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Agdistis

Agdistis

Agdistis: see Attis; Cybele.
Agdistis (Gr. Ἀγδίστις) was a deity of Greek, Roman and Anatolian mythology, possessing both male and female sexual organs, con­nected with the Phrygian worship of Attis and Cybele. Her androgyny was seen as symbolic of a wild, uncontrolled nature and, as a trait threatening to the gods, was condemned and destroyed by them.

Mythography

According to Pausanias, on one occasion Zeus unwittingly begot by the Earth a superhuman being which was at once man and woman, and was called Agdistis. In other versions, there was a rock, called "Agdo", on which the Great Mother slept. Zeus couldn't get the Great Mother pregnant, so he impregnated the rock, which brought forth Agdistis.

The gods were afraid of the multi-gendered Agdistis. One deity (in some versions Liber, in others Dionysus) put a sleeping draught in Agdistis's drinking well. After the potion had put Agdistis to sleep, the deity tied his foot to his male genitalia (αἰδοῖα) with a strong rope. When he awoke and tried to free himself, Agdistis ripped his penis off, castrating himself. The blood from his severed genitals fertilized the earth, and from that spot grew an almond tree. Once when Nana, daughter of the river-god Sangarius, was gathering the fruit of this tree, she put some almonds (or, in some accounts, a pomegranate) into her bosom; but here the almonds disappeared, and she became pregnant with Attis. In some versions, Attis was born directly out of the almond.

Attis was of such extraordinary beauty that when he had grown up Agdistis fell in love with him. His relatives, however, destined him to become the husband of the daughter of the king of Pessinus, and he went accordingly. In some versions, the king betroths Attis to his daughter to punish Attis for his incestuous relationship with his mother. At the moment when the marriage song had commenced, Agdistis appeared, and all of the wedding guests were instantly driven mad, and both Attis and the king of Pessinus castrated themselves. Agdistis now repented her deed, and obtained from Zeus the promise that the body of Attis should not become decomposed or disappear. This is the most po­pular account of an otherwise mysterious affair, which is probably part of a symbolical worship of the creative powers of nature. A hill of the name of Agdistis in Phrygia, at the foot of which Attis was believed to be buried, is also mentioned by Pausa­nias.

A story somewhat different is given by Arnobius, in which Attis is beloved by both Agdistis and Cybele.

The cult of Agdistis

According to Hesychius and Strabo, Agdistis is the same as Cybele, who was worshiped at Pessinus under that name. In many ancient inscriptions, Agdestis is clearly distinct from Cybele, but in many others she is listed as merely an epithet of Cybele.

Although a primarily an Anatolian goddess, the cult of Agdistis covered a good deal of territory. By 250 BC it had spread to Egypt, and later to Attica: notably it could be found in Piraeus as early as the 3rd or 4th century BC, Rhamnus around 80 BC (where there was a sanctuary of Agdistis), and Lesbos and Panticapeum some time later on. Inscriptions honoring her have been found at Mithymna and Paros. In the 1st century BC, her shrine in Philadelphia in Asia Minor required a strict code of behavior. At that location and others she is found with theoi soteres. Inscriptions found at Sardis from the 4th century BC indicate that priests of Zeus were not permitted to take part in the mysteries of Agdistis.

Scholars have theorized that Agdistis is part of a continuum of androgynous Anatolian deities, including an ancient Phrygian deity probably named "Andistis" and one called "Adamma", stretching all the way back to the ancient kingdom of Kizzuwatna in the 2nd millennium BC. There is also some epigraphic evidence that in places Agdistis was considered a healing goddess of wholly benevolent nature.

References

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