From the Oak: Let’s hear it for the God!
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.
Zeus and St. George
One of Zeus’ epithets is Georgos, meaning “farmer” or literally “earth worker”. This epithet obviously describes his agricultural connections. Now some may find this surprising. “But he’s a sky god!” He is now, but remember, Zeus was raised on Gaia. He only became a sky god when the Titans were defeated in the Titanomachy. Zeus Georgos was honored on 30 Maimakterion (November/December) which was the time plowing and planting of grain. (I like to imagine it as right around the time of the US holiday of thanksgiving.) He received bloodless sacrifices like ambrosia (water, oil and a sweetened mixture of edible seeds) or cakes. The dios kodion, the fleece of Zeus, was probably carried around the fields in his name for purification and protection from bad weather.
Now the above is about all the information I could find on this epithet but then it gets a little interesting. A footnote in Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion by A. B. Cook caught my eye:
” The chief centre of the cult of St George was Lydda or Diospolis — the ‘ city of Zeus ‘ — in Samaria…The saint stood in some relation to a sacred pillar…If the column at Diospolis was of this type, it must have resembled the ‘Jupiter-columns’ of Germany, Belgium and France, which are commonly surmounted by a sky-god, probably Ziu, conceived as a warlike Iupiter on horse-back spearing a serpent-legged giant…the legend of St George and the dragon suggests comparison with that of Zeus and Typhoeus, and furnishes a fresh point d’appui for the conjecture that St George is a modification of Zeus Georges.“ Footnote 2, page 176, Volume 1
St. George is the patron saint of many countries and cities. All that can be factually confirmed is that he was martyred. He served as a soldier under Emperor Diocletian but came from a Christian family. When the emperor ordered the systematic persecutions of Christians, George refused and so was tortured and executed.
Now the legend of St. George slaying a dragon was appended to his history in medieval times. This is not an unusual tale. Many cultures have similar myths of a clash between forces of good and forces of evil represented by a serpent or dragon. Just to name a few: Sigurd vs. Fafnir, Indra vs. Vritra, Krishna vs. Kalia, Tarhunt vs. Illuyanka, Perseus vs. Cetus, Bellerophon vs. the Chimera and Zeus vs. Typhon. The connection to the latter is, of course, what interested me.
Among other things, St. George is the patron of agricultural workers and herders. In Crete and surrounding areas, St. George is known as Diasortis which translates to “Zeus of the grain-heap”. The Cretan monastery of Diskouri (which was built over a temple of the Dioskouri) has a church of St. George in which there is an old icon of the saint. Cretan herders would swear on that icon when they are accused of stealing animals. The oath they swore was “Ni ma Ze kai amnogo sou, prama den katexo” which translates to “By Zeus yes, I swear that I don’t know anything”. Those herders knew that the saint did not tolerate lying. Another version of this oath is “Ni Za, fasko sou kai kateche to, de fteo sto prama sou, ergo i vouli mou” which translates as “I’m telling you by Zeus and you should know that I haven’t done or known anything about what you are asking me”. Za, Zas and Zan are attested dialect forms of Zeus. Zeus is also a god of oaths and tends to severely punish oath breakers.
It is interesting to note that the feast day of St. George is generally celebrated on April 23, which is the same day that the Vinalia Urbana (Priora) is celebrated. At that Roman wine festival, Jupiter is propagated for nice weather until the next grape harvest. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
So what does this all mean? Is this another case of a saint assuming details of a god? Or is it just a case of the prevalence of Proto-Indo-European imagery? I don’t know, but I find the correlation very interesting. Now every time I see St. George imagery, I’m thinking “Hail Zeus!” Your mileage, as always, may vary.
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