The Fruit Connecting Life and Death: Pomegranate

The National Herald Archive

Pomegranate. Photo: (inaquim, via Wikimedia Commons)

Some plants in Greece are so deeply connected with Greek history, mythology, and tradition that is hard to find a starting point. Maybe the oldest report about the pomegranate bush is by Homer, who first called this beautiful bush ‘Ria’ and this name remained until it was replaced with ‘Rodia’ in modern Greek.

Homer described this plant in the gardens of king of Faiakon (Kerkira island nowadays). A famous myth featured Persephone, daughter of Demetra – goddess of Earth – and Hades, god of Death and the Underworld. He offered Persephone seven seeds of pomegranate, which symbolized marriage. In this way, the couple was bonded forever and for six months Persephone was ‘above’ and for six she was ‘down’ in the Underworld Hades. This is how it was explained, in tradition and from mythology to modern art, that some for some months Earth is sleeping and then she is ‘reborn’ in Spring.

For example, it was used by a symbolist poet melodized by Mikis Theodorakis about a lover who left, symbolized as pomegranate. Also, pomegranate was depicted in statues of Hera, goddess of marriage and fertility, but was also associated with Aphrodite, goddess of passion and love. Therefore, in ancient Greece it was cultivated as a shrub of love, fertility, family, and good luck.

The same symbolism remains today, in Greek-Orthodox tradition that associates it with the life-death connection, good luck, and marriage through the breaking of the fruit at weddings, on New Years’ Eve, and in its use in the traditional ‘koliva’, a food offered for the souls of our departed.

In many civilizations, like the Roman and Chinese, pomegranate has the same symbolic value. Punica granatum, the scientific name of pomegranate may derive from punicum, meaning red color in Latin. The name pomegranate is derived from the Latin words pomum and granum meaning apple and seed respectively. When the outer surface is dried, the inner seeds are juicy ready to be consumed, another reason for this fruit’s symbolization of death and life. Its nutritional value is quite high. Bit its sour taste is undesirable for some palates due to the high amounts of antioxidants, tannins, and vitamins. A great way to consume it raw is in a green salad with kefalotyri or parmesan cheese and some ‘ntakos’, dried Cretan bread or croutons. Also, it can used fresh in every sweet recipe with fresh fruits like strawberries or blueberries.

* The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before reach herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who have health issues, are pregnant or are under the age of 6.

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.