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Adonis (Greek Άδωνις) was a mythological lover of the goddess Aphrodite, most likely imported into Greek mythology from the Middle East.

Adonis' birth is shrouded in confusion for those who require a single, authoritative version. The resolutely patriarchal Hellenes sought a father for the god, and found him in Byblos and Cyprus, faithful indicators of the direction from which his cult had come. Walter Burkert questions whether Adonis had not from the very beginning come to Greece with Aphrodite (Burkert 1985, p. 177).

Multiple versions of the birth of Adonis exist: The most commonly accepted version is that Aphrodite urged Myrrha to commit incest with her father, Theias, the King of Smyrna or Syria (which helps confirm the area of Adonis' origins). Myrrha's nurse helped with the scheme, and Myrrha coupled with her father in the darkness. When Theias at last discovered this deception by means of an oil lamp, he flew into a rage, chasing his daughter with a knife. Myrrha fled from her father, and Aphrodite turned her into a myrrh tree. When Theias shot an arrow into the tree — or when a boar used its tusks to rend the tree's bark — Adonis was born from the tree. This myth fits both Adonis' nature as a vegetation god and his origins from the hot foreign desert lands where the myrrh tree grew. (It was not to be seen in Greece.)

  1. Pseudo-Apollodorus, (Bibliotheke, 3.182) considered Adonis to be the son of Cinyras, of Paphos on Cyprus, and Metharme.
  2. Hesiod, in a fragment, believes he is the son of Phoenix and Aephesiboea.

As soon as Adonis was born. the baby was so beautiful that Aphrodite placed him in a closed chest, which she delivered for security to Persephone, who was also entranced by his unearthly beauty and refused to give him back. The argument between the two goddesses was settled, either by Zeus or Calliope, with Adonis spending four months with Aphrodite, who seduced him with the help of Helene, her friend, four months with Persephone and four months of the years to himself. Some say Aphrodite eventually seduced Adonis into spending his four months alone with her.

Adonis died at the tusks of a wild boar, sent by either Artemis in retaliation for Aphrodite instigating the death of Hippolytus, a favorite of the huntress goddess, or Aphrodite's paramour, Ares.[1] As Aphrodite sprinkled nectar on his body, each drop of Adonis' blood turned into a blood-red anemone, and the river Adonis (modern Nahr Ibrahim) flowing out of Mount Lebanon in coastal Lebanon ran red, according to Lucian (chs. 6 – 9). Therefore, Persephone ultimately laid claim to Adonis as his shade was transported forever more to the Underworld. Lucian, who attributes the color of the river Adonis to siltation, adds "Nonetheless, there are some inhabitants of Byblos who say that Osiris of Egypt lies buried among them, and the mourning and the ceremonies are all made in honor of Osiris instead of Adon" [1]. Certainly there are many parallels with the myth of Osiris, encased in the coffin, imprisoned in the tree from which he issues forth.

"In Greece" Burkert concludes, "the special function of the Adonis cult is as an opportunity for the unbridled expression of emotion in the strictly circumscribed life of women, in contrast to the rigid order of polis and family with the official women's festivals in honour of Demeter."

The most detailed and literary version of the story of Adonis is Ovid, Metamorphoses, x


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  1. According to Nonnus, Dionysiaca 42.1f. Servius on Virgil's Eclogues x.18; Orphic Hymn lv.10;Ptolemy Hephaestionos, i.306, are all noted by Graves.