Have a Heart

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   October 4, 2022

Contrary to what someone might think, a cardiologist does not collect cards – not even such collectibles as those my little Company produces. The word comes from the Greek kardia, meaning “heart,” which has given us such spin-offs as “cordial,” and the French and Spanish “Coeur,” and “Corazón.” Where I live, there is a local radio station called “Radio Bronco” featuring Mexican music, particularly songs. I don’t speak Spanish but have been told that practically every song of this genre is almost obliged to include the word “Corazón” – and as far as I can tell, it’s true!

The conventional symbol for a heart, of course, looks nothing like the ugly organ which spends its whole lifetime (and ours) pumping blood around our circulatory system. But that ubiquitous symbol, which can be traced back to the 13th century, has always had romantic implications, although its use, along with “Diamonds,” “Spades,” and “Clubs,” takes us back to cards again. And those other three symbols bear even less resemblance to their namesakes than does the heart.

The symbolic connection with “Love” has however become very strong, as is highly apparent on any Valentine’s Day. But since the 1970s, a new relevance has been established between the symbol and the word “Love” itself. One of the very earliest usages was in a logo developed by an advertising agency, proclaiming that “I [heart] New York.”

But since antiquity, despite a very limited knowledge of anatomy (not till 1628 was the circulation of the blood discovered and revealed by the British scientist and physician, William Harvey) the heart has been considered a center of the emotions. This brings us to the god who personifies love, particularly of the romantic and erotic kind. Known in various cultures under different names, he’s most familiar to us as Cupid. But his image also takes a variety of shapes, from the sleek young boy called Eros, whose statue is the centerpiece of the structure in the “heart” of London’s Piccadilly Circus, to the chubby little angelic figure used everywhere by artists and cartoonists to connote the passionate affection which might not otherwise be so readily symbolized.

But there is another important element in this imagery, which apparently stems from Cupid’s mythological birth as the child of Venus, the Goddess of Love, and Mars, the God of War. From the Mars side of this ancestry, and the fact that in antiquity – and long after – the chief offensive weapon was the bow and arrow, it was somehow deduced that Cupid himself, with the powers inherited from both parents, fulfills his role by shooting arrows into the hearts of those whom he wishes to attract to each other. Which reminds me of the verse (probably circulated by a haughty and possibly naughty pupil) about the two spinster ladies who were principals of a British girls’ boarding school:

Miss Buss and Miss Beale
Cupid’s darts do not feel – 
How different from us –,
Miss Beale and Miss Buss!

But the heart has, of course, come to have far more than amorous or anatomical meaning in our language and literature. I need only cite a few well-known book titles to illustrate my meaning: Heart of Darkness (an excursion into evil in Africa); The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (not about the heart, but loneliness); Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (not concerned with the heart, or even the knee, but with Native Americans).

In essence, “Heart” is now equated with courage, drive, faith, and one’s deepest feelings. I can’t help remembering (whether I want to or not) that, when Barry Goldwater, a Republican Senator from Arizona, was running for President against Lyndon Johnson, in 1964, his best-known slogan was “IN YOUR HEART, YOU KNOW HE’S RIGHT.” In one place where that slogan was prominently displayed, somebody had added, in equally large letters: “YES – VERY FAR RIGHT.”

But expressions about the heart, in its metaphorical sense, are all over our daily conversation. I hardly need to explain to you the meaning of such references to your coronary organ as: “Eat your heart out”; “Cross my heart”; “Follow your heart”; “To know by heart”; “To lose heart”; “With all my heart.”

Then there are the associations with religion, as in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to be found particularly in many Catholic homes.

But this is a subject which calls for going out with a song. And where could we find a fitting melody? Where else, but “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” 


You might also be interested in...