A plant, described by Dioseorides, a Greek physician and botanist of the first century,. with broad, flexible, prickly leaves, which perish in the winter and sprout again at the return of spring. Found in the Grecian islands on the borders of cultivated fields or gardens, it is common in moist, rocky situations. It is memorable for the tradition which assigns to it the origin of the foliage carved on the capitals or upper parts of Corinthian and Composite columns. Hence, in architecture, that part of the Corinthian capital is called the Acanthus which is situated below the abacus or slab at the top, and which, having the form of a vase or bell, is surrounded by two rows of leaves of the acanthus plant.
Callimachus, who invented this ornament, is said to have had the idea suggested to him by the following incident: A Corinthian maiden who was betrothed, fell ill, and died just before the appointed time of her marriage. Her faithful and grieving nurse placed on her tomb a basket containing many of her toys and jewels, and covered it with a flat tile. It so happened that the basket was placed immediately over an acanthus root, which afterward grew up around the basket and curled under the weighty resistance of the tile, thus exhibiting a form of foliage which was, on its being seen by the architect, adopted as a model for the capital of a new order; so that the story of affection was perpetuated in marble.
Dudley ( Naology, page 164) thinks the tale puerile, and supposes that the acanthus is really the lotus of the Indians and Egyptians, and is symbolic of laborious but effectual effort applied to the support of the world.
With him, the symbolism of the acanthus and the lotus are identical (see Lotus).
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