Ambrose of Milan on Mithras

I’ve been going through Cumont’s Textes et Monumentes and adding material from it to my page of literary sources for Mithras.  One rather interesting snippet appeared only in a footnote, and was a quotation from Ambrose of Milan’s letters (which, fortunately, I have online), addressed to the emperor Valentinian.

It seems that Ambrose knew so little about the cult of Mithras, in the late 4th century, that he supposed the deity to be female, and a synonym for Venus!  Cumont comments (correctly, I suspect) that Ambrose is simply borrowing a line from Herodotus.  But it does tell us that the cult had vanished from public view at this date.


6 thoughts on “Ambrose of Milan on Mithras

  1. Is it possible that this was a typo (or brain-o, possibly on Ambrose’s part) for “Anitra”? Anitra and Mitra would look pretty close in some handwriting styles, and Anitra is much more Venus-like.

  2. Er, apparently I meant Anahita, not the chick in Peer Gynt. Sorry. (Not so beautiful a hypothesis now, either.)

  3. ^@Maureen, and @Roger, since we know people of those times often confused the Persian Mithra with the Roman Mithras, I have to wonder if that was the cause of this. I recall reading somewhere that the Persian Mithra became so intimately linked with Anahita that they became conflated into a type of hermaphroditic goddess.

  4. @Maureen, the same suggestion is made by Cumont. Since Ambrose is copying Herodotus, presumably the error was by H.

    @AoGA: I’ve not heard that one about Mitra. Do you have any other details?

  5. Hmmm… I’m beginning to fear I may have spoken to soon, and that this may be just another one of those internet fables, since I can’t seem to trace it back to a credible citation. I’ll keep looking around though, keeping my fingers crossed.

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