Queen Cenchreïs maintains, that her
daughters’ hair be more beautiful than that of Aphrodite.
Consequently the daughters fall out of favour with the Goddess.
She condemns them to marry foreigners. Then they will either be
banished or turned to stone. Finally they die in Egypt. Aphrodite
punishes one of the daughters, Myrrha, with relentless love for
her father, Cinyras. With the help of her nurse, Myrrha succeeds
in gaining access to her drunken father’s darkened chamber.
During this night, while her mother chastely attends the holy
festival to celebrate the grain harvest, Myrrha becomes pregnant.
In the pursuing nights she visits her father again until he expresses
the desire to see his unknown lover and sends for light. As he
recognizes his daughter he reaches for his sword and tries to
slay her. Myrrha flees from her father. She prays to the Gods
and begs for a just penalty. She wishes neither to remain among
the living nor the dead and pleas for transformation. Aphrodite
acknowledges her pleas and turns her into a myrrh. The tree exudes
hot resinous tears. Through a crack, created by the pounding of
a boar, Adonis is born.
Aphrodite adopts Adonis and instantly falls for his beauty. She
hides him in a crate from the Gods and brings him to Persephone
in the underworld. Alas, Persephone also falls for Adonis and
doesn’t want to part with him. So Zeus is called upon to
preside over Adonis’ fate. He shall spend a third of the
year alone, another third with Persephone in the underworld and
the remaining third belonging to Aphrodite. Adonis becomes so
enchanted by Aphrodite that he wants to spend his third of the
year with her as well.
Aphrodite is so spellbound by Adonis’ beauty, that she begins
to neglect heaven and earth. She escorts him while he hunts. She
holds him in her arms. When they part she warns him of the dangerous
animals that lurk in the forest, “Be bold on cowards for
whoso doth advance himself against the bold, may hap to meet with
some mischance.” But one of Adonis’ dogs chases a
boar from its hiding place. The boar wants to flee, as Adonis
plunges his spear into its side. As Adonis retreats, the wounded
animal rams its tusk into his loins. Aphrodite hears his groaning
from afar and rushes to the dying Adonis. She rips her clothes,
tears at her hair and beats her chest.
She bears his dead body on a bed of lettuce. “The memory
of my sadness will last eternally, Adonis; and the annual celebrations
to mark your death, will be the manifestations of my mourning.
Your blood however, will become a flower.” She sprinkles
his blood with perfumed nectar. On contact, the blood blisters,
like a transparent air bubble in brown mud. After an hour, a flower
of the same colour issues from the blood.
The Gardens of Adonis are first mentioned in Plato’s “Phaedrus”.
The writings occupy a special position in his works. The lyrical
way Plato manages to combine eros and rhetoric, lead interpreters
to assume that it was his first work of youth. Meanwhile, it is
generally accepted as proven that Plato wrote it as he was reaching
his sixtieth year.
At the beginning of the piece is Lysias’ speech, which Phaedrus
reads to Socrates. The speaker tries to win his favourite over
by claiming not to love him and that compliance can only be of
advantage when shown to the non loving. Socrates despises the
speech, because Lysias does not acknowledge the divine Eros. According
to Socrates, friendship without love is incongruous, thereupon,
he decides to sublimate Eros: Lysias is right to view love as
a mental illness but he doesn’t realize that there is a
divine frenzy, a mania. This mania allows loving mortals to share
the celestial wisdom of the deities, by looking at the immortal
in their loved ones.
The gardens of Adonis describe fragile clay dishes in which fledgling
crops are yielded. Wheat, barley, lettuce and fennel seeds are
watered in the dark so as to produce pale shoots. During the Adonis
festival, the women of ancient Athens placed the dish-crops on
the roofs of their houses, where they danced, sang and played
with friends and neighbours all night, in honour of Adonis.The
Adonis festival begins with the rising of the dog star, Sirius.
It’s appearance, just before sunrise on the 27 July, indicates
the start of the annual days of the dog. During these days, Sirius
presides over plants and humans. The humans will suffer heat stroke
and sunburn, while the plants and the cultures will be struck
with sideratio. The siriasis finds it’s victims among the
infants, the weakest human offspring, while the sideratio befalls
the young shrubbery and plants whose roots are not yet strong
enough to draw the indispensable moisture form deep in the soil.
The humans are half parched and dying of thirst, like those unfortunate
beings, who are tortured by thirst and at the same time stricken
with an aversion to water, because they were allegedly bitten
by dogs, which, due to the searing seasonal heat, have become
mad. The women are at their most lascivious at this time, and
the men are at their weakest. Sirius sinks their heads and knees,
and the heat dries their skin out.
As the women dwell on exuberant obscenities, the sound of abandoned
laughter mixed with glum lamentations for the dead Adonis, emanates
from the rooftops of Athens. Mourning their dead God, symbol of
the mythical unity between the love of nature and sexuality liberated
from social constraints. The way in which the Adonia is celebrated
varies from place to place. Thus, the women of Byblos, who refuse
to shear their heads during the time of mourning, commit themselves
to strangers for one entire day, and bring the proceeds of these
engagements to the sacred shrine of Aphrodite. During the festival,
the rootless gardens dry out on the roofs, under the influence
of the very heat that facilitated their hasty growth. The parched
remains are thrown into the water. The women of Alexandria, in
mourning dress with flying hair and exposed chest, carry an image
of the dead Adonis to the seashore, where they deliver it to the
From this cult originates the potted plant tradition and the custom
of rearing annual flowers. Later, during the Roman Empire and
up into the Middle Ages, the gardens of Adonis described a species-rich
garden or part of a garden, planted with annual flowers.
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates’ criticism of Lysias’
speech leads to a discussion about true knowledge and its means
of expression. The question of suitability and inadequacy of the
script, where its use is beautiful and where it is unbefitting.
Then forgetfulness is planted into the soul of he who neglects
memory, whilst learning the script, for by trusting a foreign,
externally imposed document, he doesn’t draw on his own
interior source: his memory.
This is the reservation invariably linked to writing, in this
way, script resembles the truth in painting. These works also
appear to be alive and yet, when asked, they remain proudly silent.
You could believe that they speak, as if they have understood
something, but when you ask however, as if to comprehend the spoken,
then their façade remains rigid.
As a consequence, one should not seriously write ones insight
in black water, propagate speeches with the quill, that are incapable,
of helping themselves through words, incapable, of accessibly
teaching the truth. Instead, for the sake of the game, one should
nurture and illustrate the seeds of script, when writing, to collect
treasures in ones memory for the time when one reaches the age
of absent-mindedness, and for all, who follow the same path, and
it will cause great pleasure to watch the tender growth. It is
more beautiful however, when someone chooses the appropriate soul,
and therein plants and nurtures with speeches, the seeds of knowledge,
a self cultivating soul, capable of skilfully raising the fertile
seeds, which flourish, and in turn carry the seeds capable of
perpetual propagation in new souls, thus giving them the power
of immortality and the capacity to bestow the highest humanly
possible happiness on their carrier.
Adonis was considered a weakling by the Greek men, immature, lacking
masculinity, with a following of women and hermaphrodites. The
young lad with opulent semen, precocious lover to beautiful mistresses,
was considered the opposite of marriage and the fruitful sexual
union. His exaggerated sexual potency being the product of his
immaturity, premature sexual activity, which is tantamount to
sterility, then he scatters his raw and unripe seeds in stony
gardens, where they will never take root, so that they never reproduce
their own nature. They are destined to produce, deceptions, false
images, like those bastards or discarded newborns, who, having
been abandoned in vessels on barren land, evoke comparison to
the Adonia plants.
In Phaedrus, Socrates uses the Gardens of Adonis to illustrate
the written word: Would a country man, with any sense, seriously
sow the seeds he wishes to raise and harvest, in the summer heat
in an Adonis garden, and be thrilled when he sees, that they have
sprouted after eight days?
Or would he do this as a game to celebrate the festival, assuming
he does it at all. Then, he would certainly sow the seeds he wishes
to profit from, according to the art of farming, where they belong,
and he will be most content when he sees them fulfil their destiny
after eight months.
Script provokes the illusion of life, but is in fact sterile.
The spoken word however, which stimulates the listener’s
soul, so that he in turn can reap fertile seeds, corresponds to
the grain, which the farmer sows at the right time and that takes
eight months, not eight days, to mature. As serious agriculture
endeavours to school its plants, so are the gardens of Adonis
Translation: Philip Jacobs