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Thursday, September 22, 2005 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

What is the history of the heart icon?

I headed off to visit a dictionary of Symbols.com in the first search match. I used the intriguingly easy Graphic Search, which took me through a step-by-step series of drop-down menu options to narrow our quest. I discovered that the heart graphic can be described as single-axis symmetrical, closed, with soft, non-crossing lines. Then, in a group of similar icons, I found the answer.

The evocative two-lobed heart shape was used by early hunters living in Europe before the last ice age, and is believed to have symbolized the vital organ that sustains life by pumping blood through a living organism. Variations on this shape have defied systematization through the ages, and have been used in different cultural and religious contexts.

In the Middle Ages, the heart sign was associated with signs for union, togetherness, fire, and flight. More recently, in Sweden, the symbol was used to denote a coed toilet. On an ancient Greek amphora, hearts represented leaves on Dionysus' wreath, although later, the heart's association with Eros, god of sexual love, and Cupid, his Roman counterpart, prevailed. Apparently Aztecs, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Celts, and Taoists all use this fortuitous symbol.

I did some serious searching to confirm these findings. A site from Thinkquest called The Interactive Heart explores the cultural significance of the heart in ancient civilizations and contemporary culture -- and describes the long-standing perception of the heart as the seat of human emotion.

A heart exhibit from the Franklin Institute includes a section about the heart in pop culture. Don't miss The Poetry of the Heart, an anthology of verse submitted by visitors to the web site.

Here's a succint example of the genre, submitted by Ruth Porter:

Poems from the heart,
may be pretty smart,
but all this lovey-dovey,
makes me fairly tart.

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