The Greek pantheon included hundreds of minor gods who represented virtually every aspect of life and the natural world. Some were rarely-mentioned daimones while others were important enough to have their own cults and lore.
One of these was Plutus, the god of wealth. Connected to ideas of both material riches and agricultural bounty, he was a god that every person hoped to be blessed by.
Plutus was a favorite subject of both artists and writers, but few seem to have been able to come to a consensus about his origins. Several different goddesses were named as his mother in different contexts.
The confused origins of Plutus were more than just a result of different local legends. They also reflected the many types of wealth that could come from the god’s powers.
Plutus was not a major god in Greek mythology, but he was still an important one.
He was the god of wealth. Like many minor gods, his name reflected his nature; the Greek word ploutos was the word for wealth.
Greek artists generally agreed that he was a young god. He was depicted either as a very young child or as a handsome, beardless young man.
In either instance, he was typically identifiable by the cornucopia. Sometimes known in English as the Horn of Plenty, it was a symbol of agricultural bounty and prosperity.
The Greeks could not agree, however, on the origins of Plutus.
The most well-known story claimed that he was the son of Demeter and her human consort, Iasion.
Although Iasion was mortal, many stories claimed that he was the son of Zeus and a minor goddess. This did not stop the king of the gods from treating him harshly, however.
Iasion and Demeter were both present at the wedding of Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, and her human husband, Cadmus. According to legend, Demeter was attracted to the young man and lured him away to a freshly-plowed field.
When they returned, Zeus could tell that they had been together by the smudges of fresh dirt on their clothing. In a rage, he struck Iasion with a thunderbolt and killed him instantly.
Some legends claimed that Iasion was killed because, as a human, he was thought to be too lowly to have a relationship with a high-ranking Olympian goddess. Others implied that Zeus killed him out of jealousy because he had a relationship of his own with Demeter.
From this encounter, Demeter gave birth to twins. Plutus was the god of wealth and Philomenus was a god of agriculture and plowing.
Another story, however, said that he was the son of Tyche, the goddess of fortune. Although she was considered a city goddess in earlier times, by the Classical Era she was more broadly associated with luck and prosperity.
When Plutus was shown as a child, he was most often held by Tyche. Others, however, showed him in the arms of Eirene, the goddess of peace.
Another, less widespread, belief was that he was the son of Hades and Persephone. Although most traditions held that Hades could not father children because he was a god of death, Plutus was one of many gods who were sometimes said to be his sons.
In later eras, Plutus was sometimes depicted as blind. Some writers claimed that Zeus intentionally blinded him so that wealth would be distributed randomly instead of on the basis of virtue.
In the play Plutus by Aristophanes, a man seeks to restore the god’s eyesight so that wealth is distributed more fairly. This causes chaos, however, and eventually attracts the anger of the gods because people are so preoccupied by appealing to Plutus that they neglect their sacrifices to the other Olympians.
The many gods and goddesses Plutus was connected with in his mythology reflect the different ideas about wealth in the ancient world.
As a son of Demeter, Plutus reflected agricultural prosperity. For most people, wealth was not measured in gold but in plentiful food and land to grow it on.
The story of Demeter and Iasion brief affair is believed by many historians to reflect an ancient fertility ritual that likely predated classical Greek culture. It symbolized the fertilization of the earth, the goddess of grain in the story.
From this symbolic act came two minor gods. Philomenus represented the work of farming while Plutus was the wealth of food that came as a result.
As Greek society developed, however, different ideas of wealth emerged. These were all symbolically represented by giving Plutus a different origin.
As a child of Hades and Persephone, Plutus would have represented a more abstract form of agricultural wealth. Persephone’s return from the Underworld each spring represented rebirth and the cycle between life and death, so Plutus was the wealth of new growth that she brought with her.
This version of Plutus also had a legal implication. A connection to the god of death made Plutus a symbol of the wealth that would be inherited by a son after his father died and went to Hades’ realm.
Hades himself was often called Pluton, or Pluto in English, “The Wealthy One.” The connection between the two gods could originally have been based on this euphemistic title for the god of the dead.
Eirene was rarely said to be directly related to Plutus, but is often depicted as his nurse or caregiver. When seen with her, he is almost always a child.
This was because wealth and peace were directly linked. When a land was blessed by the goddess of peace and spared the destruction and expense of war, wealth of all types would follow.
While the story involving Demeter and Iasion is the most well-known myth of Plutus’s birth, the most common images show him with Tyche. As the goddess of fortune, she shared many of the duties and attributes of Plutus.
In early Greek culture, Tyche had been specifically linked with the fortune and well-being of a city. By the Classical Era, however, her role had expanded to include all types of prosperity and luck.
Luck from Tyche could bring wealth, which gave her an obvious tie to Plutus. As both deities became more tied to ideas of general prosperity, they became linked to one another more often.
Plutus was the personification of wealth in Greek mythology.
In his most common origin story, he was one of two children born to Demeter and her human lover Iasion after their tryst in a freshly-plowed field. In this form, he reflected his origins as a god of agricultural bounty and plenty.
As the idea of wealth evolved, so too did the origin story of Plutus.
Some myths claimed that he was the son of Hades and Persophone. This continued his tradition as an agricultural god and also made him a god of inherited wealth.
He was sometimes shown with Eirene, the goddess of peace, in art. This was based on the fact that wealth of all forms came in times of peace and stability.
In later eras, he was most often shown as the son of Tyche, the goddess of luck. As her role changed from being a goddess of the city to having dominion over all types of prosperity and fortune, the connection between the two was obvious.
While Greeks of all backgrounds hoped to attract the favor of Plutus, some traditions held that he was blind. This was to ensure that wealth was distributed at random and to keep people from appealing to him over other gods.
The random nature of Plutus’s gifts meant that he never overshadowed the more important gods of the pantheon. His many differing stories, however, show the importance of the Greek god of wealth to people from many walks of life.