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Greco-Roman Feastdays and Traditions
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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.

Frazer, 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.

The 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 Press 1977
  • Frazer, Sir James, The New Golden Bough, abridged by Theodor H Gaster, New American Library 1959

(c) Living in Season by Waverly Fitzgerald 2003.

The god Mithras was a favorite of Roman soldiers.

November 23 - Thesmophoria: "It is called Thesmophoria, because Demeter is called Thesmophoros in respect of her establishing laws or thesmoi in accordance with which men must provide nourishment and work the land."
December 1 - Festival of Neptune
December 3 - Festival of Bona Dea: The Romans' "Good Goddess" was also known as Fauna. A secret rite was held on this day in the house of the officiating consul. Men were excluded and the matrons were accompanied by the Vestal Virgins. A pig was sacrificed, followed by feasting and celebration. 
December 17 - Saturnalia: Festival in honor of  Saturn, and is one of the most festive and uninhibited that the ancient Romans celebrated. It went on for seven days and encompassed the Winter Solstice. During the Saturnalia, rules were set aside, schools were closed, and slaves could meet their masters on equal terms. Human kindness was the theme and war and the punishment of criminals was halted. The exchange of gifts was universally practiced. Strenae, which were boughs to which were attached cakes or sweetmeats, were exchanged by visitors and guests. Other common gifts included wax candles (cerei) and sigillaria, which were doll-like clay figures, a particular favorite of children.

Greek Traditional Observances:
The 2nd day of each month is sacred to the Agathos Daimon -- called by some the "Good Spirit," representing a day dedicated to appeasing one's guardian angel for transgressions of human willfulness. 'Agathos' is described as a primary word meaning:"of good constitution or nature; useful, salutary; good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy; excellent, distinguished; upright, honourable." 'Daimon' is defined as "devil, devils, demons". This was a time when remorse for the Bacchanalian and Saturnalia festivity overindulgence was moderated to set one back on track. Imagine a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Today, the angel wins.-- by the New Testament Greek Lexicon
The 3rd day of each month is sacred to the Goddess Athena.

Also known as Greek Reconstructionism, Hellenismos is a revived religion from ancient Greece.
Thought I'd take a look down a less-beaten track and learn a bit more about Discordianism. It may seem a wee bit unorthodox, but the Goddess of Chaos is a real figure in Greek mythology. The Discordian symbol of a golden apple also comes from Greek myth. It's Eris and her golden apple that were the cause of the historic Trojan War.

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New art and artists in the galleries.