Today we look at the claim that wedding rings are worn on the left ring finger because it is the only finger which has a vein that connects directly to the heart.
It’s a myth.
Every finger (and every toe) connects to the series arteries and veins leading to and from the heart. The name Vena amoris goes back centuries, but the concept of a vein (or nerve) connecting the heart to a single finger goes back to ancient Egypt.
In a 1917 book on the history of rings, author George Frederick Kunz cites the betrothal of Lucrezia Borgia (daughter of Pope Alexander VI) in 1493:
“…twin gold rings set with precious stones were given, one to be put on the fourth finger of the finacee’s left hand, ‘whose vein leads to the heart’ as the record specifies…”
Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, usually referred to simply as Macrobius, was a Roman writer popular around the turn of the 5th century. In book VII of his Saturnalia, he wrote of a nerve connecting the heart to the ring finger, a belief which apparently originated from Egypt:
De hac ipsa quaestione sermo quidam ad nos ab Aegypto venerat, de quo dubitabam fabulamne an veram rationem vocarem: sed libris anatomicorum postea consultis verum repperi, nervum quendam de corde natum priorsum pergere usque ad digitum manus sinistrae minimo proximum, et illic desinere inplicatum ceteris eiusdem digiti nervis, et ideo visum veteribus ut ille digitus anula tamquam corona circumdaretur.
A poorly-translated version reads:
“…From this very question to a discussion we had come from Egypt, of which I was doubtful whether the true nature fabulamne? call, but after consultation with the anatomy books but I found the nerve to go up to the finger of the left hand born from the heart of a small neighbor, and stop there twisted the fingers of the same ailment, and he was seen as old as the ring finger around the crown.”
(We’d appreciate a better translation of this passage if any of our readers are familiar with Latin!)
This is an ancient myth which found its way into modern culture. Such myths of a vein or nerve directly connecting a single finger to the heart pre-dated modern understanding of the circulatory system.
- Rings for the finger (George Frederick Kunz, JB Lippincott company, 1917)
- Vena amoris (Wikipedia)
- Macrobius: The Saturnalia