These flowers are found throughout Zakynthos during the winter months and quite often you will see the children collecting them in the fields and happily skipping back to their homes, hands full of manousakia…. a simple gift given from one to another, smiles on one’s face as they are carefully placed in a vase and displayed on the kitchen table. Many also collect them and are taken to other parts of Greece to be sold in the markets or on the streets, for these flowers are very popular, as they have a very pleasant aroma, that easliy fills a room.
There is however, a myth behind these beautiful flowers just how did they come to be?
NARKISSOS (or Narcissus) was a young man from the town of Thespiai in Boiotia, a son of the river-god Kephisos and the fountain-nymph Liriope. He was celebrated for his beauty, and attracted many admirers but, in his arrogance, spurned them all. The suffering of two, however, brought down upon him a deadly curse. First there was the nymphe Ekho–a girl cursed by Hera to repeat only the last words of what was said before. When she was rejected by the boy, Ekho faded away in her despair leaving nothing behind but the haunting voice of her echo.
The other admirer was the youth Ameinias who became distraught when Narkissos cruelly spurned him and slew himself before his door, calling on the goddess Nemesis to avenge him. His prayer was quickly answered, when Narkissos fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool. Gazing endlessly at the reflection, he slowly pined away and was transformed by the nymphs into a narcissus flower. Others, however, say he was filled with despair and remorse and killed himself beside the pool. From his dying life’s blood the flower was born.
Narkissos was the ancient Greek word for the narcissus flower or daffodil. The boy’s mother Leiriope was named after another species of daffodil, the leirion, and his spurned love Ameinias for the ameinasis. According to Hesychius s.v. this was another name for the sweet-smelling herb duosmon–either dill, anise or cummin. Presumably these two were also transformed into their namesake plants. Such a clustered group of metamorphoses is quite common in Greek myth.
The Manousakia in Zakynthos usually start blooming in December and fields can be ladened with them right up until March. One will find that the early ones to blossom are those with a double petal on the flower whereas over the months that pass, you will find that they become singular, these are what we would call more, the wild flower. In the past they were a common sight throughout Zakynthos, but unfortunately due to deep plowing of olive groves and of land in general, their bulbs have been destroyed. Now, they are often seen on land that has not been in use and along river banks.