Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission

March 18, 2013 Linus and the Connection to Flax

Source: N. Lee Pengilly   |  Category: General News

Linus and the Connection to Flax

By N. Lee Pengilly, Researcher and Author

Although the threads that weave the story of the relationship between the first or given name Linus with flax are somewhat difficult to follow and ravel just a bit in places, for any history buffs or those with a Linus in the family it is an interesting story. Sources vary regarding the lineage of the Greek god known as Linus. For our purposes, we will follow the version that says he was the son of Apollo and Psamathe. She was the daughter of the King of Argos - Argos being one of the early Greek city states. The mother abandoned her infant on a hillside and he was devoured by dogs. When Psamathe’s father, the King of Argos learned what his daughter had done, he had her killed. Apollo was so outraged by the actions of both Psamathe and her father that he cursed the region of Argos with a plague for which there would be no respite until such time as [the spirits/souls of] both Psamathe and Linus were appeased with appropriate prayers and songs of grieving.

The “Linus Song” is said to be a lament derived from this story and was sung at harvest time as a dirge for the dying vegetation. The English poet and novelist Robert Graves (1895 – 1985) made the suggestion that Linus symbolizes the spirit of the flax plant (linos) and the method in which it was harvested, dried and beaten. The celebration of the flax harvest involved music and dance, “plaintive dirges, and pounding rhythms, apparently found in the ‘Linus Song.’

Other sources have Linus as the son of the muse Urania and Amphimarlus (a son of Poseidon). He was killed by Apollo because he rivaled the god in his musical skill.

Although most books that reveal the history of names indicate the name Linus is of Greek origin and it means flax, from the word Linus and given to a child with “flaxen coloured hair” it is difficult to come up with any other direct linkage between, Linus and the genus Linum if indeed there is one beyond this ancient mythology.

In another flax connection however, (and going further back in time), Mercury is said to have invented the lyre. As this story goes, Mercury found a tortoise. He took the shell and made holes in the opposing edges of it, through which he drew cords of linen. When the instrument was complete, there were nine cords in the instrument in honor of the nine muses. It is said that Mercury gave the lyre to Apollo in exchange for the caduceus (a winged staff entwined with two serpents, associated with Greek god of healing, now a symbol of various medical organizations throughout the world.) In this version as well, it was Apollo who had Linus killed as Linus rivaled him in musical skill.

A Greek Mythology Guide

Mercury – also known as Hermes and the son of Jupiter and Maia. He presided over commerce, wrestling and other gymnastic games, even over thieving and everything which required skill and dexterity. He was the messenger of Jupiter and wore a winged cap and winged shoes. He bore in his hand a rod entwined with two serpents called the caduceus.

Apollo – the god of music, prophecy, healing and sunlight.

The Muses - the muses were the daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne (Memory). They presided over song and prompted the memory. They were nine in number, to each of whom was assigned the precedence over some particular department of literature, art or science.

Source: From “The Language and Lore of Flax,” The Saskatchewan Flax Grower, November 2006, page 2.