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Name given by the Greeks to a divine personage whom they thought to be eastern in origin (Semitic Adon = ‘Lord’), but whose eastern prototypes (Dumuzi, Tammuz, Baal, Ešmun) are very different from the picture which became established in Greece. In mythology, Adonis is born from the incest of an easterner, whose name is variously given as Agenor, Cinyras, Phoenix, and Theias, and of Myrrha or Smyrna. He aroused the love of Aphrodite, who hid him in a chest and entrusted him to Persephone, but she, captivated in her turn, refused to give him back. Then Zeus decreed that the young man should spend four months of the year in the Underworld (see hades) and four months with Aphrodite—whom Adonis chose also for the final four months, left to his own decision. He was born from a myrrh tree, and dying young in a hunting accident, was changed into an anemone, a flower without scent ([Apollod.] 3. 14. 3–4; Ov. Met. 10. 300–559, 708–39). A festival for the young god, known as Adonia, is attested only at Athens, Alexandria (1), and Byblos. In 5th cent. bce Athens, women sowed seed at midsummer in broken pots and placed these on the roof-tops, so that germination was rapidly followed by withering (Ar. Lys.708–39 with scholia). In this lively, noisy celebration, which has been brought into opposition with the Thesmophoria, mourning is secondary; at Byblos, the ritual involves the whole population, expressing at two different times mourning and laments, and resurrection and joy, but there is no trace of the ‘gardens of Adonis’ (Lucian, Syr. 7). The festival at Alexandria (Theoc. 15), like that of Athens, presents a picture of a women's ritual including mourning, but above all rejoicing centred on the couple, Aphrodite and Adonis.

Starting from a vast comparative study, Sir James Frazer saw in Adonis an image of the succession of the seasons and of agricultural tasks, a sort of ‘vegetation spirit’. Marcel Detienne, on the other hand, uses a structural analysis to demonstrate that the Greek picture of Adonis, far from being a divinization of agriculture, suggests rather the impermanent, the fragile, and the barren. Aphrodite's young lover has thus inspired a lively debate, and is still the focus of methodological problems, notably those centred on the Greek interpretation of eastern data, an issue studied in particular by S. Ribichini.


J. G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris (1907).Find this resource:

    W. Atallah, Adonis dans la littérature et l'art grec (1966).Find this resource:

      B. Soyez, Byblos et la fête des Adonies (1977).Find this resource:

        M. Detienne, The Gardens of Adonis (1977, 2nd edn. 1994, with endnote; Fr. orig. 1972, new edn. 2007).

        S. Ribichini, Adonis: Aspetti ‘orientali’ di un mito greco (1981).Find this resource:

          S. Ribichini (ed.), Adonis: Relazioni del colloquio in Roma (1984).Find this resource:

            B. Servais-Soyez, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 1/1 (1981) 222 ff.Find this resource:

              G. Baudy, Adonisgärten (1986).Find this resource:

                R. Parker, Polytheism and Society at Athens (2005), 283–289.Find this resource:

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