On the First Day of Christmas, my Goddess gave to me…
A partridge in a pear tree.
In Greek and Roman mythology, pears are sacred to three goddesses: Hera (also known as Juno to the Romans), Aphrodite (whom the Romans knew as Venus), and Pomona, an Italian goddess.
Of these three, Pomona is perhaps the least known. She was a goddess of fruitful abundance in ancient Italian/Roman mythology. Her name comes from the Latin word pomum, which means “fruit”…particularly fruit from the orchards. She was the goddess of fruit trees, orchards, and gardens – watching over and protecting the trees and caring for their cultivation. Unlike many deities, she is not associated with the harvest itself, but with the flourishing of the trees as they grow, blossom, and bear fruit. The pruning knife was her sacred tool. While she is perhaps better known with apples (the French word for apple is pomme), pear trees are also connected to her.
Hera, Queen of Olympus and wife to the god Zeus, also exalted the pear tree as sacred. Hera is considered the goddess of women, marriage, and childbirth – perhaps this explains her love for pears…for an upside down pear bears a shape that resembles the woman’s uterus. She is often depicted as a jealous wife, constantly plotting revenge on her husband for his frequent infidelities. However, if we consider that one of her roles was as protectress of marriage, then we can begin to better understand Hera’s thoughts and actions. Hera represents that creative force that harkens back to a time when “God” was conceived of as a woman; when humanity was focused on the female body and its miraculous ability to bear children. Childbirth – the descending of life from the pear-shaped womb of the mother – was the closest humans came to the great power that caused the earth to bring forth new life in the spring.
From the pear as a symbol of the womb to the pear as an aphrodisiac, we now move on to the third goddess – Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sexuality. Aphrodite was also known by the Romans as Venus. This conjures up images of a pear-shaped Venus, objects of which have been found through-out Europe. The most famous of course is the Venus of Willendorf, but another Venus bears mentioning…The Venus of La Poire – la poire being French for “the pear.” Indeed, this figurine carved from mammoth ivory and dated from the Paleolithic Era (approximately 2 million years ago) is shaped much like a pear, as are many of the other statuettes now collectively bearing the name “Venus.” Interestingly, most of these figurines show prominent breasts, a protruding pubic area, and an emphatic treatment of the labia.
Of course, these figurines bear little resemblance to our modern-day concept of Venus as a curvaceous yet relatively slender woman – illustrating the change in one’s view of sexual attractiveness. Aphrodite was considered one of the most beautiful of the goddesses…and one of the more sexual. She is believed to have had several children by different fathers; amongst them being Eros, the god of love and sexual desire.
To this day, pears are reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Their shape, with echoes of the female anatomy, have always fascinated artists; the blush found on some varieties an erotic signal the human male is conditioned to respond to. Pears often find their way into erotic cuisine, or at the very least…a dish intended to please one’s significant other. It’s a small wonder that the Greek poet Homer, in his famous work The Odyssey lauds the pear as being “a gift from the gods.”
Or goddesses, as the case may be.