What do fish, diamonds and flowers have in common?

Well, according to Professor Alastair Blanshard, the Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History at UQ, they have all historically featured as Valentine’s Day gifts and could all say something very important about your relationship.

“Where today the typical Valentine’s Day gifts are chocolates and flowers, in Ancient Greece, men would give pieces of fish to the women they loved,” said Professor Blanshard.

“This is because fish was a luxury foodstuff, so rather than presenting their loved one with flowers, you’d see men arriving at their date’s door with a slab of fresh tuna under their arm.”

“The type of fish also varied according to how much you loved your significant other; a mild affection might only warrant a few salted sardines, whereas you saved the conger eel for your true love,” he said.

Professor Blanshard said that while the type of romantic gifts we give has changed over the centuries – the symbolism has largely remained the same.

“Fish and flowers have more in common than you think; they centre around the theme of perishability, there’s an expectation that you need to keep giving them,” said Professor Blanshard.

The permanence of a gift can also tell you a lot about a relationship.

“The perishability of a gift often indicates the phase of the relationship, or how seriously you take your partner,” said Professor Blanshard.

“Things such as fish, flowers or chocolate all have an expiry period and they are often given at the start of a relationship. Like the love they often symbolise, they are indulgent, live-for-the-moment extravagances.

“As a relationship evolves and becomes serious, you start seeing the introduction of more permanent and indestructible gifts, for example diamonds, this is a way of saying your love is also timeless.”

This is not to say that a gift needs to be expensive to be permanent or symbolise a partner’s devotion.

“I think the important thing is that the gifts should always be impractical and indulgent. You know the great passion is over when you get a vacuum cleaner,” said Professor Blanshard.

Professor Alastair Blanshard is the inaugural Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland. UQ is the only university in Queensland to offer courses in all areas of the history, archaeology, culture, language and the literature of Ancient Greece and Rome. The Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History will allow these important areas to be taught for generations to come. 

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