Glycon

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Glycon
Glycon.JPG
Late 2nd-century statue of Glycon. (National History and Archeology Museum, Constanţa, Romania)
Major cult centerAbonoteichos

Glycon (Ancient Greek: Γλύκων Glýkon, gen: Γλύκωνος Glýkonos), also spelled Glykon, was an ancient snake god. Having a large and influential cult within the Roman Empire in the 2nd century, Glycon had been mentioned earlier by Horace. However contemporary satirist Lucian provides the primary literary reference to the deity. Lucian claimed Glycon was created in the mid-2nd century by the Greek prophet Alexander of Abonoteichos. Lucian was ill-disposed toward the cult, calling Alexander a false prophet and accusing the whole enterprise of being a hoax: Glycon himself was supposedly a hand puppet.[1]

Macedonian cultural roots[edit]

The cult possibly originated in Macedonia, where similar snake cults had existed for centuries. The Macedonians believed snakes had magical powers relating to fertility and had a rich mythology on this subject, for example the story of Olympias's impregnation by Zeus disguised as a serpent. In 20 BC Glycon was referred to by the Roman poet Horace, in his Epistle 1 to Maecenas in his First Book of Epistles; "... you despair of the muscles of the invincible Glycon...").

Early years[edit]

At least initially, the cult did not worship an abstraction or a spirit of a snake but an actual, physical serpent that was said to embody the god. According to the cult's mythology, the snake appeared after Alexander had foretold the coming of a new incarnation of Asclepius. When the people gathered in the marketplace of Abonutichus at noon, when the incarnation was supposed to occur, Alexander produced a goose egg and sliced it open, revealing the god within. Within a week it grew to the size of a man with the features of a man on its face, including long blond hair. At this point the figure resembling this description was apparently a puppet that appeared in the temple. In some references Glycon was a trained snake with a puppet head.

As with previous Macedonian snake cults, the focus of worship at the temple was on fertility. Barren women would bring offerings to Glycon in hopes of becoming pregnant. According to Lucian, Alexander had less magical ways of causing pregnancy among his flock as well.

Spread and influence[edit]

By 160, the worship of Glycon had undoubtedly spread beyond the Aegean. An inscription from Antioch of that date records a slogan, "Glycon protect us from the plague-cloud" that is consistent with the description we have from Lucian. Also in that year the governor of Asia, Publius Mummius Sisenna Rutilianus, declared himself protector of Glycon's oracle. The governor later married Alexander's daughter. According to Lucian, another Roman governor, of Cappadocia, was led by Glycon's oracle to his death in Armenia, and even the Emperor himself was not immune to the cult: Marcus Aurelius sought prophesies from Alexander and his snake god.

Meanwhile, Abonoteichos, a small fishing village before the arrival of the cult, became an important town and accepted another name, Ionopolis. It is uncertain what role the popularity of Glycon played in the rise of the city.

As the cult had an established popularity with the lower social strata, [2] and later several important Roman functionaries and officials were counted among the believers in Glycon and the prophecies of Alexander [3], including the Emperor at the time, Marcus Aurelius.[4] Such endorsement by the ruling classes coupled with pre existing superstitions of serpents as possessing healing powers, the cult of Glycon likely found no shortage of converts and adherents in new areas of the Roman world.

Pentassarion issued under Roman emperor Philip II. in Marcianopolis. Reverse showing a Glycon coiled left, with beard.

In short order Glycon worship was found throughout the vast area between the Danube and Euphrates. Beginning late in the reign of Antoninus Pius and continuing into the 3rd century, official Roman coins were struck in honor of Glycon, attesting his popularity. The Roman currency bearing the image of Glycon is known to have been in active circulation during 3rd century AD [5], however it is unknown if some of them were produced in this time period or if they remained in use after being produced earlier, during Alexander’s life (c.105-c.170).

It is known that for at least a hundred years following Alexander’s death a new Glycon cult began to spread its influence along areas adjacent to the Danube, with archaeological finds such as the statue discovered in Tomi (modern day Constanța) being interpreted by some to indicate the presence of a large public cult in the city. [6]

While the cult gradually lost followers after the death of its leader in c.170, it survived for at least a hundred years thereafter, with Alexander being incorporated into its mythology as a grandson of Asclepius. Given the prominence of snake cults as healing divinities in the Mediterranean and surrounding areas, both before and after the rise of Glycon in the region, the spread of the cult continued for some time following the death of Alexander. Some evidence indicates the cult survived into the 4th century. As the contemporary works of Lucian are the primary written reference to Glycon, its cult and their activities, what became of them exactly is unclear following the death of Alexander of Abonoteichos, due to lack of written record.  

Modern times[edit]

Romanian 10.000 lei bank note of 1994, depicting Glycon in the center.

Residual superstitions originating with Glycon were reported by some researchers to continue even into modern times. A Turkish friend of Dutch scholar Jona Lendering mentioned that a common belief in a magical snake persisted near İnebolu (the current name for the ancient city of Ionopolis).[7]

Following his "coming out" as a magician in 1993, the English comic book writer and occultist Alan Moore has declared himself a devotee of Glycon, preferring the belief in a hoax deity "because [he is] not likely to start believing that glove puppet created the universe or anything dangerous like that."[8]

A marble statue of Glycon was found during an excavation under the former Pallas railway station in Constanța, Romania. The statue is 66 centimetres (26 in) tall and the length of the snake is 4.76 metres (15.6 ft).[9] The Romanians commemorated this unique sculpture on a postage stamp in 1974, and on a bank note of 10.000 lei in 1994.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ {Λουκιανοῦ Ἀλέξανδρος ἢ Ψευδομάντις}, Lucian's "Alexander or the False Prophet", 18–20
  2. ^ Tacheva-Hitova, Margarita (1 December 1983). Eastern Cults in Moesia Inferior and Thracia (5th Century B.C.-4th Century A.D.). Brill Publishers. p. 276. ISBN 9004295739.
  3. ^ Greek text of Lucian: Alexander or the False Prophet, with modern Greek translation by A.M. Harmon, 1925
  4. ^ Dalziel, D.G. (February 1936). "Alexander the Greater". Greece & Rome. Vol. 5, No. 14: 90–97 – via Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Greek text of Lucian: Alexander or the False Prophet, with modern Greek translation by A.M. Harmon, 1925
  6. ^ Tacheva-Hitova, Margarita (1 December 1983). Eastern Cults in Moesia Inferior and Thracia (5th Century B.C.-4th Century A.D.). Brill Publishers. p. 276. ISBN 9004295739.
  7. ^ "A Turkish friend of the author of the present article once told him that in the early 1970's, when he was hunting in the hills near Inebolu, people warned him for a magical snake." Lendering, Jona. "Glykon". www.livius.org. LIVIVS.
  8. ^ Wolk, Douglas (17 December 2003). "Sidebar: How Alan Moore transformed American comics". Slate. Archived from the original on 10 September 2008. Retrieved 10 September 2008.
  9. ^ Vatamanu Nicolae: "Esculap reincarnat in Glycon, sarpele cu plete", Viața Medicală 1972, No.7 pg 333–335

References[edit]

External links[edit]