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Phrygian statue of Kybele/Agdistis from the mid-6th century BCE at or near Hattusa

Agdistis (Ancient Greek: Ἄγδιστις) is a deity of Greek, Roman and Anatolian mythology who possesses both male and female sexual organs. They were closely associated with the Phrygian goddess Cybele.[1]

Their androgyny was seen as a symbol of wild and uncontrollable nature. It was this trait which was considered threatening by the gods and ultimately led to her destruction.[2]: 20, 92 


There are at least two origin stories for Agdistis. According to Pausanias, Zeus unknowingly fathered Agdistis, a superhuman being who was both man and woman, with Gaia. In other versions, there was a rock called Agdo which the Gaia slept on. Zeus impregnated Gaia there, who gave birth to Agdistis.[3]

The gods were afraid of the androgynous Agdistis. One god, Dionysus or Liber depending on the telling, put a sleeping draught in Agdistis' drinking well, and after Agdistis had fallen asleep, Dionysus tied their foot to their penis with a rope. When Agdistis awoke and stood up, they ripped their own penis off, castrating themself.[3] The blood from this incident fell to the earth and an almond[a] tree grew from where it landed.

Nana, daughter of a river-god Sangarius, was gathering fruit from this tree and stored some in her bosom, where they disappeared and made her pregnant with Attis[4]: vii. 17. § 7.9-13 [b]. After giving birth to Attis, Nana abandoned him, and the infant was taken in by human foster-parents.[citation needed]

As an adult, Attis was of such extraordinary beauty that the now conventionally female Agdistis fell in love with him, despite being his blood father via almond. However, his foster-parents intended him to become the husband of the daughter of the king of Pessinus, and he accordingly went to the Pessinian royal court.[c]

At the moment when the marriage song commenced, Agdistis appeared in her full glory, and all the wedding guests were instantly driven mad, causing both Attis and the king of Pessinus to castrate themselves, and the bride to cut off her breasts. Agdistis then repented her deed, and obtained from Zeus the promise that the body of Attis would not decompose.

This is the most popular account of an otherwise mysterious affair and the interpretation of this myth is often debated, especially how it relates to ancient gender changing and sexuality. Some tellers add geographic details: Pausanias mentions a hill in Phrygia named "Agdistis", at the foot of which Attis was reported to have been buried.[4]: i. 4. § 5 [d]

Cult of Agdistis[edit]

The distinction between Agdistis and the west-Anatolian mother goddesses[who?] is unclear:

Although primarily an Anatolian goddess, the cult of Agdistis covered a wide geographical area:

  • By 250 BC it had spread to Egypt
  • In the mid-Aegean islands and mainland Greece, her cult could notably be found in:
  • And in mainland and coastal Anatolia, evidence of the cult has been found in:
    • Inscriptions found at Sardis from the 4th century BC indicate that priests of Zeus were not permitted to take part in the mysteries of Agdistis,[9]
    • Inscriptions honoring Agdistis have been found at Mithymna,
    • In the 1st century BC, her shrine in Philadelphia, Anatolia, required a strict code of behavior. At that location – and others – she is found with sister deities ("theoi soteres"),[10]
    • Some time after 80 BC her cult is found on Lesbos,
  • Also after 80 BC Agdistis' cult is found in far-off Panticapeum, on the eastern shore of the Crimea.

There is epigraphic evidence that in some places[where?] Agdistis was considered a healing goddess of a wholly benevolent nature.[2]

In an attempt to understand the contradictory representations and syncretism of the Anatolian mother goddesses, scholars have hypothesized that Agdistis is part of a continuum of androgynous Anatolian deities,[citation needed] including an ancient Phrygian deity probably named Andistis[citation needed] and one called Adamma,[citation needed] stretching all the way back to the ancient kingdom of Kizzuwatna in the 2nd millennium BC.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In some accounts, the tree and its gathered fruit is a pomegranate.
  2. ^ In some versions, Attis was born directly out of the almond.[3]
  3. ^ In some versions, the king betrothes Attis to his daughter to punish Attis for his incestuous relationship with his father, the now-female Agdistis.[2]
  4. ^ A somewhat different story is given by Arnobius, in which Attis is beloved by both Agdistis and Cybele.[2][5]


  1. ^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867). "Agdistis". In Smith, William (ed.). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 1. Boston, MA. p. 67.
  2. ^ a b c d Lancellotti, Maria Grazia (2002). Attis, between Myth and History: King, priest, and god. Amsterdam: Brill. pp. 20, 92. ISBN 90-04-12851-4.
  3. ^ a b c Turner, Patricia (ed.). "Agdistis". Dictionary of Ancient Deities. Vol. 1. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 24.
  4. ^ a b Pausanias. Description of Greece.
  5. ^ Arnobius. Adversus Gentes. ix. 5. § 4; comp. Mimic. Felix, 21[clarification needed]
  6. ^ Hesychius of Alexandria, s.v.[full citation needed]
  7. ^ Strabo. [no title cited]. xii. p. 567;[full citation needed] comp. x. p. 469
  8. ^ a b Gasparro, Giulia Sfameni (1985). Soteriology and Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis. Amsterdam: Brill Publishers. p. 34. ISBN 90-04-07283-7.
  9. ^ Turcan, Robert; Nevill, Antonia (1996). The Cults of the Roman Empire. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 31–34. ISBN 0-631-20047-9.
  10. ^ Walton, Francis Redding (1996). "Agdistis". In Hornblower, Simon (ed.). Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of Agdistis at Wiktionary
  • "Agdistis". Greek mythology. Mythology Index (
  • "Agdistis". Greek mythology. Hellenica ( Archived from the original on 3 April 2012. — information about Greece and Cyprus