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Rich with implications for the history of sexuality, gender issues, and patterns of Hellenic literary imagining, Marcel Detienne's landmark book recasts long-standing ideas about the fertility myth of Adonis. The author challenges Sir James Frazer's thesis that the vegetation god Adonis-- whose premature death was mourned by women and whose resurrection marked a joyous occasion--represented the annual cycle of growth and decay in agriculture. Using the analytic tools of structuralism, Detienne shows instead that the festivals of Adonis depict a seductive but impotent and fruitless deity--whose physical ineptitude led to his death in a boar hunt, after which his body was found in a lettuce patch. Contrasting the festivals of Adonis with the solemn ones dedicated to Demeter, the goddess of grain, he reveals the former as a parody and negation of the institution of marriage.
Detienne considers the short-lived gardens that Athenian women planted in mockery for Adonis's festival, and explores the function of such vegetal matter as spices, mint, myrrh, cereal, and wet plants in religious practice and in a wide selection of myths. His inquiry exposes, among many things, attitudes toward sexual activities ranging from "perverse" acts to marital relations.