http://www.dailybulletin.com/ci_8422381Pomona, a goddess recalled
By David Allen, Staff Writer
Article Created: 03/01/2008 06:03:09 PM PST
WHO WAS the goddess Pomona, and why is her name on cities, colleges,
tableware, steamships and asteroids?
David Alexander, a retired president of Pomona College, has become an
expert on just those questions. We sat down Thursday morning in a campus
coffeehouse to grow garrulous about the goddess.
"I can become a real bore on the subject," Alexander warned me, quite
Pomona was an obscure goddess of antiquity whose cult was absorbed into
the pantheon of Roman gods, Alexander explained. No Zeus, Aphrodite or
Apollo, Pomona rated only a half-dozen mentions in all of classical
In Ovid's "Metamorphoses," written in 8 A.D. and the most popular
version, Pomona was a virgin wooed by Vertumnus, who, after several
failures, disguised himself as an old woman to better advise her on love.
Once she softened on the subject, Vertumnus revealed himself as "a lusty
It's a symbolic story. Pomona was the goddess of orchards and fruit
trees, and only with the influence of Vertumnus, god of the changing
year, do seasons reach her orchard and does her fruit finally ripen.
Or, to quote the FM radio philosopher Steve Miller: "Really love your
peaches, wanna shake your tree."
More than 150 images and sculptures involve Pomona, usually with
Vertumnus, including works by Rubens and Rembrandt. You can find Pomona
in the Louvre, in the Norton Simon Museum, outside the Plaza Hotel in
New York, and in Florence, Kansas City and Bangkok.
Pomona makes a cameo in the novel "The Phantom of the Opera" and is a
minor character in the Harry Potter series. She's appeared in French
opera, English cantatas and Swedish poetry, not to mention a pair of
19thcentury American adventure stories by the author of "The Lady, or
A species of butterfly, papilio pomona, is named for her, as is a color,
Pomona is a line of tableware and a French food conglomerate, whose blue
and white delivery vans, emblazoned with the name Pomona, are said to be
common in France.
Other connections to the goddess are harder to fathom.
She was the namesake of schooners - one was owned by an East Coast
concern, the Pomona Mining Co. - and of a 34-gun Spanish frigate of 1806.
A steamer named Pomona sank off Fort Ross, in Northern California, in
1907, an event made even more noteworthy by its aftermath: During a
salvage operation, a diver was attacked by a giant octopus.
Pomona also lends her name, perhaps against her will, to a Polish maker
of industrial wipes, manufacturers of turbines and axial pumps, an
Italian wine, a bar in Sheffield and a hedge fund.
"I think it's touching that there is so much interest in a third-rate,
or sixth-rate, deity, who is so low on the Roman pantheon that even the
Romans don't know much about her," Alexander said.
He theorized: "I think it's because it's a pretty word - `Po-mo-na' -
and so musical sounding."
There are eight cities in the United States named Pomona: in New York,
New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and, of
In our Pomona's case, a nurseryman, Solomon Gates, won a name-the-city
contest in 1875 with that entry. Pomona College incorporated in 1887 in
Pomona and moved to Claremont the following year, changing its address
but not its name.
Elsewhere in the world, one can find Pomona's name attached to a city
and college in Australia, a Toronto park, one of the Orkney islands, a
ghost town in Namibia, a village in Patagonia - which Alexander says may
be "the most remote Pomona on earth" - and a bed and breakfast in Tasmania.
And how could I fail to mention 32 Pomona, an asteroid?
Alexander, who led Pomona College from 1969 to 1991, informally saved
material about Pomona for years.
The class of 1957, with its 50th reunion approaching, hired him to
compile his Pomona lore into a slim book. "The Goddess Pomona: A Harvest
of Digressions," printed by famed book designer and '57 alumnus Andrew
Hoyem, was the result.
Limited to 1,500 copies, they have been distributed among the class of
'57 and a few select people. Don Pattison of the college thoughtfully
sent me one, knowing it would be right up my alley.
Doing my part, I also urged Alexander to give a copy to the Pomona
Public Library. After all, as William Holden cracked in the movie
"Sunset Boulevard," "They'll love it in Pomona."
As for his research, it's continuing. A tiny Pomona in Tennessee dating
to the mid-1800s came to his attention only recently.
Alexander admits his book is incomplete in other ways. He said Pomona's
connection to Halloween rituals, and her growing significance in
female-centered pagan religions, including Wicca, were topics he felt
unqualified to say much about.
He seemed unaware of, or perhaps just uninterested in, Pomona references
in film, TV and song. But then, that's my specialty, isn't it?
Besides, he deserves our thanks for expanding our knowledge of Pomona.
As he quipped: "From five classical references to 12,000 words, the
length of my book, is a pretty good expansion."
David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, perhaps too
expansively. E-mail email@example.com, call (909) 483-9339 or
write 2041 E. Fourth St., Ontario 91764. And read his blog at