Scratching the surface of Glycon’s cultus makes me realize how much Alan Moore’s offhanded down-talking of him as a fake god has distorted my appreciation of his historical place. I’ve been fidgeting a bit to see what I can do with google maps, so here is a crude map of how his cultus flashes across the ancient world following Alexander of Aboniteichus calling himself Glycon’s prophet.
Alexander’s hometown is the central tab and the arrows point toward sites where he starts showing up afterward.
Glycon probably benefited from his prophet’s location. In the narrow span of a few decades, the cult can be found in the Tigris-Euphrates and Danube River Valleys as well as coastal cities on both the Black and Mediterranean Seas. These are high-traffic zones, suggesting a degree of popularity and exposure. Lucian’s quip about the puppet god may tell us more about Lucian’s discomfort with this new religious movement than about the movement itself.
It makes me wonder, too, how much the cult was tapping into previous layers of the region’s cultural memory, if part of the figure’s popularity may have been that he was broadly intelligible to a great number of people. The established traditions of snakes being orchard daemons, of Judaism’s serpent mythology, of deeper layers of Sumerian and Indo-European serpent-dragon lore, all fit the bill.
I’m not suggesting there is necessarily anything exceptional about this pattern; quite opposite, I suspect it is common and pervasive, helping to circulate religious material (from myths to rites) throughout the region.
(Yes, this post is as much about seeing what I think about the inclusion of a map as about Glycon in specific; I’m not sure what I think yet.)