Silphium I

Fay Helfer

Berkeley, United States

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Artist's Description

Original created with:
Pyrography, pastel, metal leaf and natural pigments: coffee, turmeric, cochineal, indigo and bone char. ~ 12×19” framed

About Silphium:
The exact identity of silphium is unclear, commonly believed to be a now-extinct plant. It was used in classical antiquity as a rich seasoning and as a medicine, said to be effective in treating a cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, aches and pains, warts, and all kinds of maladies. Contemporary writings have also referenced silphium as a tie to sexuality and love. It appears in a poem (Catullus 7) of Catullus to his lover Lesbia, used as a treatment for mental illness, tying it to the ‘madness’ of love.

There has been some speculation about the connection between silphium and the traditional heart shape (♥). Coins from the ancient North African city of Cyrene (6–5th century BCE) bear a similar design, sometimes accompanied by a silphium plant, thought to represent its seed or seed pod. Silphium was so critical to the Cyrenian economy that most of their coins bore a picture of the plant or a heart shape.

Artwork Comments

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