Attis (Gallus, Papas)

Category: Gods > Terrestrial Gods

1 Introduction

“Greatest of the gods, Attis Tyrannus!” So begins a Latin curse tablet found in Mainz, Germany, at temple of the Mother-of-Gods and Isis. Here tyrannus means ‘king’ or ‘absolute ruler’ in a laudatory sense, as it often did in cultic texts from Asia Minor, the center of Attis and the Mother’s worship.

Less grandiosely, Attis was described as a “divine power (numen) joined to the Mother-of-Gods” (Servius, On the Aeneid 7.761), that is to say, one of the “lesser powers (inferiores potestates) (which) the individual gods (numina) have as their servants (ministrae)” (ibid., 5.95).

Still other sources describe Attis as an ordinary human being, a priest of the Mother-of-Gods who died young; she instituted annual rites of mourning “so that his memory would remain eternal” (Servius auctus, On the Aeneid 9.115).

All three views (as great god, lower power or human), and more besides, are founded in a single tradition of myths and worship, which originated in Asia Minor, and spread from there through the Ancient Mediterranean.

2 Attis’ name(s)

At(t)is, -ys, -es
Papan (Hymn; Siculus; inscrr.?), Gallos
TLL s.v. Attis

NN Arnobius

NN The myth according to Julian and Sallustius

NN The myth according to Servius auctus, On the Aeneid 9.115

“The myth (fabula) is as follows: Attis, a beautiful boy who presided over the rites of the Great Mother (Mater Magna), was beloved by the king of his city. But when he realized that he was in danger of (sexual) violence from the king, he secretly fled into the woods. But, since he was found, and saw that he would undergo violation, he cut off the feared parts of the rapist, who, as he was dying, cut off the same part of the body from the boy.

“The priests (antistites) of the Great Mother found him lying half-dead under a pine tree, and when they attempted to revive him in the temple of the goddess without success, and he died, they buried him. The Great Mother, in order that his memory would remain forever, instituted that he should be lamented yearly in her rites, and the took the pine tree, under which he had lain, into her domain (tutela). She also effected that her worshippers, who are called archigalli, would amputate their virile parts.”

Here, Attis is imagined as simply a worshipper of the Mother, not a divine being, who has been honored by the goddess and continues to be honored by her priests.

+curse tablets
+Ovid, Fasti 4.223; Catullus 63; Martianus Capella; Seneca, Agamemnon 690; Ovid, Ibis 455; Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.104; Statius, Silviae 1.5.38
+Corpus Corporum: Claudian, Isidore, Augustine; Firmicus Maternus?
+Sallust, Porphyry, Julian, Proclus‘ hymns
+Inscriptions & Greek sources. (More Latin that I missed?)