Minthe

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Close-up of mint leaves

In ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, Minthe (also Menthe, Mintha or Mentha; Μίνθη or Μένθη) is an Underworld Naiad nymph associated with the river Cocytus. She was beloved by Hades, the King of the Underworld, and became his mistress, but she was transformed into a mint plant by either his wife Persephone or his sister and mother-in-law Demeter.[1]

Etymology[edit]

The -nth-/-nthos- element in menthe is characteristic of a class of words borrowed from a Pre-Greek language: compare akanthos, labyrinthos, Korinthos, and hyakinthos.[2] According to Beekes, it is of undoubtedly pre-Greek origin.[3]

Mythology[edit]

The Naiad nymph Minthe, daughter of the infernal river-god Cocytus, became concubine to Hades, the lord of the Underworld and god of the dead.[4] In jealousy, his wife Persephone intervened and metamorphosed Minthe, in the words of Strabo's account, "into the garden mint, which some call hedyosmos (lit. 'sweet-smelling')". A mountain near Pylos was named after Minthe, where one of the few temples of Hades in Greece was situated:

Near Pylus, towards the east, is a mountain named after Minthe, who, according to myth, became the concubine of Hades, was trampled under foot by Core, and was transformed into garden-mint, the plant which some call Hedyosmos. Furthermore, near the mountain is a precinct sacred to Hades,[5]

Similarly to that, a scholiast on Nicander wrote that Minthe became Hades' mistress; for this Persephone tore her into pieces, but Hades turned his dead lover into the fragrant plant that bore her name in her memory.[6] Ovid also briefly mentions Minthe and her transformation at the hands of Persephone in his Metamorphoses, but omits the story behind it.[7] According to Oppian, Minthe had been Hades' mistress before he abducted and married Persephone, but he set her aside once he carried off and married his queen. Afterwards, she would boast that she surpassed Persephone in beauty and that Hades would soon return to her; in anger over the nymph's insolence, Persephone's mother Demeter trampled her, and thus from the earth sprang the mint herb:

Mint, men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymph of Cocytus, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus; but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aetnaean hill, then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth sprang the weak herb that bears her name.[8]

Oppian writing that she was trampled to death is perhaps an allusion to the verb μινύθω, minytho, meaning "to reduce."[9] Orpheus wrote that Demeter, seeing the mint sad, hated it, and made it barren.[10][11]

According to Julius Pollux's Onomasticon, Minthe was mentioned by Cratinus in his lost Nomoi.[12]

Culture[edit]

In ancient Greece, mint was used in funerary rites, together with rosemary and myrtle, and not simply to offset the smell of decay; mint was an element in the fermented barley drink called the kykeon that was an essential preparatory entheogen for participants in the Eleusinian Mysteries, which offered hope in the afterlife for initiates.[13] Minthe might have originated from Demeter's mystery cults, alongside figures like Baubo and the daughters of Celeus.[9]

The mint was highly valued due to its aromatic properties and its capacity as a condiment that brings out the flavour of many foods. It was regarded as an aphrodisiac, hence Minthe's role in becoming the lover of Hades; at the same time it was used as a contraceptive method, as it was believed that consuming it before the act would prevent a pregnancy.[14] Thus the mint, a plant of sterility, was seen as the opponent of Demeter, the goddess of fertility.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology Mintha
  2. ^ Colvin 2014, pp. 29–31.
  3. ^ Beekes 2009, p. 955.
  4. ^ Patriarch Photius, Lexicon μίνθα
  5. ^ Strabo, Geographica 8.3.14.
  6. ^ Scholia ad Nicandri Alexipharmaca 375
  7. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.728.
  8. ^ Oppian, Halieutica 3.485 ff.
  9. ^ a b Hopkinson 1994, p. 193.
  10. ^ Etymologicum Graecae Linguae Gudianum, Μίνθη. A small collection of versions of Minthe's story can be found in Greek in here.
  11. ^ Wasson, Hofmann & Ruck 2008, p. 111.
  12. ^ Edmonds, p. 62
  13. ^ Kerenyi 1967.
  14. ^ Detienne 1994, p. 74.
  15. ^ Detienne 1994, p. 75.

Bibliography[edit]

Ancient[edit]

  • Ovid, Metamorphoses. Translated by A. D. Melville; introduction and notes by E. J. Kenney. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-953737-2.
  • Ovid: Metamorphoses X: 728–731
  • Strabo, The Geography of Strabo. Edition by H.L. Jones. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. 1924. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Halieutica in Oppian, Colluthus, Tryphiodorus. Oppian, Colluthus, and Tryphiodorus. Translated by A. W. Mair. Loeb Classical Library 219. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928. Online version at topos text.

Modern[edit]

External links[edit]