In ancient Greece, the pomegranate has been one of the iconographic attributes of some female deities such as Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite and Hera.

They are different deities, yet they have one thing in common: they are considered responsible for the fertility of people, animals and the abundance of the harvest. Analyzing the presence of pomegranate in depictions of the goddess Hera, it has been remarked that some Christian symbol and images have been inherited from the pre-existing pagan cult and that some rites and traditions of today, concerning the fruit, have rather ancient roots.

Pomegranate Hera
Pomegranate Hera

The goddess Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, Queen of the Olympus, was worshipped as the divinity of marriage and marital fidelity; she was always depicted solemn-looking, usually sitting on her throne. The most common attributes that can be inferred from the representations of the goddess are the polos (headdress), the opium poppy and pomegranate, a symbol of abundance and fertility.

Excavations in Heraion (place of worship dedicated to the goddess) of Samos revealed the presence of a large number of bronze and terracotta pomegranates, some of which pierced in the corolla to be hung like votive fruit. Near the Heraion, at the mouth of the river Sele, not far from the archaeological site of Paestum, they found a marble statue that depicts Hera on a throne with the pomegranate in her hand. The cult of Hera survived a long time in this area and was reworked by the new doctrine: it is no coincidence that iconography of the “Madonna del Granato” started from the Paestum area, where the ancient pagan symbol of the pomegranate would announce the martyrdom just as fruitful rich fruit seeds.

Photo credits: Anton Raphael Mengs

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