International Journal of Humanities and Social Science

ISSN 2220-8488 (Print), 2221-0989 (Online) 10.30845/ijhss

The Pomegranate: Marker of Cyclical Time, Seeds of Eternity
Matt Bennett

In the established symbology of classical Greek funerary art, the pomegranate is invariably referred to as a “symbol of death” or “symbol of fertility.” A close examination of the fruit’s numerous complex associations and relationships will help to shift this reductive perception of the pomegranate to a more nuanced interpretation as a marker of cyclical time (and, by proxy, eternity), of the perceived polarity between male and female, and of a shift in the agrarian mode of production. Funeral ritual is not the only context necessary to understand the “meaning” of grave goods; in the case of the pomegranate as decorative motif, an examination of the fruit as foodstuff and as luxury good is also necessary to uncover its rich associative context. The pomegranate’s use in ancient Greek religion is well known, but to found our understanding of its symbolism in funerary art solely upon symbolic use in myth, text and oral tradition does not go far enough. We must make some attempt to tie myth and symbolism to actual practice and real-world usage, yet, given the scarcity and unreliability of primary sources on food and agriculture in the ancient world, this is no easy task. Through investigation of those few resources available, however, an altered image of the pomegranate begins to crystallize—one of the fruit as a liminal object, mediating between conditions often viewed as opposites: life and death, male and female, immediacy and eternity.

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