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The Gardens of Adonis In Serres Today* George Pilitsis None of our traditions, Christian or pre-Christian, have really died out. Often when I attend the ritual procession on Good Friday, it is difficult for me to decide whether the god that is being buried is Christ or Adonis. George Seferis1 Though the establishment of Christianity has taken away much of the popularity that pagan rites and rituals once enjoyed throughout rural Greece one can still see people practice customs that suggest parallels to those of the ancient past. The resemblances that exist between the myths and the cultic rituals of ancient Greece from Byzantine times to today are many and well-documented.2 Since people in rural areas are among the most obstinate conservators of traditional usage, the study of their beliefs, legends, festivals , proverbs and folk songs can help to reveal the connection of many customs with primitive forms of rituals and their original *An earlier form of this paper was delivered at the joint panel of the American Philological Association and the Modern Greek Studies Association at the annual meeting of the APA in Cincinnati (December, 1983). A shorter version was presented to the Folklore and Mythology section at the annual meeting of the Philological Association of the Pacific Coast in Eugene, Oregon (November, 1982). I am grateful to my colleagues V. Farenga, E. O'Neil and W. Levitan whose comments and suggestions helped me improve the paper in many ways. 1 George Seferis, Letter to a Friend, trans. Nanos Valaoritis, Poetry 105 (1964) 53. 2With regard to the observance of certain traditional performances, Byzantine sources from the seventh to the twelfth centuries suggest that religious beliefs and ceremonies of various rituals observed in towns and rural areas in Greece changed little since antiquity. Modern studies of the ritual lament and the funeral rites that people observe today have drawn similar conclusions. See Gregorovius, 1.35. P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity (London, 1971) 50-7, 72; R. Browning, Greece, Ancient and Medieval (London, 1967) 8; see also Alexiou and Danforth. A general treatment of the relationship between ancient and modern Greek beliefs, rites and rituals can be found in Lawson. 145 146 George Pilitsis meaning and function. The present study confines itself to an examination of the funeral rites of Christ in the Greek Orthodox tradition and their connection with the festival of the Adonia of ancient Greece. Specifically, the study explores the contemporary rite of displaying "gardens" on Good Friday in the northern Greek city of Serres, a unique practice in modern Greece and one similar to the ancient "gardens" planted and displayed annually during the rites of Adonis. Mythology and literature associate Adonis with the ripening and harvesting of the fruits of the earth.3 His myth appears to have originated in some ancient oriental vegetation cult, in which the harvesting of the crops and the reaping of the grain were celebrated annually with songs of lamentation. The tradition was eventually introduced to the Greeks who assimilated it to their own mythology and, like their oriental neighbors, gradually transformed it into a personified story of a young man who died a violent death and later returned to earth.4 In the Babylonian mythology, the young man was known as Tammuz. In Syria and Phoenicia he was known as "Adon," which is thought to be of Semitic origin, simply meaning "Lord," adoni "My Lord."5 This is not a god's name, but a general title for any god. In the process of assimilation and transformation the Greeks converted this title "Adon" into the proper name, Adonis, which survived as long as the cult itself.6 While the myth may have undergone several changes, Adonis never lost his ties with Anatolia in the Greek version of the story. Throughout antiquity, mythographers traditionally place his birth in the East. They connect him always with the cult of Oriental Aphrodite and refer to him as the goddess' lover. Their relationship appears to have been similar to that of 3See Scholia on Theocritus, 3.48; Origen, "Selecta in Ezechielem" in Migne's PatrologÃ-a Graeca, 13.800; Ammianus Marcellinus, 19.1.2, 22.9.15; Clement of...


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