Money myths


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Ploutus is the Greek god of wealth, identified also as Pluto the God of the Underworld and hidden wealth within the ground. Charon, who ferried the dead across the river Styx, was paid by placing a coin in the dead person's mouth. Midas, King of Lydia, was granted by Dionysus the gift of turning everything he touched to gold. But this also included food and drink and his own children, thus causing him to regret the gift he had wished for.

What other myths are there about coins, money and wealth in the mythologies?


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Leprechauns save their coins in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or at least in Ireland they do ;)

Says Wikipedia: A touch piece is a coin or medal believed to cure disease, bring good luck, influence people's behaviour, carry out a specific practical action, etc. There’s a whole article on it, and stuff. There’s apparently something called a curse coin too :eek:

A 2006 Yahoo! News article reported that tourists throw just under £ 3 million per year into wishing wells!!! This practice originates from Germanic and Keltic religions in which the deity of a particular well or fountain was offered some cash to grant a worshipper’s desire. An older instance of something similar to this is the Norse god Óðinn offering his right eye to the giant Mímir (who was also his own uncle?) in exchange for wisdom.

Money trees, apparently, are originally a Chinese thing, and there’s some quite interesting folklore behind them. They are actually constructed [well, not out of actual cash] during the celebration of Chūnjié, the Chinese New Year (literally “Spring Festival”). During the Han Dynasty (206BC—220AD) money trees were cast in bronze and placed in tombs based on the same belief from ancient Greek culture that the dead needed some dough to get around on the other side.

The English word money derives from Latin moneta, “mint,” as in the place in which coins are manufactured. In several modern European languages including Russian and Italian, moneta (Spanish moneda; Portuguese moeda) is the word for “coin.” One of the surnames under which the Romans worshipped Juno, the queen of their gods, was Moneta, as the protectress of funds. The mint was actually in this goddess’s temple on the Capitoline Hill, similarly to how the treasury was located in the temple of Juno’s father Saturnus. Juno Moneta’s festival was celebrated on the first day of Juno’s month June. Juno’s husband Juppiter [Jupiter] was also worshipped as Pecunia (another Latin word for money which, however, as a feminine noun, is rather curious for a male deity to possess, and with which Augustine of Hippo takes great issue in De Civitate Dei, “The City of God”) apparently because he owned everything.

There’s quite a bit of discussion about money in the Dialogues of the Dead, a set of 30 short conversations set in the Underworld (including characters from Greek mythology like Charon, Hermes and Hades) and written by the Assyrian satirist Lucian of Samosata.

In his work entitled Geography, Strabo tells of a belief that in the town of Hermione in Argolis there was a shortcut to the court of the god Hades, for which reason the people of that town – uniquely for Greeks, it would seem – did not put money for ferry-fare [with which to pay Charon] into the mouths of their dead.
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As for Ploutos [Plutus], the personification of wealth, he was the son of Iasion (a son of Zeus by the Pleïad Elektra) and of the goddess Demeter. Zeus zapped Iasion dead using a thunderbolt, some versions of the story making it seem that this was done out of jealousy for the son having an affair with his father’s ex-wife (and sister), others saying that Iasion was assaulting Demeter, making the affair non-consensual. At any rate Ploutos was blinded by his grandfather/uncle Zeus so that he would be impartial in his bestowal of wealth upon humankind, that not only the righteous would be rich but that anyone, regardless of merit, could garner cash and other wealth-forms. The history with Ploutos’ father has always made me think there’s likely something more personal about Zeus’ blinding of this relative of his. Ploutos was supposedly also lame (on account of Zeus as well?), so that he took his time arriving, and winged, so that he departed faster than he came. According to Pindar, Khrysos [Chrysus], literally "Gold," the personification and god of gold, was a son of Zeus. It surprises me that no ancient writer seems to have made a direct connection between the gods Khrysos and Ploutos, as characters. (But perhaps Khrysos was just a minor abstraction, maybe even made up by Pindar...)

Aesop’s fable about Ploutos and the deified hero Herakles, is subtitled thus: Riches are justly hated by courageous men, because a coffer of cash brings an end to honest traffic in praise.The story then goes that after Herakles had died and was being welcomed into the home of the gods to join their ranks, he saluted the deities who came to congratulate him one by one but when Ploutos approached him, Herakles glanced aside, ignoring him. When Zeus asked why he did this, Herakles answered, “I hate the god of riches because he is a friend to the wicked while corrupting the entire world by throwing his money around.”

An excerpt from Aristophanes’ theatrical comedy Ploutos, in which two poor Athenians, Khremylos [Chremylus] and Blepsidemos [Blepsidemus], are engaged in a heated debate against Penia, the personification of poverty:
Khremylos: Will you say that Zeus cannot discern what is best? He takes Ploutos [Wealth] to himself.
Blepsidemos: ... and banishes Penia [Poverty] to the Earth!
Penia: Oh, me! How dim-sighted you are, you old fellows of the days of Kronos! Zeus is poor, and I will clearly prove it to you. In the Olympic Games, which he founded, and to which he convokes the whole of Greece every four years, why does he only crown the victorious athletes with wild olive? If he were rich he would give them gold!
Khremylos: That's the way he shows that he clings to his wealth; he is sparing with it, won't part with any portion of it, only bestows baubles on the victors and keeps his money for himself.
Penia: But wealth coupled to such sordid greed is yet more shameful than poverty.
Khremylos: May Zeus destroy you, both you and your wreath of wild olive!
Penia: Thus you dare to maintain that Poverty is not the source of all blessings!
Khremylos: Ask Hekate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make the same food disappear before it is even served. But go and hang yourself and don't breathe another syllable.
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Oh, and speaking of Midas, apart from his daughter Zoe - the child who he's supposed to have turned to gold after he'd received this power from Dionysos [Dionysus] - he also had two sons. The one was Lytierses, who succeeded him as king of Phrygia and would later be killed by Herakles. The other was Ankhyros [whose name is Latinised as Anchyrus but also sometimes as Anchurus]. Plutarch relates his tragic story, saying that there was a city in Midas' kingdom of Phrygia called Kelainai (maybe this was the capital in those days, which I'm guessing since Lytierses is said to have lived there when he was king). In this city, one day, the earth yawned open, heavy rain fell upon the land, and many homesteads together with their occupants were sucked into the depths. An oracle declared to King Midas that if he cast his most precious possession into this new chasm, the hole would close up. So Midas threw gold and silver into the abyss but nothing happened. Midas' son Ankhyros, upon reasoning that human life was the most precious thing one could own, gave his father and his wife Timothea a hug, and then he mounted his horse and rode it into the chasm. The earth closed up immediately afterwards, and Midas touched an altar of Zeus Idaios, turning it into gold. So it was said, even in Plutarch's time, that at the same time of each year that the earth had opened up in Kelainai, this altar would turn back to stone, but that on the day of Ankhyros' sacrifice, when the earth closed back up, the altar would change back again to gold.
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