File:Women Adonia Louvre CA1679.jpg
This article refers to the ancient festival. The cruise ship Sea Princess operated under this name between 2003 and 2005.

Adonia (Greek: Template:Lang), or Adonic feasts, were ancient feasts instituted in honor of Aphrodite and Adonis, and observed with great solemnity among the Greeks, Egyptians, etc around the summer solstice.

The festival lasted two days, and was celebrated by women exclusively Template:Citation needed. On the first day, they brought into the streets statues of Adonis, which were laid out as corpses; and they observed all the rites customary at funerals, beating themselves and uttering lamentations, in imitation of the cries of Venus for the death of her paramour. The second day was spent in merriment and feasting; because Adonis was allowed to return to life, and spend half of the year with Aphrodite.

According to Johannes Meursius, these two rituals made two distinct feasts, which were held at different times of the year, the one six months after the other; Adonis being supposed to pass half the year with Proserpine, and half with Venus.

Gardens of AdonisEdit

During the Adonia, the informal ancient Athenian festival for Adonis, women would plant in baskets and shallow pots Gardens of Adonis of wheat, barley, lettuces, fennel, and other quickly germinating plants on the roofs of the houses. The plants grew rapidly, but also died quickly due to their shallow root systems, and were discarded at the end of eight days, often with other images of the god. The occasion was one of communal mourning for the women in Athens, lamentation being a particularly female role, which had been stringently restricted in fifth-century funeral rites that emphasized eulogy and marginalized women's lament..


The date of the early summer festival of Adonia has been debated: it was tied to the cycle of the new moon on the ninth day of Hecatombion. This festival was the only celebration of Adonis at Athens: there was no temple to honour him, and he had no place in the official cults of the polis. In the masculine public culture of Athens, at least five comic poets wrote plays titled Adonis: Nikophon, Plato, Araros, Anthiphanes and Phaliskos.[1] The official view of the Adonia is reflected in a fragment of Kratinos: "The man, who did not give a chorus to Sophocles when he asked, but to the son of Kleomachos, whom I would not think worthy to produce for me, not even for the Adonia".[2]

During this festival, ad-hoc groups of women— according to Plato, who disapproved of the essentially non-Greek and female cultus especially loose women, prostitutes and mistresses—[3] apart from men, gathered on the rooftops, wailing, drinking and singing: "We celebrate the Adonia and we bewail Adonis", according to a fragment of the Athenian comic poet of the late fifth century, Pherecrates. An early testimony to the Adonia, in Lesbos is provided by fragmentary lines of Sappho: "delicate Adonis is dying, Kytherea; what should we do? Beat your breasts, maidens, and rend your garments."

One of the features of the holiday was the creation of Gardens of Adonis, by sowing seeds of quickly-germinating plants— wheat, barley, lettuce, fennel— in shallow baskets, bowls or even in shards of clay. Tended by the women, who watered them daily, the plants grew rapidly but had shallow root systems. Images on Greek vases show the women carrying these little gardens up ladders to the rooftops, the unique site for the Adonia. At the end of eight days the pots of greenery were thrown into the ocean or a stream, perhaps sometimes along with an image of the dead Adonis— according to Plutarch's Nikias— though no votive statue identifiable as Adonis has been discovered in Attica. Literary evidence for any Adonis cult outside Athens has been thin. We do not know when the Adonia was first observed in Athens: a mid-fifth-century date has been suggested on the basis of vase-paintings. Casual remarks in Aristophanes' Lysistrata (lines 387-96) and elsewhere show the Adonia was a familiar, though disruptive, element of Athenian life in the 420s.

Later, an Idyll of Theocritus (Idyll 15, written in the 270s BCE) instances a more public, state-supported Adonia at Alexandria, celebrated in the palace.

"The rooftop location of the Adonia was not a place for religious activity in Greece, but it was used for such purposes in the Near East, and this feature of the festival was retained in Athens" Ronda R. Simms has observed in her analysis of the Adonia.[4]

Sir James Frazer believed that Gardens of Adonis provided sympathetic magic that encouraged fertility, growth and the vegetational death of Adonis, as a life-death-rebirth deity, as he was honoured in the Levant: see Adonis. But, Marcel Detienne, the author of Gardens of Adonis, a structuralist analysis of the practice, has a different view.[5] Detienne pointed out that the plants in a Garden of Adonis quickly wither under the heat of the sun. The Greeks have a proverb— "more sterile than the gardens of Adonis"— and also use the phrase to indicate something superficial, immature or lightweight. Plato in Phaedrus contrasts the sensible male farmer, who would sow his seeds when it is suitable and be content to wait eight months for them to mature, and would not sow plants during eight days of summer in a Garden of Adonis. One is a serious act, the other playful; one will come to maturity, the other, according to Plato, is strictly for "the sake of sport and festival". According to a scholion on the passage, in Greek the phrase "garden of Adonis" came to mean anything out of season or short-lived.[6] By this, Adonis, the unfruitful seducer of goddesses was the antithesis of useful agriculture and the union of marriage. The Gardens of Adonis were considered a suitable theme for a wedding vessel, nevertheless (illustration).

John Winkler[7] found it impossible to conceive that the women of Athens, citizens and non-citizens, would celebrate their own marginality in this fashion, and found the Adonia a wry representation of the ephemeral sexual nature of Adonis— and men in general.

Given the latter structuralist and Platonian interpretations of the mythical "garden of Adonis", one might venture to apply the label "honeymoon" to the (always ephemeral) period of time which the latter Greek phrase refers to. "Honeymoon" here need not necessarily refer to the short period of time or vacation following a marriage (though traditionally, this is precisely what it refers to); it can refer to any event in its infancy when novelty and its benefits are still in effect. For example, when a patient is first diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, he/she is often said to go through a "honeymoon phase" wherein the patient's pancreas will slowly decline in functionality and eventually reach a "plateau" of sorts—this period can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years [1]. The "honeymoon phase", from the point of view of a diabetic (or his nurses and doctors) is a very favorable period of diabetes. The analogue between a type 1 diabetic's "honeymoon phase" (or, of course, any "honeymoon period") and the mythological "garden of Adonis" is quite robust—both refer to a period of unusually favorable conditions which slowly recede until it (whatever "it" is) reaches a "plateau" of relative constancy and habit. Of course, "honeymoons" of the non-diabetic sort typically come not in one-time doses, but rather in cycles or waves—hence the annual festival of Adonis.

The death of Adonis in the classic myth is quite apt because the sublime beauty and appeal of the "garden of Adonis" indeed exists in and because of its mortality and evanescence. Of course, while novelty is always an ephemeral thing, the other primary quality of the "garden of Adonis", harmony, is obviously much more sustainable.


  1. Noted by Ronda R. Simms, "Mourning and Community at the Athenian Adonia" The Classical Journal 93.2 (December 1997, pp. 121-141) p 123 note.
  2. Quoted in Simms 1997:124 note 18.
  3. A reference by some fourth-century comic poets, who sited an Adonia in a brothel, encouraged Detienne to view the celebration as even including male lovers.
  4. Simms 1997:132.
  5. By Detienne's reinterpretation, Frazer's was "destroyed beyond any hope of resuscitation", according to Ronda R. Simms 1997.
  6. Simms 1997:127.
  7. Winkler, The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece (New York) 1990.

External linksEdit


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