Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Adonis (Eshmun)

Adonis is a young fertility god, a comely youth beloved by Astarte, and represents death and rebirth in an oriental vegetation cult. He is also known as the agricultural divinity named Eshmun.

Adonis is derived from the Canaanite title, Adon. It is the Semitic word for master or ‘lord’ and i means ‘my’, therefore Adonai (Adonis is the Hellenized version of the same) translates as ‘my lord’; similarly the meaning of Baal, with whom he shares traits, is also ‘lord’ or ‘master’.

The myth of Adonis suffers from a lot of confusion. This study will show that he had two origins, several fathers and mothers, in some ways. His mother was Greek Aphrodite, the equivalent of Phoenician Astarte and Roman Venus. However, his lover was also Astarte and Venus; while his fathers were several kings and gods.

The Greeks knew the cult of Adonis in the sixth century BC, unquestionably through contact with Cyprus. In the same period Ezekiel (8:4) notes his existence in Jerusalem under the Babylonian name of Tammuz, who saw the women of Jerusalem weeping for him at the north gate of the temple. Adonis parallels the eastern companion god Dumuzi/Tammuz and the Hittite Telipinu. He is a Semitic immigrant to the Greek pantheon and is therefore not counted among the greater gods. His cult was established in Greece by 600 BC and his worship was known to Sappho and her circle.

Adonis has two origins: Cyprus and Byblos. On Cyprus, his father is either Canaanite/Phoenician king Theias or Cinyras, king of Paphos, or Pygmalion; his mother was Myrrha, the king's daughter. At Byblos, it is Phoinix, father of the Phoenicians. Paphos sees him linked to the goddess Aphrodite, with whom a tie has already been established. The worship of Adonis, a cult especially popular with women, was celebrated on flat rooftops by the planting of plants and the offering of incenses. It also involved lamentations for the dead god. The incense and wailing of women are identical practices to those found in Baal worship. In Greece, the goddess Persephone fulfills much of his role. In Phoenicia, his worship supplanted that of Aleyin, a vegetation god and son of Baal, who was killed by Mot.

According to legend the king of Canaan, Theias, had a daughter named Myrrha or Smyrna who was cursed by Aphrodite. She was forced to commit incest with her father when she was twelve; with the complicity of here nurse she succeeded in deceiving him for eleven nights, but on the twelfth night Theias discovered whom she really was and prepared to kill her. Myrrha fled, and the gods taking pity on her, turned her into a tree, the myrrh tree. Ten months later the bark peeled off and an infant emerged and was named Adonis. Aphrodite was very moved by the beauty of the child, placed him into a coffin and she gave him to Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, to bring up. Becoming infatuated with the beautiful child Persephone refused to give him back. When Aphrodite returned to retrieve the coffin she discovered that Persephone had opened it and claimed the handsome child for herself. Zeus became the arbitrator in settling the dispute between the two goddesses, and it was decided that Adonis should live one-third of the year with Aphrodite on earth, one-third with Persephone in the Underworld, and the final third with whichever he pleased. Adonis chose to spend two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite and one-third with Persephone in the Underworld.

Adonis was an avid hunter. Astarte fell deeply in love with him. She tried to persuade him to give up the dangerous sport. Adonis refused. The story goes that while out hunting, Adonis was killed by a wild boar. The Phoenician goddess Astarte tried to save him but she was too late. And so it is the blood of Adonis that each spring turns to red the torrential river, the Adonis River (modern Nahr Ibrahim in Lebanon) . Afqa is the sacred source where the waters of the river emerge from a huge grotto in a cliff 200 meters high. It is there that the myth of Astarte (Venus) and Adonis was born.

Across from the grotto are the remains of the Roman Temple of Venus. The temple was destroyed by the Christian Emperor Constantine (285 - 337 AD), it was later rebuilt by Julian the Apostle (362 - 363). His most important temples were at Byblos and Paphos. The temple of Astarte, in Byblos, celebrated the annual death and resurrection of Adonis.


For more, about his cult, etc: Here
Adonis is a complex figure, for the outlines of his tale were fully as a part of the sub-Olympian Greek mythology by Greek and Roman authors, and yet he also retains many deep associations with his Semitic origins. The name "Adonis" is a variation of the Semitic word "Adonai", which means "lord", and which is also one of the names used to refer to YHWH in the Old Testament.

At the beginning of his appearance in Greek myth, there is some confusion as to his parentage and his birth. Hesiod considers this Greek hero to be the son of Phoenix and Aephesiboea, while Apollodorus calls him the son of Cinyras and Metharme. The generally accepted version is that Aphrodite compelled Myrrha (or Smyrna) to commit incest with Theias, her father, the king of Assyria. Her nurse helped her with this trickery to become pregnant, and when Theias discovered this he chased her with a knife. To avoid his wrath the gods turned her into a myrrh tree. The tree later burst open, allowing Adonis to emerge. Another version says that after she slept with her father she hid in a forest where Aphrodite changed her into a tree. Theias struck the tree with an arrow, causing the tree to open and Adonis to be born. Yet another version says a wild boar open the tree with its tusks and freed the child; this is considered to be a foreshadowing of his death.

Once the child was born Aphrodite was so moved by his beauty that she sheltered him and entrusted him to Persephone. She was also taken by his beauty and refused to give him back.

The dispute between the two goddesses, in one version, was settled by Zeus; in others it was settled by Calliope on Zeus' behalf. The decision was that Adonis was to spend one-third of every year with each goddess and the last third wherever he chose. He always chose to spend two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite.

This went on till his death, where he was fatally wounded by a wild boar, said to be caused by Artemis. In some versions his death was caused not by Artemis, but by Aphrodite's lover, Ares, who was jealous of Adonis. Apollo is also said to be responsible because his son, Erymanthus, had seen Aphrodite naked and she blinded him for it. The story of Adonis provides a basis for the origin of myrrh and the origin of the rose, which grew from each drop of blood that fell.

The story of Adonis, despite its variants, is certainly another example of the dying vegetation god (see: Tammuz). The close association with Aphrodite or Persephone also brings his myth into line with the many other mated couples, where the male partener dies and is reborn, that is spread across North Africa and the Near East.

In addition to being polytheistic, a major characteristic of Phoenician religion is the emphasis on nature and fertility deities. It was very common for a male deity in a Phoenician city to die every year and be 'reborn' in the spring alongside the new vegetation. Sometimes the female deity, his consort, played a role in this rebirth and sometimes not.

The god Adonis is normally associated with Greek religion, but in fact Adonis is originally Lebanese: his worship is first found among the Phoenicians and Canaanites then only later imported into the Greek pantheon. Even after becoming Greek, though, Adonis always retained his basic Semitic characteristics - in particular, his role as a god who annually dies and is resurrected alongside the vegetation which comes back to life each spring.

The name Adonis, like Baal, comes from the Semitic root for 'my lord' and is related to the term Adonai used to address Yahweh in the Old Testament. The most prominent Phoenician cults of Adonis was located in Byblos and near Beirut, but Adonis wasn't the only Phoenician god who died every year and was resurrected every spring. Both Eshmun and Melqart appear in Phoenician myths as dying and resurrecting every year, thereby guaranteeing that the the vegetation would return and agriculture would be renewed.

The above funerary monument of Adonis dying was created by the Etruscans in the 3rd century BCE. Among the Etruscans, Adonis was known as Atunis. We don't have any Phoenician images of Adonis. This raises the interesting aspect of Phoenician religion, which is the tendency towards aniconic representations of the gods. Figures of the gods don't appear very often - we have almost no representations of Eshmun and Melqart, for example. Instead we have empty thrones and, eventually, unadorned marker stones representing the deities. This aniconic tradition indicates a strong aversion to direct figural representations of deities, an attitude which has been made most famous in the Semitic religion followed by the Israelites to the south.

From: Here
More Sites: Aphrodite and Adonis
Short article
Adonia -- festival for Adonis and Aphrodite

From the Golden Bough:
Chapter 29. The Myth of Adonis.
Chapter 30. Adonis in Syria.
Chapter 31. Adonis in Cyprus.
Chapter 32. The Ritual of Adonis.
Chapter 33. The Gardens of Adonis.

From Neos Alexandria:
Ancient hymns and poetry
Ancient texts
Modern hymns and poetry
Short profile

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