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Mourning of the goddess (1)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

03 Religious festivals, cults, rituals and practices

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

03 Religious festivals, cults, rituals and practices

05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

5th century CE
Roman Empire
Roman philosophers and scholars

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.21.1-6:
That Adonis too is the sun will be clear beyond all doubt if we examine the religious practices of the Assyrians, among whom Venus Architis and Adonis were worshipped of old with the greatest reverence, as they are by the Phoenicians today. Physicists have given to the earth’s upper hemisphere (part of which we inhabit) the revered name of Venus, and they have called the earth’s lower hemisphere Proserpine. Now six of the twelve signs of the zodiac are regarded as the upper signs and six as the lower, and so the Assyrians, or Phoenicians, represent the goddess Venus as going into mourning when, in its annual course following the twelve signs of the zodiac, the sun enters the sector of the lower hemisphere. For when the sun is among the lower signs, and therefore makes the days shorter, it is as if it had been carried off by a temporary death and had been lost and had past into the power of Proserpine, who, as we said, is the deity that presides over the lower circle of the earth and the antipodes; so that Venus is believed to be in mourning then, just as Adonis is believed to have been restored to her when the sun, after passing completely through the six signs of the lower series, begins again to traverse the circle of our hemisphere, with brighter light and longer days.

In the story which they tell of Adonis killed by a boar the animal is intended to represent winter, for the boar is an unkempt and rude creature delighting in damp, muddy, and frost-covered places and feeding on the acorn, which is especially a winter fruit. And so winter, as it were, inflicts a wound on the sun, for in winter we find the sun’s light and heat ebbing, and it is an ebbing of light and heat that befalls all living creatures at death. On Mount Lebanon there is a statue of Venus. Her head is veiled, her expression sad, her cheek beneath her veil is resting on her left hand; and it is believed that as one looks upon the statue it sheds tears. This statue not only represents the mourning goddess of whom we have been speaking but is also a symbol of the earth in winter; for at that time the earth is veiled in clouds, deprived of the companionship of the sun, and benumbed, its springs of water (which are, as it were, its eyes) flowing more freely and the fields meanwhile stripped of their finery - a sorry sight. But when the sun has come up from the lower parts of the earth and has crossed the boundary of the spring equinox, giving length to the day, then Venus is glad and fair to see, the fields are green with growing crops, the meadows with grass and the trees with leaves. This is why our ancestors dedicated the month of April to Venus.

Source (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.21.1-6


Davies 1969, 141-142Davies, Percival V. Macrobius, The Saturnalia. Records of Civilization. Sources and Studies 79. New York, London: Columbia University Press 1969.
Turcan 1996, 147Turcan, Robert. The Cults of the Roman Empire. Oxford, Cambridge MA: Blackwell 1986.

Amar Annus

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