Thanksgiving is one of the most ‘famous’ American holidays known to us in Europe, and when it’s mentioned a turkey instantly springs to mind. The turkeys sacrificed to the stomach-gods during this ‘harvest festival’ might be native, but many of the other habits were brought over from the Continent. Take the cornucopia – the ‘horn of plenty’ – for example, a common symbol food and abundance all over the world, dating back to the 5th Century BC and for which we need to thank the Greeks.
The cornucopia is one of the typical symbols for a harvest festival. A horn shaped container, it is filled with abundance of the earth’s richest harvest. To most, it is also known as the ‘horn of plenty’. The traditional cornucopia was a curved goat’s horn filled to brim with fruits and grains.
According to Greek mythology, Amaltheia – the foster-mother of Zeus – was a goat who suckled the little Zeus in a cave in the – yeah – goat mountain. Little Zeus was playing a bit to rough with Amaltheia’s horns when one of it accidentally broke. Full of regret, and maybe also a bit hungry, Zeus returned her horn but with supernatural powers added; whoever possessed the magical horn would receive whatever they wished for.
Even in 400BCthere were already some other myths doing the rounds on Amaltheia’s horn and it’s magic; she offered it to Zeus herself, it’s her river-god brother’s horn. … . In general the cornucopia is a symbol of fertility and inexhaustible riches and – more specifically for harvest festivals and thanksgiving – food and abundance.
Today the cornucopia is still present in the state seals of New Jersey and North Carolina and in the coat of arms of Colombia, Panama, Peru and Venezuala… and on the Thanksgiving table. So when you sit down and say thanks, do take some time for the Greeks!
(While you’re at it, some other stuff we should thank the Greeks for according to Horrible Histories: sundials, catapults, bricks, sirens, soldering irons, the Olympics, yo-yo’s, boxing, flamethrowers, the pinhole camera, showers, lighthouses, central heating, thermometers, anchors, dice, … . )