Peri Tes Syries Theoy
De Dea Syria
Concerning the Syrian Goddess

by Lucian of Samosata


Part Three - Sections 17-27


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.


The Story of Stratonike and Kombabos

17 - So they say of the founders of the holy place. And now I shall speak of the temple, where it was set and who had it built. Men say the temple that stands now is not the one that was first built, but that was torn down some time past, and the temple that stands now is the work of Stratonike, wife of the king of Syria.

Stratonike was daughter of Demetrius Poliorcetes and wife of Seleucus Nicator; she was subsequently surrendered by him to his son Antiochus I, Soter, by a former wife, Apama. The famous tale which follows (in Lucian a pure digression, but quite in the Herodotean manner) is rehearsed at length by Plutarch also (Demetrius 38). As far as Antiochus is concerned it is fiction.

I swear this is the very Stratonike that her step son loved, who was betrayed by the physician's intervention. For when the misfortune oppressed him, he might not sustain the misease that seemed to him shameful, and so he quietly fell into sickness, and lay without any pain; and his hue changed utterly, and his body feebled each day. But when the physician saw that he was weak without plain cause, he judged that the sickness was love. For of secret love there were many signs, as weak eyes, voice, hue, tears. And when he perceived it, he did thus. He put his right hand over the young man's heart, and then he sent for all who were in the house. And when each and every one entered, he was in great ease, but when his stepmother came, he changed hue and sweated and choked and his heart stirred. These things

18 - showed his love to the physician who held him thus. After that he had called the young man's father, who was sore adread, "This sickness," quoth he, "whereof thy child is weak is not sickness but sin, for verily he suffereth of no pain, but of love and passion. And he coveteth what he may not have in any way, loving my wife who I will not forgo." So that one lied in guile. And soon that other beseeched him: "By thy cunning and thy physic, destroy not my son; for he is not in this case of his own will but hath the sickness in spite of himself. Therefore do thou not through spite make sore in all the room, nor thou that art physician bring manslaughter into physic." Thus prayed he all unaware. And that one answered: "Thou furtherest wicked deeds, revenge me from my marriage and destroy a poor leech. What wouldst thyself have done if he coveted thy wife, thou that asks such boons of me?" Therewith the king replied that he himself would never have been jealous of his wife nor begrudged his son deliverance, if so be he had coveted his step-mother; for it was not the same misfortune to lose a wife as a son. And when the physician heard that, "Wherefore then," quoth he, "dost beseech me? In faith, he loveth thy wife, and all that I said was false!" Then was the father overcome, and yielded both wife and realm to his son, and going himself to the country of Babylonia had made a city near Euphrates that was called after his own name, there his death befell. Thus did the physician both know and heal love.

The known facts are that Seleucus made Antiochus joint-ruler in 293 B.C.; that the marriage of Stratonike to Antiochus may have taken place at that time, but the date is not known; and that in 281, on becoming master of the whole realm of Alexander through the defeat of Lysimachus, he planned to entrust, and perhaps actually did entrust, all Asia to his son, intending himself to assume the throne of Macedonia. But within a few months he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus near Lysimachia in Thrace. He built many cities named after him; this Seleucia, 15 miles below Baghdad, is generally called "on the Tigris," but it lay between the two rivers, which at that point are only 25 miles apart, and the canal Naarmalcha, connecting the Euphrates with the Tigris, flowed by it.

19 - Now I tell you, while Stratonike still dwelled with her former husband, she had a dream in which Atargatis [Hera] bade her to build the temple for Her in the Holy City, and if she should not obey, Atargatis [Hera] menaced her with many harms. At first, she took no note of it; but after, when a great sickness hit her, she told the dream to her husband who enforced her to appease Hera [Atargatis], and promised to build the temple. Soon she became whole, and then her husband sent her to the Holy City and with her a great treasure and a great host, some to build and other some for her security. Therefore he summoned one of his friends, a quite fair young man called Kombabos,

The name Kombabos, which does not occur elsewhere in Greek, has been identified as that of the opponent of Gilgamesh in the Gilgamesh Epic, Hu(m)-ba-ba. This name is not Elamite, but Amorite or West Semitic; it was borne by a historical personage who lived in a cedar district of the West and humiliated Babylonia at the time of Gilgamesh, about 4000 B.C. However that may be, Kombabos is Humbaba, and in this story, which is the temple-legend, the name of Kombabos is the significant part; Stratonike has taken the place of an earlier female. I believe her immediate predecessor was Semiramis, from Ammianus Marcellinus, 14, 6, 17, and her general connection with this site; she in her turn probably ousted an earlier SIma or Ata, with whom Kombabos may have been brought into connection through building or rebuilding the temple.

and said: "For thou art noble, Master Kombabos, I love thee most of all my friends, and I praise thee greatly for thy cunning and for thy good will to me, that thou hast revealed before. And now I needeth of great faith, wherefore I would that thou follow my wife, to accomplish the work in my name, and to perform the sacrifices, and to rule the host; and when thou returnest thou shalt get high worship from me."

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Therewith soon Kombabos went to pray and beseech him full busily that he should not send him forth nor betake him neither that treasure that was much too great for him, nor his wife, nor the holy work. For he was adread lest jealousy should assail him afterwards as concerning Stratonike, that he must - 20 - lead forth alone. But since the king would not hearken in any way, he assayed another request, to grant him seven days space, and then send him forth, when he had done a thing thereof he had most need. And when he obtained this boon easily, he went to his own house and cast himself down and complained right so: "Alas wretch, what have I to do with this faith, what have I to do with this voyage, whereof I see not the end? I am young, and shall follow a fair woman. This shall be great misfortune to me, but if I put away all cause of evil; therefore must I perform a great deed that shall heal me of all fear."

Thus he said, and then marred himself; and when he had cut off his genitals he put them in a little pot, and balm withal, and honey and other things of sweet smell. Then he sealed it with a signet that he bore, and healed his wound. And after, when he seemed well to do journey, going to the king, before many men who were there, he took him the pot, saying thus: "O sire, this great treasure I was wont for to keep prively, and I loved it well; but now, for as much as I shall go a far way, I will betake it to you. Keep it securely; for this to me is better than gold, this to me is as valuable as my life. When I return, I shall bear it home again safe and sound." So the king received it and sealed it with another signet and bade his stewards for to keep it curiously.

21 - Then Kombabos made his way safely; and when they were come to the Holy City they began to build the temple busily, and they spent three years on the work, and in those years Kombabos dread befell. For in companying with him a great while Stratonike began to love him, and then she grew quite passionate over him. Men of the Holy City say that Hera [Atargatis] was voluntary cause thereof, to the intent that Kombabos' goodness should not lie hidden and Stratonike should be punished because she did not build the temple readily.

22 - At first she was miserable and hid her malady; but when her misery became too great for peace, she sorrowed openly and wept each and every day, and cried out the name of Kombabos, and Kombabos to her. And finally, for she could no more sustain such adversity, she sought a well-seeming petition. Now she was wary to avow her love to any other, yet she had shame to say ought herself. Therefore she thought of this device, that she should make herself drunk with wine and then speak with him; for when wine comes in, boldness of speech comes in as well, and discomfort does not feel too shameful, but all that is done passes into forgettingness.

Just as she thought, just so she did. For after her meal, she went to the house where Kombabos was lodged, and beseeched him and embraced his knees and avowed her love. But he received her words rudely, and would not assent to the deed, and reproved her of drunkenness. But when she threatened to do herself some great harm, then for fear he told her all the story and described all his own case and revealed his doing. And when Stratonike saw she would never realize her desire, she desisted from her passion, yet she forgot not all of her love, but companyed with him in all ways and in that guise solaced the love, therein she might not speden. That manner of love abides yet in the Holy City, and is made nowadays. Women covet Galloi and Galloi grow passionate for love of women; nonetheless no man is jealous, but he thinks this thing quite holy.

23 - Now that which had happened in the Holy City concerning Stratonike did not escaped the King in any way, but many that returned accused them and recited their doings; wherefore the king was grievously troubled and summoned Kombabos from the work before it was finished. Other men say this is not so, but that when Stratonike failed in her purpose, she herself wrote letters to her husband and accused Kombabos, blaming him of assaulting her. Just as men of Greece say of Stheneboies and of Phaidros of Knossos, just so say Syrians of Stratonike. Now I do not believe that Stheneboies did any such thing, nor Phaidros neither, if Phaidros truly loved Hypolite. But let those things go just as they were.

24 - When the tidings came to the Holy City, and Kombabos learned the accusation, he went boldly because he had left his answer at home. And after arriving, soon the king had him bound and put him in prison; and after, when his friends there were who there were before, when Kombabos was sent forth, he ?ladde him in presence and began to blame him, reproving him of avowtry and villainy; and in sore bitterness of hurt he reminded him of faith and friendship, saying that Kombabos did threefold wrong because he was an avowtrer and broke faith and sinned against the goddess in whose service he so ?wroughte. And many stood forward and bore witness that they saw them companying together openly. And at last all deemed that Kombabos should die quite soon, for his deeds deserved death.

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25 - In this time of judgment he said nothing. But when they were leading him to his death, he spoke and requested his treasure, saying, they would slay him, not for any villainy nor avowtry, but for coveting the things that in going he had left with them. Then the king called his steward and bade him bring what had been given him to keep; and when he brought it, Kombabos broke the seal and showed what was within and what he himself had suffered. And he said: "O King, for I was adread of this when you would send me on this way, therefore I was loathe to go; and when you greatly constrained me, I wrought this manner deed, that is good for my master but not well for me. Nonetheless, I that am such as you see am repreaved of a man's sin."

26 - At this saying that other yielded and took him in arms and weeping said: "O Kombabos, wherefore hast thou wrought great mischief? Wherefore hast thou wrought thyself such a despite that never yet no man nor said? I praise this not at all. O hard heart, that wast hardy for to do such things, that I would thou had ne'er surrered nor I ne'er seen! I wanted not this answer. But for as much as it was god's will, first shalt thou have vengeance on our grace, the death of thy false challengers themself, and after shall come a great gift, much gold and great plenty silver and Syrian clothes and royal chargers. And thou shalt come before me without that any man present thee, and no one shall let thee from sight of me, though I be abed with my wife." Just as he said, just so he did. Those were led to death soon, but to him the gifts were given and greater friendships were granted. And it seemed that Kombabos had not his peer in Syria for wisdom and bliss.

And after, there as he sought to finish the remnant of the temple, for he had left it unfinished, he was sent ?eftsones and brought it to an end and abode there from thence forward. And because of his virtue and well-doing, the king vouchsafed that his image in bronze should be set in the sanctuary. And so for ?gerdon Kombabos dwelleth yet in the close, formed of bronze by craft of Ermocles the Rhodian, like a woman in shape but clothed like a man.

Hermocles of Rhodes is known only from this passage; his name must have been preserved by an inscription on the statue, which we may be sure was the restoration of an older statue of the putative originator of the Galloi and possible real founder of the temple, installed in connection with the Seleucid restoration of the temple itself.

The story tells that his best friends, for solace of his woe, chose to share his lot; for they castrated themselves and led that same manner of life. But other men repeat priests lore to this matter, how that Hera [Atargatis] loving Kombabos, put it in the thoughts of many to castrate themselves, in the intent that he should not mourn alone for manhood.

27 - But evermore since this custom was first established, it abides yet, and every year many men castrate themselves in the close and become as women, where it be that they solace Kombabos or rejoice Hera [Atargatis]. However, they castrate themselves. And these no longer clothe themselves as men, but wear women's weeds and do women's work. And as I hears, the blame of this also is laid on Kombabos; for a thing befell him in this way. A strange woman that came thither on pilgrimage sought him while he was fair and clad yet as a man, and she was seized of great love. But after, when she learned that he was marred, she slew herself. Then for despair that Kombabos had because he was accursed in love, he did don female clothing to the end that never no other woman should be so beguiled. That is why Galloi wear female apparel.

Since Kombabos bears a very ancient name, since the temple-story ascribes the origin of the Galloi to him, not to Attis, and since Attis does not figure at all in the worship as described by Lucian, the Galloi can hardly be a Seleucid importation from Phrygia; in that case Attis would have been imported also. Meyer, who believes the cult ancient here, but Hittite-Anatolian in its origin, finds evidence of Attis-worship in the name Atargatis (Atar-Ata), which he interprets as the Astarte of Attis; i.e., the goddess that is characterized by the worship of Attis. This view not only leaves Kombabos out of account, but does not reckon with the fact that the deity Ata was often, if not always, thought of as feminine. The connection, however, between Attis and Ata is indubitable; and I believe that there is an analogous connection between Kombabos (Assyr. Chum-ba-ba, Babyl. Chu-wa-wa, with characteristic w for b ) and Kybebos (Gallus), Kybébe (the goddess Cybele). It cannot be mere coincidence that in Syria Ku(m)baba serves Ata, while in Phrygia Cybebe is served by Attis. That the transfer in which man and goddess exchanged names was from Semitic to non-Semitic soil is, it seems to me, likely from the antiquity of the name Ku(m)baba. Other arguments are not wanting.

Of Kombabos have I said enough, and of the Galloi I shall make mention soon in another part of my book [Ch. 50-54], how they are castrated, and in what manner they are buried, and why they do not enter into the temple. But first I must tell of the site of the temple and its greatness, and therefore I shall do so right now.

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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

Back 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

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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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