Adonis is a seasonal life/death/rebirth God associated with Tammuz, Atunis, Baldr, Osiris, Attis and Jesus. The name means “Lord”.
His feast day is the Adonia and was celebrated in what is now August. Young women mourn him on this day and plant seeds of quick-blooming, short-lived plants in his honor.
Conception and Birth
King Theias (or Cinyras) of Syria (or Smyrna) had a daughter named Myrrha (or Smyrna if you prefer). She was quite lovely and he bragged that she was lovelier even than Aphrodite. Aphrodite decided that a man who was so enamored by a girl’s beauty, certainly deserved her love, and caused poor Myrrha to fall madly in love with her own father.
Of course, she was horrified at the thought that she should be feeling this way about her father and did her very best to ignore her feelings. But this only made things worse. She swooned at his smile and shuddered at his touch. She woke sweating in the night from dreams of him and then sobbed at the shame of it. She became depressed, spoke little and ate less. Her nurse, who had served her since birth could tell that something was wrong and pressed the girl until she finally revealed her horrible secret.
At first, her nurse urged her to continue to suppress her feelings and tried to treat her with sleeping droughts and appetite stimulants and by diverting her attention with entertaining games, outings, and stories. She even attempted to arouse her interest in other men but to no avail. Myrrha was pining, and she was wasting away. Her nurse was certain she would die if something wasn’t done soon.
On a certain evening, when Myrrha’s mother had gone to celebrate the festival of Demeter, the nurse noticed the King was quite drunk.
She led him to bed, and then led Myrrha to his side. Myrrha lay by her father in the darkness and they knew a night of passion like none known since. He was enamored and begged to know who she was, but she would not tell him and promised to return only when it was quite dark. He agreed, and she returned night after night under cover of darkness.
One night, after they had made love she fell asleep. He lit a lamp and held it up and was horrified to see his own daughter laying naked beside him! He bellowed his rage and went for his sword, determined to kill her, but she fled outside and Aphrodite, took pity on her and turned her into a tree before he could reach her. Myrrha’s pain was so great, having lost her father’s love and her lover and having given in to shameful temptation that even as a tree, the girl wept sweet-smelling resin that came to be known as Myrrh.
Sometime later, a boar came by and rubbed its tusks on the tree, causing it to split and the young Adonis emerged. Fearful that his father/grandfather would certainly kill him if he discovered him, Aphrodite scooped him up and took him to the underworld and asked its Queen, Persephone, to look after him.
Adonis grew in beauty and strength and both Goddesses fell in love with him. When Aphrodite wanted him back, Persephone refused and she kept him as her own lover in the Underworld.
Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, settled the argument, giving each Goddess his custody for one-third of the year, and granting him a third of the year to himself. He chose, however, to stay with Aphrodite during that third.
Aphrodite warned Adonis to stay by her side, but the boy loved to hunt and inevitably went out into the forest alone one day. Discovering his absence, Aphrodite rushed to his side, but too late. He lay dying having been gored in the groin by a boar. She arrived in time to catch his last breath.
She sprinkled him with nectar, and red anemones sprang up where his blood stained the ground. For the first time, Aphrodite wished she wasn’t mortal and cried out her lament to the skies that she could join Adonis in the underworld, but she knew it could not be.