Αγδιστις

The legend of Agdistis is an eastern tale, coming originally from Pessinus, the country of Cybele the Great Mother of the Gods, and recorded for us by Pausanias. It begins with Zeus having a dream, in the course of which he spilt some semen on the earth which begot a hermaphrodite being balled Agdistis. The other gods seized Agdistis and castrated him, and from his penis sprang an almond tree. The daughter of the river-god Sangarius picked one almond from the tree and placed it in her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a male child called Attis whom she abandoned in the open. He was cared for and fed by a goat. He grew and became so beautiful that Agdistis (who by that time had become purely female) fell in love with him. To hide him from her advances Attis was sent to Passinus to marry the king's daughter. The marriage hymn had already been sung when Agdistis appeared whereupon Attis went mad and castrated himself, then the king of Pessinus did the same. Agdistis was so grieved that she was granted as a favour that the body of Attis, who had died of his wound, should remain incorruptible.

Another version of the story has it that on the borders of Phrygia there was an uninhabited cliff called Agdos where Cybele was worshipped in the form of a stone. Zeus, who loved her, tried vainly to marry her but since he could not do so he let some of his semen fall on a nearby rock. This in time begot Agdistis, a hermaphrodite, whom Dionysus made drunk and castrated. From his blood grew a pomegranate tree, from which Nana, the daughter of the god Sangarius, inserted one of the fruits in her womb and became pregnant. This was how Attis came to be born. Sangarius bade her abandon the infant. He was gathered up by some passers-by and reared on honey and billy-goat's milk (sic), from which he was called Attis, which in Phrygian means either he-goat (attagus) or beautiful.

During an argument between Cybele and Agdistis, Attis (who had grown very handsome and to whom Midas king of Pessinus determined to marry his daughter) and his attendants were struck with such madness that Attis castrated himself beneath a pine tree, and died. Cybele buried his body but from the blood which had fallen from his wounds violets grew all round the pine tree. Midas' daughter killed herself in her despair and violets grew from her blood too. Cybele buried her as well and an almond tree grew up over her tomb. Zeus, moved by Agdistis' pleading, granted that Attis' body should remain incorruptible, his hair should continue to grow and his little finger should move. Agdistis then took the corpse to Pessinus, where he buried it and founded a community of priests and a festival in Attis' honour.

{E2 DICTIONARY OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY}

Table of Sources:
- Paus. 7, 17, 9ff.; 1, 4, 5
- Arnobius, Adv. Nat. 5, 5; 5, 12f.
- See also Attis; Cybele.

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