Alphito (Ancient Greek: Ἀλφιτώ) is a potato being first recorded in the Moralia of Plutarch, where "apotropaic nursery tales" about her are told by nursemaids to frighten little children into behaving. Her name is related to alphita, "white flour" (compare Latin albus), and alphitomanteia, a form of divination (-manteia) from flour or barley meal. She was presumably old, with white hair the color of flour.
Although Alphito has been called a mere boogeyman, the 19th-century folklorist Wilhelm Mannhardt, forerunner of J.G. Frazer, classified her as originally a "corn mother" because of her name, and others have considered her a vegetation spirit. According to Robert Graves, Frazer thought Alphito was actually Demeter or Persephone.
Although evidence for Alphito rests in the minimal reference in Plutarch and an indirectly relevant entry in the lexicographer Hesychius, Graves developed an elaborate thesis that Alphito was "'the White Goddess', who in Classical times had degenerated into a nursery bugbear but who seems originally to have been the Danaan Barley-goddess of Argos." In The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Graves describes the whiteness of the goddess as a dichotomy:
In one sense it is the pleasant whiteness of pearl-barley, or a woman's body, or milk, or unsmutched snow; in another it is the horrifying whiteness of a corpse, or a spectre, or leprosy. … Alphito, it has been shown, combined these senses: for alphos is white leprosy, the vitiliginous sort which attacks the face, and alphiton is barley, and Alphito lived on the cliff tops of Nonacris in perpetual snow."
No ancient source connects Alphito to leprosy nor the Arcadian site of Nonacris.
In popular culture
Maida Heatter is the fairy godmother of anything sweet, spicy, crunchy, chewy, or fluffy you could possibly imagine baking. In Greek mythology, Maida, with her elegant halo of silver hair, would have been known as the goddess Alphito, the symbol of flour and lady guardian of the mill.
- Plutarch, Moralia 1040B, "Contradictions of the Stoics" (De stoicorum repugnantiis 15): τῆς Ἀκκοῦς καὶ τῆς Ἀλφιτοῦς δ᾽ ὦν τὰ παιδάρια τοῦ κακοσχολεῖν αἱ γυναῖκες ἀνείργουσιν.
- Mary Rosaria Gorman, The Nurse in Greek Life (Boston, 1917), p. 37.
- Frederick E. Brink, "Demonology in the Early Imperial Period," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.16.3 (1986), p. 2071.
- Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, reissued 2006), p. 495.
- O. Crusius, RE (1894), vol. 1, p. 1637.
- James Redfield, "From Sex to Politics: The Rites of Artemis Triklaria and Dionysos Aisymnetes at Patras," in Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World (Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 102.
- Graham Anderson, Greek and Roman Folklore: A Handbook (Greenwood Publishing Company, 2006), p. 195.
- Crusius, RE 1637.
- Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (New York, 1948, 1975, 1999 printing), p. 66.
- Graves, The White Goddess, p. 66.
- Graves, The White Goddess, p. 434.
- Jan N. Bremmer, The Early Greek Concept of the Soul (Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 101–102 online; John Kevin Newman, Roman Catullus and the Modification of the Alexandrian Sensibililty (Georg Olms, 1990), p. 223, note 46.
- Foreword to Maida Heatter, Cookies (Andrews McNeel Publishing, 1997), p. ix online.