1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Attis

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ATTIS, or Atys, a deity worshipped in Phrygia, and later throughout the Roman empire, in conjunction with the Great Mother of the Gods. Like Aphrodite and Adonis in Syria, Baal and Astarte at Sidon, and Isis and Osiris in Egypt, the Great Mother and Attis formed a duality which symbolized the relations between Mother Earth and her fruitage. Their worship included the celebration of mysteries annually on the return of the spring season. Attis was also known as Papas, and the Bithynians and Phrygians, according to evidence of the time of the late Empire, called him Zeus. He was never worshipped independently, however, though the worship of the Great Mother was not always accompanied by his. He was confused with Pan, Sabazios, Men and Adonis, and there were resemblances between the orgiastic features of his worship and that of Dionysus. His resemblance to Adonis has led to the theory that the names of the two are identical, and that Attis is only the Semitic companion of Syrian Aphrodite grafted on to the Phrygian Great Mother worship (Haakh, Stuttgarter-Philolog.-Vers., 1857, 176 ff.). It is likely, however, that Attis, like the Great Mother, was indigenous to Asia Minor, adopted by the invading Phrygians, and blended by them with a deity of their own.

Legends.—According to Pausanias (vii. 17), Attis was a beautiful youth born of the daughter of the river Sangarius, who was descended from the hermaphroditic Agdistis, a monster sprung from the earth by the seed of Zeus. Having become enamoured of Attis, Agdistis struck him with frenzy as he was about to wed the king’s daughter, with the result that he deprived himself of manhood and died. Agdistis in repentance prevailed upon Zeus to grant that the body of the youth should never decay or waste. In Arnobius (v. 5-8) Attis emasculates himself under a pine tree, which the Great Mother bears into her cave as she and Agdistis together wildly lament the death of the youth. Zeus grants the petition as in the version of Pausanias, but permits the hair of Attis to grow, and his little finger to move. The little finger, digitus, δάκτυλος, is interpreted as the phallus by Georg Kaibel (Göttinger Nachrichten, 1901, p. 513). In Diodorus (iii. 58, 59) the Mother is the carnal lover of Attis, and, when her father the king discovers her fault and kills her lover, roams the earth in wild grief. In Ovid (Fasti, iv. 223 ff.) she is inspired with chaste love for him, which he pledges himself to reciprocate. On his proving unfaithful, the Great Mother slays the nymph with whom he has sinned, whereupon in madness he mutilates himself as a penalty. Another form of the legend (Paus. vii. 17), showing the influence of the Aphrodite-Adonis myth, relates that Attis, the impotent son of the Phrygian Caläus, went into Lydia to institute the worship of the Great Mother, and was there slain by a boar sent by Zeus.

See Great Mother of the Gods; J. G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris (1906).  (G. Sn.)