Flora and the Zephyr; takes its subject from Ovid’s Fasti, which is a verse chronicle of the Roman calendar, and which incorporates the mythologies and historical legends of Rome where they can he associated with specific times of the year. Fasti V, vv.195-375, spoken by Flora herself, tells the story of her abduction and marriage to Zephyr, god of the wind:’I who now am called Flora was formerly Chloris … a nymph of the happy fields where, as you have heard, dwelt fortunate men of old. Modesty shrinks from describing my figure; but it procured the hand of a god for my mother’s daughter. ‘Twas spring, and I was roaming; Zephyr caught sight of me; I retired; he pursued and I fled; but he was the stronger, and Boreas had given his brother full right of rape by daring to carry off the prize from the house of Erechtheus. However, he made amends for his violence by giving me the name of bride, and in my marriage-bed I have naught to complain of. I enjoy perpetual spring; most buxom is the year ever; ever the tree is clothed with leaves, the ground with pasture. In the fields that are my dower, I have a fruitful garden, fanned by the breeze and watered by a spring of running water. This garden my husband filled with noble flowers and said, “Goddess, be queen of flowers.” Oft did I wish to count the colors in the
beds, but could not; the number was past counting.’ (Translated from the Latin by James George Frazer, 1951) Flora goes on to describe the different flowers she gave to the world, born from the wounds of gods and mortals, and of her power to propagate and inseminate. She speaks also of her command over the harvest and the vintage, and her gift of honey to the world. Her story ends when she is asked the question: “‘Why, instead of Lybyan lionesses, are unwarlike roes and shy hares pent in thy nets?” She replied that her province was not woods, but gardens and field, where no fierce beast may come.’
Waterhouse’s painting shows the moment when Zephyr first set eyes upon and fell in love with Flora, as she gathered flowers in the fields with her maidens and children. He flies down to her, accompanied by his winged companions. and captures her by casting a garland of white flowers around her.
Flora and the Zephyr
London, Royal Academy, 1898. no.64;
London. Royal Academy. Minter Eichibithm. 1909, no.66.
John William Waterhouse