In Summary: The First Tulips
Despite their beauty, flowers in mythology often have their roots in tragedy. The anemone was born from the blood of Adonis, the sunflower (or sometimes the heliotrope) was once a lovelorn nymph named Clytie, and the tulip, according to Persian legend, was born from the star-crossed romance of two lovers. There are many versions of the tulip’s origins, most revolving around the tragic love of Farhad and Shirin. In some versions Farhad is a prince who falls in love with the maid Shirin, in others Farhad is a common man who falls in love with the princess Shirin. It is the second version of the legend that we will be exploring.
“She loved him the way one loves an old bridge or a wool sweater or the sound of a growing tulip."
― Joseph Fink
Farhad was a common stonemason, known for his incredible talent and ingenuity. One day he happened upon the princess Shirin, and fell instantly and unequivocally in love. When he professed his affection to the princess, she initially rejected him due to his status, but later, after getting to know him better and seeing the depth of his love for her, she recanted and returned his feelings.
Despite his common status, Farhad expressed his desire to marry the beautiful princess and she wished to marry him in return. When her father found out, he was furious. He had far higher ambitions for his daughter than a common man. Instead of refusing outright, however, the king decided to set Farhad an impossible task. He ordered the poor Farhad to carve a riverbed through the mountain which would lead to the palace (in some versions of the legend Farhad is ordered to carve steps through the mountains instead.) Only when Farhad completed this task would he be allowed to marry Shirin.
Undaunted, Farhad began. Though many years passed, Farhad did not give up on his love and continued to carve his way through the mountain. Eventually his tireless efforts bore fruit and it was clear to everyone that very soon the palace would have its river.
Shirin’s father was furious. He certainly had no intention of marrying his daughter to Farhad, but was bound to word. He devised a plan to ensure that the riverbed would never be finished, writing a letter to say that princess Shirin had tragically passed away from illness. Upon learning of his love’s death, Farhad threw himself from the mountain side.
Unfortunately for her father, Shirin was distraught when she heard the news. She fled the palace and travelled to where her lover’s body lay. Upon seeing that it was true, that Farhad was truly dead, Shirin killed herself. Where the two lovers lay, their blood pooled together and from it bloomed the first of the tulips – as scarlet as the blood they had formed from. Though the lovers died, the flowers remained as an eternal symbol of their love.