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Every culture in history has its gods and goddesses of wealth and prosperity. The pantheon in ancient Greek religion and mythology is no exception.
Plutus was the god of wealth and agricultural bounty. Initially, he was only associated with agricultural bounty, but he later came to represent prosperity and wealth in general.
While he was a minor deity, who didn’t play a significant role in Greek mythology, but was important in the domains that he ruled over.
Origins and Lineage of Plutus
There is a dispute among different accounts of Greek mythology concerning the lineage of Plutus. He is known to be the son of Demeter, an Olympian goddess, and Iasion, a semi-god. In other accounts, he is the offspring of Hades, king of the underworld, and Persephone.
Still others say he is the son of the goddess of fortune Tyche, who is also seen holding a young infant Plutus in many depictions. Plutus is also said to have a twin, Philomenus, the god of agriculture and plowing.
In the most well-known version, Plutus was born on the island of Crete, conceived during a wedding when Demeter lured Iasion away to a field where they lay together in a freshly plowed furrow during the marriage. Greek mythology mentions that the field was thrice plowed and that Demeter had lain on her back when conceiving him. These are given as reasons for Plutus’ connection to abundance and wealth. Just as a field is prepared to be sowed and reaped for fruits of labor, Demeter’s womb was prepared to conceive the god of riches.
After the act of lovemaking was over, Demeter and Iasion re-joined the wedding celebrations where they caught Zeus’ eye. Zeus was enraged when he found out about their liaison, that he struck Iasion with a mighty thunderbolt, reducing him to nothing.
In other versions, it’s implied that Zeus killed Iasion because he was not worthy of a goddess of Demeter’s caliber. Whatever the exact reasons of Zeus’ anger, the result was that Plutus grew up fatherless.
The God of Wealth at Work
According to Greek folklore, mortals sought Plutus, invoking his blessings. Plutus possessed the power to bless anyone with material wealth.
For this reason, Zeus’ had blinded him when he was only a child so that he could not distinguish good people from bad. This decision allowed everyone that came to Plutus to be blessed, irrespective of their past actions and deeds. This is symbolic of the fact that wealth is not the prerogative of the good and the just.
It is a depiction of how fortune often works in the real world.
Wealth is never equally distributed, nor does it ever question the beholder. A play written by ancient Greek comedy playwright Aristophanes humorously envisions a Plutus with his eyesight regained only distributing wealth to those that deserve it.
Plutus is also described as being handicapped. In other depictions, he is portrayed with wings.
Symbols and Influence of Plutus
Plutus is typically portrayed either in the company of his mother Demeter or alone, holding gold or wheat, symbolizing wealth and riches.
However, in most sculptures, he is shown as a child cradled in the arms of other goddesses known for peace, luck, and success.
One of his symbols is the cornucopia, also known as the horn of plenty, filled with agricultural riches such as flowers, fruits, and nuts.
Plutus’ name has served as the inspiration for several words in the English language, including plutocracy (rule of the wealthy), plutomania (a strong desire for wealth), and plutonomics (the study of wealth management).
Depictions of Plutus in Art and Literature
One of the great English artists, George Frederic Watts, was greatly influenced by Greek and Roman mythology. He was famously known for his allegorical paintings about wealth. He believed that the pursuit of wealth was replacing striving for religion in modern society.
To illustrate this view, he painted The Wife of Plutus in the 1880s. The painting depicts a woman holding jewels and writhing in agony, showcasing the corrupting influence of wealth.
Plutus has also been mentioned in Dante’s Inferno as a demon of the fourth circle of hell, reserved for the sinners of greed and avarice. Dante combines the personas of Plutus with Hades to form a great enemy that stops Dante from passing through unless he solves a puzzle.
The poet believed that running after material wealth leads to the most sinful corruptions of human life and thus gave it due importance.
Such later depictions painted Plutus as a corrupting force, related to the evils of wealth and the hoarding of wealth.
Plutus is one of the many minor deities in Greek mythology’s pantheon, but he is undoubtedly widely celebrated in art and literature. He symbolizes wealth and prosperity, which is still widely discussed today in modern philosophy and economics.