Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Decidedly Non-Sexual Fruits of Passion

On a hike yesterday, we spotted an extraterrestrial communications antenna that later turned out to be a passion flower — the blossom on the plant that gives us passion fruit.

passion flower passion fruit blossom

Coupled with the fact that the passion fruit comes from the tropics, the flower’s ostentatious weirdness makes it easy to think of the passion in question as being sexual or at least romantic — the kind of emotion you find in those places where middle-aged black ladies go to get their grooves back. This purple-fringed beauty is the plant’s genitals, after all, and my friend even pointed out that “passion fruit” doesn’t sound like it’s an actual, organic product. No, it sounds like a flavor derived in a lab, some the same guys in white coats who invented blue raspberry or wintermint or that unplaceable snow cone flavor we call “Hawaiian.” The plant is real, however, but the dreamy, romantic notions we might today make with passion fruit are way off the park when you consider how the plant got its name. It’s the other passion — the Passion of the Christ passion, in fact.

From Wikipedia:
The name was given by Spanish missionaries to South America as an expository aid while trying to convert the indigenous inhabitants to Christianity. One ingenious expository device was using parallels between the parts of this common South American flower and elements of the account of the torture (the Passion) of Christ prior to his crucifixion. The missionaries said that:
  • The three stigmas reflect the three nails in Jesus‘s hands and feet
  • The threads of the passion flower resemble the crown of thorns
  • The vine’s tendrils are likened to the whips
  • The five anthers represented the five wounds
  • The ten petals and sepals regarded to resemble the Apostles (excluding Judas and Peter)
  • The purple petals representing the purple robe used to mock Jesus’ claim to kingship
So the next time you dig into the deep magenta of a passion fruit sorbet following a candle-lit Valentine’s Day dinner, don’t think about engorged genitals; think about poor Jim Caviezel being tormented and then executed by Roman soldiers. (And also please don’t think too much about the whole sepal thing and why you’re pulling both Judas and Peter from the traditional group of twelve.)

In case you’re wondering how passion, as a word, got mixed up both in Christ’s torment and bodice-ripping, blame the martyrs. It originally came from the Latin patior — “to suffer,” in the sense of patients and patience. According to Etymonline, the meaning drifted from “torment of God’s son” to “strong emotion” when Christian conviction led martyrs to similar abusive treatment, and now we just use passionate more or less to mean “totally DTF.” I like that passion (romantic sense) retains the element of suffering, even if on a buried etymological level, since love and hardship so often go hand-in-hand, but at the same time it’s hard not to look at the evolution of meaning and say, “Damn, we really ruined that word.”

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