These days the word ‘Adonis’ is used to describe a particularly good-looking man, but the word originates from the Greek God of the same name. Adonis is the Greek God of beauty and attraction, the male equivalent and sometimes lover of Aphrodite. Like many Greek myths this is not a pretty tale, but it’s no worse than the stories portrayed in soap operas today!
The story of Adonis and Aphrodite stems from the earlier Near Eastern myths of Astarte/Inanna/Ishtar and Adon/Dumuzid/Tammuz. It represents, like the story of Persephone, the growth and decay of the vegetation year.
There are a few versions of this myth, I like this one the best, but I will add a couple of others that are similar at the end.
This myth begins with the King of Assyria, Cinyras who had a beautiful daughter named Myrrha. He was so proud of his daughter's beauty, he boasted to all that would listen that she was more beautiful than Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Naturally it didn’t take long for Aphrodite to hear of his boasts, and she was not happy, in fact she became very angry and plotted her revenge.
She ordered her son Eros, the god of attraction and desire to make Myrrha and her father fall in love, and she tricked them into committing incest! It wasn’t long before Myrrha became pregnant and when he realised what had happened Cinyras was disgusted and blamed his daughter. He threatened to kill her, but before he could Myrrha ran away. Ashamed, wracked with guilt and terrified of her father's wrath she begged the gods for help, so they turned her into a Myrrh tree so she could hide from her father. Nine months later Adonis was born, he was just as beautiful as his mother. Aphrodite found Adonis and was stunned by his beauty. Wanting to hide him from the other goddesses she gave him to Persephone to bring up in the Underworld.
Adonis grew up into a stunning young man and both Aphrodite and Persephone fell in love with him. Persephone refused to give him up which started a dispute between the two goddesses. Eventually Zeus stepped in and ruled that Adonis would spend four months with each of the goddesses and four months however he wanted. He fell in love with Aphrodite and ended up spending his free four months with her, they were blissfully happy and even had two children.
Adonis was a skilled hunter, but while out hunting one day he was gored by a boar and died in Aphrodite's arms. One version tells that she poured a magical nectar into his wounds which mixed with his blood and poured onto the earth where anemone flowers grew.
Another version of the story tells that Ares, the god of war and another of Aphrodite’s lovers had become jealous of her relationship with Adonis, he turned himself into a boar and killed him. Aphrodite heard Adonis’ cries and rushed to his side, she cursed Ares and the fates that had led to his death, and as her tears fell to the ground, they turned into anemone flowers.
Adonis’ spirit went to the underground, but feeling sorry for Aphrodite, Zeus ordered that he should only spend six months of the year there and six months above ground with Aphrodite.
Another version of the myth tells that Artemis was jealous of Adonis’ hunting skills and set the boar after him.