Atargatis’s Rites

Atargatis’s Rites November 12, 2003

Thousands of years before David Blane, there was this, reported in a text called “On the Syrian God” purportedly by Lucian, which describes the orgiastic rites of the goddess Atargatis: “Two [phalli] at the entrance of the sanctuary, 1,800-foot-high monsters. One of them is climbed twice a year by a holy man who stays aloft for seven days, St Simeon the Stylite 200 years before his time . . . . Pilgrims come and pay lots of money to see him. He never sleeps, because if he did a holy scorpion would run up and do him mischief.” This from a review by Robert Fowler in the October 24 TLS , who comments, “Somehow I doubt whether ancient technology, or phalli, were up to this. No plausible textual conjecture will cut this thing down to size, no appeal to Herodotean vagueness about statistics will carry conviction . . . . If this is serious religion, then I am a monk.” Which, presumably, Mr Fowler is not.

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