The acanthus is a large-leafed plant common in the Mediterranean region. In Greek legend the Athenian architect and sculptor Callimachus one day happened to pass a tomb, near which he saw an acanthus plant enfolding both a tile and a basket. He was inspired by the sight to design a capital for a column, since known as the Corinthian order.
According to an earlier Greek legend, a young girl died, and her devoted nurse collected her trinkets and ornaments and placed them in a basket near her tomb and covered them with a tile. The nurse set the basket down on an acanthus root, whose stalks and leaves grew up enfolding the basket. It was this tomb that Callimachus saw. In medieval Christian symbolism, the acanthus signified “the awareness and the pain of sin” as well as heaven.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. DowCopyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante