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Etymology: pomum (Latin) – “fruit” The word “pomme” is French for “apple.”
In Roman mythology, Pomona is the goddess of fruitful abundance, especially as it pertains to gardens, orchards and cultivated fruits. In some instances, Pomona is reported as a nymph, specifically, a hamadryad.
When shown in art, Pomona is often shown holding a cornucopia or a plate full of fruit.
Festivals – Vertumnalia is shared by both Pomona and Vertumnus and is held on August 13th. There is another festival mentioned, Pomonalia that had been celebrated in pre-Christian Rome every year on November 1st to note the end of the harvest.
Flamen Pomonalis – This is the name for Pomona’s priests.
Pomonal – This is the name for Pomona’s sacred grove near Ostia, a port city of Rome.
Symbol – Cornucopia, Pruning Knife, Fruit, Orchard Tree
The primary source for Pomona comes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis and it has been commented that the story of Pomona is the only original Roman story within this piece of literature.
As for the story, Pomona spurned the love and advances of various woodland gods: Picus, Priapos, Silenos and Silvanus to name a few. Busy with tending her own gardens and orchards that she kept locked and closed behind walls, Pomona felt she didn’t have time for anyone else.
Of all the rustic, woodland deities vying for Pomona’s attention, Vertumnus is the one who succeeded. Like the other gods, Vertumnus was rejected, though I would think coming in disguise wouldn’t help the matter. First as various field laborers and farmers, hoping that would somehow attract Pomona’s attention.
Eventually Vertumnus came to the idea of disguising himself as an old woman. Disguised so, the “old woman” approached Pomona and started off with complimenting her fruits. Pomona was taken back a moment when the old woman kissed her. Seeing that Pomona was started, Vertumnus in his guise as the old woman sat back and began talking about an elm tree and a grape vine, how beautiful the two were together. How the tree was useless by itself and how the vine could only lay there on the ground unable to bear fruit. Continuing this angle of talk, the old woman compared Pomona to the vine, how it tried to stand on its own, turning away from everyone who tried to be close. At this, the old woman spoke of Vertumnus, how Pomona was his first and only love, how he too loved gardens and orchards and would gladly work side by side with her.
The old woman than shared the story of Anaxarete, who had spurned the advances of her suitor, Iphis to the point that he hung himself. In response, the goddess Venus turned Anaxarete to stone for being so heartless. Hearing this story, Pomona softened her stance and Vertumnus dropped his disguise as the old woman and the two were eventually wed.
By this account, the god Picus’ advances for Pomona were not returned. When Pomona finally relented and accepted a marriage proposal, Circe turned Picus into a woodpecker and Pomona into a bird known as a pica (either a magpie or an owl).
Goddess Of Orchards
As a goddess of orchards, Pomona’s duties lay in cultivating, guarding and protecting fruit trees. Pomona did not have any associations with the harvesting of said fruits, just their flourishing and growth.
Many sources for Pomona cite her as being a hamadryad.
The hamadryads are tree nymphs or more accurately, a dryad. Unlike dryads who represent the spirit of a tree, the hamadryad is bound to their specific tree. When the tree died, the hamadryad bound to it also died. Dryads and gods alike were known for punishing those mortals who chopped down or otherwise harmed a tree.
Numina – Guardian Spirit
Numina, in Roman mythology, were the guardian spirits who watched over people, places and even the home. Each numina was unique or specific to where and whom they watched over.
Pomona, along with her husband, Vertumnus were seen by the Romans as guardian spirits who would watch over people in their orchards and gardens.
Pomona has the distinction of being one of the few Roman goddess or gods with no Greek counterpart. Though if pressed to the task, she does get identified with the goddess Demeter.