The Golden Bough | Study Guide

James George Frazer

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The Golden Bough | Key Figures

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Key Figure Description
Balder Balder, a Norse god, is considered immortal, but he is killed with a branch of mistletoe through the mischief-maker Loki's trickery. Read More
Demeter Demeter is the Greek goddess of grain and agriculture and the mother of Persephone. The famed mystery cult at Eleusis is held annually in her honor. Read More
Diana Diana is a Roman goddess of the moon, the hunt, wild animals, women, and childbirth. Her Greek counterpart is Artemis. Read More
Dionysus Dionysus, son of Zeus—the Roman Jupiter—is a Greek god of wine, trees, and agriculture in general. Also known as Bacchus, Dionysus is worshipped with ecstatic dance, music, and drinking. Read More
King of the Wood The King of the Wood, or Rex Nemorensis, is the priest and guardian of the goddess Diana's sacred grove at Nemi. Read More
Persephone The goddess Persephone is the queen of the underworld and wife to the god Hades. She represents the Maiden and springtime, and early people honor her along with her mother, Demeter, in the rites at Eleusis. Read More
Virbius The consort and priest of the goddess Diana, Virbius reigns as King of the Wood at Nemi. Read More
Adonis Adonis, lover of Aphrodite, is brought back to life by her intervention but must return to the underworld for part of each year. Frazer considers him an example of the dying and reviving god who revives vegetation in the spring.
Aeneas Aeneas is a Greek hero immortalized in Virgil's Aeneid, in which he survives a trip to the underworld by carrying a branch from the Golden Bough. This legend inspired Frazer to write The Golden Bough.
Ammon Ammon is a part-human, ram-headed deity of ancient Egypt.
Aphrodite Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, pleasure, and fertility, is the counterpart of the Roman goddess Venus. When her lover Adonis is killed, she travels to the underworld to bring him to life with Zeus's help.
Apollo The Greek god Apollo, twin of Artemis, is known for his skill at music, especially the lyre. He is a god of music, the arts, the sun, and oracles.
Artemis Artemis is the Greek counterpart of the Roman goddess Diana. She is a virgin goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and young girls.
Astarte Astarte is the Semitic counterpart of the goddess Aphrodite, and is worshipped in Syria.
Athamas Athamas is the king of Alus, Greece. Each generation, his family sacrifices the oldest royal son to Zeus to ensure the growth of the crops.
Attis Attis, a tree-spirit and Phrygian god of vegetation, is believed to govern fruits and corn. His death and resurrection are celebrated in a spring festival, and he is eventually adopted by the Romans as a god of nature and spring.
Aun King Aun (or On) of Sweden sacrifices nine of his sons to Odin so that his reign will be long.
Baalath Baalath, a goddess of motherhood and fertility, was likely worshipped in Cyprus by the Phoenicians and may have become identified with the goddess Aphrodite.
Bacchus Bacchus is the Roman counterpart to the Greek god Dionysus, god of wine and agriculture.
Buddha Buddha, the central figure of the Buddhism religion, is a royal prince who becomes divine. Some Buddhists believe there are many living Buddhas, or Grand Lamas, who are born as holy infants.
Julius Caesar Julius Caesar, a famed Roman ruler, keeps written records of the cultures and traditions he encounters during his war campaigns.
Ceres Ceres is identified with the Roman goddess Demeter and the Egyptian goddess Isis, both goddesses of grain.
Cinyras Cinyras is the king of Byblus, Syria, and is the father of Myrrha, with whom he may have had an incestuous relationship that produced a son, Adonis. He begins the practice of "sacred prostitution" as a religious duty to the goddess Aphrodite.
Claudius The Roman emperor Claudius adopts the Phrygian practice of worshipping the sacred tree as part of the spring festival of Cybele and Attis.
Constantine The Roman emperor Constantine ends the custom of "sacred prostitution" and founds a Christian church in place of the pagan temple in Cyprus.
Cronus Cronus, king of the Semites in Western Asia, sacrifices his son to Dionysus during a time of crisis.
Cybele Cybele is a fertility goddess in Western Asia, and is either the mother or lover of Attis. She is equated to the Roman goddess Venus.
Dianus Dianus, also known as Janus, is said to be the divine consort of the goddess Diana, also known as Jana. As a Roman god of the sky, he may be identified with Jupiter.
Dione Dione is a possible Greek name for the goddess Diana.
Egeria Egeria, wife to King Numa, is a Roman water nymph who aids Diana at Nemi. She is believed to help ease childbirth.
Eresh-Kigal Eresh-Kigal is the queen of the underworld in Babylonia. She allows Ishtar to return to earth with her lover, Tammuz, who was killed by a boar.
Gauri Gauri is a harvest-goddess of India, and is portrayed in ceremony by a young girl in costume and a bundle of plants in the figure of a woman.
Hades Hades is the Greek god of the underworld who abducts Persephone to be his wife and queen.
Hannibal Hannibal, a military general, invades Rome but is unsuccessful at conquering the Romans and departs for Africa.
Hephaestus Hephaestus, a Greek god, may have killed Adonis during a boar hunt.
Hercules Hercules, a hero and the son of Zeus, kills Lityerses, the son of King Midas, to prevent Lityerses from killing passing strangers as he reaps his fields.
Herodotus Herodotus is a Greek historian who chronicles the events of antiquity.
Hippolytus Hippolytus is the mortal lover of Artemis; Frazer theorizes he may be Virbius, the King of the Wood, in disguise.
Horus Horus, an Egyptian god, appears in both young and old forms. As a child, he is called Harpocrates, and is brought back to life by his mother Isis after dying from a scorpion sting.
Hother The blind Norse god Hother shoots and kills Balder after being tricked by Loki.
Ishtar Ishtar, a fertility goddess of Babylonia, is identified with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. She journeys to the underworld to retrieve her dead lover, Tammuz.
Isis Isis is an Egyptian goddess who brings her husband, Osiris, back to life after his murder. She is said to have discovered wheat and barley and may be a corn-goddess.
Jana Jana is a possible name for the goddess Diana. She is often paired with Janus, who is sometimes known as Dianus.
Janus Janus, identified with the god Dianus, is said to be the consort of Diana, as well as the double-headed Roman god of doors.
Jesus Christ Jesus Christ, the holy son of God in the Christian religion, dies and is resurrected. His birth is celebrated as the Christmas holiday.
Jove Jove is another name for Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods and god of the sky and thunder.
Judas Iscariot Judas Iscariot is a figure from the Bible who betrays Jesus Christ, leading to Christ's death.
Juno The Roman goddess Juno, identified with the Greek Hera, is the consort of Jupiter. Their sacred marriage is celebrated in the month named after her, June.
Jupiter Jupiter, also known as Jove, is the Roman king of the gods, as well as the god of the sky and thunder. His Greek counterpart is Zeus.
Kostroma Kostroma is a mythical Russian figure whose "death" is celebrated with a burial at midsummer.
Kostrubonko Kostrubonko is a mythical Russian deity whose "death and resurrection" is celebrated in the spring.
Kupalo Kupalo is a mythical Russian figure who is burned in effigy at midsummer.
Lada Lada is a mythical Russian figure whose "death" is observed by a funeral at midsummer.
Lityerses Lityerses, the bastard son of the Phrygian King Midas, is slain by Hercules for killing passing strangers as he reaps his crops.
Loki Loki is a mischievous Norse god who tricks Hother into killing the beloved god Balder.
Martin Luther Martin Luther is a monk who popularizes Protestantism and becomes an enemy to the Catholic church.
Mars Mars is the Roman god of war and an agricultural deity. His titles include Mars Silvanus ("Mars of the Woods") and Mamurius Veturius ("the old Mars," a title that reflects the preceding year).
Marsyas Marsyas is a Phrygian satyr who is killed by Apollo after he challenges the god to a musical contest.
Mary Mary, or the Virgin Mary, is the mother of Jesus Christ in the Christian religion. She is also called the Madonna and Stella Maris, "Star of the Sea."
Midas King Midas of Phrygia is the father of the murderous Lityerses.
Minotaur The Minotaur of Crete, a beast imprisoned in a labyrinth, devours sacrificial youths and maidens.
Mithra Mithra is a Persian sun god, believed to be born on the winter solstice. He is said to be resurrected from death, and offers the hope of immortality to his cult of followers.
Myrrha Myrrha is possibly the mother of Adonis, born from an incestuous union with her father King Cinyras of Syria.
Nephthys Wife of the wicked Egyptian god Set, Nephthys represents his female counterpart. For example, Set was a god of the desert, while Nephthys was a goddess of the air.
Numa Numa, a wise Roman king, is believed to consort with his wife, Egeria, in the grove at Nemi. He is said to draw down lightning from the sky, much like Jupiter.
Odin Odin, the Norse "God of the Hanged" and father of Balder, sacrificed himself by hanging from a tree.
Orestes Orestes is said to have founded the worship of Diana at Nemi (Italy) after killing the king of Tauris and fleeing with a statue of the Tauric Diana.
Osiris Osiris, Egyptian god of fertility and the dead, is credited with bringing laws, religion, and cultivation to Egypt. Killed by his brother Set and resurrected by his wife, Isis, Osiris personifies the death and return of vegetation each year, especially corn.
Pan Pan, a Greek god of shepherds and the wild, is a man with the face and legs of a goat. Pan comforted Demeter after the abduction of her daughter Persephone.
Parvati Parvati is a Hindu goddess who marries Siva each spring in a sacred ceremony.
Plutarch Plutarch is a Greek biographer who writes of the lives of important people of antiquity.
Pluto Pluto is the Roman god of the dead and the underworld; he abducts Persephone to be his wife.
Pygmalion Pygmalion, the father-in-law of Cinyras, is a king of Cyprus who falls in love with an image of Aphrodite.
Saturn Saturn, the Roman god of sowing seeds and husbandry, presides over a Golden Age of plenty in Italy. His festival, the Saturnalia, is a time of revelry and pleasure.
Set Set, a wicked Egyptian god and the husband of the goddess Nephthys, kills his brother Osiris. He is known as Typhon to the Greeks.
Siva Siva is a Hindu god who marries Parvati each spring in a sacred ceremony.
Tammuz Tammuz is a god of vegetation; cultures in Babylon and Syria believed he enables the annual return of plant life. The Greeks honor him as Adonis.
Venus Venus is the Roman counterpart of the Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility. Her consort is Adonis, and she is associated with the planet Venus as the "Morning Star."
Virgil The Latin poet Virgil composed The Aeneid, an epic poem telling of the hero Aeneas's journey to the underworld.
Yarilo Yarilo is a mythical Russian figure whose burial is observed at midsummer. A small figure of Yarilo is buried in a coffin and mourned.
Zeus Zeus, the Greek sky-god and king of the gods, is identified with the Roman god Jupiter. He is the father of Persephone by Demeter, as well as Apollo and Artemis.
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