This paper seeks to ascertain the ways in which Adonis and his ritual lament were used by Classical men and women in their constructions of their own gender and the other. The evidence from Classical Athens turns out to originate mainly among men and thus outside the cult, from which men were excluded; the myths and descriptions of the rite that we possess say more about men's attitudes toward themselves and toward women than about the celebrants' motives. Nevertheless, women's attitudes toward Adonis may be inferred from the social circumstances in which the Attic cult arose. Care must be taken to distinguish the different interests represented in the extant evidence (e.g., male from female and Greek from non-Greek). Marcel Detienne's influential structuralist interpretation of the cult has rightly dissociated Attic Adonis from similar Near Eastern figures and contextualized him in Classical Athenian society. Detienne's interpretation, however, has limitations, since it treats Adonis only as a representative of the unmanly and unproductive, and tends to ignore the different uses to which men and women could put Adonis and his rite. For example, the proverb "more fruitless than the gardens of Adonis" originated in male discourse, and does not necessarily reflect women's views. In comedy Adonis and the Adonia become a foil for masculine values; not only does this tell us nothing of what the celebrants thought, but awareness of the many strategies of self-definition available to Athenian men compels us to entertain other constructions of Adonis in other discursive milieus. Finally, although little testimony remains from the woman's perspective, we may speculate that in democratic Athens, restrictions on traditional female mourning rituals and the polarization of the sexes would have made such a private cult as the Adonia attractive to women.
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Joseph D. Reed; The Sexuality of Adonis. Classical Antiquity 1 October 1995; 14 (2): 317–347. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/25011025
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