Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 3
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Mythology & History / David Alexander
The Goddess Pomona

The Goddess Pomona: A Harvest of Digressions
By David Alexander
Pomona College/Arion Press, 2007 / 84 pages, 18 color plates
(Special limited edition, not available for sale)

Never one to settle for low-hanging fruit, former Pomona College President David Alexander has reached deep into the tangled branches of history and mythology to stock a delightful tome about the little-known Roman goddess whose name the College bears. Conceived by and for the Class of ’57 and published in a limited edition by 1957 graduate Andrew Hoyem’s Arion Press, The Goddess Pomona: A Harvest of Digressions begins with the founding of the College and its naming. Pomona, the city, owed its appellation to an 1875 contest won by a classically-minded (and apparently hopeful) citrus grower. The city was the College’s first home, and the founders’ naming decision reflected their gratitude for its support.

Classically trained and broadly knowledgeable, Alexander then takes us further into the past to search for references to our eponymous deity, “an obscure rural Italo-Roman goddess of poma, or fruit . . . whose cult was absorbed into the Roman religion,” and who, despite the importance of fruit to life, did not rank high among divinities (Robigus, god of mildew, was, for example, deemed more worthy of propitiation). Through the Metamorphoses of Ovid (first century C.E.) whose version of Pomona’s lineage has prevailed, we learn that she was courted by Vertumnus, god of the changing year. The union is significant—combining Pomona’s orchard with Vertumnus’s “ripening” seasonal influence. We learn that Pomona’s name can be found attached to books, an opera, a ballet, and a butterfly, as well as to place names throughout the United States, abroad, and even in space—the asteroid “32 Pomona” was discovered in 1854.

One beautifully illustrated chapter details “sightings” of Pomona in works of art from Versailles and New York to Claremont. On campus, a bronze relief of the goddess, modeled on one in the Uffizi, surveys Marston Quadrangle from the west foyer of the Smith Campus Center, and a rather more muscular version attributed to 19th-century French painter Thomas Couture can be found in the Pomona College Museum of Art.

In the final chapter, Alexander makes clear that for true Pomona-philes, there is much left to discover. At the same time, he wonders whether this “profusion of allusion” will continue in our day when knowledge of classical mythology is no longer common currency. At the very least, he writes, “We can be thankful that a classically minded contest winner chose the name of Pomona for the town where the little college in its little cottage had its promising start.”
—Marjorie L. Harth
 
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