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Many are those that focus on female divinities, leaving male divinities in the shadows if they get mentioned at all. This is a shame. Here I will share my thoughts, stories and prayers on male divinities.

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Zeus-Ammon: Appropriation or Syncretisation?

Appropriation or syncretisation?  Or maybe just the evolution in understanding?  You decide.

Zeus is the Greek king of the gods, the god of sky and weather who fertilizes the fields and protects the home.  He is the god of law, order and fate.  He was typically depicted as a mature, regal man with a beard.  Typical symbols associated with him:  lightning bolt, eagle, ram, bull, snake, cornucopia and scepter.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Zeus_Altemps_Inv8635.jpg

Now Egyptian mythology isn’t nearly so straight forward.  As far as I can tell, Amun was originally a primordial god of wind and air whose name means “hidden one”.  Eventually he became associated with the sun and called Amun-Re which made him both hidden and visible.  Amun-Re is typically depicted as a ram, a man with a ram’s head or a man with a beard and feathered crown.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Granite_ram_of_Amun_with_King_Taharqa_-_British_Museum.jpg

Zeus-Ammon is typically described as a syncretic deity, a combination of Zeus and Amun.  It appears that the worship of Zeus-Ammon began when some Greek colonists from Kyrene visited the oracle-shrine of Amun in desert of Siwa.  These colonists recognized the similarity to Zeus (whose oracle in Dodona was reported to have been started by some “doves” from this oracle) and called him “sandy” Zeus or Zeus-Ammon.  Ah the ancients…ever in love with puns. 

Another etymology of the name Ammon is from the Egyptian word amoni which signifies a shepherd or the action of feeding.  This makes him into a potnios theron or master of animals.  As a ram is to his flock, a leader and a protector, so the god is to his devotees.  It signifies his command over natural forces and his ability to guaranty prosperity of his devotees.  The tales say this was done either by sending a ram to guiding them or by giving oracles to guide their actions.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Zeus_Ammon_Louvre_MNB316.jpg

In the 6th century BCE, the people of Kyrene struck coins with his image and built him a temple that was said to be comparable in size to the temple of Zeus at Olympia.  During this time the oracle was gaining an international reputation.  There were dedications to him at Delphi and Olympia.  Pindar, the Greek poet was the first Greek to dedicate an hymn and build a statue to this god.  He was also commissioned by Kyrene athletes to compose victory odes to honor Zeus-Ammon.  The god was said to hold the Spartans in high regard and had temples in Sparta and its port town of Gythion.  Athens was familiar with him to the extent of sending gold to Siwa on behalf of its citizens.  The new Platonists perceived Ammon as the creator and preserver of the world.

Zeus-Ammon was portrayed in various ways:  as a ram headed deity, a human-headed deity with the horns of a ram, seated on a throne flanked by standing rams, dressed in an ram-skin cloak tied at the chest, carrying a cornucopia (a symbol of fertility), as a rustic shepherd caring for a lamb, and as a master of animals.  He was seen as a benevolent god who bestows good fortune upon his pious devotees.  Not unlike a certain “Good Shepherd” that modern day Christians praise. 

Appropriation or syncretisation?  Or maybe just a common cultural point of reference?  I do not know but I find the parallel interesting.

 

 

Some of the works used in writing this blog: 

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DA%3Aentry+group%3D19%3Aentry%3Dammon-bio-1

“From Siwa to Cyprus:  The Assimilation of Zeus Ammon in the Cypriote Pantheon” by Derek B. Counts

“Ancient Greek Cults:  A Guide” by Jennifer Lynn Larson

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I am a Hellenic Pagan, dedicated to Zeus, living in the Colorado mountains with my husband, our son, two cats and a yellow lab.  In the little bit of free time that I have, I enjoy reading and crafting.
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Comments

  • Freeman Presson
    Freeman Presson Monday, 01 July 2013

    Zeus had hundreds of epithets, a good number of which represented other deities with which he had been syncretized. The Romans were even more flagrant. One of my favorites is the pedigree of Jupiter Dolichenus (which just means "the Jupiter of the Dolichenes," a people in Asia Minor). The cult of Jupiter Dolichenus had been carried by at least one legion to the North of Britain, where a shrine was recently found in a fort along Hadrian's Wall.

    One historian supplied a gloss on the name of that God: "The local people's name for Him is Hadad." So there we have the Sumerian Adad, carried into various other places in the Near East as Adad, Hadad, or Ba'al-Hadad, and becoming the patron of a Roman legion, huddled behind a famous wall, griping about the weather and the sneaky ways of the Picts.

    [Sorry I didn't retain my references on this; I read it before I started using a webclipper.]

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    oh yes, as a devotee and editor to a devotional in his name, I'm well aware of his many epithets. I've counted over 175 of his non-geographical epithets. It makes for an interesting area of study. :)

  • Samantha Lahlali
    Samantha Lahlali Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    Interesting Zeus-Ammon has a great deal in common with Apollon Karneios in appearance (who was a Doric deity and a god brought to Kyrene by the Doric settlers). I have always found the iconic similarities between the mature Zeus-Ammon and the youthful Apollon Karneios to be very striking (images of Alexander horned similarly are also easy to confuse with these images of Apollon).
    Now Diodoros Siculus when speaking of Libya says that Ammon (which in his text is quite different from the Egyptian Amun) was a husband of Rhea. When Rhea bore Zeus to Cronos, Ammon treated him as his own son and reared him as his hier. Eventually Rhea leaving Ammon for Cronos, Cronos drove Ammon out of Libya. This is my short paraphrase of several pages given by Diodoros Siculus. I think you may find it interesting. This often made me consider Zeus-Ammon as more or less Zeus as the heir of Ammon as one possibility (rather akin to Zeus being called Cronian) :)

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    [laughs] wherever I see Zeus, you see Apollon. :) I have not read any of Diodoros Siculus (time! I need more time!) and neither have I heard that anywhere. Thank you for sharing it!

  • Apuleius Platonicus
    Apuleius Platonicus Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    This is a fascinating subject and a very nice overview of it. Honestly, though, I don't see where talk of "appropriation" comes into it. The Greeks were always going gaga over anything and everything Egyptian, and who can blame them?

  • Freeman Presson
    Freeman Presson Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    There's even a catchword for it: orientalizing. Exactly like what modern Pagans and esotericists do with India and Tibet (a distant voice stage-whispers, "Madame Blaaaaaa-VAAAAT-sky!")

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    Personally I'm never sure where the line of appropriation is...Americans can be "gaga" over anything and everything Native American. Yet that is called a appropriation. How is this different?

  • Freeman Presson
    Freeman Presson Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    The Greeks who came back from the grand tour of Egypt and sold fake Khemetic initiations for 10 talents were appropriating (like $300 vision quests). The ones who went to learn and were freely given knowledge were not.

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