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Adonis



If your Jewish, this cat's name probably sounds familiar. You're not going crazy - this hunky Greek boy-toy is rooted in the Semitic title adon that was attached to the Babylonian god Tammuz who has a real similar story. But beware the teller who says all stories are the same story, the Greek myth of Adonis has some elements all its own.

It begins, like so many Greek myths, in an incredibly depressing not to mention disgusting way. It also begins with hubris. If you've been more attentive than most, you might remember the story of Myrrha (also called Smyrna). Well her mommy, Cenchreis, loved her daughter like in that show "Sweet Sixteen" - you know, the girl can do no wrong? And Cenchreis said that her daughter, Myrrha, was even more beautiful than (you guessed it) Aphrodite. Well, no surprise here, the goddess wasn't too happy to hear Cenchreis' opinion and sent an undeniable lust upon Myrrha for her own father (Theias - alternatively Cinryas). Myrrha starts going after her dad like all the time. I find this part of the story distasteful so I'll move ahead. After a while of her covert activity, she gets pregnant with her dad's child. Dad, unfortunately (?) finds out and goes after Myrrha who has at this point come somewhat to her senses and run away. In running away the gods, specifically Aphrodite (you'll find she shows up a lot in this story), take pity on her and turn her into a tree. (Her tears become myrrh.)

Now one of three things happens. One is that Dad finds out immediately and goes for the tree with a sword and cuts it open and out pops baby Adonis. Two is that after ten months (months were shorter) the baby splits the bark itself and is born. Three is that a wild boar comes along and rips the bark. Same result. We will discuss the relevant imagery later.

In the version I like best (especially because there's some sweet paintings illustrating it), Aphrodite is totally enamored of the baby, but not being the motherly type herself, gives baby Adonis to Persephone to raise. (Weird, considering Persephone is the Goddess of the Dead, but not really that weird if you figure this story is growing out of a Babylonian resurrection story.) Problem is, when Adonis grows up, Persephone doesn't want to let him go. The two goddesses are at each others' throats about this and so Zeus (or maybe Calliope in Zeus' name) steps in and decides they should split him up. He also had a little respect for Adonis' own agency in that he gave him a third of a year to himself as well as a third to each goddess. Only thing is, he decided to spend that third of a year with Aphrodite (which really pissed Persephone off, but, really, who needs more Death?). Now Artemis gets pissed off too. (What? What's Artemis doing here?) Hard to say why, maybe she thought a young hunter like Adonis should be hanging out with her. Anyway, she sent a wild boar and he was just a bit too much for Adonis who was gored and, despite Aphrodite's best intentions as shown in the Waterhouse painting, he died.

Record skips. Start over. Another version says that Adonis grows up with nymphs. I think that's interesting, but you probably don't, so we'll move on. One day, Aphrodite sees Adonis hunting and gets the hots for him. Things go well until a tragic hunting accident with a wild boar, same ending, he dies. (Except, the boar was sent by a jealous Ares - lover of Aphrodite - or possibly even a pissed off Apollo getting back at Aphrodite the bitchy way for blinding his son.) But, thanks to a deal, he can still spend a third of a year with Aphrodite above ground. In some versions.

What does it all mean? Oh meaning. Really impossible to say. However, what is relevant is that the boar was super important. Pigs were sacrificed to Aphrodite - probably somehow connected to this story. Also, "pig" is the ancient greek equivalent of "pussy" and YES I DO think you should read this story as a moral story of what happens when women - with their sexuality and whatnot - are more powerful than the men they hook up with. You can go ahead and think about that and I'm happy to talk about it with you, but I'm not going to explain any more here for fear of losing my audience. So pigs. And flowers! Dead men often turn into flowers, I find (think of Narcissus, Hyacinth, etc). Adonis turns into anemones and roses - more specifically, it's his blood that makes them red (each depending on its own version).

Ugh, flowers? You can't tell me anything more interesting than that? Why yes I can! (So glad you stuck around.) This myth was actually relevant to Greek life. Most of the stories you find on this site are stories that reflected the culture, stories that were beautiful or cautionary, perhaps that carried on a history. But this on ain't that. This one's ritual. Every year women would celebrate/mourn the death of Adonis and pray for his resurrection. Women planted "gardens of Adonis" that they made grow quickly with warm water but which, consequently, died just as quickly. It's pretty obviously about fertility but it also seems to be, at least a little, about love. Like the theme, check out the Celtic story of Diarmud (some day ... some day I'll have a Celtic version of this site).

There's even some cool stuff that talks about this myth not so much as a fertility myth, but as this kind of creepy explanation/sweetening of a a person deliberately sacrificed and buried to help the crops grow. Funk and Wagner describe this as "symbolism of the god killed by [hu]man[kind] for [hu]man[kind] with the resulting mystery of his resurrection promising life to [hu]man[kind]." Not surprisingly, this one got smushed in a lot with the Christian Jesus story pattern. Also not surprisingly, the ritual of Adonis took place around the same time as Easter.

That's about as much as I think I can smush out of this story. Hope you enjoyed it!

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Last Updated January 15, 2008

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