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The Failing Male God: Emasculation, Death and Other Accidents in the Ancient Mediterranean World

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The purpose of this paper is threefold. Starting from a new analysis of some selected sources but also from a reappraisal of the highlights of scholarly literature, it aims to reassess the category of the Mediterranean "dying and rising gods," or "deities subject to vicissitude." A first conclusion is that in spite of past and present criticism this category holds it own and is still valuable for the work of the historian of religions. Secondly it is argued that an evaluation of some significant details in the parallel stories of Attis, Adonis, Osiris (and, mutatis mutandis, those of Dionysus and Mithras) demonstrates that deep-seated human urges may determine the formation of recurring mythical motifs. In order to clarify the background of this process, some Freudian formulas (the castration complex, the fear of death vs. the fear of castration) may be put to the test and yield profitable results. Another, "meta-critical" implication of this discussion is that our ways of collecting data, making comparisons, and suggesting solutions may be deeply conditioned by personal concerns.


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