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Semi'ramis

*Semi/ramis) and NINUS (Νῖνος), the mythical founders of the Assyrian empire of Ninus or Nineveh. Their history is related at length by Diodorus (2.1-20), who borrows his account from Ctesias. According to this narrative, Ninus was a great warrior, who built the town of Ninus or Nineveh, about B. C. 2182 [see above, p. 712a.], and subdued the greater part of Asia. Semiramis was the daughter of the fish-goddess Derceto of Ascalon in Syria, and was the fruit of her love with a Syrian youth ; but being ashamed of her frailty, she made away with the youth, and exposed her infant daughter. But the child was miraculously preserved by doves, who fed her till she was discovered by the shepherds of the neighbourhood. She was then brought up by the chief shepherd of the royal herds, whose name was Simmas, and from whom she derived the name of Semiramis. Her surpassing beauty attracted the notice of Onnes, one of the king's friends and generals, who married her. He subsequently sent for his wife to the army, where the Assyrians were engaged in the siege of Bactra, which they had long endeavoured in vain to take. Upon her arrival in the camp, she planned an attack upon the citadel of the town, mounted the walls with a few brave followers, and obtained possession of the place. Ninus was so charmed by her bravery and beauty, that he resolved to make her his wife, whereupon her unfortunate husband put an end to his life. By Ninus Semiramis had a son, Ninyas, and on the death of Ninus she succeeded him on the throne. According to another account, Semiramis had obtained from her husband permission to rule over Asia for five days, and availed herself of this opportunity to cast the king into a dungeon, or, as is also related, to put him to death, and thus obtained the sovereign power. (Diod. 2.20; Aelian, Ael. VH 7.1.) Her fame threw into the shade that of Ninus; and later ages loved to tell of her marvellous deeds and her heroic achievements. She built numerous cities, and erected many wonderful buildings; and several of the most extraordinary works in the East, which were extant in a later age, and the authors of which were unknown, were ascribed by popular tradition to this queen. In Nineveh she erected a tomb for her husband, nine stadia high, and ten wide; she built the city of Babylon 1 with all its wonders, as well as many other towns on the Euphrates and the Tigris, and she constructed the hanging gardens in Media, of which later writers give us such strange accounts. Besides conquering many nations of Asia, she subdued Egypt and a great part of Ethiopia, but was unsuccessful in an attack which she made upon India. After a reign of forty-two years she resigned the sovereignty to her son Ninyas, and disappeared from the earth, taking her flight to heaven in the form of a dove.

Such is a brief abstract of the account in Diodorus, the fabulous nature of which is still more apparent in the details of his narrative. We have already pointed out, in the article SARDANAPALUS, the mythical character of the whole of the Assyrian history of Ctesias, and it is therefore unnecessary to dwell further upon the subject in the present place. A recent writer has brought forward many reasons for believing that Semiramis was originally a Syrian goddess, probably the sale who was worshipped at Ascalon under the name of Astarte, or the Heavenly Aphrodite, to whom the dove was sacred (Lucian, de Syria Dea, 14, 33, 39). Hence the stories of her voluptuousness (Diod. 2.13), which were current even in the time of Augustus (Ov. Am. 1.511) (Comp. Movers, Die Phönizier, p. 631).

1 * Herodotus only once mentions Semiramis (1.184), where he states that she was a queen of Babylon, who lived five generations before Nitocris, and dammed up the Euphrates. As Nitocris probably lived about B. C. 600, it has been maintained that this Semiramis must be a different person from the Semiramis of Ctesias. But there is no occasion to suppose two different queens of the name; the Semiramis of Herodotus is probably as fabulous as that of Ctesias, and merely arose from the practice we have noticed above, of assigning the great works in the East of unknown authorship to a queen of this name.

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