A phenomenological idiom this Latin expression meaning "under the rose" is still a common way of describing something to be kept secret. Sub rosa: refers to "under the rose", meaning "in secret". Synonyms--Secretly; confidentially; as, to pass on information sub rosa. Funk & Wagnalls and The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopdeia Dictionaries both say that because the rose was the emblem of the Egyptian god Horus it was mistakenly regarded by the Greeks and Romans as the god of silence.

Research offers a fairly wide range of possible derivations of the term. According to one reference books "From Achilles' Heel to Zeus's Shield," by Dale Corey Dibbley, the whole story was pretty much invented by Romans mythology. “One fine afternoon,” adds the Word Detective,” a child god named Harpocrates stumbled upon the goddess Venus while she was engaged in one of her many illicit rendezvous. Venus's son Cupid, quick-wittedly saved his mother's reputation by offering Harpocrates a beautiful rose in return for his vow of silence. Harpocrates kept his mouth shut, and the rose thereafter became the symbol of silence. “ The etymology extends as far back as the Roman Empire, people understood that some communications deserved special treatment.

Cleopatra contributed much to the clandestine popularity of the rose in Egypt. When she received a visit from her lover, Mark Antony, she spared no expense to entertain him. Roses, eighteen inches deep, were strewn on the floors of her palace, the couches were covered with rose petals, and the fountains were filled with rose water. Her plan---so that when Marc Antony met her, he would long remember her for such opulence and be reminded of her every time he smelt a rose thereafter.

The rose is one of the most important floral symbols in the Western world. Protected by thorns, it is a beautiful, fragrant flower, representing beauty, secrecy, love, life, blood, death and rebirth. After the fall of the Roman Empire, notes Patrick Rogers on the History of the Rose,” rose cultivation was continued by Benedictine monks, and as the excesses of the Romans were forgotten, the flower became the emblem of secret Christian societies as a symbol of the blood of Christ.” Canon Carey at Canon Carey’s Corner adds in his selections of Church Words:”Following the English reformation in the 16th century, only certain cathedral canons were licensed to hear private confessions, and they were designation by a rose appliquéd on their clerical hats. In this way they could be easily identified when needed. Since all confessions were (and are) in utter confidence, the expression "keep it under your hat" came into being.” This significance has carried over in Christianity where a rose is often carved onto confessionals.

However, says the Word Detective, “it was still common in Medieval times to see a rose suspended over a dining table in France and England to remind guests that conversations at the table were not to be repeated elsewhere. Eventually real roses were replaced by plaster ones, and roses were still commonly found in the plasterwork in many Victorian dining rooms. Today, "sub rosa" (and, less often, "under the rose") is a synonym for "secret," with the added connotation of "illicit." “

The web site Roses: History, Legends and Customs suggests a historical perspective that is particularly intriguing: “The rose had been sacred to Bacchus, god of wine, as well as to Venus. At banquets for these gods, wealthy Romans would lie on couches spread with rose petals. Around their necks they wore garlands of roses. Chaplets of roses crowned their heads. Reclining on their beds of roses, they ate, drank, and gossiped. Anything said under the rose - the rose garland hung on the wall or the rose chaplets on their heads - was sub rosa.”

Queen Elizabeth I, continues "Roses: History, Legends and Customs", “is said to have worn a rose behind her ear, probably copied after the Spanish. Some say this was a subtle way of expressing that the wearer "heard all and said nothing."

Throughout history roses have served as symbols to represent everything from romantic love to unromantic war (The War of the Roses, in England, 1455-85) where it was a white rose was displayed at meetings where people were not supposed to reveal what went on.

Located in part of Cornwall Trethevy is a coastal hamlet between the popular historic village of Tintagel in the south with its legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Trethevy Manor was built in medieval times, the oldest parts of the house dating back to 1151 A.D. In the drawing room says the Trethevy Manor web site,” a beautiful plaster ceiling was constructed. At the center of the ceiling was a slate inlay in the shape of a Tudor Rose. Again giving reference to the legal term "sub rosa" (under the rose) meaning secretly.” Historians of the manor relate that this term came during the time of Sir Francis Drake, who was member of Parliament for nearby Bossiney. He held secret council meetings in the drawing room, hence the term "sub rosa".

Later this ideal was embodied into Victorian architecture as a plaster rose decoration centered on the ceilings. Additionally, bashful Victorian suitors presented gifts of roses to reveal their emotions considered too delicate to express aloud. Different colors, varieties, and arrangements of roses were used to convey different messages. Hence, meanings of flowers come from a variety of sources.

One list of flower codes Charles II of Sweden brought back from the The Ottoman Empire in 1714 was particularly romantic. Throughout the ages, the red rose has been the quintessential expression of love. Below is a list of the sub rosa meanings for roses from Roses: History, Legends, and Customs . They note that it has been gathered from various of sources:

    Red rose: Love; I love you; respect; courage
    Pink rose: Perfect happiness; please believe me; you're gentle and graceful
    Deep pink: Thank you
    Light pink: Admiration
    Dark crimson rose: Mourning
    White rose: Innocence and purity; I am worthy of you; heavenly; secrecy and silence
    White and red roses together: Unity
    Yellow rose: Friendship; joy and happiness; decrease of love; jealousy; try to care
    Bouquet of roses in full bloom: Gratitude
    Garland or crown of roses: Beware of virtue; reward of merit; crown, symbol of superior merit
    Single full bloom: I love you; I still love you
    Tea rose: I'll remember; always
    Thornless: Love at first sight
    Dried white rose: Death is preferable to loss of virtue
    Withered white rose: Transient impression; fleeting beauty; you made no impression
    Rose leaf: You may hope
    Rose bud: Beauty and youth; a heart innocent of love
    Red rosebud: Pure and lovely
    White rosebud: Girlhood
    Damask rose: Brilliant complexion
    Cabbage rose: Ambassador of love
    Christmas rose: Tranquilize my anxiety; anxiety

”In Victorian times,” adds Roses: History, Legends, and Customs, husbands used small rose bouquets called "tussie mussies" as sub rosa to communicate feelings of devotion, trust, and love. An anniversary "tussie mussie" today could contain the number of red roses representing the months or years a couple has spent sharing happy moments together.

In the Frederiksborg Castle, in Denmark, the dining room of the royal family is The Rose - a room decorated in roses. This is where the family could come and safely know that the walls did not have ears. Sub vino sub rosa est ~ What one says under the influence of wine is secret.

Finally from the The History of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity web site, “By 1909 America the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity in South Carolina was growing despite laws and policies banning fraternities. The Delta Chapter at Furman University formed and operated "sub rosa" (in secret) until state laws changed, allowing fraternal organizations. The fraternity created its first coat of arms in the same year. It originally had only two stars, and a student's lamp appeared below the chevron. Instead of a lamp and book, the original crest was a hand, holding a red rose in recognition of Delta Chapter operating sub rosa. “


Canon Carey's Corner
Accessed February 20,2006

The History of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity:
Accessed Januaty 27, 2000.

The History of the Rose:
Accessed January 27, 2000.

Maven's Word of the Day:
Accessed January 27,2000.

Roses: History, Legends and Customs:
Accessed January 27, 2000.

Trethevy Manor:

Accessed: January 27, 2000.

The Word Detective:
Accessed January 27 2000.

World Wide Words:
Accessed January 27,2000.