I love Adonis.
Though there’s Peanut Gallery commentary decrying any worship of Him and Kybele in a Hellenic context as “un-Hellenic”, it’s pretty obvious that Their cults had been thoroughly Hellenised by the time of Hesiod (if you haven’t seen people making such ridiculous claims, consider yourself lucky; in fact, I consider myself a lesser person for even mentioning it). I find myself especially fascinated with Ptolemy Hephaestion frequently linking His love as shared with Aphrodite and Apollon, which may seem unusual to those who are only familiar with the versions of Aponis’ mythos that link Him with Aphrodite and Persephone.
“Adonis, having become androgynous, behaved as a man for Aphrodite and as a woman for Apollon.” – Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Bk5 (as summarized in Photius, Myriobiblon 190)
There’s a fragment from Hesiod that describes Adonis as the son of Phoenix (son of Amyntor), and most primary sources name His mother as Smyrrhna, who had a metamorphosis into the tree from which myrrh resin is harvested.
In myth and in cult, there are many easy comparisons to Dionysos — from a position in life-death-rebirth cults, his apparent links to sexuality, vegetation, and Khthonic deities (especially Persephone), academic and ancient syncretic likening to Osiris, and the public face of His cult was decidedly female (though this is where things begin to differ — male Dionysians existed in ancient times as much, if not more, than in modern — male Adonians, at least in the ancient Hellenic world [I haven’t a clue about the Phonecian or Syrian world where it’s clear His cult originated], seem apparently non-existent and, even in modern times, seem few, at best). But at least in the Hellenic world, it’s very clear that they are not the same — in some mythology, Aphrodite bore Adonis a daughter, Beroe, who is one beloved of Dionysos.
His cult likely came into the Hellenic mainlaind through Kypris, the birthplace and local name for Aphrodite, and by about the 6th Century BCE, was already well-known in Hellas. This is not insignificant: This not only cements a relationship with Aphrodite’s cult, it also really shows the aforementioned Peanut Gallery where to stick it — MWAHAHAHAHA!!! 😀
Seriously, folks, at this point in time, I think it’s safe to admit that the Adonis cult was thoroughly Hellenised. The academia really tries to “un-Hellenise” Adonis, and indeed, many of these arguments seem to make sense, until you get into several glaringly apparent facts:
1) Adonis is a central part of Aphrodite’s Hellenic mythology — and I word it this way because a significant amount of Her mythology and cult is clearly “imported”, comparative mythologises easily link Aphrodite to nearly every Near Eastern Goddess from the Babylonian Ishtar to the Zoroastrian Anahita. If one is going to conclude that Hellenic polytheists should worship only Hellenic deities, then there is an awful lot of archaeology that could easily reason that Aphrodite’s cult is not “indigenous” to Hellas any more than that of Adonis’.
2) It’s absolutely likely that Adonis’ cult was “imported” at the same time as Aphrodite — and even the much-touted Walter Burkert (apparently Greek Religion is a veritable gospel to some people), sure seems to agree with this idea:
The cult of the dying god Adonis is already found to be fully developed in Sappho’s circle of young girls around 600 [BCE]; indeed, one might ask whether Adonis had not from the very beginning come to Greece along with Aphrodite. For the Greeks it was well-known that he was an immigrant from the Semetic world, and his origins were traced to Byblos and Cyprus. His name is clearly the Semetic title adon, Lord. For all that, there is in Semetic tradition no known cult connected with this title which corresponds exactly to the Greek cult, to say nothing of a counterpart to the Greek Adonis myth. (pp176-177)
Indeed, investigating Near Eastern mythology, the closest deity with a cult matching the Adonis cult is we see named is “Tammuz”, not Adonis. Perhaps “Adonis”, in this instance, is merely a loan-word made name?
3) The name Adonis, while clearly being the sticking point for identifying His cult as “foreign”, as a language arts major I can clearly see as a mere convention on the same level as “Kytheria” or “Kypris” as a name for Aphrodite — and one clearly accepted as “Greek enough” for many scholars for centuries — indeed, Thomas Taylor takes “Kypris = Aphrodite (= Venus)” for granted in translating the Orphic hymns — and indeed, Cyprus was Hittite land until fairly late Bronze Age; which would be roughly the period estimated for the import of Aphrodite and Adonis cults. Indeed, in most mythological traditions, Cyprus is also the birthplace of Adonis, not merely His cult — so it obviously flabbergasts that somehow this can make Aphrodite “Hellenic enough”, but not Adonis.
One can clearly only begin to imagine the whys and such for the reluctance to accept Adonis cult as “Hellenic enough”, when all evidence clearly shows that it is so. One idea may simply revert to etymology — though clearly acceptable early on in the Hellenisation of Adonis cult practise, later it became a sticking point due to what would now be called racism or nationalism — kinda the same logic “birthers” use to accuse President Barak Obama of being born well-outside U$ soils, in spite of all clear evidence to the contrary. Another idea being that since His cult, in ancient times, was dominated by women to the point of apparently becoming female-only kept the cult well outside the “mainstream” of the civic religion, and so, in a sense, “foreign” to ancient writers, who tended to be men — it could therefore arguably be sexism that kept the Adonis cult regarded as “foreign”; if one considers that many often wrote of the Adonis cult and its symbols with a hint of derision (it’s arguable that the old idea of “green leafy salad = women’s food” is an idea started in ancient Hellas — not only is lettuce sacred to Adonis, but one writer once joked [or perhaps seriously believed] that lettuce causes male sterility), this hypothesis makes a lot of sense on paper.
But perhaps I digress….
I was initially attracted to Adonis as an extension of the “flower boys” — His floral associations include roses (in some versions of the mythos), windflower / anemone poppies, and the “adonis” genus of flowering plant. I make no secret of my veneration of Narkissos as a Daimone and Hyakinthos as hemitheos. Even Krokos, Paeon, and The “flower boy” myths intrigue me on many levels: For starters, think about what a flower is — not what it represents in this culture, but what it is. It’s a part of certain plants, but which part? The genitals. In a certain light, it can seem kind of perverse how much —severed plant genitals— er… cut flowers play a part in (especially heterosexual) romance, courtship, and marriage. The boy gives the girl a cluster of severed, essentially hermaphroditic genitals to show he likes her. A few centuries ago, especially the middle classes, the boy’s visit would then only really last as long as it took for girl to pluck the protective petals from around the reproductive centre. Near the end of the wedding ritual, where people especially like to be surrounded by these hermaphroditic plant parts, the bride throws another bushel of genitals on her friends, with the hope that the cycle will start anew. And if that’s not enough for you to handle? In many flowers, it’s the especially phallic-looking bit in the centre that’s the “female” part of this hermaphrodite.
It’s clear that Western culture is seriously obsessed with sex and sex organs — even when it tries to pretend it’s not, it’s filling children, especially girls, with an onslaught of symbols of fertility and virility and Martha Stewart is joyfully arranging severed genitals in various vases, often with the especially phallic lady-bits, right there on daytime telly (that woman seriously seems to love her lilies and callas — which aren’t lilies, they’re arums, and their “male bits” are typically attached to the “female bit” — now THINK ABOUT THAT).
I find it hard to get close to Aphrodite. Not for lack of trying, mind, but perhaps she senses something about me (In Real Life™, I tend to be generally more comfortable getting emotionally close with men, while women I tend to befriend more casually — and the few exceptions to this kind of prove the rule, in their own unique ways), and either decides to maintain that distance, or simply appoints any and all contact to be through one of “Her Boys”: Either Eros, Whom I’ve already become especially close to, or Adonis, another Flower Boy for my bouquet.
Narkissos, I consider especially precious. My own views of His mythology apparently differ from the mainstream, and the versions of His mythos I hold most dear (and indeed, there are dozens of ancient re-tellings and re-imaginings — the Battlestar Galactica franchise has had fewer re-interpretations by a wide margin) seem rather obscure, even if they’re versions that still seem to maintain the dominant trappings of the popular versions. To me, He is a holy daimon: A spirit of self-love, and a protector of those unloved. His namesake flower is sacred to Him, as are mirrors and reflecting pools; the species narcissus poeticus is especially sacred, as this is the exact flower He gave form to. He comes to you in a form reminiscent of you see yourself, perhaps a daimon of the Ego Ideal. He is the son of a nymphe and river god of Thespiae. His spurned lover, Ameinias, became anise; you can help to heal the tears Narkissos shed for both His own cruelty and for Ameinias with an offering of anise. Also, a bit of anise in a coffee for a reading may shed light on who loves you. Popularly, at least historically, He seems to have an especial link with gay man, and “narcissism” was initially used as a term for the “sexual perversion” of male-male love.
Hyakinthos’ flower, contrary to modern assumptions, is the delphinium larkspur. He is the son of the Moisa Goddess Kleio and Magnes’ son Pieros (Magnes being the first, now legendary, king of Magnesia, and a son of Zeus), and in some mythological traditions, He is either brother or cousin to Daphne — and perhaps the common-enough urge to link their myths is part of the collective consciousness trying to remind people of this (presumably?) once-ancient connection. By Spartan tradition, Hyakinthos is identified with the Thessalian Hymenaios, the God of marriage and the wedding bed, carrying associations with virginity, True Love, and legitimate partnership — again, I have to voice flabergastion that at the fact that so many modern Hellenic polytheists insist that only heterosexual partnerships have a right to spiritual or ritual legitimacy. Did Apollon not love Hyakinthos in the mythos? Is a god’s love not legitimate? Is the love felt by a mortal somehow unture? (If so, then logically, no marriage with a base of love, which is indeed what the overwhelming majority of Western marriages are, can possibly be ritually legitimate within Hellenismos — and I seriously doubt that very many people would want to get behind a fringe religion with self-proclaimed “authorities” who endorse a return to strictly-arranged het marriages based in social-climbing and dowries.) Or would people rather wax philosophical about “symbolism” and “metaphor” in myth rather than accept that the best symbol of a thing is the thing itself — and the mythos she the thing itself as a deep love and bond that was met with a tragic end. Though mortals may be imperfect, even flawed things can be true, legitimate — death is the greatest, most glaring flaw that mortals have, when compared to the Theoi, but our deaths are overwhelmingly true, a truth that is glaringly obvious.
And again, we come back to blues — immortal blues for Love Himself. From “…something borrowed, and something blue,” to “L’amour est Bleu” (perhaps is is not insignificant that this song rose to fame via the Hellenic singer Vicky Leandros? LOL). The first I saw Hyakinthos, I knew the Spartans were onto something with their associations with Hymenaios, for the first time I saw Hyacinth (in a dream, mind), He was at a small pool or spring, sitting on a rock at the centre of a thick round of His flower, peacock feathers tied into His hair (giving allusions to Hera, a Goddess whose domains include marriage), and Apollon identifying this breath-taking youth as His beloved Hyakinthos, who He “fought the West Wind for, and won”. Their love, as I see it, is a wedded one that is renewed annually with Hyakinthos’ death and rebirth. He is therefore arguably, too, an Erote of Love Renewed, of Tragic Love, and a god of rebirth from tragedy.
Because of my interest in Boeotian traditions, especially of Thespiae and the surrounding area, I often revert back to Hesiod. Hesiod names a beautiful Thessalian boy beloved of Apollon, Hymenaios — or at least this is the Evlyn-White translation of the relevant fragment. The pseudo-Apollodoros notes a Thessalian Hyakinthos was seduced by Apollon away from Philammon, and that this Thessalian youth was accidentally slain by discus. Clearly this mythology is an example of one-in-the-same, simply with different names. At this point, I’m convinced, and urge: Whether you call Him Hyakinthos or Hymenaios, call on Him to bless the bond of love.
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