Atargatis, in Aramaic ‘Atar‘atah, was a Syrian deity, "the great mistress of the North Syrian lands" Rostovtseff called her, commonly known to the ancient Greeks by a shortened form of the name, Derceto or Derketo and as Dea Syria, "Goddess of Syria", occasionally rendered in one word Deasura. She is often now popularly described as the mermaid-goddess, from her fish-bodied appearance at Ascalon and in Diodorus Siculus — a widely accessible source — but which is by no means her universal appearance.
Her consort is usually Hadad. As Ataratha she may be recognized by the self-mutilation of her votaries, recorded in a perhaps sensationalist Christian passage from the Book of the Laws of the Countries, one of the oldest works of Syriac prose, an early-third-century product of the school of Bar Daisan (Bardesanes):
At Ugarit, cuneiform tablets attest a fecund "Lady Goddess of the Sea" (rabbatu at̪iratu yammi), as well as three Canaanite goddesses — Anat, Asherah and Ashtart — who shared many traits and might be worshipped in conjunction or separately during 1500 years of cultural history.
At Hierapolis Bambyce, on coins of about the fourth century BCE, the legend tr‘th appears, for 'Atar'ate, and tr‘th mnbgyb in a Nabataean inscription; at Kafr Yassif near Akko an altar is inscribed "to Adado and Atargatis, the gods who listen to prayer", The full name ‘tr‘th appears on a bilingual inscription found in Palmyra.
This name ‘Atar‘atah is a compound of two divine names: the first part (Atar) is a form of the Ugaritic ‘Athtart, Himyaritic ‘Athtar, the equivalent of the Old Testament ‘Ashtoreth, the Phoenician ‘Ashtart rendered in Greek as Astarte. The feminine ending -t has been omitted. Compare the cognate Akkadian form Ishtar. The second half (atis) may be a Palmyrene divine name Athe (i.e. tempus opportunum), which occurs as part of many compounds.
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