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Roses and The Tall Poppy Syndrome(TPS)

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
3 min read
Roses and The Tall Poppy 
Photograph by the author.

Table of Contents

A Rose is a rose is a rose
~ Gertrude Stein

Stein used the sentence in a poem (1913) but later modified it which some interpreted as "it is what it is." This could be construed as the law of identity. But she had other ideas as did many after the Romantic period. She knew that using the name of a thing invokes imagery and associated emotions. She believed you imagined a "red" rose when you read that line in her poem just as the picture of the rose above signifies love and/or death or both.

Roses are arguably the most common and popular flower in the world. Is it any wonder they would eventually be named in the TPS metaphor? I wonder what took so long? Herodotus' Histories  (430 BC) used wheat in the original description of the TPS metaphor. Livy's History of Rome (29-27 BC) followed using poppies (see Last But Not Least! Politics and The Tall Poppy Syndrome). A mere thousand years passed before roses were used in the metaphor.  

                                                Ramiro II of Aragon

Ramiro II (1086-1157) was the youngest son of Sancho Ramirez, king of Navarre and Aragon. His father placed him in the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Pons-de- Thomières in the Viscounty of Béziers as a child. He became a monk and was elected abbot of the Castillian royal monastery of Santos Fecundo y Primitivo in Sahagún. Later, he assumed a similar post at the monastery of San Pedro el Viejo at Huesca.

The Kingdom passed to Ramiro's older brother, Peter I. When he died, Alfonso the Battler, the King's second son, assumed the crown. Alfonso desired to limit his younger brother's influence within the kingdom (familial envy). He blocked Ramiro's election to become bishop of Burgos and Pamplona but failed to prevent his election at Borbastro-Roda.

The childless Alfonso the Battler suddenly died. Ramiro's recent election made him a candidate for succession to the crown. Through a compromise, the Kingdom was split and Ramiro became King of Aragon (1134). He suspended his monastic vows and married so that an heir could be procreated.

His early reign was turbulent. The nobles thought he would be compliant and bend to their desires. He was just the opposite - obstinate. At least he understood that he was in over his head.

Bell of Huesca (Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña)

Ramiro's elder brothers defeated the city of Huesca and brought their populace under their control. Their nobles continued to test Ramiro's strength and resolve. Ramiro sent a courier to the Abbey of Saint-Pons-de-Thomières for counsel from his former master. The courier was taken to the abbey garden where the master lopped off the heads of the tallest roses. The courier returned to Ramiro and detailed what he had witnessed.

Ramiro II sent for his head nobleman and told him that he needed assistance to build a bell that could be heard throughout Aragone. As each of the twelve nobles arrived, he cut off their heads and placed them around the bell. The chief noble's head was used as the bell clapper. The sight was visible for outsiders to view.  

Ramiro II was wise to know he was not a war king and ceded royal authority to his son-in-law in 1137, three years after he became king. He returned to religious life at the Abbey of San Pedro in Huesca but held the title of king until his death.

Points to Ponder

Our website has now documented the original descriptions of TPS: Herodotus' Histories  (430 BC) used wheat in the original description of the TPS metaphor; Livy's History of Rome (29-27 BC) followed using poppies (see Last But Not Least! Politics and The Tall Poppy Syndrome). We now have added roses to the list.

I have also seen corn in Greek translations but I think that its use was lost in translation. "Heads" can mean wheat or corn. While there was a lot of wheat in the 6th - 5th century BC, there was little corn. Heads of corn are located on the stalk, not at the top, and lopping the heads off is difficult.

The metaphor's concept was the same in all three descriptions: neutralize the opposition by lopping off their heads.

"Follow the money" means identifying money transfers and points to political corruption; "follow the envy" leads to cutters in tps.

Gertrude Stein wanted to use the name (rose) to evoke imagery and emotion. I am guilty as charged regarding the same for the poppy.

tall poppy syndromefamilial envyroseHerodotusLivybell of HuescaRamiro II

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.


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