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Mother of the Gods

, 208 pages
October 2004



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Mother of the Gods

From Cybele to the Virgin Mary

Worshiped throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, the "Mother of the Gods" was known by a variety of names. Among peoples of Asia Minor, where her cult first began, she often shared the names of local mountains. The Greeks commonly called her Cybele, the name given to her by the Phrygians of Asia Minor, and identified her with their own mother goddesses Rhea, Gaia, and Demeter. The Romans adopted her worship at the end of the Second Punic War and called her Mater Magna, Great Mother. Her cult became one of the three most important mystery cults in the Roman Empire, along with those of Mithras and Isis. And as Christianity took hold in the Roman world, ritual elements of her cult were incorporated into the burgeoning cult of the Virgin Mary.

In Mother of the Gods, Philippe Borgeaud traces the journey of this divine figure through Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome between the sixth century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. He examines how the Mother of the Gods was integrated into specific cultures, what she represented to those who worshiped her, and how she was used as a symbol in art, myth, and even politics. The Mother of the Gods was often seen as a dualistic figure: ancestral and foreign, aristocratic and disreputable, nurturing and dangerous. Borgeaud's challenging and nuanced portrait opens new windows on the ancient world's sophisticated religious beliefs and shifting cultural identities.

Philippe Borgeaud is a professor of the history of religion at the University of Geneva and the author of several books, including The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece.

"Borgeaud has read widely and chooses judiciously from among an array of pictorial and written remains to construct a series of striking images that reveal and unravel the amazingly complex paths taken by the goddess and her companions during a millennium of antiquity."

"This slim book is packed with terrific material... Flashes of insight are something Borgeaud does well. He also asks big questions."

"A carefully researched and... persuasively argued book that will be of interest to academic libraries and scholars in the field."

" Mother of the Gods reaches out far beyond its ostensible subject—the cult of the divine mother in Greece, Rome, and Christianity. It is rich with implications for our understanding of antiquity in general—and, for that matter, for our understanding of culture and society. Philippe Borgeaud provides a model of scholarship: concise, clear, consistently interesting and lively, at moments quite deep. This is a book that every scholar interested in ancient religion will have to read."

"Fascinating narrative... combined with the visually-striking jacket cover illustration... entices the potential reader."

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