Peri Tes Syries Theoy
De Dea Syria
Concerning the Syrian Goddess

by Lucian of Samosata

2nd Century C.E.


A concatenation of the Loeb Classics edition, translated by A. M. Harmon and modernized by me, and the translation of Harold W. Attridge and Robert A. Oden.

Most of the notes are adapted from Harmon. Some are my own. Wherever Lucian gives only a Greek name, I have tried to include the Phoenician or Syrian name. More details in the Introduction

Part One
Ch. 1-5 - The Temples of Syria and Phoenicia
Ch. 6-9 - The Story of Adon, called by the Greeks, Adonis

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The Temples of Syria and Phoenicia

1 - In Syria not far from the River Euphrates, is a city that is called Holy and holy is in truth, for it is of Syrian Hera. Yet I think that the city did not have this name at first when it was founded, but in ancient times it was different, and later, when the service of the Goddess grew important, it was changed to this. Concerning this city I propose to tell all that is in it, and I shall speak of the customs that they follow in their rites, and the feast days that they keep, and the sacrifices which they perform. And I shall repeat all the tales that they tell of those who established the holy place, and how the temple came into being. And I who write am Syrian, and of that which I describe to you, some part I saw with my own eyes, and some part I learned from the priests, that is to say, things that I describe which were before my own time.

Hieropolis, N.W. of Aleppo, on the main road into Mesopotamia, 15 Roman miles from the crossing of the Euphrates, and by road about 116 Roman miles from Lucian's birthplace, Samosata. Its Syrian name was Manbog, i.e., spring, in Greek, Bambyce. It was dubbed Hieropolis in the time of Seleucus Nicator, but the old name persisted as Manbij.

2 - Of all peoples we know, they say Egyptians were the first to form a conception of gods, and to establish holy places [sanctuaries] and closes [holy precincts, lit. temenos, in Greek], and to appoint feast days. And they were first to conceive holy names and holy tales. But not long after, Syrians heard rumor and speech of Egyptians concerning the gods and regarding sanctuaries and temples, in which they put images and set statues.

3 - But in antiquity among the Egyptians were temples without statues. And in Syria there are temples almost as old as those in Egypt, of which I have seen most, in particular the temple of Herakles in Tyre, not that Herakles whom Greeks praise in their songs, but the one whereof I speak is much older, and is Tyre's patron [the god Melqart].

4 - In Phoenicia is another great temple which the people of Sidon keep. They say it belongs to Astarte, and Astarte, I swear, is Selene the Moon.

The Emperor Elagabalus, being the Sun, brought Astarte the Moon from Phoenicia and wedded her. But she was not originally or at any time primarily the moon; and in Babylonia, as Ishtar, she had for Her emblem a star, the planet Venus.

But one of the priests told me it belongs to Europa, sister of Cadmus. She was daughter of King Agenor; and after she vanished, Phoenicians honored her with that temple, and told a holy tale about her that says she was beautiful; Zeus desired her and transformed himself into the likeness of a bull, and then snatched her away and bore her on his back to Crete. That same story I heard from other Phoenicians as well; and the coinage which the Sidonians use depicts Europa sitting on the bull that is Zeus. Nonetheless, they do not agree that the temple is that of Europa.

The temple itself contained, in later days at least, a painting of the Europa episode. The story was also localized at Tyre, where the house of Agenor and the bower of Europa were shown and where in the eighth century the people still mourned the abduction in a feast called the kakè opsiné. The name Europa is considered Greek; whether this particular myth is Cretan or Phoenician in origin the evidence does not seem sufficient to determine.

5 - And Phoenicians have another sanctuary, not Syrian but Egyptian, which came from Heliopolis to Phoenicia. I have not seen it, but it, too, is both large and ancient.

This cult was at Heliopolis/Baalbek. The god, who appears to have been originally Hadad but to have undergone syncrisis with the sun-god and with the Syrian "Apollo," was worshipped far and wide as Jupiter Heliopolitanus. The cult image, says Macrobius, came from Heliopolis in Egypt by way of Assyria. The ambiguity of Lucian's Greek seems meant to convey the jocose implication that the magnificent new temple, built by Antoninus Pius, had been transported thither without human hands.

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The Story of Adon, called by the Greeks, Adonis

6 - But I did see in Byblos a great temple of Aphrodite of Byblos [Ashtart/Astarte], in which they perform ceremonies in honor of Adon; and I learned about the ceremonies.

To natives of Byblos, their goddess was just Baalat (Mistress), and to other Semites Baalat Gebal (Mistress of Byblos) [i.e., Lady of Byblos, Ashtart, called by the Greeks Astarte]; in Syriac and Greek Baltis or Beltis is used as if it were her name. So too Adonis to them was simply Adon (Lord); an early name, or perhaps epithet, was Eliun. It was only late, if at all, that he was there identified with Tammuz, fourth king of Erech. The temple, which contained a baetylic stone, is represented on coins.

They say, at any rate, that the deed that was done to Adon by the boar occurred in their land, and in memory of that misfortune every year they beat their breasts and mourn and perform the ceremonies, making solemn lamentations throughout the country. And when the breast-beating and weeping is at end, first they make offerings to Adon as if to a dead person; and then, on the next day, they proclaim that he is alive and fetch him forth into the air, and shave their heads as the Egyptians do when Apis dies.

Lucian abridges his account of the rites because they were familiar. I see no reason to suppose that they differed essentially from the Alexandrian rites as described by Theocritus. From him we learn that Adonis comes to life for but a day, during which he is couched with the goddess in the temple. Next morning the women carry him to the sea-shore, and commit him to the waves.

And all women who will not let themselves be shaved pay this penalty: that for a single day they proffer themselves for sale of their beauty; but the market is open only to all foreigners, and the payment becomes an offering to Aphrodite [Ashtart/Astarte].

7 - Nonetheless, there are some inhabitants of Byblos who say that Osiris of Egypt lies buried among them, and the mourning and the ceremonies are all made in honor of Osiris instead of Adon.

Byblos was known to the Egyptians from the time of the Old Kingdom, and her goddess impressed them deeply. She was identified with Hathor at least as early as the Middle Kingdom, and her story contributed to the shaping of the Isis-Osiris myth. When the coffin of Osiris was thrown into the Nile by Typhon, it drifted out to sea, and so to Byblos, where Isis sought and found it (in Plutarch).

And I shall tell you the reason why this seems to be true to them. Each year a head comes from Egypt to Byblos, making a sea journey of seven days, and the winds drive it, by guidance of the gods, and it does not turn aside in any direction, but comes only to Byblos. And this is wholly marvelous. It befalls every year, and happened the time that I was in Byblos, and I saw the head that is of Byblos.

The pun signifies that the head was of papyrus, made, no doubt, of a sort of papier maché, as in a mummy-case. [ekp: Byblos can = papyrus] In the commentary of Cyril on Isaiah 18, we learn, instead, of an earthen pot that contained a letter from the women of Alexandria to those of Byblos, saying that Aphrodite had found Adonis. There may be something in the tale of its drift, for the Nile current sets over to the Phoenician shore, and it is Nile mud that silts up Phoenician harbors.

8 - And in the land of Byblos is another marvel, a river flowing out of Mount Lebanon into the sea, which is called the Adon. Every year it becomes blood-red, losing its natural hue, and when it flows into the sea, it reddens a large part of it; and this is a signal for mourning to the inhabitants of Byblos.

The Adonis is the present Nahr Ibrahim, a short distance S. of Byblos. "I have crossed it on Easter day when it was turbid and ruddy with the rich red sandstone soil from Lebanon" (C.R.Conder, Palestine, p. 206). A similar discoloration of certain unnamed rivers and springs is implied in the tale of Philo of Byblos that Uranus was mutilated by Kronos at a certain place in the interior near springs and rivers, that his blood flowed into them, and that the place was still pointed out. Epiphanius (adv. Haeres. 51, 30) bears personal witness that at the exact day and hour of the miracle of Cana the water of a spring at Cibyra in Caria used to turn into wine, and on the word of his brothers that the same was true of the river of Gerasa in Arabia. He does not tell us who is his warrant in the case of the Nile, but observes that that is why the natives bottle and set away Nile-water on a certain date.

For they say that on those days, Adon is being wounded up on Mt. Lebanon, and his blood as it comes into the water alters the river and gives the stream his name. Thus say common folk. But a certain man of Byblos, who I believe to be telling the truth, recounted to me another cause of the phenomenon. This is his account: "The River Adon, o stranger, runs through Lebanon, and the soil of Lebanon is quite ruddy. Therefore, when strong winds arise on these days, depositing the earth in the river, the earth that is completely ruddy makes it blood-red. So this change is not because of blood, as people say, but the soil." This is the account of the man of Byblos; but even if he spoke truly, still it seems to me quite marvelous that the wind arises at the right time.

9 - Then I went up onto the Lebanon from Byblos, one day's journey, because I learned that an ancient sanctuary of Aphrodite [Ashtart/Astarte] which Cinyras founded was there; and I saw the temple and it is an ancient one.

At Aphaca, between Byblos and Baalbek, at the head of the Adonis, where Adon was buried and Baalat died of grief. Down to the fifth century a bright light appearing in the sky near the temple summoned the worshippers at set times, and an artificial pond gave omens; offerings were thrown into it, which sank if the goddess was favorable or floated if she was adverse. The site is eloquently described by Frazer, i, 28; for the rock-sculptures in the neighborhood, to one of which the description of the goddess in Macribius (Saturn, 1, 21, 5) refers, see Baudissin, p. 78 and pls. i-iii, and for the ruins of the temple, destroyed under Constantine but possibly rebuilt under Julian, Rouvier, Bulletin Archéologique, 1900, 169 sqq. Lucian's amusing reticence is by way of parody on Herodotus, and derives its point from the fact that his reader, knowing the reputation of the place, is all agog to hear about it.

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Navigate "The Syrian Goddess"

This Page, Part One: Back up to the Top
Ch. 1-5 - The Temples of Syria and Phoenicia
Ch. 6-9 - The Story of Adon, called by the Greeks, Adonis

On to Part Two
Ch. 10-13 - The Holy City of the Syrian Goddess
Ch. 14 - The Story of Semiramis and Derketo
Ch. 15-16 - The Story of Kybele and Attis

On to Part Three
Ch. 17-27 - The Story of Stratonike and Kombabos

On to Part Four
Ch. 28-29 - The Holy Pillar Sitters
Ch. 30-49 - The Temple of the Syrian Goddess

On to Part Five
Ch. 50-54 - The Galloi
Ch. 55-60 - Pilgrims to the Holy City

The Qadash Kinahnu Canaanite-Phoenician Temple Directory



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