I was reading today about Atargatis, the Syrian goddess, a character that has intrigued me for some time, and found out that according to some sources she had a daughter called Semiramis who appeared to be a witch or a witch, who was also madly in love with a man, Ara from Handsome of Fair. While not pre-Islamic, it is a story certainly linked to pre-Islamic mythology, shows how certain myths serve a political purpose more, and leaves a useful message as well.
I will write about Atargatis later, but for now, to give a bit of context, she has been told that she is the mermaid goddess of northern Syria, her main place of worship was in Hierapolis (Britannica, 2013 ), present-day Membij, in the Aleppo governorate, although I find it interesting, Aleppo does not have a direct connection to large bodies of water like the governorates of Tartus and Latakia. She was said to be a goddess of motherhood, fertility, love and protection, named Derketo by the Greeks, and Dea Syria and Deasura by the Romans. There is also a public domain book on it, From Dea Syria, On the Syrian goddess, by Lucien de Samosate, which has been somewhat controversial as to whether this is historically accurate or not. Lightfoot (2003) has stated that while it has even been asked if Lucian is the author, he certainly is and this does not compromise the accuracy of the book.
Semiramis, child of Atargatis
Atargatis is said to have had a daughter, Semiramis, also called Shamiram, usually related to the Assyrian queen Shammuramat (J. Mark, 2021). Legend has it that she had a daughter with a mortal man, sometimes mentioning it was Castros, a river god from Lydia in Anatolia, modern Turkey, but I couldn’t verify it. However, the goddess was ashamed of this union, so she abandoned the child in the sea, killed Castros and drowned. (Tel Gutiérrez, 2021). The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-30 BC) proposes a detailed version of the legend:
Now there is in Syria a city known by the name of Ascalon, and not far from it a great hollowed out lake full of fish. On its shore is the enclosure of a famous goddess whom the Syrians call Derceto; and this goddess has the head of a woman but all the rest of her body is that of a fish, reason being something like that. The story told by the most learned of the inhabitants of the region is as follows: Aphrodite, taking offense at this goddess, inspired her with a violent passion for a certain handsome boy among her followers; and Derceto gave herself to the Syrian and bore a daughter, but then, full of shame at her sinful act, she killed the youngster and exposed the child in a rocky desert region, while for herself, with shame and sorrow, she threw herself into the lake and was changed in the shape of her body into a fish; and it is for this reason that the Syrians still refrain from this animal today and honor their fish like gods.
Fed and kept warm by doves, the child survived and was discovered by the royal shepherd of the Assyrian king, who adopted him and gave him the name Semiramis. (Tel Gutiérrez, 2021). Growing up, Semiramis became a beautiful woman who caught the attention of a general, Onnes, whom she advised on several occasions, which brought her great success.
The Assyrian king himself, Ninus, fell in love with her for the same reason, offering one of his own daughters to Onnes in exchange for Semiramis, but Onnes refused. The king then threatens Onnes to put out his eyes, causing the general to commit suicide out of fear and love. Thus, Semiramis became queen of Assyria, an empire that covered, in modern terms, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and the marginal areas of northwestern Iraq. Iran. Shemiramis gained a lot of power and gained the respect of many, even after the death of her husband, founded the city of Babylon, but her story was only beginning. (J. Mark, 2021).
Not wanting to be dominated by another man, she took on a series of lovers among the most beautiful men in her army. She slept with them and had them executed the next morning * or, according to other accounts, buried alive the next day. In all of her military excursions, she has been shown to be brilliantly resourceful (such as in creating the faux elephants for her campaign in India) and as ruthless as any Assyrian king.
At the end of her reign, she ruled over everything Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Central Asia. She died at the age of 62, after reigning for 42 years, and turned into a dove, which soared into the skies. Another account, alluded to by Diodorus, is that when she died the doves that had helped her in her youth returned and took her to heaven.
Semiramis and Ara: the witch queen
Basmajian, Ouzounian, Franchuk and Hacikyan (2000, pp: 35-36) tell a popular story about Semiramis in which she falls in love with the Armenian hero and king. Ara the beautiful, sometimes also called Ara the Beautiful, and asked her to marry her, but when the hero refused, the queen gathered her army and started a war against Armenia. Despite her instructions to keep Ara alive, the king was killed when she was victorious.
It is said that Semiramis was also a witch and tried to bring Ara back to life by asking the gods to heal his wounds, but without success. She then buried the body, dressed one of her servants as Ara, and spread the rumor that he was alive thanks to the Gods, thus ending the war and glorifying the Gods by building a statue in their honor. Finally, Ara’s son was given the same name as his father by the queen in his honor and gave him the throne of Armenia (University of Minnesota, 1918, pp: 10-11).
Other versions (Chahin, 2001, pp: 74) say that Samiramis was heard by Arález, Armenian dog-like spirits who brought Ara back to life. Also, as mentioned by Chahin (2001, pp: 74), I find it interesting that the name Aralez means “to lick the blood”.
Although her story is filled with madness, obsession, and unhealthy love, as well as some ego issues, I see Semiramis as a symbol of strategy and power. As the daughter of Atargatis, who has been compared to Aphrodite, Venus, Ishtar, Astarte, she is also related to love, war, wisdom and madness. According to Chahin, she would also be a witch, which would not be surprising considering her parents, whether her father is human or not, able to communicate with the spirits of healing, life and death. All of these associations would make Semiramis not only a strategist and cunning queen, but also a powerful ancestor of Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian witches.
I see her story with King Ara as one that shows madness and love can become powerful tools for witches, as well as the teaching that sometimes history repeats itself: just as Atargatis killed her husband because of of his madness, Semiramis killed Ara for the same reason. It is possible, however, that Diodorus Siculus wrote the beginning of the myth as a way to show Syria as a less powerful country compared to Greece. This could be the same case when Semiramis attempts to bring Ara back to life: she could well be portrayed as an obsession-stricken faith infidel, or a powerful witch who must be exterminated.
Either way, her story offers an important message: obsession, madness, psychosis, etc., are double-edged swords, risky tools for the witch. I was talking a few days ago with a friend of Bacchus’, and he told me how disturbing it is for him to see how madness is seen these days as “all fun and game”, to use its own. words. When I told him that maybe most people would focus on freedom and shamelessness, he told me that is indeed insanity, but not the only ones. I couldn’t disagree with him.
Ultimately, she’s the daughter of a goddess, so far from thinking of Semiramis as incapable of raising the dead, I think the most important aspect is that she dared to use the most uncontrollable aspect. of itself as fuel for its power. I don’t see any reason, other than the political implications, for her not to be able to do this. We are talking about either a semi-goddess or a minor goddess, a heroine whose beauty has driven men crazy since she became an adult. In this sense, she is also a feminist symbol of rebellion, power and independence.
Basmajian, G., Ouzounian, N., Franchuk, ES, Hacikyan, AJ (2000). The Legacy of Armenian Literature: From Oral Tradition to the Golden Age. United States: Wayne State University Press. Free sample.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (June 10, 2013). Hierapolis. Encyclopedia Britannica.
J. Mark, J. (2021). Sammu-Ramat and Semiramis: inspiration and myth. Encyclopedia of World History.
Lightfoot, JL 2003. Lucian on the Syrian goddess: edited with introduction, translation and commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tel Gutiérrez, M., 2021. The true story of Semiramis, the legendary Assyrian queen. National Geographic.
* I can’t help but find this particularly similar to the Arabian nights main story, where King Shahryār takes a different bride every night, sleeps with her, and kills her the next morning.