Greek Festival in the Gardens of Adonis: July 19
July 19 is the
fixed date for the start of the Greek festival of Adonia, sixteen days of celebration of the short but lusty life of Adonis.
Originally it was tied to the cycle of the moon-beginning on the ninth day of Hecatombion (July 7, this year) and spanning
that beautiful full moon we just enjoyed on July 13.
During this festival, women, especially loose women, prostitutes
and mistresses, entertained their lovers on rooftops, burning spices in honor of Adonis and Aphrodite, dancing, feasting,
drinking and singing.
One of the features of the holiday was the creation of
Gardens of Adonis, by sowing seeds
of wheat, barley,
lettuce, fennel and sometimes flowers in shallow silver baskets, bowls or even shards of clay.
Tended by the women, who watered them daily, the plants grew rapidly but had shallow root systems. Images on Greek vases show
the women carrying these little gardens up ladders to the rooftops for the Adonia celebration. At the end of eight days the
pots of greenery were thrown into the ocean or a stream, sometimes along with an image of the dead Adonis.
the great folklorist, believed that Gardens of Adonis symbolized fertility and growth. But, Marcel Detienne, the author of
Gardens of Adonis, a structuralist analysis of the practice, has a different view. He points out that the plants in a Garden
of Adonis quickly wither under the heat of the sun. The Greeks have a proverb--"You are more sterile than the gardens of Adonis"-and
also use the phrase to indicate something superficial, immature or lightweight. In fact, Plato in Phaedrus contrasts the sensible
farmer, who would sow his seeds when it is suitable and be content to wait eight months for them to mature, with a person
who sows plants during the summer in a Garden of Adonis. One is a serious act, the other playful; one will come to maturity,
the other is strictly for transitory amusement.
If you want to make your own Garden of Adonis, buy wheat berries at
your local health food store. Soak them overnight, then plant them in shallow pots or wicker baskets, lined with a thin layer
of potting soil. Sprinkle the wheat berries over the top of the soil and keep watered. To speed up the germination, you
can cover them loosely with plastic for a few days, but at this time of year they should do fine on a sunny windowsill.
wheat grows rapidly and is a beautiful vibrant green. These make great decorations for your home-Martha Stewart would approve.
Of course, you can eat the wheat grass-cut it off near the roots and add to salads, etc. Your cat and dog will love it too,
if you set out a pot of wheat grass they can graze.
If you'd like a faster and perhaps more decadent transitory pleasure,
I suggest celebrating one of my favorite festivals, with no ancient roots: Ice Cream Day on July 23.
- Detienne, Marcel, The Gardens of Adonis, translated by Janet Lloyd, Harvester
- Frazer, Sir James, The New Golden Bough, abridged by Theodor H Gaster,
New American Library 1959
(c) Living in Season by Waverly Fitzgerald 2003.