Back to Home Page or Contents or Greek Mythology or Article Index

Adonis


Adonis is derived from the Canaanite title, adon, meaning lord, or the Phoenician term, adoni, my lord. Legend has it his father was a Syrian king Theias or Cinyras, king of Cyprus; his mother was Myrrha, the king's daughter.

According to legend the king of Syria, Theias, had a daughter named Myrrha or Smyrna who was cursed by Aphrodite and forced to commit incest with her father when she was twelve; with the complicity of here nurse she succeeded in deceiving him for eleven nights, but on the twelfth night Theias discovered who she really was and prepared to kill her. Myrrha fled, and the gods taking pity on her, turned her into a tree, the myrrh tree. Ten months later the bark peeled off and an infant emerged and was named Adonis. Aphrodite was very moved by the beauty of the child, and she gave him to Persephone to bring up. Becoming infatuated with the beautiful child Persephone refused to give him back to Aphrodite. Zeus became the arbitrator in settling the dispute between the two goddesses, and it was decided that Adonis should live one-third of the year with Aphrodite, one-third with Persephone, and the final third with whichever he pleased. Adonis chose to spend two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite, and one-third with Persephone in the underworld.

The cult of Adonis was known to the Greeks in the sixth century BC., unquestionably through contact with Cyprus. In the same period Ezekiel (8:4) notes his existence in Jerusalem under the Babylonian name of Tammuz. There were continuous classical and patristic proofs that existed throughout the Mediterranean world of this touching cult, in which the joy of Adonis' and Aphrodite's reunion was succeeded by the grief of his sudden death and the women's funeral lament. Ephemeral gardens symbolized the grace and prompt decline of the deity. But the Greek myth of Adonis, although he certainly was a Semitic fertility god representing the spirit of vegetation-perhaps an avatar of the Ugaritic Baal, with its romantic twist, has elements of other non-Semitic deities in it.

Adonis was killed by a wild boar, which was a sacred animal for the Syrians. His most important temples were at Byblos and Paphos. The temple of Astarte, in Byblos, celebrated the annual death and resurrection of Adonis. The red anemone marked his reappearance on earth. A.G.H.


Sources:

Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, pp. 94, 132
Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, p. 23