In ancient Roman religion, November 1 was the traditional Roman feast day of Pomonia. The holiday salutes the goddess Pomona who rules over orchard fruit. Most often, she is thought of in relationship to apples. Today is the traditional Roman feast day of Pomonia. The holiday salutes the goddess Pomona who rules over orchard fruit. Most often, she is thought of in relationship to apples. Pomona is the latin root word of Pomme, the French word for apple. Pomona likely enjoyed pomegranites, too. Any of the fruits grown in an orchard can be eaten to honor Pomona today.
"I am the ancient apple-queen.
As once I was so am I now--
For evermore a hope unseen
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.
"Ah, where's the river's hidden gold!
And where's the windy grave of Troy?
Yet come I as I came of old,
From out the heart of summer's joy." (1)
According to Ovid, Pomona was the virgin wood nymph who spurned many suitors before Vertuminus appeared in her world. The only reason Pomona married him was because he showed up in old woman drag. Why Pomona was attracted to a cross dressing fellow is anyone’s guess. A lot of aspects of the Roman Pantheon are mysterious to me. Anyhow, Vertuminus was a horny fellow. So the couple is responsible for the bounty of apple trees. Many Roman poets told stories about her, the best known being by Ovid, who says that she was wooed by many orchard-gods, but preferred to remain unmarried. Among her suitors was Vertumnus ("the changer"), the god of the turning year, who had charge of the exchange of trade, the turning of river channel, and chiefly of the change in nature from flower to ripe fruit. True to his character he took many forms to gain Pomona's love. Now he was a ploughman (spring), now a fisherman (summer), now a reaper (autumn). At last he took the likeness of an old woman (winter), and went to gossip with Pomona. After sounding her mind and finding her averse to marriage, the woman pleaded for Vertumnus's success.
"Is not he the first to have the fruits which
are thy delight? And does he not hold thy
gifts in his joyous right hand?" (2)
This day is not a harvest festival. It simply recognizes Pomona and the proliferation of fruit in the trees of orchards. Today not only commemorates Pomona, but it’s also the Kalends of November. The Kalends are always the first day of a month. The name is the latin root for our word, calendar.
1. Morris, William. Pomona.
2. Ovid. Metamorphoses, Book XIV:623-697 Vertumnus woos Pomona
Pomona lived in this king’s reign. No other hamadryad, of the wood nymphs of Latium, tended the gardens more skilfully or was more devoted to the orchards’ care, hence her name. She loved the fields and the branches loaded with ripe apples, not the woods and rivers. She carried a curved pruning knife, not a javelin, with which she cut back the luxuriant growth, and lopped the branches spreading out here and there, now splitting the bark and inserting a graft, providing sap from a different stock for the nursling. She would not allow them to suffer from being parched, watering, in trickling streams, the twining tendrils of thirsty root. This was her love, and her passion, and she had no longing for desire. Still fearing boorish aggression, she enclosed herself in an orchard, and denied an entrance, and shunned men.
What did the Satyrs, fitted by their youth for dancing, not do to possess her, and the Pans with pine-wreathed horns, and Silvanus, always younger than his years, and Priapus, the god who scares off thieves, with his pruning hook or his phallus? But Vertumnus surpassed them all, even, in his love, though he was no more fortunate than them. O how often, disguised as an uncouth reaper, he would bring her a basket filled with ears of barley, and he was the perfect image of a reaper! Often he would display his forehead bound with freshly cut hay, and might seem to have been tossing the new-mown grass. Often he would be carrying an ox-goad in his stiff hand, so that you would swear he had just unyoked his weary team. Given a knife he was a dresser and pruner of vines: he would carry a ladder: you would think he’d be picking apples. He was a soldier with a sword, or a fisherman taking up his rod.
In short, by his many disguises, he frequently gained admittance, and found joy, gazing at her beauty. Once, he even covered his head with a coloured scarf, and leaning on a staff, with a wig of grey hair, imitated an old woman. He entered the well-tended garden, and admiring the fruit, said: ‘You are so much more lovely’, and gave her a few congratulatory kisses, as no true old woman would have done. He sat on the flattened grass, looking at the branches bending, weighed down with autumn fruit. There was a specimen elm opposite, covered with gleaming bunches of grapes. After he had praised it, and its companion vine, he said: ‘But if that tree stood there, unmated, without its vine, it would not be sought after for more than its leaves, and the vine also, which is joined to and rests on the elm, would lie on the ground, if it were not married to it, and leaning on it.
But you are not moved by this tree’s example, and you shun marriage, and do not care to be wed. I wish that you did! Helen would not have had more suitors to trouble her, or Hippodamia, who caused the Lapithae problems, or Penelope, wife of that Ulysses, who was delayed too long at the war. Even now a thousand men want you, and the demi-gods and the gods, and the divinities that haunt the Alban hills, though you shun them and turn away from their wooing. But if you are wise, if you want to marry well, and listen to this old woman, that loves you more than you think, more than them all, reject their vulgar offers, and choose Vertumnus to share your bed! You have my assurance as well: he is not better known to himself than he is to me: he does not wander here and there in the wide world: he lives on his own in this place: and he does not love the latest girl he has seen, as most of your suitors do.
You will be his first love, and you will be his last, and he will devote his life only to you. And then he is young, is blessed with natural charm, can take on a fitting appearance, and whatever is ordered, though you ask all, he will do. Besides, that which you love the same, those apples you cherish, he is the first to have, and with joy holds your gifts in his hand! But he does not desire now the fruit of your trees, or the sweet juice of your herbs: he desires nothing but you. Take pity on his ardour, and believe that he, who seeks you, is begging you, in person, through my mouth. Fear the vengeful gods, and Idalian Venus, who hates the hard-hearted, and Rhamnusian Nemesis, her inexorable wrath! That you may fear them more (since my long life has given me knowledge of many tales) I will tell you a story, famous through all of Cyprus, by which you might easily be swayed and softened.’