Greece's Sun

Disclaimer ahead: this week’s flowers and Bersih 4.0 Rally are NOT related to each other.

But perhaps as a humble gesture of compassion for another human being, you’re more than welcome to buy some sunflowers from me (;p) and pass on to some of the policemen who are doing their jobs, to Bersih supporters as your expression of admiration for their courage, to traders who still have their businesses to run, or to anyone who simply needs cheering up after a lousy day.

Anyhow, yes, this week’s flower is Sunflower. However, it is not the typical generic sunflower you are used to seeing in pictures. This week’s flower is from Holland, which has finer petals (picture as below)


There are 2 interesting versions to 1 story about 1 person where this sunflower origin came from. One story is a romantic fairy tale you would tell to kids; the other has a tragic undercurrent to the tale that only adults would understand.

As the romantic myth goes, once upon a time in ancient Greece, there was a sea nymph named Clytie (pictures as below) who lived at the bottom of the deep sea. She usually wore a beautiful green gown woven of seaweed. Her hair was long and golden that floated gracefully about her wherever she swam.


One day a mermaid came and sang her a song about a golden light above the water. Clytie became curious and wanted to see what this’ golden light’ look like!

She swam to the surface, climbed ashore and saw the ‘golden light’ described in the song, which turned out to be the sun! As a nymph who lived in the deep sea all her life, the sun was a marvellous wonder unlike anything she had encountered.

She stood happily gazing at the sun all day. When she had decided at last to turn to the seawater again, she realised that she wasn’t a nymph anymore. Her long golden hair had become large yellow petals; her green gown had become broad green leaves. Her tiny feet had grown tree roots. Clytie had become a sunflower, a small image of the sun she fell in love with.

That is generally how the fairy tale goes. Now what other people don’t know about this tale is that the ending has a sour taste, sadly. You see, Clytie has a sister named Leucothea. Every morning, before dawn, all nymphs - be it sea nymphs or river nymphs - would come up from the depths of their watery worlds and dance among the water-plants on its shores. Before the rise of dawn, all nymphs must plunge back into the water and never be seen by humans. That was the law of nature for them. 

Clytie and Leucothea decided to break this law one day. When the sun began to show above the hills, all the other nymphs rushed back to their water, but not these two. The sisters sat on the bank of their river, and watched for the arrival of the sun-god Apollo. They were not disappointed when they saw him coming in full splendour of glory. Apollo drove his horses across the skies in his golden chariot with his jewelled crown on his head, and kept a firm rein on the four magnificent fire-breathing horses.

It was hard not to be dazzled by such a sight like that. And the best part was, Apollo saw the sisters and smiled upon them warmly. Who doesn’t get excited for getting noticed by a glorious god? The sisters could not think of anything else but the shining Apollo after that. They became obsessed with that fiery image stuck in their heads.

One day, the nymph sisters quarrelled over a man named Helios, who used to love Clytie but then gradually lusted after Leucothea. The jilted Clytie told King Oceanus about the Helios-Leucothea affair and how her sister broke the law of the water-nymphs. (Clytie conveniently left herself out of that episode she had originally conspired with her sister.) As a result, King Oceanus angrily threw Leucothea into a dark cave to die as punishment for her sins. Clytie had supposed that she has the chance to win Helios back now that her competition was out of sight. But unfortunately for her, Helios found out about this treachery and hardened his heart towards her. Besides that, news travelled far and fast in the realm of the gods. Apollo eventually found of about this cruel incident too.


So, Clytie lost her lover and may have tried to cheer herself up by going ashore every morning to do what she was obsessed with before - to catch the sun, where the splendid Apollo would ride the skies. But Apollo would not smile upon her, and never did again whenever he passed by Clytie. Clytie refused to go back to her watery world and stubbornly stood watching for Apollo for 9 days and nights in a row. She grew fragilely thin with each passing day, waiting in vain for an upward twitch of a smile on Apollo’s face. In those 9 days, she was transformed slowly into a sunflower, a flower that still grows, in wet, sandy places, and still turns slowly on its stem, always keeping its face toward the sun as it travels the sky.

Penny Choo
Penny Choo


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