Adonis – Greek God Of Beauty and Desire
When most people hear the name Adonis, they imagine masculine beauty and the desire of women. Even today, the name is synonymous with physical perfection in men. However, the tale of the Greek god Adonis is far more complex than just physical attractiveness. It’s a story of forbidden love triangles and the death and resurrection of natural beauty.
The Origins of Adonis
Adonis eventually became the god of beauty and desire in Greek mythology. However, his origins go back farther than ancient Greece.
The cult of Adonis began in Phoenicia, which is now modern-day Lebanon. The Phonecians were Semitic people who worshipped Adonis. Historians believe that it was primarily women who showed adoration to Adonis. Either way, the admiration of this god eventually came to Greece.
The ancient Greek tale of Adonis starts with his birth.
He was the product of an incestual relationship between Theias and his daughter Myrrha, sometimes known as Smyrna. Theias was the king of Syria. The legend says that Myrrha fell in love with her father, and after some convincing from the goddess Aphrodite, she tricked him into sleeping with her.
Some are a couple of different versions of events. One iteration of the legend says that Myrrha fell under Aphrodite’s curse. Myrrha’s beauty surpassed that of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Her beauty created bouts of jealousy in Aphrodite. Enraged, she cursed Myrrha into falling in love with and tricking her own father.
Another version involves Eros, the mischievous god of love and passion. According to this tale, Theias kept bragging to others about how Myrrha was more beautiful than Aphrodite. The goddess instructed Eros to strike Myyrha, leading to the incestual infatuation.
Despite the different versions of events, what happens next is always the same. Myrrha disguises herself with the help of a nurse. This trickery causes Theias to sleep with her without knowing her true identity. She only unveils the truth after the act.
Theias becomes enraged when he discovers that his new lover is his daughter. As a result, he draws his sword and goes on a quest to kill Myrrha.
Myrrha flees, and after nine months on the run from Theias, turns to the gods for help. She begs for mercy until they take pity on her and transform her into the myrrh tree. Legend says that the signature aroma of the myrrh tree is Myrrha’s tears.
In tree form, Myrrha eventually gives birth to Adonis.
Adonis and Aphrodite
Even shortly after his birth, Adonis reportedly was a sight to behold! His beauty captured the attention of none other than the goddess Aphrodite. She hid him in a box, which she confided with Persephone, the queen of the underworld. Persephone would keep the box and Adonis inside safe for the time being.
Out of sheer curiosity, Persephone opened the box and gazed upon the spell-binding beauty of Adonis. Enchanted by the newborn, she took him out of the box and raised him.
Adonis continued to grow under the protection of Persephone. He became a very handsome young man, which continued to captivate the queen. She fell in love with the young Adonis, posing problems upon Aphrodite’s return.
Aphrodite returned to Persephone, planning to take Adonis back as her lover. However, Persephone didn’t want to give him up. Her love made her refuse the exchange, as she vowed to keep him in the underworld for herself!
Not pleased by this act of betrayal, Aphrodite confronted Persephone in an attempt to take back Adonis. The dispute became so severe that Zeus, the father of all gods, intervened. He came in to settle the dispute and end the argument once and for all.
Zeus decided to play fair and spit the year into thirds. During the first third of the year, Adonis was to spend time with Aphrodite. The following third, he would have to spend time with Persephone. Zeus then left the final third of the year to Adonis. He could choose whomever he wanted.
Ultimately, he chose to spend two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite.
Adonis and Aphrodite were a happy couple. They eventually bore two children and spent time enjoying each other’s company.
The Death of Adonis
Unfortunately, the happy ending that Adonis and Aphrodite had wouldn’t last forever.
Adonis was a skilled hunter who spent loads of time killing wild animals. Aphrodite would accompany him on many of these trips. However, one fateful day out would end up being Adonis’ demise.
There are a few versions of Adonis’ death.
1 – The first states that his death was nothing more than an accident. During a hunting trip in a region called Afqa, a wild boar bit Adonis in the leg during an intense fight. Despite Aphrodite’s attempt to save him, Adonis eventually succumbed to his wounds.
2 – The second version involves Artemis. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the god of hunting and wild animals. He was intensely jealous of Adonis’ natural hunting skills. To punish Adonis for having his natural skills, Artemis sent the wild boar to kill him.
3 – The final version involves Ares, a lover of Aphrodite. Ares was the Greek god of war and had a notoriously fiery temper. Jealous of the relationship between Adonis and Aphrodite, this version of the tale says that Ares sent the boar that killed him.
Adonis bled to death in Aphrodite’s arms. She mourned the death of her handsome lover and poured nectar over his body.
The mixture of nectar and Adonis’ blood lead to the creation of the short-lived anemone flower. Legend says his blood also created the Adonis River, which turned red with his blood.
Aphrodite continued to mourn her fallen lover. However, she also celebrated his life by organizing large parties every spring.
Adonis in Roman Mythology
The story of Adonis was well-known by Romans as well. Like many tales in Greek mythologies, there are slight differences in names and events. In this case, Adonis did not meet his lover at birth. Venus, who was the Roman version of Aphrodite, saw him hunting among the forests in Byblos.
It was there that she fell in love with Adonis. The events of Adonis’ death in the Roman story were a bit different. The boar that killed him was sent by the goddess of hunting, Diane. She sent the boar as retaliation against Venus, who caused the death of Hippolytus.
As Adonis went down into the kingdom of death, the queen of hell saw him. Enchanted by his beauty, she fell in love. As Venus went down to bring Adonis back to life, Proserpine (the Roman equivalent of Persephone) refused to give him up. Once again, the ruler of the gods had to settle the matter.
The remaining events of his story are the same. He spent some time with Proserpine but chose to love Venus. The main difference here is that the love triangle occurred after Adonis’ death and resurrection.
The myth of Adonis is a memorable one that scholars often attribute to the idea of fleeting beauty. Many believe that his story symbolizes the ancient spirit of vegetation. He represents the natural decay of beauty in the winter and its revival in the spring.
The element of the anemone flower supports this. Every spring, the flower only blooms for a few weeks, making its bright colors and fragrance a fleeting memory.
Festivals in Adonis’ honor occurred throughout Greece, Byblos, and beyond. Called Adonia, these festivals commemorated the ancient Greek god and promoted the growth of vegetation and the falling of rain.
For this reason, Adonis was known by many as more than just the god of beauty and desire. For many, he was also a fertility god. He represented the rising and falling of beauty, which we see all around us in nature.
Quick Facts About Adonis
- He was born out of an incestual relationship between Theias and Myrrha.
- Adonis was birthed from a myrrh tree, which was his transformed mother.
- Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, raised him.
- As an adult, Adonis spent two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite and one-third with Persephone.
- He became Aphrodite’s lover and had two children.
- Adonis was an avid hunter and possibly the ire of jealously for Artemis.
- He died after a wild boar attack.
- His blood created the Adonis River and the anemone flower.
- He was known as Tammuz by the Babylonians. Aphrodite was known as Astarte. Theais was Cinyras, the king of Assyria.
- Adonis was mostly worshipped by women.
- Adonis is primarily known as the god of beauty and desire. However, many considered him to be a god of fertility as well.
- His children with Aphrodite were Beroe and Golgos.
- Adonis was the equivalent of Osiris among Egyptians.
- Adonis is considered a minor god in Greek mythology.
- Venus and Adonis appear in Book X of Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid.
- Some scholars believe Adonis inspired the Norse god Balder.
- The name “Adonis” is thought be a derivative of “Adon,” which means Lord in Semitic.
- Adonis came back to life in some versions of the tale.
- Adonis came back to life in some versions of the tale.
- He was viewed favorably by other gods and reportedly had other affairs.
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