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Random Heart 1 December 2005

Posted by Elisa in flickr.
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Random Heart
Originally uploaded by Pandiyan.

One of most popular symbols across the world; referred to in many diverse cultures and countries; this shape stands for heart and connotes among other things love, compassion, soul, feelings, enlightenment and so on.

Looking at it closely, we realise that it does not look like a human heart at all. Actual heart has a far messier and more rounded appearance. One theory is that people of earlier times have seen cattle hearts more than human hearts and this shape is a little more like a cattle heart.

People like Aristotle trivialised brain and gave heart a more significant place in human anatomy. He extolled it as the seat of reason, thought and feelings. Buddhism talks heart not as a symbol of love but enlightenment. However, the credit for raising popularity of the shape in iconography and symbolism should go to Christianity and Europe.

The most interesting story of how heart symbolises love comes from Africa however. Ancient city of Cyrene in North Africa was one of the richest before the rise of Alexandria. Cyrene’s economy depended a lot on a plant called Silphium which was a herbal contraceptive and it refused to grow anywhere else. And its seeds were shaped like, yes, a heart. Hence the heart-love connection. Now the plant is thought to be extinct. For any further research, we have to go to Libya as the ancient city Cyrene is located there.

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