Mythic Wisdom: A Greek Author’s Perspective

Connecting the past with the present has always been a powerful experience for me, maybe because I live in a land rich in history. In this blog I am going to explore a variety of topics, which I find deeply meaningful: women’s roles, gender and sexuality issues, activism, goddesses and gods, etc. By examining myths, symbols, and archetypal figures, I feel that we gain a fresh perspective on our lives and society. Ancient history, art, and literature can become amazing sources of inspiration. By learning from the wisdom of the past, we can transform ourselves and the world we live in.

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The Secret of the Sacred Garden

Part 1

From Aphrodite’s Vulva to the Resurrection

What possible connection could there be between the sacred gardens of Aphrodite and the resurrection of Jesus?

Interestingly, according to the Gospel of John, his burial occurred in a garden, not far from the place of his crucifixion.[i] When Mary Magdalene reached his tomb, she found it empty, to her great sorrow:

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher).[ii]

The garden appears several times in the Bible, the most famous example being of course the Garden of Eden. Even God himself is at times portrayed as a gardener or viticulturist![iii] It is worth wondering if there is a special significance in the location where the most important scene of the Christian drama takes place. Strange as it seems, it might be helpful to turn to Greek pagan traditions in order to find out.

The Jewish people had been in contact with the Hellenic civilization for centuries, since Alexander (yes, the one called “the Great”) conquered Palestine in 332 BCE. After his death the area became a part of the Hellenistic kingdoms although for about a century a Jewish autonomous state was established.

In 63 BCE the legions of Pompey arrived; yet the Romans brought with them a lot more than their military might. A wealth of Greek cultural elements, which they had enthusiastically adopted, always followed the expansion of the empire. With the Hellenic civilization spread far and wide, it is certainly not a coincidence that the New Testament was written in Greek. Thus, it probably wouldn’t be far-fetched to look to the Graeco-Roman tradition for a potential symbolic meaning of Jesus’ alleged burial in a garden. 

A Sensual Place of Rebirth

We might begin our exploration by asking if there was a Greek god whose burial was associated with gardens. If so, did he also die and return to life? Those familiar with classical myth and religion will easily come up with an answer: Adonis, the handsome young lover of Aphrodite, spent his days partly on earth and partly in the underworld. In the festival of Adonia women lamented his death, but also celebrated, anticipating his resurrection. In the famous city of Alexandria, in Hellenistic Egypt, his Sacred Marriage with the love goddess was symbolically re-enacted.[iv]

During the Athens festival, “graves” were made in which Adonis’ effigy lay and his funeral was re-enacted.[v] This custom bears an interesting similarity to the ritual held on Good Friday by the Greek Orthodox Church: the Epitaphios, a cloth icon of the dead Jesus, sometimes accompanied by the Magdalene and other disciples, is carried in a wooden canopied catafalque lavishly decorated with flowers, representing the Tomb of Christ. One wonders if the flowers might perhaps represent a dim memory of the garden.

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[i] John 19:41-42.

[ii] Ibid. 20:11-16, New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[iii] Genesis 2:8; Isaiah 5:7 et al.

[iv] Theokritos, Syrakosiai or Adoniazousai 111 and on.

[v] Plutarch, Alkibiades 18.3.

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Harita Meenee is a Greek independent scholar of classical studies and women’s history. Her graduate studies were in the field of archetypal and women’s psychology. She works as a writer, translator and editor while also being a human rights activist. Harita has presented cultural TV programs and has lectured at universities in Greece and the US. She is the author of five books, as well as of numerous articles and essays published in Hellenic and international anthologies and magazines.


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