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Amalthea in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 1, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

In Greek mythology Amalthea was a vital figure in the story of Zeus; she was though, not a goddess, but a foster mother of the supreme deity.

The birth of Zeus is a tale with many different versions and over the years much effort has been put in, in an attempt to reconcile these stories. This reconciliation of tales though still leaves some doubt as to whether Amalthea was a she-goat, or a nymph who owned a goat.

When Zeus was born Rhea hid him away on Crete to avoid Cronus imprisoning the newborn within his stomach. The hiding place for Zeus was either in the Dictaeon Cave on Mount Dikti, or the Idaean Cave on Mount Ida.

Rhea after giving birth to her sixth child would have to return to her husband’s side in order to avoid any suspicion of her deception; and she would have to provide Cronus was a clothed stone in place of Zeus. Care of Zeus therefore was passed into the care of the nymphs Adrasteia, Ide and Amalthea.

Amalthea - the Nymph or the Goat?

Louvre Museum - Pierre Julien (1731–1804) Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006)  Released into PD
Louvre Museum - Pierre Julien (1731–1804) Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006) Released into PD | Source

Amalthea - Nymph or Goat?

As previously mentioned, it is not quite clear whether Amalthea was a third nymph, or whether she was a goat milked by Adrasteia and Ide to help feed Zeus.

As a nymph, Amalthea was named variously as a daughter of Oceanus, therefore an Oceanid, or as a sister to Adrasteia and Ide, and therefore a daughter of Melissues, the leader of the Kuretes (Korybantes).

The nine Kuretes would help hide the noise of the newborn Zeus from Cronus by drumming and dancing in their armour.

As a nymph, Amalthea is generally considered to be synonymous with another named foster-mother of Zeus, Adamanthea. Also, as a nymph, Amalthea was also the owner of a pet goat, who Zeus would feed upon.

Equally though, Amalthea might have been the name of the goat.

The Nurturing of Zeus

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) PD-art-100
Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) PD-art-100 | Source

The Cornucopia

Rubens, Sir Peter Paul (1577 - 1640) Pd-art-100
Rubens, Sir Peter Paul (1577 - 1640) Pd-art-100 | Source

Interconnecting Stories of Amalthea

No matter whether Amalthea was nymph or goat, she did a good job in raising Zeus to maturity, for eventually the god would be strong enough to leave Crete and eventually bring forth the downfall of Cronus.

Afterwards Amalthea was not forgotten.

Cornucopia

In some stories of Ancient Greece the Cornucopia, or the Horn of Plenty, was created from the goat that had nourished Zeus. The young god was said to have broken off the horn, and subsequently imbued it with the ability to bring forth everlasting nourishment.

An alternate version of the story of the Cornucopia, sees the horn being that of the river god Achelous, a horn broken off during a fight with Heracles.

The Aegis of Zeus

The hide of Amalthea, or Amalthea’s goat was also used by Zeus, for the god turned into his protective Aegis, a shield, that Zeus made use of in the Titanomachy.

Again there is an alternate tale that says the Aegis of Zeus came from the skin of the original Gorgon Aix, a monstrous figure killed by Zeus.

Amalthea Placed in the Stars

In recognition for the service provided by Amalthea, Zeus would place amongst the stars the constellation Capra, the she-goat.

Again, in Ancient Greece Capra was also associated with the Gorgon Aix, as well as a nymph called Aix, who was the wife of Pan.

Comments

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  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Many thanks for reading, I too love Greek mythology, its entertaining and intriguing.

  • torrilynn profile image

    torrilynn 

    3 years ago

    I absolutely love Greek mythology. I find it to be romantic and very tragic at the same time. thanks for the hub.

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