The Sun, the Moon, and Cucumbers

If you’ve ever admired the classical statue of a young nude man, you might have been admiring Adonis. This demi-god the Greeks inherited from the Phoenicians was a very handsome young man with quite a complicated history, but what interests me today is that he was a god of fertility, connected with vegetation. Adonis has obviously been smiling on my one little cucumber plant, which is coming along quite nicely–unlike previous years’ pathetic efforts.

The Potter has always had an uncanny gift of finding books I would like at garage sales. When he recently gave me Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Wisdom Through the Ages, I wasn’t so sure. As I started reading, however, I realized he’d picked another winner.

Mary Ford-Grabowsky, the editor who gathered all these quotes (arranged in chronological order), revealed in her introduction that she had for many years collected wise quotations, sticking them up inside her cupboard and closet doors. After several moves (and dismantling the sticky notes), she realized that almost all the authors were men. Why?

You’re right–for centuries, men believed women had nothing worth recording, so very few of their words survived.

But one early recording she quoted really caught my eye. Praxilla was a Greek poet in 450 B.C. In her poem “Adonis,” she voices Adonis’s answer to the question put to him by the Shades of the Underworld when he dies: “What was the most beautiful thing you left behind?”

Most beautiful

of all the things that I have left

is the light of the sun;

next, gleaming stars

and the face of the moon.

Then cucumbers in the summer,

and apples and pears.

What wonderful images of cucumbers, apples and pears as connected to the stars and the moon. And, of course, the question posed to Adonis, “What was the most beautiful thing you left behind?”

Praxilla was a prolific poet, but almost none of her poetry survived, which I find incredibly sad. This poem did. Why? Because, as Ford-Grabowsky explains, “These lines endured because Zenobius quoted them in his dictionary of proverbs to explain the maxim ‘Sillier than Praxilla’s Adonis.’ Only a simpleton, he added, could put cucumbers in the same poem with the sun and the moon.'” A simpleton? Or perhaps a gifted poet, you silly man.

And what will be the most beautiful things you leave behind?

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3 thoughts on “The Sun, the Moon, and Cucumbers

  1. No intention, Jean–only you could have read that into it. However, I did wonder a bit in reading this poem, since there are some intriguing stories about Adonis–this made me want to go back and read mythology again! I’m so sorry more of her poetry didn’t survive–it would have revealed more about her intention!

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