Attis and Jesus

Crude anti-Christian polemics often try to rubbish Christianity by alleging that loads of pagan deities had a myth about a god who was born of a virgin on 25 December, crucified, reborn after 3 days, and so on.  Factually this is rubbish, but it relies on general ignorance.

I happened to see this post by Bill Hamblyn in an online forum where he went off to find out what the primary sources were for Attis.  He listed them as follows, without quoting them full-length:

1- Pausanius, Guide to Greece, 7.17.5
2- Ovid, Fasti, 4.221-224
3- Diodorus Siculus, History, 3.58.4-59.1

J.P.Holding mentions a few more in passing here.

Pausanias:

The Achaian city Dyme is distant about four hundred stadia from Larissus… Besides this the Dymaei have a temple of Minerva, and a statue of the goddess, which is very ancient. They have also another temple sacred to the mother Dindymene, and Attes. But who Attes is, I have not been able to discover, because it is. an arcane affair. Hermesianax, indeed, a writer of elegies, says, that he was the son of the Phrygian Calaus, and that he was produced by his mother incapable of begetting children. That when he arrived at manhood he migrated to Lydia, and established there the orgies of the Great Mother. And that he was so highly honoured by the goddess, that it excited the indignation of Jupiter, who sent a boar into the Lydian fields, by which other Lydians were destroyed, and Attes himself was slain. The Gauls who inhabit Pesinus, confirm by their conduct the truth of this relation, for they cannot bear to touch swine. However, they report things concerning Attes far different from the above.

Jupiter, say they, while he was asleep emitted his seed on the earth; this in process of time produced a daemon with twofold private parts, viz. with the parts of man and woman united. The name of this daemon was Agdistis: and the gods, in consequence of being terrified at him, cut off his virile parts. From these parts an almond tree was produced, the fruit of which, when ripe, the daughter of the river Sangarius gathered and concealed in her bosom. The fruit, however, immediately vanished, and she became pregnant. As the result of her pregnancy, she was delivered of a boy, who being left in the woods was educated by a goat, and who, as he grew in years, possessed a beauty surpassing that of the human form, and through which Agdistis fell in love with him. But when he arrived at manhood, his friends sent him to Pesinus, in order that he might marry the daughter of the king. Here, as they were singing the nuptial song, Agdistis presented himself before them, and Attes becoming insane, cut off his private parts. The king’s daughter, too, that was given to Attes, cut off her privities. But Agdistis was grieved that Attes had acted in this manner, and obtained of Jupiter that no part of the body of Attes should either become putrid or waste away. And such are the particulars which are reported about Attes.

Ovid is as follows:

…  I said ‘Where did this urge to cut off
Their members come from?’ As I ended, the Muse spoke:
‘In the woods, a Phrygian boy, Attis, of handsome face,
Won the tower-bearing goddess with his chaste passion.
She desired him to serve her, and protect her temple,
And said: “Wish, you might be a boy for ever.”
He promised to be true, and said: “If I’m lying
May the love I fail in be my last love.”
He did fail, and in meeting the nymph Sagaritis,
Abandoned what he was: the goddess, angered, avenged it.
She destroyed the Naiad, by wounding a tree,
Since the tree contained the Naiad’s fate.
Attis was maddened, and thinking his chamber’s roof
Was falling, fled for the summit of Mount Dindymus.
Now he cried: “Remove the torches”, now he cried:
“Take the whips away”: often swearing he saw the Furies.
He tore at his body too with a sharp stone,
And dragged his long hair in the filthy dust,
Shouting: “I deserved this! I pay the due penalty
In blood! Ah! Let the parts that harmed me, perish!
Let them perish!” cutting away the burden of his groin,
And suddenly bereft of every mark of manhood.
His madness set a precedent, and his unmanly servants
Toss their hair, and cut off their members as if worthless.’
So the Aonian Muse, eloquently answering the question
I’d asked her, regarding the causes of their madness.

Diodorus is as follows:

58. However, an account is handed down also that this goddess was born in Phrygia. For the natives of that country have the following myth: In ancient times Meïon became king of Phrygia and Lydia; and marrying Dindymê he begat an infant daughter, but being unwilling to rear her he exposed her on the mountain which was called Cybelus. There, in accordance with some divine providence, both the leopards and some of the other especially ferocious wild beasts offered their nipples to the child and so gave it nourishment, and some women who were tending the flocks in that place witnessed the happening, and being astonished at the strange event took up the babe and called her Cybelê after the name of the place. The child, as she grew up, excelled in both beauty and virtue and also came to be admired for her intelligence; for she was the first to devise the pipe of many reeds and to invent cymbals and kettledrums with which to accompany the games and the dance, and in addition she taught how to heal the sicknesses of both flocks and little children by means of rites of purification; in consequence, since the babes were saved from death by her spells and were generally taken up in her arms, her devotion to them and affection for them led all the people to speak of her as the “mother of the mountain.” The man who associated with her and loved her more than anyone else, they say, was Marsyas the physician, who was admired for his intelligence and chastity; and a proof of his intelligence they find in the fact that he imitated the sounds made by the pipe of many reeds and carried all its notes over into the flute, and as an indication of his chastity they cite his abstinence from sexual pleasures until the day of his death.

Now Cybelê, the myth records, having arrived at full womanhood, came to love a certain native youth who was known as Attis, but at a later time received the appellation Papas; with him she consorted secretly and became with child, and at about the same time her parents recognized her as their child. Consequently she was brought up into the palace, and her father welcomed her at the outset under the impression the she was a virgin, but later, when he learned of her seduction, he put to death her nurses and Attis as well and cast their bodies forth to lie unburied; whereupon Cybelê, they say, because of her love for the youth and grief over the nurses, became frenzied and rushed out of the palace into the countryside. And crying aloud and beating upon a kettledrum she visited every country alone, with hair hanging free, and Marsyas, out of pity for her plight, voluntarily followed her and accompanied her in her wanderings because of the love which he had formerly borne her. … And Apollo, they say, laid away both the lyre and the pipes as a votive offering in the cave of Dionysus, and becoming enamoured of Cybelê joined in her wanderings as far as the land of the Hyperboreans.

But, the myth goes on to say, a pestilence fell upon human beings throughout Phrygia and the land ceased to bear fruit, and when the unfortunate people inquired of the god how they might rid themselves of their ills he commanded them, it is said, to bury the body of Attis and to honour Cybelê as a goddess. Consequently the physicians, since the body had disappeared in the course of time, made an image of the youth, before which they sang dirges and by means of honours in keeping with his suffering propitiated the wrath of him who had been wronged; and these rites they continue to perform down to our own lifetime. As for Cybelê, in ancient times they erected altars and performed sacrifices to her yearly; and later they built for her a costly temple in Pisinus of Phrygia, and established honours and sacrifices of the greatest magnificence, Midas their king taking part in all these works out of his devotion to beauty; and beside the statue of the goddess they set up panthers and lions, since it was the common opinion that she had first been nursed by these animals.

Such, then, are the myths which are told about Mother of the God both among the Phrygians and by the Atlantians who dwell on the coast of the ocean.

The similarities with Jesus will doubtless strike every reader. 

8 thoughts on “Attis and Jesus

  1. I’m not sure what is meant by “primary source” in this discussion, but another ancient source (albeit a hostile one) is Arnobius of Sicca, Adversus Nationes 5.5-7 (and to a lesser degree 5.16-17).

  2. By primary source I mean any ancient source (i.e. not some modern book making assertions). Many thanks for this; this is very useful. I will add these to the main article.

  3. Appreciate these ancient sources. Good to be able to cite and say, “Really, you think these are similar to the stories about Jesus?”

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