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News: Brian Franczak, famous paleo-artist, dead at 65

It is with a heavy heart that I announce that Brian Franczak, one of the all-time greats of paleo-art, died on August 1, 2020 in New Britain, Connecticut. He was 65 years old. The cause of death is unknown.

Brian Franczak was one of the greatest paleo-artists of the second half of the 20th Century. In fact, he might be one of the greatest ever. The man was staggeringly prolific. Churning out hundreds of artworks over his life, his drawings and paintings (especially his paintings) were featured in numerous books about dinosaurs throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He even painted the designs for the cards that came with the Jurassic Park toys in 1993. It also helped that his artwork had a very distinctive style. Nobody, absolutely NOBODY, could mistake a Franczak painting or drawing for anyone else’s.

By the late 1990s or early 2000s, Brian Franczak had essentially disappeared from public life. Information about what had happened was scarce, and all that was really known for sure was that he was living in Connecticut. By 2017, it was revealed that Brian Franczak had been diagnosed with dementia, and it was rumored that he was suffering through severe health issues.

R.I.P. Brian Franczak (January 19, 1955 – August 1, 2020). Your work and your legacy will not be forgotten.

Pantosaurus

Hello everyone. Several years ago, I wrote a short article for Prehistoric Times magazine about the Sundance Sea. This was a shallow saltwater sea which covered much of central North America during the middle to late Jurassic Period. One of the illustrations that I made which accompanied that article was a drawing of a pair of plesiosaurs chasing after a school of belemnites. The plesiosaurs in question were called Pantosaurus. This species was a member of the “cryptoclidid” family of plesiosaurs, and measured about 20 feet long.

I thought that I had posted that drawing onto this website at that time, but looking through my portfolio, it appears that I neglected to do so. Well, better late than never! Unlike many of my other drawings, which are mostly made with No.2 pencil or colored pencils, this one was made with a black ballpoint pen and a black marker.

Pantosaurus with belemnites. © Jason R. Abdale. November 18, 2014.

 

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Baptanodon

This is Baptanodon, an ichthyosaur which lived during the middle and late parts of the Jurassic Period about 165-155 million years ago. During this time, the central part of North America was covered with a body of saltwater known as the Sundance Sea, and Baptanodon was one of the creatures that swam in this inland ocean. It measured 20 feet long, it had freakishly huge eyes, and, as far as I have been able to learn so far, it had small teeth only in the front half of its mouth while the rear half was completely toothless. The presence of grooves running along the sides of its jaws indicate that it probably had lips and the teeth would not have been visible when the mouth was closed.

Baptanodon was closely related to the European ichthyosaur Ophthalmosaurus. In fact, for a while it was believed that Ophthalmosaurus and Baptanodon might be the same animal. However, phylogenic studies indicate that they are indeed separate.

Baptanodon shared its habitat with numerous other forms of marine life including oysters, ammonites, belemnites, hybodont sharks, as well as the 20 foot long plesiosaur Pantosaurus and the 25 foot long pliosaur Megalneusaurus.

This drawing was made on printer paper with No.2 pencil, Crayola colored pencils, and Prismacolor colored pencils.

Baptanodon. © Jason R. Abdale. August 12, 2020.

Stegosaurus

Introduction

There are over a thousand species of dinosaurs that are known to science today. Kids, it seems, are more disposed to remember these names than adults, and I have encountered several examples of children trying to impress people by rattling off as many dinosaur names as possible. In fact, it embarrasses me to state that I used to be one of these pint-sized paleontological know-it-alls. Of all of these names, there are about twenty or so that nearly everybody knows straight off the top of their heads, and Stegosaurus is unquestionably one of them.

Stegosaurus is one of the most well-known and easily-recognized dinosaurs out there. It is the definitive Jurassic armored plant-eater that everybody knows and loves. It has been consistently featured in nearly every children’s dinosaur book going back as far as the 1950s and it is a favorite subject of paleo-artists. Ask practically anybody what a Stegosaurus is, and they can describe what one looks like for you: four legs, plates on its back, spikes on its tail, and a brain the size of a walnut.

However, there are a lot of misconceptions about this iconic Jurassic armored tank, not only regarding its intelligence but also its appearance. Paleo-artists have regularly portrayed Stegosaurus as a massive hulking brute, but new science suggests that this animal was much slimmer and elegant than how it’s commonly portrayed.

 

Discovery

The first Stegosaurus fossils were discovered in Colorado during the 1870s as part of the “Bone Wars”, an intense scientific feud between Prof. Edward D. Cope of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and Prof. Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale University in their quest to become THE paleontologist of the late 19th Century by discovering and naming more species than the other guy. When the fossils were first uncovered, Marsh looked at the large back plates and thought that they were pieces of an enormous turtle shell; it wasn’t until later that he realized that they actually came from a dinosaur. In 1877, the fossils were officially given the name Stegosaurus armatus “the armed roof lizard”, because the back plates reminded Marsh of roof shingles.

As the Bone Wars continued, more specimens of Stegosaurus were discovered. However, O. C. Marsh was not working with complete specimens – only with partial skeletons or fragments. Therefore, whenever he found a specimen that did not look EXACTLY like something that he had already seen, he automatically assumed that it was a different species. Consequently, numerous species were ascribed to Stegosaurus such as S. armatus, S. affinis, S. duplex, S. laticeps, S. sulcatus, S. ungulatus, and probably the most well-known of all of them, S. stenops. A few of these were later determined to by synonymous. However, after a long and thorough examination of the finds, it appears that there were indeed three or maybe four distinct species.

Of all of the species that have been named, Stegosaurus stenops is probably the most widely recognized simply because more skeletons have been found of this particular species than any other. Stegosaurus stenops, therefore, might have been the most common species of its genus. However, prehistoric population percentages are extremely difficult to determine because the studies tend to be very subjective rather than objective. There might also be preservation biases in fossilization which would lead to some species being more likely to fossilize than others. The number of fossils, therefore, should not always be automatically correlated to population numbers.

Illustration of the skull of Stegosaurus stenops. Illustration from The Dinosaurs of North America by Othniel Charles Marsh. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896.

Stegosaurus stenops might be the most well-known Stegosaurus species due to the sheer number of fossil specimens that have been found, but it wasn’t the largest member of its kind. Stegosaurus stenops reached about 25 feet long, while another species named Stegosaurus ungulatus was slightly larger, reaching 30 feet long. In fact, S. ungulatus is the largest stegosaur species that we know of in the entire world. However, a stegosaur from Europe named Dacentrurus may challenge that title. The problem is that this animal is known only from partial remains, so its total length is difficult to determine. Most sources that I have seen identify it as a medium-sized animal measuring 15 to 20 feet long, and there are only a handful of finds which hint that it might have grown larger. So, for the time being, S. ungulatus still holds the world record of “biggest stegosaur ever”.

 

Anatomy

Stegosaurus has been intensely studied ever since its discovery, partly due to its novel appearance. Even so, there are a lot of misconceptions about how this animal looked which have been perpetuated over the years.

Previous restorations have shown Stegosaurus as having a short compressed body with a highly arched back, short front legs, freakishly tall back legs, and a tail that’s substantially shorter than what you would expect. This image has been copied for decades and it has become so engrained into our consciousness that we automatically assume that this is how a Stegosaurus is supposed to look. One of the things that needs to be considered is that this image was completely contrary to the majority of other stegosaur species found elsewhere in Europe, Africa, India, and China, which had longer necks, shorter legs, smoothly-curving backs, and long tails. However, we just assumed that Stegosaurus was weird and didn’t fit with the majority of stegosaur anatomy, until some new discoveries were made in the 2000s.

While a complete specimen of Stegosaurus has never been found, a skeleton of a sub-adult Stegosaurus which was discovered in 2003 in Wyoming helped to substantially change our perceptions of this animal. Named “Sophie”, this 18-foot-long skeleton was 80% complete, making it the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton ever found. It took many years to clean the skeleton up, measure it, and mount it for public display in 2014. When all of the work was done, Sophie had some noteworthy aspects to her anatomy which did not fit with the traditional image, and this compelled scientists to update their reconstructions of how Stegosaurus was supposed to look. The revised image showed this animal as having much shorter back legs, a lower back, a longer stretched-out neck, and a longer tail. The resulting image is much more sinuous and streamlined than the previous image of the brooding bruising hulk that’s been around for ages.

Below is a rough sketch that I had made sometime during the late 2000s of Stegosaurus stenops based upon the information that I had at the time. This shows how Stegosaurus was believed to appear since at least the 1980s, with its conspicuously high-arched hump back, very long rear legs, and a rather short tail.

Now, here is an updated version of how Stegosaurus stenops would have looked based upon our current understanding of this animal’s anatomy. The neck is slightly longer because this creature had more cervical vertebrae than we had previously thought. The back legs aren’t as tall as we once thought they were, and this makes the back much lower and less strongly arched. Finally, the tail is noticeably longer. The resulting image is much more in-line with what we know about other stegosaur species and doesn’t make Stegosaurus appear as freakish as it once was. This drawing was made with No.2 pencil on printer paper and was made in 1:20 scale. From the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, this drawing measures precisely 15 inches long, which would make it 25 feet long in real life.

Stegosaurus is instantly recognizable due to its back plates and tail spikes. These physical features are, anatomically-speaking, highly transformed osteoderms. The word “osteoderm” literally means “skin bone”, and it refers to any bone object which is embedded within the skin or is visible on the body’s exterior rather than forming a part of the structural skeleton. Technically, a stegosaur’s plates and spikes are osteoderms because they are attached onto the body rather than being incorporated as part of its skeleton.

While the plates and spikes may be the most obvious features to Stegosaurus’ anatomy, there were other, more subtle aspects that provided it with a certain measure of protection. Notably, there existed a series of marble-like osteoderms covering the underside of the neck where the neck connects to the skull and extending backwards for about half of the neck’s length. This almost certainly evolved as a means to protect the carotid artery and jugular vein from being torn open by a predator, yet it’s perplexing that it would only extend halfway down the neck rather than covering the entire neck. This pebbly structure forms the equivalent of a chain-mail pixane, a type of armored throat protector which was worn by Medieval knights. My gracious thanks to Mr. Ian LaSpina for his wonderful video series on Medieval armor which let me know of the existence of such an object. Please check out his website on Medieval clothing, armor, and weapons here or his YouTube channel here.

Medieval armor researcher Ian LaSpina wearing a pixane (also called a pisan or a standard), a chain-mail collar meant to protect the throat. Image courtesy of Ian LaSpina (2014), used with permission.

As stated earlier, Stegosaurus was a genus composed of three or four species, and each of them had a slightly different appearance not only in terms of their overall size but also in their body proportions, including the size and shape of the dorsal plates. The plates of Stegosaurus ungulatus are much smaller and narrower than those of Stegosaurus stenops, and they come to a pronounced sharp point at the tip. By contrast, the plates of Stegosaurus stenops were large, wide-based, and they have somewhat rounded ends.

The number of plates that Stegosaurus possessed is difficult to determine. Various sources give numbers ranging from seventeen to twenty-two plates in total. This probably has to do with the fact that most sources lump all species of Stegosaurus together, not taking into account that different species have different appearances, including different numbers of plates running along the back. It also might be partially to do with the fact that a 100% complete specimen of Stegosaurus has never been found, and therefore we cannot be entirely certain of how many plates it indeed had. The finished drawing of Stegosaurus stenops which you see above has a total of nineteen plates.

One of the topics which has generated a sizeable amount of academic debate is how the plates were arranged on the back. The earliest reconstruction of this animal shows the plates lying down on the back like overlapping fish scales. Some artists depicted this animal as having a double row of plates with the plates arranged in pairs. For much of the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, Stegosaurus was shown with the plates arranged in a single line running down the middle of the back. However, the most common arrangement that you will see nowadays is a double line of staggered alternating plates. How far apart were these two rows from each other? That, also, is a subject of conjecture. Some reconstructions show them butted up against each other along the top of the animal’s spine, forming a V-shape when seen from the front. Other artists put a gap in between the two rows, with the wideness being largely personal interpretation.

 

Depiction of Stegosaurus ungulatus made in 1896 showing it with eight tail spikes and a single line of back plates. Public domain image, Wikimedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stego-marsh-1896-US_geological_survey.png.

 

Depiction of Stegosaurus ungulatus by Charles Knight (1901) showing it with a double row of paired plates. Public domain image, Wikimedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stego.jpg

 

Depiction of Stegosaurus ungulatus by G. E. Roberts (1901) showing it with a double row of alternating plates. Public domain image, Wikimedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stegosaurus_ungulatus_Roberts_1901.png

 

One of the things that you’ll notice in my drawing is that the plates are non-symmetrical. Not only are they arranged in a staggered formation along the back instead of being arranged in pairs, but also the plates on one side are of a different size and shape to the plates on the opposite side; no two plates on any Stegosaurus’ back look exactly alike to each other.

While some older sources on dinosaurs claimed that Stegosaurus’ plates were used in defense, this idea is false. Defensive armament would be better served if the plates were lying flat upon the body like overlapping armor plates, and being substantially thickened. However, the plates stand erect upon the animal’s back, leaving the sides completely unprotected. The plates are also very thin in cross-section and they would have been easily broken if they were impacted by something. Rather, the plates were almost certainly used for display. The plates extending upwards from the animal’s spine also would have made the animal look far larger than it actually was, likely as a means to deter predators.

In life, the back plates would not have been exposed bone. Instead, they would have been covered with a protective layer of keratin – the same stuff that your fingernails are made out of. Based upon the texture of the plate’s surface, it seems highly probable that these plates were not covered in scaly skin.

In addition to the dorsal plates, another distinctive feature of Stegosaurus are the four spikes on the end of its tail. While there is no official anatomical term for this feature, this weaponized tail is nowadays commonly referred to as a “thagomizer”. The name is based upon a 1982 comic from The Far Side by Gary Larson in which the tail was named in honor of a caveman named Thag Simmons who met his maker by it. Since then, it has gained popularity within the scientific community and is now an unofficial anatomical vocabulary term. It was even referenced in the fourth episode of the 2011 BBC documentary series Planet Dinosaur.

Similar to the academic debate concerning the placement and arrangement of Stegosaurus’ dorsal plates, there has likewise been an argument concerning the placement of the tail spikes. Based upon the shape of the base of these spikes, nearly all people can agree that they were angled backwards, pointing towards the tip of the tail rather than pointing forwards or directly sideways. Unfortunately, there’s not much else that we know about the spikes’ position on the body, and this has led to a lot of varying interpretations over the years. Some reconstructions and paleo-art show the spikes sticking virtually straight up, while others show them positioned outwards horizontally; this latter position has become somewhat trendy recently. However, the vast majority of 2D and 3D reconstructions show the left and right spikes positioned in a V-shape at varying degrees, with the angle being either narrower or wider depending upon the supervising museum curator, fossil preparator, or artist. So far, nobody has been able to definitively say how the tail spikes ought to be positioned. Perhaps the only way in which this debate may be settled is if a mummy is found or if a Stegosaurus specimen is found preserved in three dimensions similar to the infamous “Dueling Dinos” find.

While no skin impressions have been found in association with Stegosaurus fossils, they have been found with a related species called Hesperosaurus. It’s based upon this find that we can make inferences about what the skin of Stegosaurus would have looked like.

In 1985, the remains of a stegosaur skeleton were discovered in north-central Wyoming in rocks dated to approximately 156 MYA, in a rock layer that marks the lowest and oldest layer of the Morrison Formation. Upon careful examination of the skeleton, it was determined that this did not belong to any known species of Stegosaurus, but was instead a previously unknown genus. In 2001, it was named Hesperosaurus, “the western lizard”. Hesperosaurus differed from Stegosaurus in that it was slightly smaller (20 feet long instead of 25-30 feet) and its plates were smaller and a bit more rounded in shape. Hesperosaurus might have been the direct ancestor of the more famous Stegosaurus, but more evidence is needed before this claim can be definitively proven.

In 1995, another stegosaur skeleton was discovered in northern Wyoming in rocks dated to approximately 155-150 MYA. This skeleton was remarkable not only due to the fact that it was nearly complete, but it also contained one spot on its body with preserved skin, located on the animal’s right side in between its front right and back right legs. It wasn’t until September of 2010, fifteen years after the skeleton was discovered, that a description of this specimen was published. It was identified as belonging to Hesperosaurus.

The skin impression from Hesperosaurus consists of small non-overlapping scales which are either round, oval, or polygonal in shape. The further up the back you go, the larger the animal’s scales become, with some of the scales becoming large, oval-shaped, and surrounded by a ring of smaller scales. Most of the body’s hexagonal scales measured 2-7mm in diameter, but the oval scales higher up on the flanks are much larger than that. One rosette measured 8x10mm in area, and another further up on the back measured 10x20mm in area. These larger scales are noticeably more rounded in texture, forming distinctive “lumps”, arranged in rows lengthwise down the body. Technically these are not true osteoderms because they do not have a bony core. Instead, they could be considered as “dermal scutes”, which are nothing more than scales, like other body scales, which just happen to be unusually large and thick compared with other scales on the body. Although it cannot be proven, it’s possible that Stegosaurus had a similar skin texture to its relative Hesperosaurus.

 

Color Patterns

While skin texture can be speculated upon with a certain degree of accuracy, skin color is something that falls entirely into the realm of guesswork. To date, no preserved pigment cells have been discovered in any stegosaur fossil. Traditionally, Stegosaurus has been depicted as being green with the back plates colored in red, orange, or pink. This color scheme has been around since the 1950s, and it has been copied so many times that many people automatically think of this image whenever they hear the word “Stegosaurus”. This contrasting color scheme of green plus some color on the red end of the spectrum is visually striking and appealing to the eye, and may be the reason why it is so commonly seen to the point of it being considered a “paleo meme” to use Darren Naish’s term. But how probable is it that Stegosaurus was colored in this way? There’s really no way to tell.

Below is a colorized rendition of my updated Stegosaurus drawing showing it garbed in a traditional color scheme consisting of a mottled green with reddish plates.

One argument can be made that Stegosaurus was probably colored in more muted tones given it lived in an environment which was dry and arid for much of the year. Such a color scheme can be seen in Fred Wierum’s artwork in which he gives his Stegosaurus a distinctly desert-themed coloration of tan and brown. Unfortunately, I was not able to gain permission to use his work on this website; you can see his painting here.

Paleo-artist and children’s author Patricia Bujard has also liveried her Stegosaurus in various desert-themed color patterns. Below are a series of Stegosaurus illustrations that she has made dated, left to right: November 9, 2016. August 2, 2017. January 4, 2018. All images © Patricia Bujard. All images are used with permission. Please check out her wonderful website, Pete’s Paleo Petshop, to view more of her lovely illustrations.

steggySteggy_update2Steggy_update3

It has also been proposed by Patricia Bujard that Stegosaurus, and possibly all stegosaurs, might have been decked out with bright color patterns that are similar to venomous snakes, poison arrow frogs, or poisonous insects. Such colors would loudly advertise that it is a dangerous animal and it would serve as a warning to potential predators to back off. A color scheme which evokes this idea is a painting of Tuojiangosaurus, a stegosaur from China, made by Brian Franczak during either the late 1980s or early 1990s. In this painting, the animal is vividly portrayed in contrasting colors of black and yellowish-orange.

Here is another colorized version of my Stegosaurus drawing portraying it in a much more un-orthodox color scheme of bright black and orange stripes with a bold yellow underside, and with plates that are patterned with red, a black edge, and bright yellow “eye spots” in the center, and with black-and-yellow striped tail spikes. The message here – Stay away from me! The stripes on the body are formed by the lines of dermal scutes that are arranged on the animal’s sides. Since we only have a small patch of preserved skin from one Hesperosaurus specimen, we cannot know how extensive these scutes were on the animal’s body or if they were arranged in any kind of pattern. However, if they were arranged in a series of horizontal lines, or at least lines that more-or-less followed the body’s contours in a front-to-back arrangement, then it’s possible that these lines of scutes might have demarcated different color areas on the body. It’s just a thought. The resulting coloration is remarkably reminiscent of Brian Franczak’s painting, even though it wasn’t intended to be.  My gracious thanks to Madame Bujard for helping me with this.

It has come to my attention that I have quite a few illustrations portraying dinosaurs patterned in broad longitudinal black stripes, including Dryosaurus and Camptosaurus. Hmmm. I don’t like making my dinosaurs look too similar to each other, but honestly, I cannot imagine these two species looking any other way. After all, both Dryosaurus and Camptosaurus are supposed to be related to each other, being primitive iguanodonts. However, the similarity of the stripes on Stegosaurus with the previously-mentioned species was entirely coincidental.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please like, comment, and subscribe, and as always, keep your pencils sharp.

 

August 13 – The Feast of Pomona, Goddess of Fruit

As we approach the middle of August, the heat of Summer is still on full-blast. Gardens are bursting with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and a whole slew of other crops. Thoughts of the cool crisp breezes of Autumn are beginning to creep into people’s minds as they sweat and roast in the broiling sun, with their air conditioners cranked up to maximum.

However, to the ancient Romans, Summer had already ended by this point.

The ancient Roman seasonal calendar was different from ours. To us modern-day people, the Autumnal Equinox in late September marks the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn. However, to the Romans, the Autumnal Equinox marked the mid-point of Autumn. To them, the real beginning of Autumn took place in early August.

Not long after their Autumn began, the Romans held the first of several festivals dedicated to the Fall harvest. August 13 was the date of a feast day dedicated to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and the patron deity of orchards, especially apple orchards (1). In fact, the French word for “apple”, pomme, comes directly from her name. The Feast Day of Pomona occurs not long after the beginning of Autumn in the ancient Roman calendar, and it may be seen as a celebration of the arrival of Autumn in ancient Italy.

Pomona is represented in ancient Roman iconography as a woman crowned with fruit. In one hand, she hefts up the hem of her robe which is used as an impromptu basket to hold the harvested fruits of the orchard, and in the other hand she holds a pruning hook (2). A sacred orchard dedicated to her lay outside the port-town of Ostia about twelve miles away from Rome (3).

Much of the mythology centering on Pomona is recorded by the ancient Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Legends say that Pomona was either a goddess or a nymph who took delight in tending to her garden. Naturally, she was utterly beautiful as all nymphs are, and so when the young and handsome Vertumnus, the god of the changing seasons, passed by her garden and saw her, he immediately lusted for her. Despite his efforts to woo her, she would have none of it. But Vertumnus was not discouraged, and he persistently pursued her hand until she finally relented. The two became deeply in love and were inseparable from each other. Unlike other stories of Greco-Roman mythology which are rife with tales of adulterous philandering gods and goddesses screwing around behind their partners’ backs (I’m talking to YOU, Zeus!!!), Vertumnus and Pomona never cheated on each other.

The feast day of both Pomona and her husband Vertumnus took place on August 13, according to Propertius (4). This is because the temple of Vertumnus, located on the Aventine Hill, was dedicated on August 13, 264 BC. The timing was deliberately chosen to coincide when the first fruits of the harvest would be ripe sometime in mid-August (5). The flamen Pomonalis, the chief priest of the worship of Pomona, was a minor-ranking member of the Roman clergy, chosen from among the Plebeian Order (6).

The thing most associated with the goddess Pomona was the apple. Today, there are thousands of varieties of apples, and even in ancient times there was a certain number to choose from; Pliny the Elder mentions in his Natural History that there were twenty-five varieties of apples that were grown in the Roman Empire (7). Today, Italy is the sixth-largest producer of apples in the entire world, producing approximately 2.2 million tons of apples every year. Most apple farms are located in the northern part of the country, where the weather is a bit cooler; apple farming is especially popular in Trentino (8).

Apple trees will flower in April or May, depending upon the weather. Different varieties of apples ripen at different times of the year. The vast majority of apple varieties have their fruits ripen in September or October, but there are a handful of varieties that ripen much sooner, beginning in the middle of August. The Feast of Pomona, which takes place around this time, celebrates the first apple harvest of the year, and on August 13, people made an offering to Pomona of the first ripe fruits of the year’s harvest (9). It is also said that the Halloween tradition of bobbing-for-apples comes directly from the ancient Roman feast of Pomona (10).

It is curious that the Romans should have a feast held in honor of Pomona during the time when the first crop of apples are harvested, and yet there does not appear to be a corresponding festival for when the apple blossoms first appear in Spring. Surely, if the Romans wished the goddess to bestow their favor on her, shouldn’t they offer sacrifices and other holy rites to her when the apple trees begin to flower in late April or early May? What good is it to have flowers if they do not swell into fruit? After all, apples are what Pomona is most associated with, so it would make sense to me that the Romans would try to propitiate and please this goddess as much as possible in Springtime in order to ensure a good apple harvest in August and September. I can easily imagine dwellers of the rural countryside of northern Italy and elsewhere assembling at their apple orchards, making offerings, raising up their hands, and (to paraphrase a certain 1970s British cult movie) shouting aloud “Great and almighty Pomona, bountiful goddess of our orchards, accept our sacrifice, and make our blossoms fruit!!!” Yet, I cannot find any mention made of any rituals held to Pomona during the Spring. If there was indeed such a ritual, I do not know of it. Perhaps it was combined with other Spring fertility rituals that the Romans held, such as the Cerealia of April 12-19 and the Floralia of April 28.

Oh guardian nymph, thou keeper of tree and soil,
The voice of love now clear in the garden calls.
He comes to thee who brings the harvest.
Open thy arms to embrace Vertumnus!
Oh guardian nymph, Vertumnus is calling thee.
Pomona, hear and answer thy lover’s plea,
See now he comes who brings the harvest.
Open thy arms to his love Pomona,
Pomona, Pomona, Oh goddess of earth!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MzuMcWqBdw

 

Source citations:

  1. The Dublin University Magazine. No. CCXXXVIII. Vol. XL (October 1852). Page 383.
  2. The Dublin University Magazine. No. CCXXXVIII. Vol. XL (October 1852). Page 383.
  3. Mike Dixon-Kennedy. Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998. Page 257.
  4. Oskar Seyffert. A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Mythology, Religion, Literature & Art. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Company, 1891. Page 684.
  5. Johnson’s Revised Universal Cyclopedia. Volume VI. New York: A.J. Johnson & Co., 1890. Page 361.
  6. The Cyprus Agricultural Journal. Volumes 32-35. 1937. Page 10.
  7. Mike Dixon-Kennedy. Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998. Page 257.
  8. Italia Outdoors: Food and Wine. “Apples”. https://www.italiaoutdoorsfoodandwine.com/index.php/food-and-wine/food/veneto/27-food/all-regions/6-apples.
  9. Oskar Seyffert. A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Mythology, Religion, Literature & Art. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Company, 1891. Page 684.
  10. The Haunted History of Halloween. The History Channel, 1997.

 

Bibliography:

  • The Dublin University Magazine. No. CCXXXVIII. Vol. XL. October 1852.
  • Johnson’s Revised Universal Cyclopedia. Volume VI. New York: A.J. Johnson & Co., 1890.
  • Seyffert, Oskar. A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Mythology, Religion, Literature & Art. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Company, 1891.
  • The Cyprus Agricultural Journal. Volumes 32-35. 1937.
  • The Haunted History of Halloween. The History Channel, 1997. Narrated by Harry Smith.
  • Dixon-Kennedy, Mike. Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998.
  • Italia Outdoors: Food and Wine. “Apples”. https://www.italiaoutdoorsfoodandwine.com/index.php/food-and-wine/food/veneto/27-food/all-regions/6-apples.