’s devotion to the sun as described in the lines (above) from Moore’s poem–without the backstory.
Note on the image: The photo sunflower above comes from a “suburban sunflower field” growing inside my favorite grocery store (also known as potted sunflowers for sale) 🙂 I captured the sunny blossoms last summer. How could I resist their happy greeting? I isolated the central flower and post-processed it using 3 different apps. The original image is below.