There is common agreement that Lavender is a herb of Love and even seduction. For examples, see the blogs: Ladies – Lavender is the new “headache” posted on 28/02/2011, and Lavender For Lovers posted on 02/02/2011, attesting to the fact that Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, used Lavender to seduce (in sequence) Julius Caesar and Mark Antony – after Julius’s assassination by Brutus and Cassius.
Mark Antony became one of three senators chosen as a Triumvirate to govern Rome after the assassination, along with Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavius and the nonentity Lepidus. Antony more or less betrayed the Roman state by indulging in foreign adventures rather than governing at home. Octavius Caesar determined to grasp power for himself rather than allow the Empire to fall between conflicting interests. His Navy annihilated the combined forces of Cleopatra and Antony at the battle of Actium.
If you want to follow the legendary twists and turns, watch Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The climax of the play comes after Antony’s suicide (which Cleopatra sees as an enormously brave act) and Octavius’s capture of Cleopatra herself. We know and she knows that Octavius plans to put Cleopatra on display in a Roman Circus as part of a Triumphal victory parade. She is determined to avoid this, with her own tragic gesture.
The next bit seems like I am dodging the point. Be patient.
Words of all sorts get mixed up through use and age. We used to have a word ‘napron’ (like napkin) but people said it and heard it carelessly, so now we have an ‘apron’. Take the English snake, the viper or adder. The word for it used to be ‘nadder’, from a Greek word for snake. The same sloppiness left us with ‘adders’. It was one of these which Cleopatra used for her suicide. She hid it in flowers, above a layer of figs. Shakespeare uses the word asp, another alternative label for the same species of snake.
Things start to come together again. The word ‘asp’ seems to come from the word ‘aspic’. This is a variety of Lavender, ‘Aspic Lavender’ (perhaps because it was used as flavour for what we know as ‘aspic jelly’). Lo and behold! The word ‘aspic’ is a careless blend of two words: ‘a spike’. A ‘spike’ is, of course, the Lavender flower. Remember the Biblical word ‘spikenard’ in the blog Lavender at Easter posted on 12/04/2011.
The Romans also believed the myth that Asps like to hide in Lavender bushes (probably a Lavender growers’ fiction to put the price up) so they would not approach it.
So here we have Cleopatra with arms full of Aspic Lavender concealing the Asp with which she will kill herself and so prevent herself becoming one of Octavius’s conquests, since she could not make him one of hers.