There are multiple stories concern the cornucopia’s origins. The first begins with Zeus, the greatest of all the Greek gods. Cronus, his father, wanted to kill Zeus, so his mother Rhea hid him in Crete to protect him. The king of Crete had several daughters who raised him, and their goat provided milk for the child. When Zeus grew older he broke off one of the goat’s horns and gave them the magic power to fill up with whatever the owner of the horn desired. Zeus gave the horns to the king’s daughters to thank them for caring for him. According to legend, whoever owned the horn would never go hungry.
An alternate story involves the goat giving Zeus one of her horns in
reverence. Zeus repays her by placing her image in the sky. We know
the image as the constellation Capricorn.
Another story in Greek mythology concerns Hercules’s role in
creating the cornucopia. A feud erupted between Hercules and the
river-god Achelous. The two competed for the love of Dejanira, a
young woman of breath-taking beauty. The two fought in a colossal
wrestling match and Hercules began to get the better of Achelous.
Achelous, a shape-shifter, changed into a serpent and then into a
bull in an effort to gain leverage against Hercules. Hercules broke
off one of Achelous’s horns, and when he did the river changed
course. The water-nymphs came upon the horn in the river and treated
the horn as a sacred object. They filled the horn with flowers and
took care of it. Later Copia, the Goddess of Plenty, adopted the
horn. Hercules married Dejanira and they had a family.
Mythological beings and deities illustrate a theme in classical
paintings, and the cornucopia became a popular design element.
Artists often painted the curved goat’s horn filled with fruit and
grain, and thus it came to symbolize wealth and plenty. Tyche, the
goddess of riches and abundance, also became associated with the
cornucopia. It also became the emblem for several other deities.
Modern design for cornucopias usually involves the use of it as a
fall decoration. A favorite of florists, they often act as a vessel
for containing bright, decorative flowers, fruits, gourds and many
other decorative items that make a pretty table ensemble.
The cornucopia symbolizes riches and plenty in some folklore, art
and mythology, so the decoration rightfully belongs on the table at
which you plan to have a meal while enjoying the company of family
The cornucopia has a close association with Thanksgiving, but people
considered it symbolic before the holiday existed. The word
originated in 1508 and comes from the Latin cornu, meaning horn, and
copia, meaning plenty. Thus some also call it the horn of plenty.
Dec 1, 2013
Aug 13, 2009
Now that fall is approaching, I thought it is time for a definition. In Greek mythology, Amalthea was a goat who raised Zeus on her breast milk. When her horn was accidentally broken off by Zeus while playing together, this changed Amalthea into a unicorn.
The god Zeus, in remorse, gave her back her horn. The horn then had supernatural powers which would give the person in possession of it whatever he or she wished for. This gave rise to the legend of the cornucopia, or horn of plenty.
The original depictions were of the goat's horn filled with fruits and flowers: deities, especially Fortuna, were depicted with the horn of plenty. The cornucopia was also a symbol for a woman's fertility. Current pictures show it as a woven basket, I guess because goat's horns are not so easy to find these days.