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The Golden Bough

Chapter 30. Adonis in Syria.
THE MYTH of Adonis was localised and his rites celebrated with much solemnity at two
places in Western Asia. One of these was Byblus on the coast of Syria, the other was
Paphos in Cyprus. Both were great seats of the worship of Aphrodite, or rather of her
Semitic counterpart, Astarte; and of both, if we accept the legends, Cinyras, the father of
Adonis, was king. Of the two cities Byblus was the more ancient; indeed it claimed to be
the oldest city in Phoenicia, and to have been founded in the early ages of the world by
the great god El, whom Greeks and Romans identified with Cronus and Saturn
respectively. However that may have been, in historical times it ranked as a holy place,
the religious capital of the country, the Mecca or Jerusalem of the Phoenicians. The city
stood on a height beside the sea, and contained a great sanctuary of Astarte, where in the
midst of a spacious open court, surrounded by cloisters and approached from below by
staircases, rose a tall cone or obelisk, the holy image of the goddess. In this sanctuary the
rites of Adonis were celebrated. Indeed the whole city was sacred to him, and the river
Nahr Ibrahim, which falls into the sea a little to the south of Byblus, bore in antiquity the
name of Adonis. This was the kingdom of Cinyras. From the earliest to the latest times
the city appears to have been ruled by kings, assisted perhaps by a senate or council of
The last king of Byblus bore the ancient name of Cinyras, and was beheaded by Pompey
the Great for his tyrannous excesses. His legendary namesake Cinyras is said to have
founded a sanctuary of Aphrodite, that is, of Astarte, at a place on Mount Lebanon,
distant a day's journey from the capital. The spot was probably Aphaca, at the source of
the river Adonis, half-way between Byblus and Baalbec; for at Aphaca there was a
famous grove and sanctuary of Astarte which Constantine destroyed on account of the
flagitious character of the worship. The site of the temple has been discovered by modern
travellers near the miserable village which still bears the name of Afka at the head of the
wild, romantic, wooded gorge of the Adonis. The hamlet stands among groves of noble
walnut-trees on the brink of the lyn. A little way off the river rushes from a cavern at the
foot of a mighty amphitheatre of towering cliffs to plunge in a series of cascades into the
awful depths of the glen. The deeper it descends, the ranker and denser grows the
vegetation, which, sprouting from the crannies and fissures of the rocks, spreads a green
veil over the roaring or murmuring stream in the tremendous chasm below. There is
something delicious, almost intoxicating, in the freshness of these tumbling waters, in the
sweetness and purity of the mountain air, in the vivid green of the vegetation. The temple,
of which some massive hewn blocks and a fine column of Syenite granite still mark the
site, occupied a terrace facing the source of the river and commanding a magnificent
prospect. Across the foam and the roar of the waterfalls you look up to the cavern and
away to the top of the sublime precipices above. So lofty is the cliff that the goats which
creep along its ledges to browse on the bushes appear like ants to the spectator hundreds
of feet below. Seaward the view is especially impressive when the sun floods the
profound gorge with golden light, revealing all the fantastic buttresses and rounded
towers of its mountain rampart, and falling softly on the varied green of the woods which
clothe its depths. It was here that, according to the legend, Adonis met Aphrodite for the