Web Theoi
AMALTHEIA
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Αμαλθεια Amaltheia Amalthia She who Rears,
Nurse (amaltheuô)
Αιξ Ωλενιος Aix Ôlenios Aex Olenium Goat of the
Lower Arm (ôlenê)

AMALTHEIA was the she-goat (or, according to some, Nymph) nurse of the god Zeus who nourished him with her milk in a cave onMount Ida in Krete. When the god reached maturity he created his thunder-shield (aigis) from her hide and the horn of plenty (keras amaltheias or cornucopia) from her crown.

Amaltheia was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Capra--the group of stars surrounding Capella on the arm (ôlenê) of the Auriga the Charioteer. The goat on the arm no doubt represented the stormy aigis-shield of Zeus which in classical art was sometimes depicted slung across his arm. The rising of Capella marked the onset of stormy weather for the Greeks. Indeed, the word aigis denoted both "stormy weather" and "goat-skin," hence their close connection in myth.

PARENTS
[1.1] KOURETE HAIMONIOS (Apollodorus 2.148, Hyginus Astronomica 2.13)
[1.2] KOURETE OLENOS (Hyginus Astronomica 2.13)
[2.1] HELIOS (Hyginus Astronomica 2.13)
OFFSPRING
[1.1] TWO KIDS (Hyginus Astronomica 2.16)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

AMALTHEIA (Amaltheia). The nurse of the infant Zeus after his birth in Crete. The ancients themselves appear to have been as uncertain about the etymology of the name as about the real nature of Amaltheia. Hesychius derives it from the verb amaltheuein, to nourish or to enrich ; others from amalthaktos, i. c. firm or hard; and others again from amalê and theia, according to which it would signify the divine goat, or the tender goddess. The common derivation is from amelgein, to milk or suck. According to some traditions Amaltheia is the goat who suckled the infant Jove (Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 13; Arat. Phaen. 163; Callim. Hymn. in Jov. 49), and who was afterwards rewarded for this service by being placed among the stars. (Comp. Apollod. i. 1. § 6.) According to another set of traditions Amaltheia was a nymph, and daughter of Oceanus, Helios, Haemonius, or of the Cretan king Melisseus (Schol. ad Hom. II. xxi. 194; Eratosth. Catast. 13; Apollod. ii. 7. § 5; Lactant. Instit. i. 22; Hygin. l. c., and Fab. 139, where he calls the nymph Adamanteia),and is said to have fed Zeus with the milk of a goat. When this goat once broke off one of her horns, the nymph Amaltheia filled it with fresh herbs and fruit and gave it to Zeus, who transplaced it together with the goat among the stars. (Ovid, Fast. v. 115, &c.) According to other accounts Zeus himself broke off one of the horns of the goat Amaltheia, gave it to the daughters of Melisseus, and endowed it with such powers that whenever the possessor wished, it would instantaneously become filled with whatever might be desired. (Apollod. l. c.; Schol. ad Callim. l. c.) This is the story about the origin of the celebrated horn of Amaltheia, commonly called the horn of plenty or cornucopia, which plays such a prominent part in the stories of Greece, and which was used in later times as the symbol of plenty in general. (Strab. x. p. 458, iii. p. 151; Diod. iv. 35.) Diodorus (iii. 68) gives an account of Amaltheia, which differs from all the other traditions. According to him the Libyan king Ammon married Amaltheia, a maiden of extraordinary beauty, and gave her a very fertile tract of land which had the form of a bull's horn, and received from its queen the name of the horn of Amaltheia. This account, however, is only one of the many specimens of a rationalistic interpretation of the ancient mythus. The horn appears to be one of the most ancient and simplest vessels for drinking, and thus we find the story of Amaltheia giving Zeus to drink from a horn represented in an ancient work of art still extant. (Galeria Giustiniani, ii. p. 61.) The horn of plenty was frequently given as an attribute to the representations of Tyche or Fortuna. (Paus. iv. 30. § 4, vii. 26. § 3.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


AMALTHEIA WET-NURSE OF ZEUS

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 4 - 5 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Rhea, when she was heavy with Zeus, went off to Krete and gave birth to him there in a cave on Mount Dikte. She put him in the care of both the Kouretes and the nymphs Adrasteia and Ide, daughters of Melisseus. These Nymphai nursed the baby with the milk of Amaltheia, while the armed Kouretes stood guard over him in the cave, banging their spears against their shields to prevent Kronos from hearing the infant’s voice."

Callimachus, Hymn 1 to Zeus 42 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"When the Nymphe [Neda], carrying thee, O Father Zeus [from Arkadia where he was born to hand over to his protectors and nurses in Krete], toward Knosos . . . But thee, O Zeus, the companions of Kyrbantes took to their arms, even the Diktaian Meliai (Melian Nymphs of Dictys), and Adrasteia [Nemesis] laid thee to rest in a cradle of gold, and thou didst suck the rich teat of the she-goat Amaltheia, and thereto eat the sweet honey-comb."

Aratus, Phaenomena 162 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek astronomical poem C3rd B.C.) :
"The holy Goat (Aix), that, as legend tells, gave the breast to Zeus. Her the interpreters of Zeus call the Olenian Goat."

Strabo, Geography 8. 7. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The story is told that Zeus was nursed by a goat there [Aegion in Akhaia], just as Aratos [3rd B.C. poet] says : `Sacred goat, which, in story, didst hold thy breast o'er Zeus;' and he goes on to say that 'the interpreters call her the Olenian goat of Zeus,' thus clearly indicating that the place is near Olene."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 70. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"The Kouretes bore him [the baby Zeus] off to a certain cave where they gave him over to the Nymphai, with the command that they should minister to his every need And the Nymphai nurtured the child on a mixture of honey and milk and gave him upbringing at the udder of the goat which was named Amaltheia . . . To the goat (aig-) [Amaltheia] which suckled him Zeus also accorded certain honours, and in particular took from it a surname, being called Aigiokhos (Aegis-bearing)."

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 36 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When Rhea, fearing Kronos, hid Zeus in the Kretan cavern, a goat [Amaltheia] offered her udder and gave him nourishment. By the will of Rhea a Golden Dog (Kuon Khryseos) guarded the goat. After Zeus drove out the Titanes and deprived Kronos of power, he changed the goat into an immortal, there is a representation of her among the stars to this day. He ordered the Golden Dog to guard this sacred spot in Krete."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 139 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"After Opis [Rhea] had borne Jove [Zeus] by Saturn [Kronos] . . . Juno [Hera], however, took Jove to the island of Crete, and Amalthea, the child’s nurse, hung him in a cradle from a tree, so that he could be found neither in heaven nor on earth nor in the sea. And lest the cries of the baby be heard, she summoned youths and gave them small brazen shields and spears, and bade them go around the tree making a noise. In Greek they are called Curetes."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 13 :
"On his [the constellation Auriga] the goat Capra stands, and in his left hand the Kids seem to be placed. They tell this story about him. A certain Olenus, son of Vulcanus [Hephaistos], had two daughters, the nymphae Aex and Helice, who were nurses of Jove [Zeus]. Others have said that certain cities were named from them--Olenus in Aulis, Helice in the Peloponneus, and Aex in Haemonia--about which Homer writes in the second book of the Iliad.
But Parmeniscus say that a certain Melisseus was king in Crete, and to his daughters Jove [Zeus] was brought to nurse. Since they did not have milk, they furnished him a she-goat, Amalthea by name, who is said to have reared him. She often bore twin kids, and at the very time that Jove was brought to her to nurse, had borne a pair. And so because of the kindness of the mother, the kids, too were placed among the constellations. Cleostratus of Tenedos [astronomer C5th B.C.] is said to have first pointed out these kids among the stars.
But Musaeus says Jove was nursed by Themis and the nympha Amalthea, to whom he was given by Ops [Rhea], his mother. Now Amalthea had as a pet a certain goat which is said to have nursed Jove.
Some have called Aex [a Gorgon] the daughter of Sol [Helios], who surpassed many in beauty of body, but in contrast to this beauty, had a most horrible face. Terrified by it, the Titanes begged Terra [Gaia] to hide her body, and Terra is said to have hidden her in a cave in the island of Crete. Later she became nurse of Jove [Zeus], as we have said before. But when Jupiter [Zeus], confident in his youth, was preparing for war against the Titanes, oracular reply was given to him that if he wished to win, he should carry on the war protected with the skin of a goat, aigos, and the head of the Gorgon. The Greeks call this the aegis. When this was done, as we have shown above, Jupiter, overcoming the Titanes, gained possession of the kingdom. Covering the remaining bones of the goat with a skin, he gave life to them and memorialised them, picturing them with stars. Afterwards he gave to Minerva [Athena] the aegis with which he had been protected."

Ovid, Fasti 5. 111 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"On the first night I can see the star that serviced Jupiter’s [Zeus’] cradle. The rainy sign of Olenian Capella is born. Heaven is her reward for giving milk. Naiad Amalthea, famous on Cretan Ida, hid Jupiter, it is said, in the forest. She possessed the lovely mother of two young goats, a glorious sight among Dicte’s flocks, with soaring horns curled round her back and an udder suitable for the nurse of Jupiter. She gave the god milk, but snapped her horn on a tree and was severed from half her loveliness. The Nympha picked the horn up, ringed it with fresh herbs, and took it fruit-filled to Jupiter’s lips. When he controlled the sky and sat on his father’s throne and nothing surpasses unconquered Jove, he made stars of the nurse and the nurse’s fruitful horn, which bears even now its mistress’ name."

Ovid, Fasti 3. 439 ff :
"A she-goat stands there [in the shrine of young Jove at Rome], too : the Cretan Nymphae, they say, fed Jove [Zeus] and the goat gave the infant milk."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 27. 290 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"He [Pan] once was mountain-ranging shepherd of the goat Amaltheia my [Zeus's] nurse, who gave me milk; save him."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 28. 312 ff :
"A little cave once was the home of Zeus, where the sacred goat [Amaltheia] played the nurse to him with her milky udder for a makeshift, and cleverly let him suck the strange milk, when the noise of shaken shields [of the guardian Kouretes] resounded beaten on the back with tumbling steel to hide the little child with their clanging. Their help allowed Rheia to wrap up that stone of deceit, and gave it to Kronos for a meal in place of Kronides [Zeus]."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 46. 14 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The cave in the rock of Dikte with its flashing helmets, ask the Korybantes [Kouretes] too, where little Zeus used to play, when he sucked the nourishing pap of goat Amaltheia and grew strong in spirit, but never drank Rheia’s milk."

Suidas s.v. Amaltheias keras (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Amaltheia was the nurse of Zeus, [her name deriving] from malassesthai, 'to be softened.'"


THE HIDE OF AMALTHEIA : THE AIGIS

Amaltheia was sometimes equated with the elder Gorgon of the Titanomakhia, from whose hide Zeus was said to have crafted the aigis ("storm-shield").

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 13 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Some have called Aex [a Gorgon] the daughter of Sol [Helios], who surpassed many in beauty of body, but in contrast to this beauty, had a most horrible face . . . But when Jupiter [Zeus], confident in his youth, was preparing for war against the Titanes, oracular reply was given to him that if he wished to win, he should carry on the war protected with the skin of a goat, aigos, and the head of the Gorgon. The Greeks call this the aegis. When this was done, as we have shown above, Jupiter, overcoming the Titanes, gained possession of the kingdom . . . Afterwards he gave to Minerva [Athena] the aegis with which he had been protected."


THE HORN OF AMALTHEIA : THE CORNUCOPIA

The cornucopia or horn of plenty, said to have been created from the horn of the goat Amaltheia, was an icon commonly associated with the gods Ploutos, Haides, Eirene and Tykhe.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 148 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[The river-god] Akhelous retrieved his horn [lost to Herakles in a wrestling-match] by trading Herakles the horn of Amaltheia for it. Amaltheia, a daughter of Haimonios, had the horn of a bull, which, according to Pherecydes [Greek mythographer C5th B.C.], could provide bounteous amounts of food or drink, whichever one wished for."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 35. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Herakles joined battle with Akheloos, the river assuming the form of a bull, and as breaking off in the struggle one of his horns, which he gave to the Aitolians. This they call the ‘Horn of Amaltheia,’ and represent it as filled with a great quantity of every kind of autumn fruit such as grapes and apples and the like, the poets signifying in this obscure manner by the horn of Akheloos the stream which ran through the canal, and by the apples and pomegranates and grapes the fruitful land which was watered by the river and the multitude of its fruit-bearing plants."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 25. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Here [in Elis] Sosipolis too is worshipped in a small shrine on the left of the sanctuary of Tykhe (Fortune). The god is painted according to his appearance in a dream: in age a boy, wrapped in a star-spangled robe, and in one hand holding the horn of Amaltheia."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 26. 8 :
"I remember observing at Aigeira [in Akhaia] a building in which was an image of Tykhe (Fortune) carrying the horn of Amaltheia."

Ovid, Fasti 5. 111 (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"She [the goat nurse of Zeus] gave the god milk, but snapped her horn on a tree and was severed from half her loveliness. The Nympha picked the horn up, ringed it with fresh herbs, and took it fruit-filled to Jupiter’s lips. When he controlled the sky . . . he made stars of the nurse and the nurse’s fruitful horn, which bears even now its mistress’ name [Amaltheia]."

Ovid, Fasti 3. 439 ff :
"A she-goat stands there [in the shrine of young Jove at Rome], too: the Cretan Nymphae, they say, fed Jove [Zeus] and the goat gave the infant milk." - Ovid, Fasti 3.439

Suidas s.v. Amaltheias keras (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Amaltheias keras (Horn of Amaltheia) : [Applied] to those who are living in plenty and steering a straight course and are flourishing. In Myths : `there where life for me is a horn of the goat Amaltheia.' For Amaltheia was the nurse of Zeus, [her name deriving] from malassesthai, 'to be softened.'"


AMALTHEIA & THE CONSTELLATION CAPRA

Aratus, Phaenomena 162 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek astronomical poem C3rd B.C.) :
"The holy [constellation} Goat (Aix), that, as legend tells, gave the breast to Zeus. Her the interpreters of Zeus call the Olenian Goat. Large is she and bright."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 13. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"On the market-place [of Phlios in Sikyonia] is a votive offering, a bronze she-goat for the most part covered with gold. The following is the reason why it has received honours among the Phliasians. The constellation which they call the Goat on its rising causes continual damage to the vines. In order that they may suffer nothing unpleasant from it, the Phliasians pay honours to the bronze goat on the market-place and adorn the image with gold."

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 36 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Zeus] changed the goat [his nurse] into an immortal, there is a representation of her among the stars to this day."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 13 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"On his [the constellation Charioteer] the goat Capra stands, and in his left hand the Kids seem to be placed. They tell this story about him . . . Parmeniscus say that . . . [Zeus was fed the milk of a] she-goat, Amalthea by name, who is said to have reared him. She often bore twin kids, and at the very time that Jove was brought to her to nurse, had borne a pair. And so because of the kindness of the mother, the kids, too were placed among the constellations. Cleostratus of Tenedos [astronomer C5th B.C.] is said to have first pointed out these kids among the stars. But Musaeus says . . . [Zeus made his aigis out of the skin of the goat and later] covering the remaining bones of the goat with a skin, he gave life to them and memorialised them, picturing them with stars."

Ovid, Fasti 5. 111 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"On the first night I can see the star that serviced Jupiter’s [Zeus’] cradle. The rainy sign of Olenian Capella is born. Heaven is her reward for giving milk . . . When he controlled the sky and sat on his father’s throne . . . he made stars of the nurse."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 23. 280 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Okeanos threatens to divert his streams through heaven :] I will swallow the shining Goat, the nurse of Zeus."

Suidas s.v. Aiges (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Aiges (Goats) : Large waves, in the common tongue. Also epaigizo (I goat up), in place of 'I blow forcefully.' When the star of the goat shines the winds blow forcefully, hence the [phrase], 'wild, goating up.'"


Sources:

  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Callimachus, Hymns - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Aratus, Phaenomena - Greek Astronomy C3rd B.C.
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
  • Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
  • Suidas - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.