Rose of Champions

Photo by JR04.

Photo by JR04.



Among the many things that the rose symbolizes is recognition of an achievement. A diva is presented with bunches of roses following a star performance. The winning horse at the Kentucky Derby is draped with a blanket of red roses. For the unfortunate soul Lucius the rose came to symbolize attainment of the blessed life offered to those who follow the goddess Isis.

Lucius relates that he was on a business trip in Thessaly when his luck began to go sour in every way possible, culminating with his being transformed into a donkey. Lucius presents himself as a man in search of nothing more than comfort, amusement, and conviviality. He possesses neither malice nor ambition, and he goes where life takes him. He is certainly not a spiritual seeker, and it is only a long journey as a miserable ass that brings him into contemplation of the Goddess. Her famous words in response to Lucius’s prayer are

I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names, and propitiated with all manner of different rites, yet the whole world venerates me…. I have come in pity of your plight, I have come to favour and aid you. Weep no more, lament no longer; the hour of deliverance, shone over by my watchful light, is at hand.

Isis then instructs Lucius to approach one of her High Priests at a procession he will be attending the next day in his captive donkey guise. The priest will be carrying a garland of roses.

The next day unfolds for Lucius as Isis promised. The priest is expecting Lucius and holds the sweet garland out for the donkey to eat. Lucius is transformed back into a man, and he leaves with the entourage of Isis to be initiated as one of her priests.

If you have never read The Golden Ass, the first century novel from which this story comes, I recommend that you add it to your list. Despite being informative and worthwhile ancient literature, it is an entertaining read that can also be enjoyed simply for the story. The translation by Robert Graves is considered the best.


Apuleius. The Transformations of Lucius Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass. Robert Graves, trans. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951.

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One Response to Rose of Champions

  1. Labrys says:

    Roses, for me, have always symbolized that mystical contact of the divine. I have a wildish hedge with highly scented roses fit for culinary use that I call Hekate’s Hedge.