The festival of Adonis in Alexandria

I’ve never really read much Greek poetry, but I found myself looking at the Idylls of Theocritus yesterday.  The 15th idyll depicts in dialogue form the hustle and bustle at the festival of Adonis — the Adonia — in Alexandria in Ptolemaic times.  It ends with a dirge mourning Adonis and looking forward to his resurrection.

Thanks to the wonderful Theoi site the Loeb English translation is here.

GORGO (with her maid Etychis at the door, as the maid Eunoa opens it)
[1] Praxinoa at home?

PRAXINOA (running forward)
[1] Dear Gorgo! at last! she is at home. I quite thought you’d forgotten me. (to the maid) Here, Eunoa, a chair of the lady, and a cushion on it.

GORGO (refusing the cushion)
[3] No, thank you, really.

PRAXINOA
[3] Do sit down.

GORGO (sitting)
[4] O what a silly I was to come! What with the crush and the horses, Praxinoa, I’ve scarcely got here alive. It’s all big boots and people in uniform. And the street was never-ending, and you can’t think how far your house is along it.

Do read it.

I love the kind of works that give you a real impression of the ancient world — the letters of Cicero, or Pliny the Younger; and Martial and Juvenal.  Indeed I wish I had more of them.  I had hopes of Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, but somehow it didn’t work for me.

4 thoughts on “The festival of Adonis in Alexandria

  1. Thanks for this, Roger. I think the excellent English translation makes the discourse even more beautiful than the original.

  2. Could you recomment an authoritative source to tell me when the Adonia occurred? I would greatly appreciate it.
    I have read everything from March 25, to “Autumn” to midsummer (most people say midsummer.) And I’m tired of all this confusion. Really, how can it be this difficult to get accuracy one date? And that’s pretty much the way it is on anything I’ve studied in the past two months. No one seems to agree on anything.

  3. Here is what the RealEncyclopadie says:

    Adonia. Das Fest des Adonis, ein im Hochsommer begangenes Fest, dessen Hauptbestandteil die Klage um den toten Adonis war, der durch hölzerne Puppen dargestellt wurde. Das Fest, von unsicherer Herkunft, ist auf griechischem und klein asiatisch-syrischem Boden sicher alt, erwähnt unter dem Namen A0dwnia wird es zuerst für Athen bei Gelegenheit der sicilischen Expedition (Aristoph. Frieden 419. Plutarch Nic.13; Alcib. 18) als Privatfeier der Frauen; mehrfach kommt es dann im 4. Jhdt. bei den Komikern vor als von Hetaeren begangen, so bei Diphilos fg. 43, 39 (II 554 K., ebenda 557 im Theseus des Diphilos geben sich Hetären an den Adonien gegenseitig obscoene Rätsel auf). Ein Ehrendecret der Thiasoten der Aphrodite für ihren Vorsteher aus dem Jahre 302 (Dittenberger Syll. 427) hebt dessen Verdienste um die pomph/ der A. hervor, welche demnach ein Hauptfest dieses Thiasos gewesen sein muss. Schilderung einer glänzenden Begehung der A. in Alexandreia, begünstigt von Ptolemaios Philadelphos, in Theokrits 15. Idyll; Schilderung der Feier in Byblos wohl aus dem 1. Jhdt. der Kaiserzeit bei [Lukian] de dea Syria 6ff.; in Antiocheia wird noch 362 n. Chr. (nach Amm. Marcell. XXII 9, 15) das Fest jährlich begangen. Uber den Verlauf im einzelnen und die Bedeutung vgl. Adonis. [Dümmler.]

    Google translate should help you with that, and I see several sources mentioned. (I would translate it, but I am up against it this week).

    The confusion to which you refer usually arises from following secondary sources which don’t reference the ancient evidence. Ignore those. Concentrate on ancient sources only, and use secondary sources only as pointers to ancient sources. What you need, of course, is all the ancient sources that mention the festival. I doubt it exceeds a dozen.

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