This chaste and charming engraving does not do justice to what is widely regarded as the most beautiful and the most erotic poem in world literature: the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) from the Old Testament of the Bible. Its beauty comes from the genius of the poet, who might have been King Solomon. Its eroticism comes from treating the garden as a locale for sex and a metaphor for the female genitalia. Exploration of these themes has delighted generations of scholars and produced a vast literature. Here, in the King James version, is the section of most interest to gardeners:
12 A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse;
a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
13 Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits;
camphire, with spikenard,
14 spikenard and saffron;
calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense;
myrrh and aloes,
with all the chief spices:
15 a fountain of gardens,
a well of living waters,
and streams from Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind;
and come, thou south;
blow upon my garden,
that the spices thereof may flow out.
Let my beloved come into his garden,
and eat his pleasant fruits.
The influence of these famous lines on garden design has been profound. In Europe this came about through the Roman de la Rose and its influence on the design of enclosed gardens. The Song of Songs is also likely to have influenced the Qu’ranic account of the delights awaiting the faithful in paradise, which are far from chaste.