1. The nurse of the infant Zeus after his birth in Crete. The ancients themselves appear to have been as uncertain about the etymology of the name as about the real nature of Amaltheia. Hesychius derives it from the verb to nourish or to enrich, others from firm or hard; and others again from to signify the divine goat, or the tender goddess. The common derivation is from to milk or suck.
According to some traditions Amaltheia is the goat who suckled the infant Jove and who was afterwards rewarded for this service by being placed among the stars. (Comp. Apollod. i. 1. § 6.)
According to another set of traditions Amaltheia was a nymph, and daughter of Oceanus, Helios, Haemonius, or of the Cretan king Melisseus and is said to have fed Zeus with the milk of a goat.
When this goat once broke off one of her horns, the nymph Amaltheia filled it with fresh herbs and fruit and gave it to Zeus, who transplaced it together with the goat among the stars. (Ovid, Fast. v. 115)
According to other accounts Zeus himself broke off one of the horns of the goat Amaltheia, gave it to the daughters of Melisseus, and endowed it with such powers that whenever the possessor wished, it would instantaneously become filled with whatever might be desired. This is the story about the origin of the celebrated horn of Amaltheia, commonly called the horn of plenty or cornucopia, which plays such a prominent part in the stories of Greece, and which was used in later times as the symbol of plenty in general.
Diodorus (iii. 68) gives an account of Amaltheia, which differs from all the other traditions. According to him the Libyan king Ammon married Amaltheia, a maiden of extraordinary beauty, and gave her a very fertile tract of land which had the form of a bull's horn, and received from its queen the name of the horn of Amaltheia. This account, however, is only one of the many specimens of a rationalistic interpretation of the ancient mythus. The horn appears to be one of the most ancient and simplest vessels for drinking, and thus we find the story of Amaltheia giving Zeus to drink from a horn represented in an ancient work of art still extant.
The horn of plenty was frequently given as an attribute to the representations of Tyche or Fortuna.
2. One of the Sibyls whom Lactantius identifies with the
Cumacan Sibyl, who is said to have sold to king Tarquinius the
celebrated Sibylline books. The same is stated by Servius (ad
Aen. vi. 72) and by Lydus.