The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

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Where Does the Heart Shape Come From?

We’ve all seen the iconic Valentine’s heart shape—whether it be in an emoji, decorations, or chocolates. But if you’ve ever seen anatomical diagrams of a human heart, there’s not really any visible correlation between the two. And like senior Ryan Lin said, “Sending a emoji doesn’t really have the same message as a ♥️.” So then, how did we end up with this iconic motif?

One of the popular accounts of the shape’s history dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In a Greek city called Cyrene, the trade of a plant called silphium was one of their main sources of income. This silphium plant had seed pods shaped similar to the heart shape we have today, and it was used as a symbol due to its economic relevance. This eventually led to some of the first records of the heart shape in history, as a silphium design imprinted into Cyrenean coins.

Another explanation for the heart shape is based on the descriptions of anatomy by Galen and Aristotle. Supposedly, in the Middle Ages, scientists and artists would reference Aristotle for his descriptions of what a human heart looks like: three chambers with a small dent in the middle. Some people, like Sam Li, say that “They really don’t look all that different. It’s about as simplified as a face is to an emoji of a face”.Aristotle and many other ancient philosophers also associated the heart with passion and emotions, namely love. Thus, the symbol became associated with love and romance, and was eventually popularized through the Renaissance. This would lead to clear illustrations of the “modern day” heart from as early as 1344.

Despite historical evidence, like the illustration on the left from around 1500, it is still believed by some that the modern-day heart design didn’t come until the 17th century. Specifically, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, created by Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque. According to the Catholic Church, this symbol appeared to Saint Margaret Mary in a vision and has since been connected with love and devotion, leading to stained glass windows and other religious illustrations. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches, decorations and gift preparations bring about an abundance of heart-shaped things in almost every capacity. “I counted at least 30 heart cut-outs when I went to Target,” my cousin complained to me. Its widespread use makes it easy to forget that it has a historical background. But regardless of whichever account is true, the heart still remains a symbol of love today, and likely won’t change anytime soon. After all, it’s way too much work to draw multiple anatomical hearts for your Valentine’s Day card.

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