The nurse of the infant Zeus after his birth in Crete. The ancients themselves appear to have been as uncertain about the etymology of the name as about the real nature of Amalthea. Hesychius derives it from the verb ἀμαλθεύειν (amaltheuein), to nourish or to enrich; others from ἀμάλθακτος (amalthaktos), i.e. firm or hard; and others again from ἀμαλὴ (amalē) and θεία (theia), according to which it would signify the divine goat, or the tender goddess. The common derivation is from ἀμέλγειν (amelgein), to milk or suck. According to some traditions Amalthea is the goat who suckled the infant Jove,1 and who was afterwards rewarded for this service by being placed among the stars.2 See Aega.
According to another set of traditions Amalthea was a nymph, and daughter of Oceanus, Helios, Haemonius, or of the Cretan king Melisseus,3 and is said to have fed Zeus with the milk of a goat. When this goat once broke off one of her horns, the nymph Amalthea filled it with fresh herbs and fruit and gave it to Zeus, who transplaced it together with the goat among the stars.4 According to other accounts Zeus himself broke off one of the horns of the goat Amalthea, gave it to the daughters of Melisseus, and endowed it with such powers that whenever the possessor wished, it would instantaneously become filled with whatever might be desired.5 This is the story about the origin of the celebrated horn of Amalthea, commonly called the horn of plenty or cornucopia, which plays such a prominent part in the stories of Greece, and which was used in later times as the symbol of plenty in general.6 See Achelous.
Diodorus7 gives an account of Amalthea, which differs from all the other traditions. According to him the Libyan king Ammon married Amalthea, a maiden of extraordinary beauty, and gave her a very fertile tract of land which had the form of a bull's horn, and received from its queen the name of the horn of Amalthea. This account, however, is only one of the many specimens of a rationalistic interpretation of the ancient mythus.
The horn appears to be one of the most ancient and simplest vessels for drinking, and thus we find the story of Amalthea giving Zeus to drink from a horn represented in an ancient work of art still extant.8 The horn of plenty was frequently given as an attribute to the representations of Tyche or Fortuna.9
- Hyginus. Poetical Astronomy, ii, 13; Aratus. Phaenomena, 163; Callimachus. Hymn to Jove, 49.
- Comp. Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 1.6.
- Scholiast on Homer's Iliad xxi, 194; Eratosthenes. Catasterismi, 13; The Library ii, 7.5; Lactantius. Divine Institutions i, 22; Hyginus, l.c., and Fabulae, 139, where he calls the nymph Adamanteia
- Ovid. Fasti v, 115 ff.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, l.c.; Scholiast on Callimachus, l.c.
- Strabo. Geography x, 458, iii, 151; Diodorus Siculus, iv, 35.
- iii, 68.
- Galeria Giustiniani, ii, 61.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iv, 30.4; vii, 26.3. Böttiger. Amaltheia, oder der Cretensische Zeus als Saügling; Welcker. Ueber eine Cretische Colonie in Theben, p. 6.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.