The pomegranate is one of the most famous and celebrated fruits of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. Since ancient times, the many seeds of the fruit have symbolised hope, eternity, fertility and prosperity. Ancient Greeks used the tart, sharp-tasting juice of unripe pomegranates in the same way that we use lemon juice today. Since ancient times and right up to the present, Greeks have broken a pomegranate fruit on the threshold of shops, homes and offices on New Year’s day to ensure happiness and prosperity for the year ahead.
The pomegranate is the fruit of Punica granatum, a bush or small tree of Western Asia. The plant, which may attain 5 or 7 metres in height, has lance-shaped, bright-green leaves about 75 millimetres long and beautiful orange-red flowers, the petals of which are borne on a bright red, waxy calyx tube. The fruit is the size of a large orange, obscurely six-sided, with a smooth, leathery skin that ranges from brownish yellow to red; within, it is divided into several chambers containing many thin, transparent vesicles of reddish, juicy pulp, each surrounding an angular, elongated seed. The fruit is eaten fresh, and the juice is the source of grenadine syrup, used in flavourings and liqueurs.
Throughout the Orient, the pomegranate has since earliest times occupied a position of importance alongside the grape and the fig. According to the Bible, King Solomon possessed an orchard of pomegranates, and, when the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, sighed for the abandoned comforts of Egypt, the cooling pomegranates were remembered longingly. The Muslims held the fruit in high regard as it was praised in the Koran. While the pomegranate is considered indigenous to Iran and neighbouring countries, its cultivation long ago encircled the Mediterranean and extended through the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan, and India. It is commonly cultivated in the Americas from the warmer parts of the United States to Chile.
The ancient Greek legend of Persephone (Latin = Proserpina) contains a poignant detail involving the pomegranate. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus, the chief god, and Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Persephone was gathering flowers in the Vale of Nysa when she was seized by Hades, god of the Underworld, and taken to the nether regions. Upon learning of the abduction, her mother, Demeter, in her misery, became unconcerned with the harvest or the fruitfulness of the Earth, so that widespread famine ensued. Zeus then intervened, commanding Hades to release Persephone to her mother. Because Persephone had eaten four pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she could not be completely freed but had to remain one-third of the year with Hades, spending the other two-thirds with her mother. The story that Persephone spent four months of each year in the underworld was no doubt meant to account for the barren appearance of Greek fields in full summer (after harvest), before their revival in the autumn rains, when they are ploughed and sown.
This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Ruby Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme,
and also part of the Trees & Bushes meme.