Do you know what connects my mother Myrtle to Handel’s operas?
I’m thinking of Handel’s opera Alcina which tells the story of a sorceress of extraordinary beauty and supernatural powers who lives on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. The story is originally from Orlando Furioso, a sixteenth century poem by Ludovico Ariosto.
Legend has it that one day a knight called Ruggiero landed on Alcina’s island riding a hippogryff (a legendary creature with the front half of an eagle and the hind half of a horse). Ruggiero admired the magnificent landscape of the island, lush with plant life. This is where the connection to my mother comes in because much of the greenery on the island is provided by a spectacular myrtle grove but the plants in the grove were not ordinary myrtle bushes; those myrtle plants hid a sinister secret.
When Ruggiero entered the myrtle grove, the hippogriff paused and began to eat some of the myrtle leaves. Ruggiero was astounded when the myrtle bush spoke to him, saying: Release me from this monster, I beseech: Ruggiero was astounded to hear the myrtle plant speaking. When he had gathered his wits, he responded: What art thou, who, in rugged case confined, Dost live and speak?
And so the myrtle plant told Ruggerio his ‘story dark’ of how he had once been a knight of France but on arriving on the Alcina’s island was instantly bewitched by her beauty and grace and became her lover. However, after a couple of months ‘a new paramour assumed my seat’. Alcina had grown tired of him and transformed the knight into a myrtle bush to join thousands of her other discarded lovers who had been turned into plants, rocks or monsters doomed to forever remain on the island. Ruggerio managed to escape that dreadful fate, although he too became Clasped in her dainty limbs, and lapt in pleasure...
According to legend, Alcina’s everlasting beauty was due to myrtle; every morning she washed her face with the extract of the fragrant myrtle leaves to ensure her beauty never faded.
To this day, the oil from myrtle leaves is known as the oil of beauty.
My mother was not beautiful in the way Alcina was – but in a more gentle, humble kind of way – like the myrtle bush.
If you haven't discovered what connects my mother to George Clooney, check out my previous post here.
Until next time.....JB