Sunday 12 February 2012

The Story of Adon

A long time ago, when the earth was new, there was a spring called Afak, from which flowed a great river through Lubnaan.  And while the waters of the spring were flowing, fire fell from heaven into them; and at the merging of earthly waters and heavenly fire was born Malidthu, the goddess of the myrrh tree.

Malidthu's youth was ever-renewed by the spring, and it is here that she gave birth.  According to some, she knew the first king of a nearby city (it's name was Gebal), and by him conceived.  It is said that the offspring of this union was a handsome demigod named Adon, after whom the river was named.  Then Malidthu became a myrrh tree, and baby Adon was kept within, until a wild boar set him free.

The young man Adon sprung straight from the myrrh tree, and he took up the life of a shepherd.  Sometimes, it is said that the first King of Gebal had another son by his wife, who was a brother to Adon.  And this son became a farmer who cultivated the land.

Adon was beloved by the gods, being half-god and half-man, and when he offered the firstborn lamb as a sacrifice, the gods were pleased.  He was also so handsome that he became the desire of the goddess Ashtart.

Adon and Ashtart were married, and Ashtart (here called Baalat Gebal), came to his house.  While Adon lived, the land was green and fertile.

One night, Adon's father had a terrible dream.  In it, Adon was killed, either by a spear or by someone carrying a spear.  He awoke and warned his son, cautious of him to avoid danger.

Adon went to Ashtart and told her that he was going out to hunt wild boars in the mountains.  Ashtart warned him of the dangers, but Adon laughed and told her that he could only be killed by a spear (or someone carrying a spear) and as boars don't carry spears it would be foolish to worry.  Besides, he told her, he would return by the setting of the sun.

Adon picked up his bow and left his house, but on his way to the mountain his father met him.  His father again warned him not to go, but Adon laughed and told him that he could only be killed by a spear, and a boar couldn't kill him.  When it became apparent that his son wouldn't listen, the old king at last let him go.

But the old king was not satisfied with leaving Adon in danger, and so told his farmer brother to go and watch over him from a far-off place.

Arriving at the mountain, Adon took his bow and began to hunt the wild boars that lived there.  At first he did very well, but he soon caught sight of a large boar and began to chase after it.

There are different versions of what happens next.  According to one, the boar turned and gored Adon to death with its tusks.  But taking the dream into account, there are another two versions which attempt to explain it.  In one, Adon's brother saw the event from a distance, and thought that the boar would kill Adon.  So he threw his spear, and it missed the boar and killed Adon instead.  In the other, this boar was actually his brother in disguise, and he killed his brother (either by accident or on purpose as he was jealous of him).  In all cases, Adon's blood was spilled below the sacred pine tree, and from his blood red anemone flowers sprung up.  Then his blood flowed into his sacred river, and it turned red and flowed into the sea.

When he did not return by sunset, Ashtart went to the mountain and found her husband dead.  So she led the women of the nearby city in mourning.  The earth became barren and dry.

Adon's brother, consumed by guilt and cursed by the gods, went to the place of his brother's death and killed himself, though his descendants lived on in the city.

Meanwhile, Ashtart went and appeared before Shapash, asking her to go and search the in the underworld for Adon.  Shapash went off, and as she went, the days grew shorter and shorter.  Eventually, Shapash went and found Adon in the netherworld, and restored him to the land of the living.  But there was a problem.  Adon had been to the underworld, and should not be allowed to return.  So the gods decreed that Adon would spend half of the year in the land above, and the other half in the land below.  And so he became the deity who had been to both lands, and the deity who knew the mysteries of life and death.  From that day forward, the city cult of Gebal was that of divine Adon and Baalat Gebal.

The Canaanite story of Adon has similarities with stories of gods from other cultures.  The most obvious examples are Osir of the Egyptians, Dumuzi of the Sumerians, Tammuz of the Babylonians, Abel of the Hebrews, and some Hittite and Hurrian deities.

Idols of Adon
Adon's city of Gebal, founded near to his place of birth
The Adon River (Nahr Adon, also known as Nahr Ibrahim)
Adon's place of birth at Afak
The sacred temple in Gebal where Adon and Baalat Gebal's rites were celebrated
Pine trees sacred to Adon
Pine trees sacred to Adon

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