A Rose By Any Other Name (Is Still Uber-Symbolic)
We've hit the symbolic jackpot, guys. Besides every teacher's favorite fruit the apple, you'd be hard pressed to find something more symbolically fraught than the rose.
We know from Hans Christian Anderson that roses symbolize both royalty and innocence. We know from Faulkner that roses symbolize delusion. We know from Toni Morrison that (fake) roses symbolize stagnation and despair.
And of course we know from flower-delivery services that roses can mean anything from love to friendship to spirituality.
And when it comes to The Da Vinci Code, roses get even more symbolic.
There are two main rose-related symbols in our story. The first is the actual flower itself, particularly the five-petaled rosa rugosa (which looks like this).
Langdon stared in wonderment at the lid's hand-carved inlay – a five-petal rose. He had seen this type of rose many times. "The five-petal rose," he whispered, "is a Priory symbol for the Holy Grail." (44.54)
Thank you, Langdon, for explaining so succinctly. Saunière'd crafted the beautiful box for his cryptex using the symbol of the rose, because that's exactly what his device will lead to: a quest for the Grail. He continues:
"Exactly. In Priory symbolism, the Rose and the Grail are synonymous."
Sophie furrowed her brow. "That's strange, because my grandfather always told me the Rose meant secrecy. He used to hang a rose on his office door at home when he was having a confidential phone call and didn't want me to disturb him. He encouraged me to do the same." Sweetie, her grandfather said, rather than lock each other out, we can each hang a rose— la fleur des secrets— on our door when we need privacy. This way we learn to respect and trust each other. Hanging a rose is an ancient Roman custom.
"Sub rosa," Langdon said. "The Romans hung a rose over meetings to indicate the meeting was confidential. Attendees understood that whatever was said under the rose— or sub rosa— had to remain a secret."
Langdon quickly explained that the Rose's overtone of secrecy was not the only reason the Priory used it as a symbol for the Grail. Rosa rugosa, one of the oldest species of rose, had five petals and pentagonal symmetry, just like the guiding star of Venus, giving the Rose strong iconographic ties to womanhood. In addition, the Rose had close ties to the concept of "true direction" and navigating one's way. The Compass Rose helped travelers navigate, as did Rose Lines, the longitudinal lines on maps. For this reason, the Rose was a symbol that spoke of the Grail on many levels— secrecy, womanhood, and guidance— the feminine chalice and guiding star that led to secret truth. (47.49-52)
Ah ha. So the rose is a symbol for the Holy Grail (a.k.a. Mary Magdalene), secrecy, and womanhood. Anything else?
Why, yes. Thanks for asking:
"The Rose has always been the premiere symbol of female sexuality. In primitive goddess cults, the five petals represented the five stations of female life— birth, menstruation, motherhood, menopause, and death. And in modern times, the flowering rose's ties to womanhood are considered more visual." He glanced at Robert. "Perhaps the symbologist could explain?"
Robert hesitated. A moment too long.
"Oh, heavens!" Teabing huffed. "You Americans are such prudes." He looked back at Sophie.
"What Robert is fumbling with is the fact that the blossoming flower resembles the female genitalia, the sublime blossom from which all mankind enters the world. And if you've ever seen any paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, you'll know exactly what I mean." (60.22-24)
We can always count on ol' Teabing to point out the more risqué aspects of symbolism. Okay. Got it. In Da Vinci Code, the rose symbolizes the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, secrecy, womanhood and female sexuality.
We think that's a whole lot of symbolism for a wee little flower to carry—but we're not complaining. After all, we like symbolism almost as much as Robert Langdon.