Sunday, September 1, 2019

Celebrating the Earth's Bounty - Myth of Pomona & Vertumnus - Gardens, Orchards, & Finding Love

Vertumnus & Pomona Willem Drost (1633-1659

Pomona was the beautiful goddess of fruitful abundance in ancient Roman religion & myth. Pomona was said to be a wood nymph. The name Pomona comes from the Latin word pomum, "fruit," specifically orchard fruit. She was said to be  a part of the Numia, the guardian spirits who watch over people, places, or homes. While Pomona watches over & protects fruit trees & cares for their cultivation, she is not actually associated with the harvest of fruit itself, but with tending the flourishing of the fruit trees. In artistic depictions she is generally shown with a platter of fruit or a cornucopia & perhaps her pruning knife

Pomona, the alluring wood nymph, actually cared nothing for the wild woods but cared only for her well-cultivated fruit filled gardens & orchards. And Pomona had a thing about men. She fenced her garden orchards, so the rude young men couldn't trample her plants & vines. She also kept her orchards enclosed, because she wanted to keep away the men who were attracted to her good looks. Even dancing satyrs(a cross between a man & a goat) were attracted to her beauty. Despite the fact that she preferred to be alone to care & nurture her trees, this beauty was continually besieged by suitors, in particular one persistent god named Vertumnus. Vertumnus had the ability to take different human guises & made numerous attempts to woo Pomona, but she turned him away each time.

The god Vertumus caught on to Pomona's aversion to men in her orchards & in her life generally. In Roman mythology, Vertumnus, the young, handsome god of changing seasons & patron of fruits, determined to win over Pomona.  He could change his form at will according to Ovid's Metamorphoses (xiv).  He came to her in various male disguises, which included, a reaper, an apple picker, a fisher, a solider, & more. Even with the disguises, she still never paid him the slightest bit of attention. One day Vertumnus tried a disguise as an old women. And Pomona finally allowed him to enter her garden, where he pretended to be interested in her fruit. But he finally told her he was more exquisite than her crops. After saying that, he kissed her passionately, but it wasn't enough. Vertumnus kept trying to sway her by telling her a story of a young women who rejected a boy who loved her; in despair, the boy hung himself, & Venus punished the girl by turning her to stone. This narrative warning of the extreme dangers of rejecting a suitor (the embedded tale of Iphis & Anaxarete) still did not seduce her. It just didn't work, of course. He then realized that it was the feminine disguise didn't work & tore it off.  It wasn't until Vertumnus appeared before her in his full manliness (apparently quite a good looking male specimen), that Pomona finally gave in to his inviting male charms. Vertumnus is a god of gardens & orchards & so it appears they were a match made in heaven. To his surprise, she fell in love with his manly wiles, & they became the ultimate loving couple working & playing in gardens & orchards together from then on.

The tale of Vertumnus & Pomona has been said to be the only purely Latin tale in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The subject of Vertumnus & Pomona appealed to European sculptors & painters of the 16th through the 18th centuries, providing a disguised erotic subtext in a scenario that contrasted youthful female beauty with an aged old woman. But it wasn't the old woman that ultimately won the day. In narrating the tale in the Metamorphoses, Ovid observed that the kind of kisses given by Vertumnus were never given by an old woman.  In Ovid's myth, Pomona scorned the love of the woodland gods Silvanus & Picus, but finally married the brutally handsome Vertumnus. She & Vertumnus were celebrated in  an annual Roman festival on August 13. There is a grove that is dedicated to her called the Pomonal, located not far from Ostia, the ancient port of Rome. Unlike many other Roman goddesses & gods, Pomona does not have a Greek counterpart, though she is often associated with Demeter.