Adonis[a] was the mortal lover of the goddess
Aphrodite in Greek
mythology. In Ovid's first-century AD telling of the myth, he was
Aphrodite cursed his mother
Myrrha to lust after her
own father, King
Cinyras of Cyprus.
Myrrha had sex with her father in
complete darkness for nine nights, but he discovered her identity and
chased her with a sword. The gods transformed her into a myrrh tree
and, in the form of a tree, she gave birth to Adonis.
the infant and gave him to be raised by Persephone, the queen of the
Adonis grew into an astonishingly handsome young man,
Persephone to feud over him, with Zeus
eventually decreeing that
Adonis would spend one third of the year in
the Underworld with Persephone, one third of the year with Aphrodite,
and the final third of the year with whomever he chose.
to spend his final third of the year with Aphrodite.
Adonis was gored by a wild boar during a hunting trip and
died in Aphrodite's arms as she wept tears of sorrow. His blood
mingled with her tears and became the anemone flower. Aphrodite
Adonia festival commemorating his tragic death, which was
celebrated by women every year in midsummer. During this festival,
Greek women would plant "gardens of Adonis", small pots containing
fast-growing plants, which they would set on top of their houses in
the hot sun. The plants would sprout, but soon wither and die. Then
the women would mourn the death of Adonis, tearing their clothes and
beating their breasts in a public display of grief. The Greeks
considered Adonis's cult to be of Oriental origin. Adonis's name comes
from a Canaanite word meaning "lord" and modern scholars consider the
Adonis to be derived from the earlier
Mesopotamian myth of
Inanna (Ishtar) and Dumuzid (Tammuz).
In late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship of
Adonis was widely seen as a prime example of the archetypal
dying-and-rising god, but the existence of the "dying-and-rising god"
archetype has been largely rejected by modern scholars and its
Adonis is undermined by the fact that no pre-Christian
text ever describes
Adonis as rising from the dead and the only
possible references to his resurrection are late, ambiguous allusions
made by Christian writers. His name is often applied in modern times
to handsome youths, of whom he is the archetype.
1 Etymology and origin
2 Origin of the cult
3 Parentage and birth
6 Dying-and-rising god archetype
7 Cultural references
8 See also
Etymology and origin
The Greek Ἄδωνις (Greek pronunciation: [ádɔːnis]),
Adōnis was a borrowing from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning
"lord", which is related to Adonai (Hebrew:
אֲדֹנָי), one of the titles used to refer to the God of the
Hebrew Bible and still used in
Judaism to the present day. Syrian
Adonis is Gauas or Aos, akin to Egyptian Osiris, the Semitic Tammuz
Baal Hadad, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, all of
whom are associated with vegetation.
Origin of the cult
An ancient Sumerian depiction of the marriage of
Inanna and Dumuzid
The myth of
Adonis is probably derived from the ancient
Sumerian legend of
Inanna and Dumuzid. The Greek name
Ἄδωνις (Adōnis, Greek pronunciation: [ádɔːnis]) is
derived from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning "lord".
The cult of
Inanna and Dumuzid may have been introduced to the Kingdom
of Judah during the reign of King Manasseh. Ezekiel 8:14 mentions
Adonis under his earlier East Semitic name Tammuz and
describes a group of women mourning Tammuz's death while sitting near
the north gate of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The earliest known Greek reference to
Adonis comes from a fragment of
a poem by the Lesbian poetess Sappho, dating to the seventh century
BC, in which a chorus of young girls asks
Aphrodite what they can
do to mourn Adonis's death.
Aphrodite replies that they must beat
their breasts and tear their tunics. In Greek mythology,
from Phoenicia. He was born and died at the foot of the falls in the
village of Afqa, located in the Jbeil District of the Mount Lebanon
Governorate, 71 kilometres (44 mi) northeast of
modern-day Lebanon. The ruins of the celebrated temple of Aphrodite
Aphrodite particular to this site— are located
there. The cult of
Adonis has also been described as corresponding to
the cult of the Phoenician god Baal. As
Walter Burkert explains:
Women sit by the gate weeping for Tammuz, or they offer incense to
Baal on roof-tops and plant pleasant plants. These are the very
features of the
Adonis legend: which is celebrated on flat roof-tops
on which sherds sown with quickly germinating green salading are
Adonis gardens... the climax is loud lamentation for the dead
The exact date when the legend of
Adonis became integrated into Greek
culture is still disputed.
Walter Burkert questions whether
not from the very beginning come to Greece with Aphrodite. "In
Greece," Burkert concludes, "the special function of the
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." Both Greek and Near Eastern scholars have questioned this
Parentage and birth
Adonis, a naked Roman torso, restored and completed by François
Duquesnoy, formerly in the collection of
Cardinal Mazarin (Louvre
Adonis's birth is shrouded in confusion for those who require a
single, authoritative version, for various peripheral stories
circulated concerning Adonis' parentage.
The most widely accepted version is recounted in Ovid's Metamorphoses,
Adonis is the son of
Myrrha and her father Cinyras. Myrrha
turned into a myrrh tree and Lucina helped the tree to give birth to
The patriarchal Hellenes sought a father for the god, and found him in
Byblos and Cyprus, which scholars take to indicate the direction from
Adonis had come to the Greeks. Pseudo-Apollodorus, (Bibliotheke,
Adonis to be the son of Cinyras, of
Cyprus, and Metharme. According to pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheke,
Hesiod, in an unknown work that does not survive, made of him the son
of Phoenix and the otherwise unidentified Alphesiboea.
In Cyprus, the cult of
Adonis gradually superseded that of
Hesiod made him the son of Phoenix, eponym of the
Phoenicians, thus a figure of Phoenician origin; his association with
Cyprus is not attested before the classical era. W. Atallah
suggests that the later Hellenistic myth of
Adonis represents the
conflation of two independent traditions.
Alternatively the late source
Bibliotheke calls him the son of Cinyras
and Metharme. Another version of the myth is that
Myrrha (or Smyrna) to commit incest with her father Theias, the king
of Assyria. Fleeing his wrath,
Myrrha was turned into a myrrh tree.
Theias struck the tree with an arrow, whereupon it burst open and
Adonis emerged. Another version has a wild boar tear open the tree
with its tusks, thus foreshadowing Adonis' death.
The city Berytos (Beirut) in
Lebanon was named after the daughter of
Adonis and Aphrodite, Beroe. Both
Poseidon fell in love
with her. She would eventually marry Poseidon.
Adonis River (now known as the Abraham River) in
Lebanon was said
to run red with blood each year during the festival of Adonis.
Sappho does not describe the myth of Adonis, later sources flesh
out the details:
Adonis was the son of Myrrha, who was cursed by
Aphrodite with insatiable lust for her own father, King
Cyprus, after Myrrha's mother bragged that her daughter was more
beautiful than the goddess. Driven out after becoming pregnant,
Myrrha was changed into a myrrh tree, but still gave birth to
Aphrodite found the baby, and took him to the underworld to be
fostered by Persephone. She returned for him once he was grown
and discovered him to be strikingly handsome.
Persephone wanted to
Zeus settled the dispute by decreeing that Adonis
would spend one third of the year with Aphrodite, one third with
Persephone, and one third with whomever he chose.
Aphrodite, and they remained constantly together.
Then, one day while
Adonis was out hunting, he was wounded by a wild
boar, and bled to death in Aphrodite's arms. In different versions
of the story, the boar was either sent by Ares, who was jealous that
Aphrodite was spending so much time with Adonis, by Artemis, who
wanted revenge against
Aphrodite for having killed her devoted
follower Hippolytus, or by Apollo, to punish
blinding his son Erymanthus. The story also provides an etiology
for Aphrodite's associations with certain flowers. Reportedly, as
she mourned Adonis's death, she caused anemones to grow wherever his
blood fell, and declared a festival on the anniversary of his
death. In one version of the story,
Aphrodite injured herself on a
thorn from a rose bush and the rose, which had previously been
white, was stained red by her blood. According to Lucian's De Dea
Syria, each year during the festival of Adonis, the
Lebanon (now known as the Abraham River) ran red with blood.
Fragment of an Attic red-figure wedding vase (c. 430-420 BC), showing
women climbing ladders up to the roofs of their houses carrying
"gardens of Adonis"
Main article: Adonia
The myth of
Adonis is associated with the festival of the Adonia,
which was celebrated by Greek women every year in midsummer.
The festival, which was evidently already celebrated in
Sappho's time, seems to have first become popular in Athens in the
mid-fifth century BC. At the start of the festival, the women would
plant a "garden of Adonis", a small garden planted inside a small
basket or a shallow piece of broken pottery containing a variety of
quick-growing plants, such as lettuce and fennel, or even
quick-sprouting grains such as wheat and barley. The women
would then climb ladders to the roofs of their houses, where they
would place the gardens out under the heat of the summer sun. The
plants would sprout in the sunlight, but wither quickly in the
heat. Then the women would mourn and lament loudly over the death
of Adonis, tearing their clothes and beating their breasts in a
public display of grief. The third century BC poet Euphorion of
Chalcis remarked in his Hyacinth that "Only
Cocytus washed the wounds
Dying-and-rising god archetype
Photograph of Sir James George Frazer, the anthropologist who is most
directly responsible for promoting the concept of a "dying and rising
Main article: Dying-and-rising deity
The late nineteenth-century Scottish anthropologist Sir James George
Frazer wrote extensively about
Adonis in his monumental study of
The Golden Bough
The Golden Bough (the first edition of which was
published in 1890) as well as in later works. Frazer
Adonis was just one example of the archetype of a
"dying-and-rising god" found throughout all cultures.
Frazer's main intention was to prove that all religions were
fundamentally the same and that all the essential features of
Christianity could be found in earlier religions. Frazer's
arguments were criticized as sloppy and amateurish from the
beginning, but his claims became widely influential in late
nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship of
In the mid-twentieth century, scholars began to severely criticize the
designation of "dying-and-rising god". In 1987, Jonathan
Z. Smith concluded in Mircea Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion that
"The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of
scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a
misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or
highly ambiguous texts." He further argued that the deities
previously referred to as "dying-and-rising" would be better termed
separately as "dying gods" and "disappearing gods", asserting
that before Christianity, the two categories were distinct and gods
who "died" did not return, and those who returned never truly
"died". By the end of the twentieth century, most scholars had
come to agree that the notion of a "dying-and-rising god" was an
invention and that the term was not a useful scholarly
The foremost problem with the application of the label
"dying-and-rising god" to
Adonis is the fact that he is never
described as rising from the dead in any extant Graeco-Roman
writings and the only possible allusions to his supposed
resurrection come from late, highly ambiguous statements made by
Christian authors.[b] The part of Adonis's myth in which he spends
a third of the year in the Underworld with
Persephone is not a death
and resurrection, but merely an instance of a living person
staying in the Underworld.
In relatively modern times, the myth of
Adonis has featured
prominently in a variety of cultural and artistic works. Giovan
Battista Marino's masterpiece, Adone, published in 1623, is a long,
sensual poem, which elaborates the myth of Adonis, and represents the
Italian literature from
Mannerism to the Baroque. Percy
Bysshe Shelley wrote the poem
Adonais for John Keats, and uses the
myth as an extended metaphor for Keats' death. Such allusions continue
Adonis (an Arabic transliteration of the same name,
أدونيس) is the pen name of a famous Syrian poet, Ali Ahmad Said
Asbar. His choice of name relates especially to the rebirth element of
the myth of
Adonis (also called "Tammuz" in Arabic), which was an
important theme in mid-20th century Arabic poetry, chiefly amongst
followers of the "Free Verse" (الشعر الحر) movement founded
by Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.
Adunis has used
the myth of his namesake in many of his poems, for example in "Wave
I", from his most recent book "Start of the Body, End of the Sea"
(Saqi, 2002), which includes a complete retelling of the birth of the
Adonis (c. 1595) by Annibale Carracci
Venus and Cupid lamenting the dead
Adonis (1656) by Cornelis Holsteyn
Adonis (1684-1686) by Luca Giordano.
The Death of
Adonis (1709) by Giuseppe Mazzuoli
Adonis (1792) by François Lemoyne
Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East portal
Adonia, feasts celebrating Adonis
Myrrha, mother of
Adonis per Greek mythology
Muscle dysmorphia, as part of
Theorizing about Myth, a
Jungian interpretation of the
Adonis myth by
^ /əˈdɒnɪs, əˈdoʊnɪs/; Greek: Ἄδωνις
Origen discusses Adonis, (whom he associates with Tammuz), in his
Selecta in Ezechielem ( “Comments on Ezekiel”), noting that "they
say that for a long time certain rites of initiation are conducted:
first, that they weep for him, since he has died; second, that they
rejoice for him because he has risen from the dead (apo nekrôn
anastanti)" (cf. J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series
^ W. Burkert (1985), Greek Religion, pp. 176–77.
^ a b Botterweck, G. Johannes; Ringgren, Helmer, eds. (1974).
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Vol. 1 (reprint, revised
ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 59–74.
^ West, M. L. (1997). The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements
in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
p. 57. ISBN 0-19-815221-3. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
^ Detienne, Marcel (1994). The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek
Mythology, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-00104-3
^ Lung 2014.
^ a b West 1997, p. 57.
^ Kerényi 1951, p. 67.
^ a b c d e f g h i j Cyrino 2010, p. 97.
^ Burkert 1985, pp. 176–177.
^ Pryke 2017, p. 193.
^ a b Pryke 2017, p. 195.
^ a b Warner 2016, p. 211.
^ a b c West 1997, pp. 530–531.
^ a b c Burkert 1985, p. 117.
Metamorphoses X, 298–518
^ Ps.-Apollodorus, iii.14.4.1.
^ Atallah 1966
^ Atallah 1966.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kerényi 1951, p. 76.
^ Cyrino 2010, p. 95.
^ a b Kerényi 1951, p. 75.
^ Kerényi 1951, pp. 75=76.
^ a b c d e f Cyrino 2010, p. 96.
^ According to Nonnus, Dionysiaca 42.1f.
Servius on Virgil's Eclogues
x.18; Orphic Hymn lv.10; Ptolemy Hephaestionos, i.306u, all noted by
Graves. Atallah (1966) fails to find any cultic or cultural connection
with the boar, which he sees simply as a heroic myth-element.
^ Kerényi 1951, p. 279.
^ W. Atallah,
Adonis dans la littérature et l'art grecs, Paris, 1966.
^ Detienne 1972.
^ Cyrino 2010, pp. 97–98.
^ a b Cyrino 2010, p. 98.
^ Remarked upon in passing by Photius, Biblioteca 190 (on-line
^ a b c d Ehrman 2012, pp. 222–223.
^ a b c d Barstad 1984, p. 149.
^ a b c d Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 142–143.
^ Mettinger 2004, p. 375.
^ a b Barstad 1984, pp. 149–150.
^ Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 140–142.
^ Ehrman 2012, p. 222.
^ Barstad 1984, p. 150.
^ a b c d Smith 1987, pp. 521–527.
^ a b c Mettinger 2004, p. 374.
^ a b c d e Eddy & Boyd 2007, p. 143.
^ a b Ehrman 2012, p. 223.
^ a b Mettinger 2004, pp. 374-375.
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