Peri Tes Syries Theoy
De Dea Syria
Concerning the Syrian Goddess

by Lucian of Samosata


Part Two - Ch. 10 through 16


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 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

The Holy City of the Syrian Goddess

10 - These are the old and great sanctuaries in Syria. But of them all, I believe none is greater than the Holy City, nor any other temple more blessed, nor none other land holier. Costly works are therein and ancient offerings and many marvels, and statues in the likeness of gods. Also, the gods are readily revealed to the inhabitants; for here statues sweat and move and prophecy, and often shouting occurs in the temple when the sanctuary is locked, and many have heard it. Certainly in wealth it is foremost among all that I know; for to it come many treasures from Arabia and Phoenicia and Babylonia, and much from Cappadocia and some brought by Cilicians, and some by Assyrians. And I saw what has been secretly stored at the temple, many robes and other things that have been chased out of silver or gold. And of feasts and solemnities, no other folk in the world have appointed so many.

11 - When I asked how many years the sanctuary had endured, and who they considered their Goddess, many stories were told, both priests' lore and common tales, and some very fabulous; and some were outlandish, but others seemed to accord with those of Greece. All these tales I shall repeat, but I do not believe them in any way.

12 - Most say Deukalion, called Sisythes [a variant of Xisouthros] founded the sanctuary. This is the Deukalion in whose time the great Flood befell. Of Deukalion I have heard a tale among the Greeks, which they tell in honor of him; and the story goes as follows.

This generation, the people of nowadays, was not the first, but that first generation all perished, and this is of the second generation which came from Deukalion and multiplied. Concerning the first humans, they say that they were quite violent and committed wicked deeds, for they did not keep oaths, nor welcomed strangers, nor spared suppliants; and because of these offenses, the great tribulation came upon them. Suddenly the earth spewed forth a flood of water and heavy rains fell and the rivers rushed in torrents, and the sea rose amazingly high, until all things were changed into water and all humans perished. Deukalion alone among men was left for the second generation because of his prudence/good counsel and his piety/good works. And his deliverance/salvation came in this way. Into a great ark that he possessed he put his children and his wives, and then he himself entered, and as he boarded there came to him swine and horses and lionkind and serpents and all beasts that live/every kind of creature that grazes - on the earth, two by two/all in pairs. And he welcomed them all, and none did him any harm, for among them was great charity/friendship from the gods, and in a single ark they all sailed while the flood prevailed. So say the Greeks about Deukalion.

[In spite of Lucian's repeated assurance, the story is more Semitic than Greek. See the West Semitic origin of the flood-story]

13 - But what happened after this, the inhabitants of the Holy City tell a tale at which we may rightly be amazed, how in their land a great chasm opened up and took in all the water; and when this happened, Deukalion set up altars and built a temple over the hole sacred to Hera [Atargatis]. I myself saw the hole, a quite little one, which is beneath the temple. If once it was large and now has become such as it is, I do not know, but the one I saw is small.

In token/As a symbol of this story, they do thus. Twice each year water from the Sea is brought into the temple. Not only priests, but the whole of Syria and Arabia brings it; and from beyond the Euphrates many men go to the Sea and all bring water, that soon they pour out in the temple, and then it goes down into that hole; and even though the hole is small, nonetheless it takes in a great deal of water. And in doing thus they say that Deukalion established this custom for the sanctuary in memory/as a memorial both of that disaster and that divine favor.

At Hieropolis the object was to quell evil spirits, according to Melito. "But touching Nebo, which is in Mabut, why should I write to you; for lo! all the priests which are in Mabug know that it is the image of Orpheus, a Thracian Magus. And Hadran (i.e., Hadaranes, a double of Hadad) is the image of Zaradusht [Zarathustra], a Persian Magus, because both of these Magi practised Magism to a well which is in a wood in Mabug, in which was an unclean spirit, and it committed violence and attacked the passage of every one who was passing by in all that place in which now the fortress of Mabug is located; and these same Magi charged Simi, the daughter of Hadad, that she should draw water from the sea, and cast it into the well, in order that the spirits would not come up," etc.

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The Story of Semiramis and Derketo

14 - Now that is the traditional story among them concerning the temple. But other men swear that Semiramis of Babylonia, whose deeds are many in Asia, also founded this site, and not for Hera [Atargatis] but for her own Mother, whose name was Derketo.

A legend of Ascalon made Semiramis the daughter of Derketo by a Syrian youth with whom Aphrodite (i.e. Astarte/Ashtart) made Derketo fall in love. In her grief and shame, Derketo destroyed the youth, exposed the daughter, and herself leaped into a pool and was turned into a fish. Semiramis was miraculously attended by doves until she was discovered and handed over to Simmas, a royal overseer; eventually she married Ninus. She was intimately connected with temple traditions at Hieropolis: two statues of her stood near the temple, with one of which the story was connected that she had once tried to usurp the place of the goddess, and some thought that the "token" of c. 33 represented her.

I saw the likeness of Derketo in Phoenicia, a strange marvel. It is woman for half its length, but the other half, from thighs to feet, stretched out in a fish's tail. But the image in the Holy City is entirely a woman, and the grounds for their account are not very clear. They consider fishes to be sacred, and they never eat them; and though they eat all other fowls, they do not eat the dove, for she is holy so they believe. And these things are done, they believe, because of Derketo and Semiramis, the first because Derketo has the shape of a fish, and the other because ultimately Semiramis turned into a dove. Well, I may grant that the temple was a work of Semiramis perhaps; but that it belongs to Derketo I do not believe in any way. For among the Egyptians, some people do not eat fish, and that is not done to honor Derketo.

Diodoros said the name Semiramis is derived from the word for dove in the Syrian dialect. It is certainly similar to the Assyrian word summatu (dove). Lucian's skepticism is unjustified. Pliny (5,81) and Strabo (16, p. 785) were better informed. Atargatis is the Greek version of 'Atar-'ata; Derketo is the Greek version of the abbreviated form Tar-'ata

[Lilinah's note: the sound at the beginning of 'ata is not strictly an "a", but is preceeded by a uvular sound. The best i can describe this is a combination of "l" and hard "g" (think of Tom Brokaw's l's). Therefore, it isn't surprising that the Greeks replaced this sound, represented by the letter ayin, with a gamma]

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The Story of Kybele and Attis

15 - There is another holy story which I heard from a wise man, that the goddess is Rhea [Kybele] and the sanctuary founded by Attis. Attis was a Lydian by birth, and he first taught the ceremonies that belong to Rhea [Kybele]. And all rites which Phrygians, Lydians, and Samothraceans perform, they learned from Attis. For when Rhea [Kybele] castrated him, he ceased to lead the life of a man, but changed to female form, and donned women's clothing. He went out to every land and performed ceremonies and related his sufferings and praised Rhea [Kybele] in song. Eventually he came to Syria, and since the people beyond the Euphrates did not accept him, nor his rites, he founded the sanctuary in this place. And here is the proof. The goddess for the most part resembles Rhea [Kybele], for lions draw her and she holds a tympanum and she wears a tower on her head, just as Lydians depict Rhea [Kybele]. Also the wise man spoke of the Galloi who were in the temple, saying that Galloi castrated themselves and mimic Attis, not for worship of Hera [Atargatis] but for worship of Rhea [Kybele].

This identification of the Dea Syria with Rhea has been spoken of as a temple-legend. Is it not rather a simple deduction of Lucian's "wise man," based upon general resemblance and upon the presence of Galloi in both cults? The resemblance, however, was real, and the identification was not unusual; a striking instance is in Bardesanes, where the Syriac version has Tharatha, the Greek, as quoted by Eusebius, Rhea. It has been revived by modern scholars, notably Meyer, and with good reason; but whether the "Mother-goddess" is Semitic in origin, as he formerly held, or non-Semitic (Hittite), as he now argues, is still, it seems to me, an open question. See note below on Combabus.

But to me, although this seems plausible, it is not true, for I have heard another reason why they castrate themselves that is a great deal more believable.

16 - I believe what men say concerning the sanctuary, since it accords in most respects to the Greeks who deem the goddess Hera [Atargatis] and the sanctuary made by Dionysos, son of Semele. For without a doubt, Dionysos came to Syria on that journey during which he went to Ethiopia. And in the temple are many indications that Dionysos is the founder, namely foreign garments and gems of India and elephants' tusks which Dionysos brought from Ethiopia. In addition, two phalloi, or pillars, stand in the entrance, quite high, on the which is written this inscription: "I Dionysos dedicated these phalloi to Hera [Atargatis] my step-mother."

Phallic pillars, further described below, cc. 28-29. The inscription is much too pointed to be genuine; it is a hoax like that in the True Story. Pillars were an ordinary feature of Semitic "high places," both of wood (asherim) and of stone (masseboth). In the case of the asherim I know of no direct evidence that they were phallic, but the masseboth, many of which still survive, are sometimes clearly of that nature. The pillars at Hieropolis were made of wood, since cleats were nailed to them; they were therefore asherim, and form a further bond between Asherah (Astarte) and Atargatis. Whether originally phallic or not, they were in Lucian's day themselves used as "high places"; see below.

[Lilinah's note: Asherah and Astarte are not the same goddess. However, there is a great deal of syncretism in Late Antiquity, and a number of recent scholars believe Atargatis is herself a syncretic deity, combining Ashtart and Anat. Also, many older scholars of the Levant themselves confused the deities, especially before Ugarit was discovered. I believe Harmon wrote this prior to the translations of the Ugaritic tablets.]

Now to me this suffices, nonetheless I shall tell you another holy object that is in the temple which belongs to ceremonies of Dionysos. Men of Greece erect phalloi to Dionysos that have on them little men made of wood that have large genitals. They are called Puppets. And in the temple there is this same sort of thing; on the right side sits a little man of bronze that has a large penis.
See Herodotus 2, 48, on Egyptian puppets (agalmata neyrospasta).

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Navigate "The Syrian Goddess"

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

This Page, Part Two: Back up to
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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