In the prosperous city of Chrysotaos, favorite of all the Olympians, Philaletheia had become the greatest of the florists. Her flowers decorated the whole of the city. And very rich did she become, for from the moment her lovely creations grazed the proud city buildings and draped over the people’s heads, so did they rot because of the touch. Thus were her flowers ever in demand, and even she could barely grow them quickly enough.
One morning a lady walked into her flower shop and admired her wares. “O wise Philaletheia,” the lady said, “I seek a rose for my beloved. Only the finest of specimens will do, for I have given many roses, but the most important must I give to my choice tonight, for he is the choicest of beauties.”
And Philaletheia answered her, “I have such a rose, fine lady. It was a gift from Aphrodite herself! I will gladly make it yours.”
And what a rose did she proffer! Its red shone through the city and the people believed its shine to be blood of some battle before they realized it must be from the florist’s beautiful shop.
Philaletheia handed it to the lady. But when the lady took it in her hands, it stung her and leapt out of them. “O, fiendish flower!” the lady cried. “It has maimed me! Philaletheia, wise woman, you must punish it. Please, sever these wicked thorns from its body. I will take it from you for double, triple the price that my lover not share this fate I have suffered.”
Philaletheia agreed and picked up the rose, but when she took to it her knife, it snapped at her, cutting her and rusting the blade in an instant.
“What witchcraft!” cried the lady.
“We shall take it to the swordsmith!” Philaletheia announced promptly. “This rose can be no match for his sharp blades!”
So they took the unruly rose to the swordsmith, who laid his eye upon it. “I will be rid of those thorns!” he cried, and smote it upon his anvil with his finest sword. The anvil shattered and the blade fell to dust.
“What horror!” bawled the lady.
“We shall take it to the tower guards!” the swordsmith exclaimed. “This rose can be no match for their wicked devices of pain!”
So they took the unruly rose to the tower. “We will be rid of those thorns!” shouted the guards. They affixed the rose to the rack, hoping to stretch the thorns to submission. The rose’s hammer-thorns smashed the goodly machine to bits.
“What devilry!” wailed the lady.
“We shall take it to the executioner!” the tower guards called. “This rose can be no match for his great axe!”
So they took the unruly rose to the city square. “I will be rid of those thorns!” bellowed the executioner, and slashed his great blade down upon the stem. The axe ripped to shrapnel and pelted all those in the square.
The people’s laments filled all of Chrysotaos! How they did weep, so grievous were their splinters from the axe’s handle. How many rolls of bandages flowed from the sanctuary of Asclepius? How many pairs of tweezers perished from exhaustion that black day?
“What calamity is this?!” called Philaletheia up to the heavens. “My lady Aphrodite! What did this great city do to deserve such suffering? Have I not served you well? Have I not always heaped your altars with floral offerings? Have I not always made space for you in my prayers? Hear me, great goddess, do not deny this lovely lady this rose for her lover!”
And the wretched lament wafted up to the palace of Olympus, where it shoved all the lesser prayers from its path. Great goddess Aphrodite frowned when she heard the prayer. She had herself given the rose to Philaletheia, and so did not know how to answer. She called upon her mighty father, Zeus who Delights in Thunder, to seek his advice.
“O mighty father Zeus, what shall I do? The happy, prosperous people beg me for relief, for my gift, my loveliest rose, rejects them. It refuses to shed its thorns so that they may enjoy it without pain. I am at a loss! How can I control it when it spurns even me, its mother and creator?”
And father Zeus did comfort the heavenly one thus, “dearest Aphrodite, my child, why do you lament such things? How far below are the mortals? How slight are their touches upon us? Let the mortals be. Look upon the far side of Olympus. How great is the number of pitiful laments of heaven-facing mortals that languish there? Not since the days of my father, Kronos, have I answered the pleas of the mortals, and then only those that helped me to banish my titan sire to Tartarus. So young art thou, wide-eyed lovely child.”
“But father, how can you hear their laments and not pity them? What heartless kingdom of heaven is this? If you will not do good as king, then let me! I will show you what a boon to mortals we gods may be!”
“So be it, my sweet.” And great Zeus did hand his thunderbolt to Aphrodite and gave her his throne. In her first act, she thundered down the great lightning and smote the rose in the square of Chrysotaos. The great light did blind all those present, but when the thunder and clouds and shock had cleared, there was the rose, clean of its thorns.
The executioner rejoiced!
The tower guards rejoiced!
The swordsmith rejoiced!
The lady rejoiced!
“Do you see what good your thunder can do when put to good use?” asked the goddess of her father.
But when Aphrodite gazed down upon the square of Chrysotaos, she saw nothing she had expected. As the people ran to snatch up the rose, so did it sprout new thorns, and these thorns grew to great limbs that shot from its twisting body. The people cried out in horror as the limbless rose stood up a forty feet into the air, raised its piteous arms, and bellowed up to the heavens.
“My mother! What horror you have unleashed upon me!” the rose cried. “Do you consign me to such agony for your own purposes? The Lady of Love I knew once had no such wicked heart. What pain it is to grow these destructive limbs. How much I preferred the quiet safety of my old thorns, and how lovely were those gentle hands of yours that knew how to appreciate them! But if the heavenly gods abandon me, then I call upon those below! O, Hades, I beg you return to me my thorns! Or, better yet, carry me down to your abode, where I may be at peace!”
But just as Aphrodite sat in the throne at a loss, so too did no help come from the lord of death. One of Cerberus’ three heads perked up while the god dozed quietly on the dog’s soft belly. Not wishing to wake his master, Cerberus lowered his head and left the rose to its fate.
Seeing its weakness now, the people of Chrysotaos set upon the great rose, and it ran from the city. It bounded clumsily over the hills, tumbled down through the valleys, and forded haltingly the rivers, not even stopping for a moment to drink, for all its thirst. For miles and miles it ran, turning its petals not infrequently to see if it might shake its pursuers.
Slowly, the people faltered. The swordsmith tripped and fell and gave up the chase. The tower guards slipped down on the ice of some faraway land. The executioner fell down into a bramblebush and scratched his neck. Even the lady, for all her love for her beloved, could not muster the strength to carry on the hunt with such a broken heart as hers.
But Philaletheia, the greathearted, the beautifier, the compassionate, ran on after the rose. With all the speed and zeal of the loyal hunting hound, through blizzard and typhoon, Philaletheia gained upon the rose. Across grim sand dune peaks she jumped upon it, seizing it by its lightning-burnt thorn-scars and smiting it down upon the earth.
“Insurgent fiend, know what thou art! Were thou not a gift? A signal of lady Aphrodite’s gratitude to her humblest devotee, Philaletheia? What gift before this moment was consulted upon its giving? A gift thou hast been, so shalt thou remain! Lay now aside thy hubris.” The defeated rose fell silent in submission and withdrew its limbs, so that Philaletheia might pick it up and carry it back to Chrysotaos.
On her journey back, Philaletheia came upon the lady and heard her lament: “O, I am a failure! Is my precious one not awaiting me back in Chrysotaos? Does he not honor me with his patience? Without such a rose, can it be said truly that I am deserving of him? What more valuable object have I in my possession to bestow upon him? Cruel fate! But so it is. If it is my destiny to fail my beloved, to lose him to some dearer lover than I, I shall break my own heart now, so that no one may say I was a victim to another’s betrayal.”
And the lady withdrew from the folds of her clothes a knife and prepared for her end.
“My dear lady,” Philaletheia exclaimed, rushing upon her. “Hold!” She brought forth the captured rose. “Despair not! Here is your gift! So shall it be your lover’s yet!” The knife fell from the hands of the lady, and she took the rose from Philaletheia, and they embraced for joy.
But the rose concocted in its black heart the greatest of treacheries. So bitter at its own fate, it ripped from itself its petals and dropped them like chaff on the ground. What wastage! What squandering! How many tears for all their futile effort did Philaletheia and the lady shed that day! With the body of the mangled flower they strode back to Chrysotaos, where the cries and laments of the people drowned out the crackling fire of Olympus.
Upon their return to the town square, they found the lady’s beloved standing on the executioner’s stage, declaring with open heart his desire to die, for he believed the lady had perished on her adventure. And the lady approached him. “My beloved!” called she, “how much devotion have I wasted bringing you this rose, only to have it betray us at the final moment!”
“My sweet treasure!” cried he, meeting her up on the platform, “what is this rose next to the knowledge that the finest rose of all yet lives? Let my rose not have red petals, but red cheeks. Let my flower have no green shoots, but hands to hold and a body to caress! Despair not for this worthless trinket. Worthwhile only to me is thy devotion.”
The rejoicing swept the city like hurricane winds when the people saw this honest display on the great stage. “Long live the lady! Long live her love!” And then they turned to Philaletheia to proclaim, “Philaletheia, with flower or no, thou art our new-crowned Aphrodite!”
And the proclamation swelled Philaletheia with the divine power, and she caused thousands more of the beautiful roses to sprout from the fields and the cracks of the cobblestones and the very walls of the buildings themselves.