Friday, July 10, 2020

The cornucopia in Greco-Roman mythology

Bronze repoussé relief  from a hydria (water jar), fragments of which were found with the relief 325-300 BCE from Chalke, near Rhodes. Dionysos holds a cornucopia as an offering to Ariadne of prosperity and abundance while Ariadne signals her acceptance by holding back her veil. Photographed at the British Museum.
Mythology offers multiple explanations of the origin of the cornucopia. One of the best-known involves the birth and nurturance of the infant Zeus, who had to be hidden from his devouring father Cronus. In a cave on Mount Ida on the island of Crete, baby Zeus was cared for and protected by a number of divine attendants, including the goat Amaltheia ("Nourishing Goddess"), who fed him with her milk. The suckling future king of the gods had unusual abilities and strength, and in playing with his nursemaid accidentally broke off one of her horns, which then had the divine power to provide unending nourishment, as the foster mother had to the god.

In another myth, the cornucopia was created when Heracles (Roman Hercules) wrestled with the river god Achelous and ripped off one of his horns (river gods were sometimes depicted as horned).

The cornucopia became the attribute of several Greek and Roman deities, particularly those associated with the harvest, prosperity, or spiritual abundance, such as personifications of Earth (Gaia or Terra), the child Plutus, god of riches and son of the grain goddess Demeter, the nymph Maia, and Fortuna, the goddess of luck, who had the power to grant prosperity. In Roman Imperial cult, abstract Roman deities who fostered peace (pax Romana) and prosperity were also depicted with a cornucopia, including Abundantia, "Abundance" personified, and Annona, goddess of the grain supply to the city of Rome. Even Hades, the classical ruler of the underworld in the mystery religions, was a giver of agricultural, mineral and spiritual wealth, and in art often holds a cornucopia.

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