Myths of Fertility 3/12/2012 8:32:00 PM
o Female power also drove the continual pattern of renewal seen in plant
and animal life Fertility of the soil, the reproductive capacities of wild
animals, and sexual attraction between men and women with divine
beings who were female.
o Artemis controlled the fertility of wild animals
o Aphrodite presided over human sexuality
o Hera protected marriage and the family8
o Demeter is the goddess of grain and rich harvest (mother goddess)
(daughter Persephone) (Homeric Hymns about her)
Demeter and Persephone
o Demeter: meter = mother, de = ?. Rhea’s daughter. Zeus’s consort
o Persephone: no clear meaning, often called Kore (daughter/girl)
unmarried virgin. Zeus’s daughter
o Story was anciently interpreted as an agricultural allegory. Hades was
identified as the earth and Persephone as grain buried in the earth. Her
return from the underworld meant the growth of new wheat.
o Persephone’s fate resembles that of Greek girls who at 14 were married
to war-hardened men twice their age, whom they scarcely knew. When a
Greek girl died unmarried she is said to be Hades bride and a wedding
vase was placed over her grave.
o Demeters experience exemplifies the real-life experience of a Greek
mother who must give up their daughters to a stranger and feel grief.
o Myth explains why the fertility of the earth cannot be separated from the
inevitable presence of death. There can never be a world in which there is
only life and never death because life comes out of death.
The Eleusinian Mysteries
Eleusinian Mysteries = most famous religious cult, founding talked about
in Homeric Hymns.
Greek word mystery = one who closes
The Mysteries promoted the growth of grain. Two families in charge:
Eumolpus – received them from Demeter
Kerykes – heralds, decendants of Eumolpus.
The high priest was always an Eumolpid was called the hierophat Inanna & Dumuzi
o The cycle of life, death, and renewal is embodied in Inanna, who is both
the fertile female, goddess of life, and the sister of Ereshkigal (goddess of
o Inanna’s descent to the underworls is her death and the end of fertility on
earth. But enewed life can be purchased only at the price of another;s
Isis and Osiris
o Iris = throne. Greatest goddess of Egypt.
o Osiris is Iris’s husband and brother
o Greek writer Plutarch: Rhea, pregnant by Cronus, gave birth to 5 children
(Osiris, Isis, Nut, Geb, & Typhoeus. Osiris & Isis united in love while in
the womb. Then married her and became King of Egypt. Osiris abolished
cannibalism, established laws, and showed the people how to grow crops.
While Isis taught women how to spin and persuaded the men advantages
of married life.
o Osiris then set out to travel the world leaving Egypt for Isis to rule. Evil
Typhoeus enlisted 72 people in a plot to kill him and he measured Osiris’s
body and made a box. At a party the one who could perfectly fit in the
box could keep it and only Osiris fit so they slammed him inside and
threw the box in the Nile. Washed up beside a tamarik tree which grew
around it. . King ordered the tree cut to take into his palace and the coffin
was taken with it.
o Isis went around looking and pretended to be a maid and became the
nanny for the queen. She cared for the little boy and put him in fire at
night to destroy his mortal parts and the queen saw. Isis then demanded
the pillar with the coffin in it. She inserted his penis in herself. Then Isis
hid the coffin in Egypt but Typhoeus found it and tore the corpse into 14
pieces and scattered them all around the country. Isis built a temple for
Osiris wherever she found a piece. Osiris arose from the underworld to
prepare his son, the hawk god Horus, to battle with Typhoeus to revenge
his murder. Horus delivered him in chains to Isis. Isis let him loose and
Horus got angry and ripped off her royal crown and replaced it with a
crown helmet. Although dead, Osiris impregnated Isis (Horus the child) o This myth explains why there are so many Osiris temples and why there
are two gods with the name Horus.
Cybele and Attis
o Cybele = goddess of fertility, she can heal disease, give protection.
Goddess of mountains and a mistress of wild nature. “Magna Mater” =
o Arnobius (Christian writer): Cybele was born from a great rock in Phrygia.
Zeus lusted over her. She resisted but he spilled his seed on the rock,
which became pregnant. The rock bore a son, Agdestis (great strength &
o Dionysus, god of wine/life force, tied up Agdestis’s gentials and they
ripped off and bled onto the earth and grew a pomegranate tree.
o Nana, daughter of Sangarius, plucked a pomegranate, slipped the fruit
into her dress and found herself pregnant. Her father full of disgrace
locked her up to starve. But Cybele, the great mother, kept her alive with
fruit and grain. Nana gave birth to Attis.
o King Midas arranged for Attis to marry his daughter and Agdestis ruined
the weddings guests. Angry Attis ripped off his genitals.
Aphrodite and Adonis
o Myrra, pregnant by her father, was turned into a myrrh tree. 9 months
later the tree split open and Adonis emerged. Aphrodite saw him and fell
in love with him. He bled to death from hunting accident. OVID
o In each story someone dies. Persephone and Demeter explains the cycle
of vegetable growth as inevitable in the nature of things. The giving of
Persephone to Hades, her sacrifice, creates the seasonal pattern of the
growth and harvest of the life-nurturing grain.
o Story of Dumuzi and Inanna is of sacrifice, only way to bring her back
from the dead is sacrifice. Cybele and Attis: first semen falls on the rock,
a monster arises, whose blood soaks the earth, then springs a tree with a
bloody fruit that impregnates a girl who births a boy who at his own
weddings rips out his genitals. His head body nourishes a plant. In this
story semen = blood = bloody seeds = a child = plant life o Story of Aphrodite and Adonis explains the widespread religious practice
of mouring the “lord” (Adonis) in the form of seeds planted in a shallow
o All these stories the earth goddess represents the permanent fertility of
the world. Male are temporary disposable but renewable through the
power of the earth-goddess. Everywhere are the symbol of blood (the
fluid of life/male) and plants (growth from the fructified earth)
o Mother daughter story comes from a time before the relationship between
sexual intercourse and reproduction was clearly understood. Myths of Fertility: DIONYSUS Chapter 10
o Dionysus: god of wine, the life force
o Displaced Hestia to become one of the 12 Olympians
o Dionysus taught the art of turning the juice of grapes into wink, their
o Dionysus = the male principle of fertility
o Dionysus wore a leopard skin, and panthers pulled his chariot. The
phallus and the h