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Adonis

Adonis in classical mythology, a beautiful youth loved by both Aphrodite and Persephone. He was killed by a boar, but Zeus decreed that he should spend the winter of each year in the underworld with Persephone and the summer months with Aphrodite. According to the legend, the rose sprang from the earth where his blood was shed.

In extended usage, an Adonis is an extremely handsome young man.

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Adonis

Adonis In Phoenician and Greek myth, a youth of remarkable beauty, loved by Persephone and Aphrodite. Adonis was gored to death by a boar and, during his afterlife, Zeus decided that Adonis should spend part of the year with Persephone, queen of the underworld, and part with Aphrodite.

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Adonis

A·don·is / əˈdänis/ Greek Mythol. a beautiful youth loved by both Aphrodite and Persephone, who, after his death, shared his affections in four-month intervals. ∎  [as n.] (an Adonis) an extremely handsome young man.

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Adonis

Adonisanise, Janice •Daphnis • Agnes •harness, Kiwanis •Dennis, Ennis, Glenys, menace, tennis, Venicefeyness, gayness, greyness (US grayness) •finis, penis •Glynis, Innes, pinnace •Widnes • bigness • lychnis • illness •dimness • hipness •fitness, witness •Erinys • iciness •dryness, flyness, shyness, slyness, wryness •cornice •Adonis, Clones, Issigonis •coyness •Eunice, TunisBernice, furnace •Thespis • precipice • coppice • hospice •auspice • Serapis

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Adonis

ADONIS

ADONIS is a divine name coined in Greek from the northwest Semitic exclamation ʾadōnī, "my lord," probably shortened from the dirge hōy ʾadōnī, "Woe, my lord," which is echoed in Greek by aiai, Adonin.

Origins

The Greek tradition connects Adonis with Byblos. Hence his worship must be of Byblian origin. It is unknown whether the male deity thus invoked or mourned in the first millennium bce was initially a city god or heroic eponym, a Baal of Byblos, or a god of the countryside, as suggested by his assimilation with Tammuz and Dionysos in the Middle East, and by his characterization as a vegetation deity in later Greco-Roman tradition. The latter view is supported by Lucian's notice that Byblian women performed their mourning ritual for Adonis "through the whole countryside," and by a similar detail in the description of the Adonis festival at Seville circa 287 ce, as reported in the Martyrology of Saints Justa and Rufina. The center of Adonis's worship was at Aphaca in Mount Lebanon, a single day's journey from Byblos. At the site of the famous spring, the main source of the Adonis River or Nahr Ibrahim, stood a temple, where the cult of Adonis was maintained until the time of Emperor Constantine the Great, who ordered the destruction of the shrine. Although it was partially rebuilt by Julian the Apostate, little survives of the ancient buildings, except some Roman ruins.

Adonis's Semitic name or epithet naʿmān, "the beautiful" or "the lovely one," was preserved by Isaiah 17:10 and by Greek authors, especially when comparing the anemone to Adonis. Naʿmān or Naaman is a West Semitic proper name, attested from the second millennium bce onward, and the epithet occurs frequently in literary texts from Ugarit. It implies that Adonis was conceived as a youth of remarkable beauty. Instead, he lacks any feature that would characterize him as a deity of the netherworld, except his secondary assimilation to Osiris, the king of the dead, in the Alexandrian ritual.

Myths

Several mythical stories are related to Adonis. According to the myth that Apollodorus cites from Panyassis of Halicarnassus, active in the early fifth century bce, Adonis was the son of the Assyrian/Syrian king Theias by his daughter Smyrna, who by deceiving him as to her identity, conceived Adonis by him. When Theias discovered the truth he would have slain his daughter, but the gods in pity changed her into a myrrh tree. As the myrrh tree grows only in southern Arabia and in Somaliland, it is unlikely that it belongs to the original story. Smyrna must be a Graecized form of šarmīna, the evergreen cypress, which perfectly fits the Adonis myth. After ten months, according to Apollodorus, the tree burst, letting Adonis come forth. This epiphany characterizes him as a vegetation god. It is similar to the birth of Malakbēl as represented on an altar from Rome, one side of which shows the young god emerging from a cypress. This kind of epiphany is well known in the Middle East and it also occurs in Assyria. The Adonis myth uses the same theme as the story of Judah and Tamar, "the Date Palm," in Genesis 38. By deceiving her father-in-law as to her identity, Tamar conceived two sons by him. When Judah discovered the truth he would have slain his daughter-in-law, but Tamar made her justification by applying to the custom and duty of levirate marriage. Panyassis's fable may reflect another institutionthe sacred marriage celebrated by the king with a priestess, possibly a king's daughter. Since Theias is apparently the same legendary character as Toi or Tai (Tʿy), king of Hamat (Syria), who entered the Bible in 2 Samuel 8:910, the myth could be as old as the ninth century bce, when the worship of Pahalatis, possibly the Mistress (Bʿlt) of Byblos, is attested at Hamat.

Adonis's agrarian nature of dying and rising god, like the Sumerian god Dumuzi and the Assyrian Tammuz, is implied also by Panyassis's complementary account of the seasonal split in Adonis's life between Aphrodite and Persephone, the queen of the netherworld. When Adonis was born, Aphrodite put the infant in a chest. This feature of the account parallels the case of Dionysos venerated at Delphi in a fan, but also recalls the stories of Sargon of Akkad and of Moses in Exodus 2:110. However, Aphrodite handed the child in the chest to the care of Persephone, who afterward refused to give him up. Zeus, an appeal being made to him, decided that Adonis should spend a third of the year with Persephone and a third with Aphrodite, and the remaining third at his own disposal.

Aphrodite is obviously Astarte, the mythic queen of Byblos according to Plutarch, but she is also Balthi, the great goddess or Mistress of Byblos, according to the Syriac homily of Pseudo-Meliton. As for Persephone, she probably corresponds to Sheʾol, a chthonic goddess whose name in Hebrew designates the netherworld. Zeus's verdict is a variant of a folktale, upon which Solomon's arbitration in 1 Kings 3:1628 is also based. The antiquity of this particular myth of Adonis is confirmed by scenes engraved on Etruscan bronze mirrors from the fifth to third centuries bce, showing Zeus's arbitration, the sadness of Turan (the Etruscan Venus), and her happiness when her lover Atunis rejoins her. Love scenes of Venus and Adonis also appear on mosaics, in particular at Lixus, the ancient Phoenician settlement on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. An interesting variant of these myths is represented on a Roman cameo: Adonis sleeps naked at the foot of a tree, guarded by his dog; two cupids try to wake him up, while Aphrodite waits amorously for his "awaking."

An important element in appreciating Adonis's agrarian connection is the story of the killing of Adonis by a "boar out of the wood," an animal known for ravaging the vines, as Psalms 80:914 complains. The story related to Adonis seems to be of Semitic origin as well, since Jerome's allusion to the killing of Adonis "in the month of June" must be based on Aramaic hăzīr, which in Syriac means both "boar" and "June." But its original protagonist may have been Attis, slain by a boar according to Pausanias. Adonis fighting the boar is represented as a hunter on a mosaic from Carranque near Toledo, dated to the fourth century ce.

Another version of the slaying of Adonis is preserved by Pseudo-Meliton, who calls him Tammuz. Since Balthi was in love with him, Hephaestus, her jealous husband, "slew Tammuz in Mount Lebanon, while he was clearing the land" (šnīra burza ). Adonis was then buried at Aphaca, where Balthi also died.

Cult

The cult of Adonis was especially popular with women. Annual festivals, called Adonia, were held at Byblos and also, at least from the seventh century bce onward, in Cyprus and at different places in Greece. Its earliest record is a fragment of a poem by Sappho, who was native to Lesbos in the Aegean. Her poem was apparently written in the form of a dialogue between a woman, possibly representing Aphrodite, and a chorus of young female attendants. It refers to "the lovely Adonis," using a Greek translation of Adonis's Semitic name or epithet naʿmān, and invites the young maidens to mourn for him by beating their breasts and rending their tunics. The Semitic features of the ritual are confirmed by Aristophanes' references to the Adonia being celebrated in Athens on the roof of a building by women shrieking "Woe, woe, Adonis!" and beating their breasts.

A very elaborate Alexandrian festival is described by Theocritus in the third century bce. The rites consisted of a magnificent wedding pageant for Adonis and Aphrodite. The next day women carried Adonis's image to the seashore amid lamentations and expressed the hope of witnessing his return the following year. The Egyptian cult of Osiris most likely had a bearing on the Ptolemaic ritual and its influence could have reached Byblos, since the well-known legend of Isis finding the body of Osiris murdered by Seth localizes the mythical event at Byblos. A special feature of the festival was the "Adonis gardens," first recorded by Plato and alluded to in Isaiah 17:1011. These were small pots of seeds forced to grow artificially, which rapidly faded. Egyptian origin is possible. They were similar, in fact, to the so-called beds of Osiris showing Osiris's shape; these were planted with corn seeds, the sprouting of which signified the god's resurrection.

There was perhaps considerable variation in the content of the Adonis festival and much of the original intent of the rites appears to have been forgotten. Originally, rites and mystery-plays reenacted dying and revival, disappearance and return. The mourning of Adonis is well documented in written sources, but his revival, return, or rebirth is not attested directly before Lucianus's De dea Syria, Origen, and Jerome. However, the "recovering of Adonis" by Venus, often depicted in Rome according to Plautus's comedy Menaechmi 143145 (dated tentatively from 194 bce), Adonis's marvelous birth from the evergreen cypress, and the division of his life between Aphrodite and Persephone all have the idea of revival, rebirth, or awakening in common and are concerned with vegetation. According to De dea Syria, sacred prostitution was included in the ritual at Byblos, a sacred marriage with Aphrodite took place in the Alexandrian ritual, and the cells of the temple of Adonis at Dura-Europos may have served the same purpose. Its mythical aim was probably the "rebirth" of Adonis.

According to De dea Syria, Adonis's revival was celebrated on the third day of the festival. The "third day" seems to have been a predestined moment for the revival, since the "finding of Osiris" by Isis took place on the third day according to Plutarch, the revival of the nation takes place on the third day according to Hosea 6:2, and Jesus' resurrection is dated to "the third day" in 1 Corinthians 15:4. At any rate, the triduum has a larger application in cult and historiography.

It is difficult to answer the question whether Adonis was initially a god of vegetation in general, a vine god, a tree spirit, as is suggested by his birth from a tree, or a grain spirit. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, writing in the second half of the fourth century ce, the Adonis festival was "symbolic of the reaping of ripe fruits of the field." Origen stated one century earlier that Adonis is "the symbol of the fruits of the earth, mourned when they are sown, but causing joy when they rise." According to Jerome, the "slaying of Adonis is shown by seeds dying in the earth, and his resurrection by the crops in which dead seeds are reborn." These explanations favor the conception of Adonis as a grain spirit, the more so because a sentence from Pseudo-Meliton, usually emended and mistranslated, shows him laboring in the field. In this context Adonis's appearance as a hunter in one of the myths might signify that he was protecting the fields against wild boars.

See Also

Dumuzi; Dying and Rising Gods; Eshmun.

Bibliography

A comprehensive study of Adonis is provided by Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: "Dying and Rising Gods" in the Ancient Near East (Stockholm, 2001), in particular pp. 113154, 175179, and 209212, with former literature. See also G. Piccaluga, "Adonis, i cacciatori falliti e l'avvento dell'agricoltura," in Il mito greco: Atti del convegno internazionale, edited by Bruno Gentili and Giuseppe Paioni (Rome, 1977), pp. 3348; Sergio Ribichini, Adonis: Aspetti "Orientali" di un mito greco (Rome, 1981); and Edward Lipiński, Dieux et déesses de l'univers phénicien et punique (Louvain, Belgium, 1995), pp. 90108. For Adonis in Greek literature and arts, see Wahib Atallah, Adonis dans la littérature et l'art grecs (Paris, 1966). For the "Adonis gardens," see the monograph by Gerhard J. Baudy, Adonisgärten: Studien zur antiken Samensymbolik (Frankfurt am Main, 1986), and, with prudence, Marcel Detienne, The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology, translated by Janet Lloyd (Atlanic Highlands, N.J., 1977). The iconography is presented by B. Servais-Soyez, "Adonis," in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (Zurich and Munich, 19811997), vol. 1/1, pp. 222229, and vol. 1/2, pp. 160170.

Edward LipiŃski (2005)

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Adonis

Adonis

Adonis, born Ali Ahmad Said in 1930, was a Lebanese poet whose work reflected a radical vision of Arab history and culture, as well as a hunger for change and modernity.

Adonis is the pen name of Ali Ahmad Said, one of the most prominent Arab writers in the post-World War II period. Born in January of 1930 in Qassabin, a small mountain village in western Syria close to the Mediterranean, he studied at Damascus University, receiving his Licence es-Lettres, Philosophy in 1954. After a six-month spell of imprisonment in Syria in 1955 because of his political activities and membership in the Syrian National Socialist Party, he escaped to Lebanon to settle there in 1956, becoming a Lebanese national.

In 1960-1961, at a crucial stage in his intellectual development, he received a scholarship which enabled him to study in Paris. Adonis wrote extensively during this time. His poetry represented an attempt to create a fusion of his early influences, as he tried also to give poetic expression to his political and social beliefs. These urgings included the quest for national identity and the powerful drive to achieve the "great leap forward" of Arab society.

In 1957, at a significant point in the development of what was called the New Poetry, he joined another poet, Yusuf al-Khal, in founding the avant-garde journal Shi'r (Poetry), which was destined to play a major role in the development of Arabic poetry. In 1968 he established the equally influential, but more culturally and politically oriented journal Mawaqif (Situations), which became the avant-garde literary magazine in the Arab world.

From 1970 to 1985 Adonis was a professor of Arabic literature at the Lebanese University. He was deeply affected by the 10 years of horror during the Lebanese civil war, as reflected in his writings. In 1973, he obtained his Doctorat d'Etat at St. Joseph University in Beirut. In 1976 he held a visiting professorship at Damascus University, and in 1980-1981 he was a professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1985 he taught for a semester at Georgetown University in the United States. He also taught at the prestigious academic institution College de France, where he lectured on Arabic poetics. He later held a professorship at the University of Geneva, where he lectured on Arabic poetry.

Adonis's youthful years coincided with the years of upheaval, revolutionary fever, struggle against colonialism, and search for modernization and revival throughout the Arab world. The achievements of such figures as Kahlil Gibran (author of The Prophet) had contributed significantly to the burgeoning of a new sensibility, a fresh poetic language, and new imagery and rhythmic structures. Adonis's formative years had been strongly influenced by this new trend, as well as by his readings in European poetry. Yet he had also been educated in the classical traditions of Arabic poetry by his father, a man well steeped in classical culture and Islamic theology.

In this intense atmosphere of search, lust for change, and political upheavals (particularly after the struggle for Palestine and the foundation of Israel in 1948), the New Poetry began to explode, taking the form first of a rebellion against the prosodic and rhythmic system of organization which had dominated Arabic poetry from its earliest days. What became known as al-shi'r al-hurr (roughly, free verse) came into being, and Adonis's role in the evolution of this mode of writing was crucial.

The turning point in Adonis's work came with The Songs of Mihyar the Damascene, published in 1961, in which he seemed to discover the secrets of creating a balance between the social-political role assigned to poetry and the demands of a subtle, esthetically appealing, and symbolic language of absence. Adonis's poetry became richer, more dramatic, multi-voiced, more complex, and far more experimental, especially on the level of language and structure. But in the view of many, it never managed to surpass the songs of the magical Mihyar.

The most complex of his works, his 400-page Mufrad bi-Sighat al-Jam ' (Singular in the Plural Form; 1977), is a dazzling piece of writing, but one which has remained a closed, esoteric world to the majority of readers.

Adonis is both a poet and a theorist on poetry, as well as a thinker with a radical vision of Arab history and culture. This philosophy is embodied at its most provocative stage in his major work, al-Thabit wa al-Mutahawwil (The Static and the Changing), a study of conventionalism and innovation in Arabic culture. Adonis has exerted a powerful influence on thinking about poetry, creativity, change, and modernism among both his contemporaries and the younger generations of Arab poets.

His name has become synonymous with rebellion, rejection, radical writing, and modernism (expressed in Arabic by the word hadatha), which he, more than any other figure, has labored to define, preach, and provide with a powerful poetic embodiment. Such books as his Zaman al-Shi'r (The Time of Poetry) and Sadmat al-Hadatha (The Shock of Modernity) are landmarks in the history of critical contemplation in the Arab world.

Well acquainted with the Western literary traditions, especially in poetry, Adonis produced some fine and influential translations of European, and especially French, poetry. Of particular importance are his translations—or more accurately, perhaps, his Arabic renderings—of the complete poetical works of St. John Perse and the dramatic works of the French poet of Lebanese origin Georges Schehadeh.

Some of Adonis's later poetry lost much of the abstractness and cerebrality of the works he produced in the 1970s. It also lost much of the lyricism and tone of yearning of his poetry in the 1960s. He displayed a new fondness for what may be called the poetry of place, in contrast to the poetry of time that had dominated his previous work.

In 1985, Adonis wrote a provocative book of literary criticism, Al Shi riyya Al-Arabiyya (Arabic Poetics), which was published in Beirut. Adonis focused on the "dual siege" of the Arab writer, who is caught between Western thought and Islamic traditions. In 1990, Adonis wrote Introduction to Arab Poetics, published by the University of Texas.

In 1994, his book The Pages of Day and Night (translated by Samuel Hazo) was released, and it received wide-spread acclaim. Many of the poems had a distinct aura of mystical timelessness to them. The works included lyrical, fantastical, and revelatory writings.

In Adonis's long writing career, he has twice been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and has published more than 20 books.

Further Reading

Additional information on Adonis can be found in Adonis, Ali Ahmad Sa'id (1983), which also includes a small selection of Adonis's poems; Abdulla al-Udhari (editor), Victims of a Map (London: 1985); Issa Boullata (editor), Modern Arab Poets 1950-1975 (1976); Salma al-Khadra al-Jayyusi (editor), Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology (1988); and Kamal Abu-Deeb, "The Perplexity of the All-Knowing," in Mundus Artium (1977).

Adonis' writings in English translation include The Blood of Adonis, selected and translated by Samuel Hazo (1971); Mirrors, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari (London: 1976); Transformations of the Lover, translated by Samuel Hazo (1983); Orbits of Quest and Desire, selected and translated by Kamal Abu-Deeb (1992); and An Introduction to Arab Poetics, translated by Catherine Cobham (1990). A number of translations into other European languages, especially French, are also available. □

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Adonis

Adonis

by Giambattista Marino

THE LITERARY WORK

A poem set at a mythical time in Venus’s palace on the island of Cyprus, Greece; published in Italian (as Adone) in 1623, in English in 1967.

SYNOPSIS

Adonis, a beautiful youth, arrives on the isle of Cyprus, where he and the goddess Venus fall in love. Jealous, the god Mars commits indirect murder, but Venus finds a way to immortalize her earthly lover’s beauty.

Events in History at the Time of the Poem

The Poem in Focus

For More Information

The most renowned poet of seventeenth-century Italy, Giambattista Marino, was born in Naples in 1569. Though his family attempted to force him into a career in law, he soon abandoned his studies to pursue his literary ambitions and so was expelled from his father’s house. In 1596 Marino became the secretary of Matteo di Capua, Prince of Conca, and experienced for the first time the luxuries of court life. He was, however, twice imprisoned during this period: once for having seduced a rich merchant’s daughter, who died attempting to have an abortion; a second time for forging documents to help a friend avoid the death penalty. After escaping prison and fleeing to Rome in 1600, Marino spent a few years traveling through Italy in the service of a nephew of Pope Clement VIII, Cardinal Aldobrandini, with whom he moved first to Ravenna and then, in 1608, to Turin. By this time Marino had published his initial volume of lyrics, Rime (1602), later revised and republished as La lira (The Lyre), parts 1 and 2. In Turin, at the court of Duke Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy, Marino achieved his first great literary success; in 1609 he was awarded the honorary title of Cavaliere (knight). But he acquired new enemies too, among them the duke’s secretary, Gaspare Murtola, who was also a poet. Murtola attempted to shoot Marino and landed in prison for his pains. Marino’s service at the duke’s court ended unhappily in 1611 when, for reasons that remain unclear, he himself was sentenced to prison for over a year. In 1614 Marino published the third part of The Lyre, and in 1615 he finally realized his dream of being honored at a great court. He was invited to Paris by Maria de’ Medici, widow of Henry IV and mother of Louis XIII. Accepting the invitation, Marino remained in France for eight years, working fervently during his stay, publishing Epithalami (1616; Epithalamia), La Galeria (1619; The Gallery), La Sampogna (1620; The Bagpipe), and finally, in 1623, his masterpiece, Adonis, an ambitious poem of 40,984 lines on which he had been working since his Roman years. At this point, his precarious health convinced Marino to return to Italy, where he was received triumphantly as the greatest living Italian poet. He died in Naples in 1625, at the apex of his success, leaving behind an unfinished work, La strage degli innocenti (1638; The Slaughter of the Innocent), and his monumental Adonis. Though placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the Church’s list of forbidden books), the poem would be republished at least 11 times in the next 50 years, becoming the very symbol of the baroque era.

THE TERM BAROQUE

The term baroque is believed to have originated from the Portuguese barroco, which denotes a pearl that is not perfectly spherical. From this literal meaning is extracted a metaphorical one, that is, something extravagant or whimsical. The term became more common in the sixteenth century, when it was used in philosophy as the label for a particularly ambiguous kind of syllogism or logical procedure. An “in barroco” syllogism consisted of a general statement followed by a specific one in the negative, and then a witty deduction produced from both the general and specific statements. For example:

General statement: All women are mortal

Specific statement in the negative: Venus is not a mortal

Deduction: Venus is not a woman

Such a conclusion though correct (Venus is indeed not a woman, she is a goddess), shows a high grade of ambiguity. Isn’t it true that Venus is the woman among women, the quintessence of femininity—ergo, the ambiguity.

The highly elaborate, artificial style of much seventeenth-century art and literature can be likened to this kind of deceitful logic. Around the middle of the eighteenth century the Italian term barocco began to be used deprecatingly in reference to the art of the preceding century, which became known as the Baroque period (also called the early modern period). Though the twentieth century attached new value to Baroque literature, today the term continues to carry with it some disparaging connotations, For many, it connotes a negative judgment of the rich, overly elaborate style of which Cavalier Marino was a master.

Events in History at the Time of the Poem

The poetic setting—mythical or real?

The story of the mortal Adonis and his love for the immortal goddess Venus takes place in a mythical, distant world. The characters move outside regular time and space, in a magical era before history, when gods walked the earth together with mortals and almost anything was possible. A closer look at this setting, however, reveals that it is not as mythical as it appears at first blush. The poet sets the action in a version of his own world. Not only does the verse include references to historical facts and figures belonging to Marino’s time, but the poet also infuses into the work many aspects of seventeenth-century Europe, with its sumptuous courts, its new scientific discoveries, and its elaborate art. The art is often referred to as baroque (from the Portuguese barroco, for “an imperfect pearl”), a term that points to the artificiality and irregularity of the works generated during the seventeenth century.

Along with artificiality came the representation of a world in constant flux. The milieu described in Adonis changes continuously. Its characters lack certainties and a universal truth to rely upon; instability is an important part of life, and appearance doesn’t always coincide with reality. This sense of vacuous instability, which pervades much of baroque art, reflects real-life conditions at the time.

Life in seventeenth-century Europe was grim. The Thirty Years War (1618–48), which pit Austria and Spain (both under Habsburg rule) against Germany’s princes, the Dutch Republic, Sweden, and France, stands out as the main conflict among many widespread struggles. In the 1590s and again in 1630, the plague turned into a raging epidemic in the Mediterranean region and, along with repeated social disorders, brought the uncertainty of human life into ever-sharper focus.

The melancholy, affliction, and insecurity of the century affected its art. Living in an unsteady universe, baroque artists were acutely aware of the despair diffused through much of their society. The sense of the writer’s detachment and disengagement in much baroque literature to some degree reflects a desire of escaping grim reality, and the increasing popularity of mythological material can be attributed to the same cause. The recourse to artifice is never completely successful, however. Even the mythology contains a very realistic sense of danger and instability, as in Marino’s poem, in which innocent, inexperienced Adonis obtains the favors of the most beautiful among the goddesses only to die suddenly at the very apex of his happiness.

From free thought to the birth of a new science

The conflict between Catholics and Protestants, which originated in Germany a century earlier with the Augustinian friar Martin Luther, escalated over the decades that followed. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, Luther’s drive against the corruption of the Catholic Church had developed into a full-fledged movement (the Reformation) that instigated a full-fledged countermovement (the Counter Reformation) by the Catholic Church. What began as one man’s drive to rid the Church of abusive practices had turned into a geopolitical conflict of powers.

Italy was divided into a number of separate states or political entities at the time, which fell under the control of either Spain (ruling more or less directly over central and southern Italy) or France (attempting to impose its hegemony in particular in the Milan area). The states became little more than pawns on the chessboard of European politics. Spanish Catholic rule, reinforced by the strict laws of the Counter Reformation, greatly affected social life in the Italian states.

The Counter Reformation attempted to restore the power of the Roman Catholic Church in the face of the challenge mounted by Protestantism, the new branch of Christianity formed by the Reformation. To restore the Church’s power, the Counter Reformists adopted certain strategies: they glorified ecclesiastical authorities; disseminated an obsessive, fearful conception of sin and death; and imposed moral and intellectual dogmatism. The Church’s publication in 1557 of its first list of prohibited books (the Index Librorum Prohibitorum) marked the end of an era of free thought for artists and intellectuals wherever the Church held sway.

At odds with such censorship, an increasing interest in science and intellectual speculation characterized the century, the first half of which saw the rise of such luminaries as the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), the French mathematicians René Descartes (1596–1639) and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), and the Italian writers Tommaso Campanella (1568–1639) and Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). The latter two—the first a philosopher, the second an astronomer—were both tried by the Inquisition. Campanella was condemned to a lengthy prison sentence; Galileo was forced into a shameful abjuration of his theories to avoid being burned at the stake. Despite the obstacles, the intellectuals persisted, and regard for science grew.

New scientific discoveries opened fascinating but often shocking perspectives. For instance, the invention of the telescope generated a new way of conceiving the relation between different objects, altering forever the conception of space, enlarging it beyond extremes never considered before, as Marino reminds us in a canto of Adonis that celebrates Galileo and his work.

The new science was important not only in itself, but because it opened fresh perspectives on the understanding of reality. Severo Sarduy, who studied the connections between art and astronomy in the seventeenth century, noticed that Kepler’s discovery about the ellipsoidal trajectory of planets around the sun altered the very concept of the position occupied by humankind in the universe. More exactly, the substitution of the ellipsis (which lacked a geometric center) for the circle constituted the first intrusion of something shifty and insecure in a universe till then closed, steady, and well regulated. Such a discovery could be connected to the lack of unity—and therefore thematic center—typical of baroque art, evident in the succession of independent episodes that comprise Adonis.

ADONIS APPLAUDS GALILEO’S “MARVELOUS” NEW INSTRUMENT

The time will come that with no doubt

His notes will notorious be and clear,

Thanks to a marvelous Instrument,

For which what far is, closer appears

And, closing an eye, the other intent

All men will look at the lunar globe,

Making long intervals of space so short

With a little cannon and two crystals.

Through you, Galileo, was composed

The telescope, unknown to this age.

Which in one’s sense of sight makes close,

Though remote, an object and enlarges it.

(Marino, Adone, Canto 10,

Stanzas 41–42; trans. F. Santini)

A new society, a new reality

The whole structure of European society was altered during the baroque era. People increasingly moved to large cities to escape famine and to find work, their migration turning capitals like Paris, London, Naples, and Madrid into the continent’s first metropolises. The ranks of the underclass—those who survived by begging, stealing, or prostituting themselves—grew. Both the rural and urban areas had long included such an underclass, a permanently poor minority. In hard times, when harvests failed, this underclass grew as it was joined by the temporary poor—those who normally scraped by as peasants but, when there was no food or work, sank into poverty until conditions brightened again. Economic hardships exacerbated such slippages after 1590, and especially after 1620, at the end of Marino’s lifetime. The underclass swelled, which helps explain why other city dwellers began to see the incoming farmers who might slip into its ranks as socially dangerous. A major shift in perceptions occurred. In the Middle Ages, in keeping with Christian teaching, the poor had been regarded as sacred; now they started to be viewed as a threat. The difference between beggar and bandit or beggar and thief narrowed in the eyes of the upper classes.

CYPRUS AND CYTHERA: THE MYTH OF VENUS

The cult of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (called Venus by the Romans) attracted a widespread following in the lands influenced by the Greeks, According to mythology, Aphrodite was born when Uranus (the Sky), desirous of uniting himself with Gaea (the Earth), was assailed by Chronos (Time), who emasculated him. Uranus’s genitals fell into the sea and, covered by foam (in Greek, afrós), generated Aphrodite, the goddess “born from foam.” Pushed by gentle winds, the beautiful, naked maiden floated, first to the Island of Cyprus in the Ionian Sea and then to the Island of Cyprus (the two islands would turn into main locations for the cult of the goddess). In Marino’s poem, mythology and history intermingle: Venus resides in a mysterious palace on the island of Cyprus, but during the season of the festivals of Cythera, occasions that indeed took place in real life, the goddess travels to the Ionian Sea to participate.

This change in perception had artistic consequences. Social outcasts began to have a greater effect on creative renderings produced in the cities. Artists found themselves in touch with a more diversified social reality, which found its way into their works. Commoners rather than aristocrats appeared more frequently as protagonists of poetry and paintings. In the poetry of Marino and his followers, the starryeyed, blonde châtelaines (mistresses of castles) who had dominated courtly love literature are often overshadowed by exotic, non-aristocratic beauties, like the raggedy “beautiful beggar” in a sonnet by Claudio Achillini, a poet who was incredibly popular in his day (though he was later singled out as the main example of baroque bad taste) and who greatly admired Marino. In Adonis, even blonde Venus appears disguised as a gypsy; with her curly black tresses, she reads Adonis’s palm.

Baroque artists tended to include in their works all the shades of the complex reality in which they lived. In doing so, they often transformed even the most bitter issues (death, poverty, human decay, folly) by attributing to them a lightness and beauty they in reality did not have. Achillini’s raggedy beggar, for instance, is so transfigured by the poet that the shoeless waif becomes a heavenly creature whose cascade of golden hair is far richer than real gold. She takes on the persona of a starlet, and the artist himself becomes the creator of a shimmering world, more fascinating and mysterious than the real one. It follows, according to this view, that nature and art operate on parallel tracks of existence; both result from the effort of a skilled wit—God’s in the first case, the artist’s in the second one.

The superiority of art to reality was a favorite theme of Marino, who often remarked how life as represented in paintings could be better (more beautiful and even more natural) than everyday existence. Through this medium, both poet and audience could see the world in a different light; in the midst of the often gloomy situations in which they lived, they could perceive another world made of wordplay and ingenious creations.

The Poem in Focus

Contents overview

Adonis is divided into 20 cantos, each comprised of a variable number of octaves (stanzas of eight rhymed lines). Every canto opens with a brief allegory of its contents and a four-line synopsis, attributed to two friends of Marino, Lorenzo Sanvitale and Luigi Scoto respectively. Since its first appearance, the work has always been accompanied by a dedication to Maria de’ Medici, the regent of France and Marino’s patron, and by an introduction in French by J. Chapelain. The events narrated in the poem transpire over one year, of which 22 days are referred to specifically. The story takes place entirely on Cyprus, with two exceptions: Venus and Adonis’s visit to the heavens (Canto 10), and Venus’s trip to the island of Cythera by the Peloponnesian Peninsula (Canto 17).

The story itself is a recounting of the tragic love between Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and a mortal youth, Adonis. Many minor events and subplots are included, with a number of elaborate descriptive passages making the narration extremely complicated. The work is perhaps most accurately described as a series of loosely related fables and episodes, for it has no unitary structure. Schematically the plot unfolds as follows:

Contents summary

Canto 1. Cupid, forever a child, has been spanked by his mother Venus, and resolves to avenge himself by making her fall in love with a young mortal, Adonis. With the help of Neptune, god of the sea, Cupid conjures a storm and Adonis’s ship lands on the shores of Cyprus, where Adonis meets the shepherd Clizio.

Canto 2. The canto describes Cupid’s palace. A long digression follows, in which Clizio recounts the myth of the Trojan prince Paris, who chose Venus as the most beautiful among the goddesses. In Marino’s version, each of the three most admired goddesses (maternal Juno, virginal Athena, and sensuous Venus) tries to convince Paris of her superiority. Venus, extremely self-assured, requests the golden apple, symbol of beauty, in no uncertain (and not in particularly appealing) terms:

If the apple for which we are combating,
Insensate as it is, could feel and sense,
You would see it flying hastily to me,
Nor would it be in your power to retain it.
Since it cannot draw closer itself, I demand it:
I am the one and only worthy of its possession.
Whichever gift my gorgeousness receives,
It is not but an owed tribute to love.
(Marino, Adone, Canto 2, Stanza 105;
trans. F. Santini)

Canto 3. Venus, wounded by Cupid’s arrow, sees the sleeping Adonis, falls in love with him, and awakens him with a kiss. Adonis attempts to flee but, seeing Venus, is immediately enamored. In this canto appears one of the best-known passages of Adonis, perhaps the most representative of Marino’s witty imagery and elaborate style. In it, Venus praises a rose with a long series of similes and metaphors that lasts for over 50 lines. Among other images, the red rose is called a “queen surrounded by an army of thorns,” a “gem of spring,” a “cup made of rubies,” and a “sun on Earth,” while the sun is “a rose in the sky” (Adone, Canto 3, Stanzas 155–61; trans. F. Santini).

Canto 4. Cupid narrates the story of his love for Psyche.

Canto 5. Adonis visits Cupid’s palace, where the messenger god, Mercury, narrates to him six famous stories about the encounters of mortal youths and deities, some of which are related to hunting and its dangers.

Cantos 6-8. Adonis finally enters Venus’s palace and visits its five gardens, each of which represents one of the five human senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch). In these three cantos, Adonis is prepared for a full sensual awakening, which culminates in the sexual union of the two lovers in Canto 8.

Canto 9. The lovers approach an area of Venus’s garden where they meet a fisherman, Fileno, who narrates the history of his life (the fisherman is said to represent Marino himself). Next they see the Fountain of Apollo (god, among other things, of poetry), and listen to a competition among poetic swans. The art of many famous poets is admired in the process, as are the families who sponsored them, including the Medici.

Cantos 10-11. Adonis, Venus, and Mercury visit the heavens, where they admire the Grotto of Nature, the Island of Dreams, the Palace of Art, and—in the heaven of Venus—the Garden of Beauty. Here are the spirits of the most famous and beautiful ladies who ever existed (this is the occasion for a eulogy of Maria de’ Medici). At the end of Canto 11, Mercury draws a horoscope for Adonis and prophesies his early death. The three then return to Cyprus.

Canto 12. Mars, the god associated with war, and Venus’s primary lover, arrives on the island, so Venus urges Adonis to flee. During his flight, Adonis meets a sorceress, Falsirena (literally means “fake-mermaid”), who attempts both naturally and magically to win Adonis’s love. When she fails (Adonis can resist, thanks to a magical ring and Mercury’s advice), she imprisons the handsome mortal.

Canto 13. After languishing in prison all winter, Adonis, transformed into a parrot by a magic love potion, escapes and returns to Venus’s garden, where he sadly witnesses the love of Venus and Mars. Mercury helps Adonis regain his human form, while Falsirena, enraged at having been spurned, plots to recapture him.

Canto 14. Adonis keeps fleeing Falsirena. He dresses up as a girl to avoid being recognized and falls into the hands of bandits. Saved by one of Falsirena’s helpers, Adonis again escapes.

Canto 15. Adonis encounters Venus in disguise as a gypsy. She appears as an exotic, darkhaired beauty like those Marino must have often encountered in his native Naples. The couple returns to the palace, where they amuse themselves playing various games, including chess.

Canto 16. After winning a three-day male beauty contest (a long description of the candidates is included), Adonis is crowned king of Cyprus.

Canto 17. Venus must leave Cyprus to take part in the festival of Cythera: once again, she and her earthly lover are separated. During her trip, Venus hears another prophecy of Adonis’s death.

Canto 18. Falsirena advises one of Venus’s maids to reveal to Mars the presence of Adonis on the island. While Adonis is hunting, Mars (with the help of Diana, goddess of hunting) bewitches a female boar that, after falling in love with Adonis, tries to embrace him and kills him. Venus and Cupid grieve, Venus’s maid commits suicide in guilt, and the boar pleads for a pardon, which is granted.

Canto 19. Four deities visit Venus and tell six tragic stories of love and death. After the funeral rites for her fallen lover, Venus immortalizes Adonis by transforming his heart into a flower, the anemone.

Canto 20. In honor of Adonis, Venus organizes sumptuous funeral games in which both mortals and gods participate. The pageant of participants is representative of the powers that reign respectively in the heavens and on Earth. A long tribute to the French king Louis XIII concludes the poem, counterbalancing the dedication to his mother, Maria, which opened it.

Art and diplomacy

Toward the end of Canto 9, Marino presents a satirical attack on one of his main enemies, the poet Tommaso Stigliani (1573-1651), whom he represents as an owl, a creature hardly comparable to the melodious “poetic swans” symbolizing famous poets of the past and present. After the publication of Adonis, Stigliani would reciprocate with harsh criticism, accusing it of obscenity in his own poem “Occhiale.” (It remains unclear if Stigliani was involved in the placement of Adonis on the Index after Marino’s death.)

This escalation of literary rivalries into personal attacks reflects an atmosphere in which intellectuals were generally more subject to attack in the Baroque era. Due to the strict policies of the Counter Reformation, they experienced increasing pressure to conform to prevailing ideas. The restrictive atmosphere of the age is perhaps best reflected in the way the Jesuits, with their very orthodox curriculum, dominated public instruction in the Catholic world. In such an environment, intellectuals looked more often to the courts of nobles for welfare and support. But those who attained court patronage paid a price in literary and personal freedom; beholden to the noble or sovereign, they had to refrain from offending the hand that fed them. Also they had to refrain from offending the Church, as Galileo’s experience shows. In 1633 Galileo fell afoul of the growing climate of orthodoxy in the region when he supported Copernicus’s revolutionary idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Though an eminent scholar who had enlisted the Medici for his patrons, he still was tried and condemned by the papal Inquisition. How cautious, then, less eminent scholars needed to be!

Upon entering a court, an artist became part of a delicately organized sphere, complete with rules of behavior, an endless round of formal functions, and magnificent entertainments: it was a dangerous world in which an individual’s fortune could be made or destroyed in a moment and envy gave rise to assorted intrigues. The abysmally desperate condition of the newly poor contrasted strongly with the richness of life at court, but that very life, though admired, often hid humiliations and compromises, as suggested by the tribute Marino pays to his royal patrons in Adonis.

Praising sovereigns within a literary work could require a complex balance of diplomacy. In Adonis, Marino maximizes his praise for Maria de’ Medici, to whom he owes his invitation to court, and for her son Louis XIII, who became king during the poet’s years in Paris and whose disfavor could have caused Marino’s ruin. (Marino’s task was certainly made harder, and highly dangerous, by the many disagreements of the two sovereigns over political matters.)

Aside from the king and his mother, several other historical figures (e.g., Dante Alighieri) are mentioned or included as characters in the poem, along with many historical, political, and social events from Marino’s time (for instance, recurring references to the wars between France and Spain). The juxtaposition of mythology and historical material from Marino’s age, of course, gives rise to anachronisms. The reader, fascinated by the shimmery surface of the things described, tends to forget that a chessboard (Canto 15) or a telescopic looking glass (Canto 10) could hardly exist in a time in which they had not yet been invented.

At the same time, the mythological setting allows Marino to express his opinions in a safe manner. For instance, when in Canto 6 he enumerates the best painters of his time (e.g., Caravaggio) while not mentioning the ancient masters, his choice makes evident the poet’s preference for modern art over classical.

MARINO ON SERVING AT THE COURT OF FRANCE

“I am a servant, there is no doubt of that, but I cannot be ashamed of my servitude, since I serve one of the greatest kings in the world, and I must add that there are many princes, who would consider it a glory to serve in such a manner. A pension of two thousand gold écus, not to count the gifts, and to be free from any courtly obligation, are very honorable conditions, and there are cardinals in Rome who don’t have as much.”

(Marino, Lettere, p. 93; trans, F. Santini)

Furthermore, the very setting of the poem, a peaceful, faraway island, rather than a battlefield—as it is with Adonis’s predecessors, Ariosto and Tasso’s works—is Marino’s way of diplomatically supporting the desire of his patron, Maria de’ Medici, for a peace agreement between France and Spain. The fact that in the introduction to the poem, Chapelain referred to it as a “poem of peace,” shows that Marino’s choice to support Maria’s political views had been correctly interpreted and understood at the time Adonis was published.

Sources and literary context

The love affair between Venus and Adonis is one of the stories narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a 15-part collection of mythic and legendary tales in verse. Many authors of the late Renaissance, in keeping with the popularity of mythological subjects in Europe at the end of the sixteenth century, enlarged and embellished Ovid’s brief account (which consists of little more than 100 lines).

In his version of the Adonis story, Marino not only enlarges the episode (to more than 40,000 lines), but also changes its original purpose. While for Ovid the core of the fable was represented by Adonis’s metamorphosis into a flower after his death, Marino minimizes that part of the narration to focus, instead, on the sensual awakening of young Adonis.

HISTORICAL ELEMENTS INFUSED INTO ADONIS

Historical Events

Cantos 1, 9, 1O, 19: Polemics against courtly fife

Canto 10: The French wars under Henry IV; the rule of Maria de’ Medici and Louis XIII

Cantos 10, 15: Antigovernment polemics

Canto 14: Antimilitary polemic

Canto 15: History of Cyprus

Canto 20: Religious wars between France and Spain

Historical People

Canto 2: Catalog of beautiful ladies (including a lengthy passage on Maria de’ Medici)

Canto 6: Catalog of painters (e.g., Caravaggio, who in the words of Marino could create a “falsity that surpasses reality”)

Canto 9: Marino as the fisherman Fileno; catalog of noble families who sponsored the arts; catalog of poets (e.g., Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso)

Canto 10: Galileo Calilei

Canto 12: Catalog of war captains (among them are ancient heroes such as Alexander, Caesar, and Hannibal, and more modern ones tike Alessandro Farnese and Francesco Bona)

Canto 20: Catalog of valiant gentlemen; Louis XIII

(Pozzi in Marino, Adonis, pp. 64-74)

In addition to Ovid’s story, Marino drew on many other sources for the corpus of the poem, from classical ones (a range of Greek Alexandrine poets and of Latin authors, primarily Claudian), to medieval Italian writers (particularly Petrarch), to contemporary poets, especially Torquato Tasso, author of the famed Jerusalem Delivered (also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times). The garden of Venus in Adonis is strongly reminiscent of Armida’s garden in Jerusalem Delivered.

Identifying the many sources from which Marino drew his material preoccupied readers when the poem first appeared. Some contemporaries even accused Marino of plagiarism (including, of course, his archenemy Stigliani). Marino answered his detractors with blatant selfassurance, claiming one’s right to consider the literature of the past as an immense storehouse of words and imagery, available for the taking. In a letter to the poet Claudio Achillini, he stated:

Since I started my literary studies, I learnt to read holding a hook, and pulling up to my benefit all that I found good, noting it in my archive to be used when the time would come, and indeed this is the fruit you collect from reading books.

(Marino, Lettere, p. 150; trans. F. Santini)

Publication and reception

As early as 1605, Marino described the contents of Adonis in a letter to a painter, whom he asked to draw some images for his soon-to-be-published poem. He next mentioned Adonis in 1614, when he stated in another letter that he was ready to travel to France, where he would publish his works, especially Adonis. (Publishing in France would allow the author to avoid the strict Inquisition censorship to which books published in Italy were subject.) By then, Marino’s Venetian printer, Ciotti, was expecting a final version of the poem (in 12 cantos), which the poet felt confident would be a success, since his friends were completely enchanted by it. He nevertheless delayed publication for eight years, during which he embellished and enlarged the poem till it reached its final size.

When, in 1623, Adonis was finally published, the curiosity regarding Marino’s latest work was so great both in France and in Italy that its impact was enormous. The book sold extremely well in France, where it was received with great admiration at the court of Louis XIII. In Italy, the poem was read and admired even before being sold in shops, and it reportedly aroused general enthusiasm. Despite such a favorable reception, Marino encountered problems after his triumphant return to Italy in the summer of 1623: Adonis was at risk of being put on the Index (as it would be in 1627, two years after the poet’s death). A number of detractors, who considered the work obscene and vain, dampened Marino’s success. Thankfully, the poem’s admirers largely outnumbered its detractors, even in Marino’s day.

The ability of the Neapolitan poet as a crafter of verses and a creator of witty metaphors, together with the stylistic complexity and the vastness of the material covered in the poem, succeeded in achieving exactly that maraviglia, that marvel, which was then considered, in the words of Marino himself, the main aim of poetry. In the decades after Marino’s death, the number of poets who imitated his elaborate style and imagery was so large, that even now Italian baroque poetry is referred to as “Marinismo” (“Marinism”).

Adonis’s huge success came to a halt at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the baroque style was denigrated as tasteless and exaggerated. Only in the twentieth century was the work reevaluated and appreciated for what the poem is: a work at times overly developed and artificial, and at times truly enchanting.

—Federica Santini

For More Information

Cherchi, Paolo. La metamorfosi dell’Adone. Ravenna, Italy: Longo, 1996.

Guardiani, Francesco, ed. The Sense of Marino: Literature, Fine Arts and Music of the Italian Baroque. New York: Legas, 1994.

Marino, Giambattista. Adone. Ed. G. Pozzi. Milan: Adelphi, 1988.

_____Adonis. Trans. H. Martin Priest. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1967.

_____Lettere. In Opere scelte di Giambattista Marino e dei Marinisti. Ed. G. Getto. Torino: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1962.

Mirollo, James Vincent. The Poet of the Marvelous: Giambattista Marino. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Ed. M. Forey. Trans. A. Golding. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Sarduy, Severo. Ensayos generates sobre el Barroco. México: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1987.

Scaglione, Aldo, and G. E. Viola, eds. The Image of the Baroque. New York: P. Lang, 1995.

Shakespeare, William. Venus and Adonis. In The Poems: Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, The Passionate Pilgrim, A Lover’s Complaint. Ed. J. Roe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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Adonis

Adonis

Nationality/Culture

Greek/Roman

Pronunciation

uh-DON-is

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hyginus's Fabulae

Lineage

Son of Theias and Myrrha

Character Overview

In Greek mythology Adonis (pronounced uh-DON-is) was an extremely handsome young man who died and was reborn. Like many other mythological figures who are resurrected, or brought back to life, Adonis became associated with the annual cycle of the seasons in which plants die in the fall and grow back again in the spring. Adonis's counterpart in Akkadian mythology was the god Tammuz (pronounced TAH-mooz).

Beauty Lost and Regained

Many other cultures have stories similar to that of Adonis and Aphrodite, all of which seem to explain the changing of the seasons as a temporary loss of a beautiful youth. Tammuz and Astarte of Babylon and Isis and Osiris of ancient Egypt are examples. The Bible (in the book of Ezekiel) describes Babylonian women “weeping for Tammuz” as part of a ritual mourning for his loss.

Major Myths

According to tradition, Adonis was the son of Myrrha (pronounced MER-uh) and her father, Theias (pronounced THEE-us), the king of Assyria. So attractive was the infant Adonis that the goddess Aphrodite fell in love with him. She hid the baby in a box and gave him to Persephone , goddess of the underworld , for safe keeping. When Persephone saw Adonis, however, she also fell in love with him and refused to return him to Aphrodite.

Zeus , the supreme ruler of the gods who lived on Mount Olympus, settled the argument by ordering Adonis to divide his time between the two goddesses. During spring and summer, the time of fertility and fruitfulness, Adonis stayed with Aphrodite. He spent fall and winter, the period of barrenness and death, with Persephone.

Adonis adored hunting. While out on a chase one day during his time with Aphrodite, he was killed by a wild boar. Some stories say that the boar was Hephaestus (pronounced hi-FES-tuhs), Aphrodite's husband, in disguise, or perhaps it was Ares (pronounced AIR-eez), the god of war and Aphrodite's jealous lover. Both stories maintain that beautiful red flowers called anemones (pronounced uh-NEM-uh-neez) grew and bloomed where Adonis's blood fell on the soil.

Adonis in Context

In ancient Greece, as in many ancient societies, the changing of the seasons was a mystery. For this reason, seasons were often seen as evidence of the gods at work. Since Adonis was considered a god of plants and vegetation, his months-long stay in the underworld explained why flowers and other greenery failed to grow during winter. Each year in ancient Greece, Adonis worshippers, who tended to be mostly women, mourned his death by wailing and beating their breasts, and also celebrated his rebirth by planting “gardens of Adonis” for festivals held in his honor.

Key Themes and Symbols

As a god of vegetation, Adonis is a symbol of fertility and growth. Because he spent half of each year in the world of the living and half in the world of the dead, he is closely identified with the seasons of the year. He is also often identified with seasonal plants that sprout and die in a short period of time. The god has become a symbol of male beauty, and in modern times a handsome young man is sometimes called an “Adonis.”

Adonis in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Because of his famous beauty and rather tragic love affairs with goddesses, Adonis has been the subject of many works of art. He is often paired with Aphrodite, called Venus in Roman mythology , as in the painting Venus and Adonis, created around 1555 by Titian. The story of the couple is also the subject of Shakespeare's 1593 poem “Venus and Adonis,” as well as the John Blow opera of the same name, composed in the 1680s. While use of the term “Adonis” to refer to an attractive young man is common, the mythological Adonis appears only rarely in contemporary art. Adonis was featured in an episode of the animated Disney series Hercules in 1998.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The poem “Adonais” (1821) by Percy Bysshe Shelley is both a reflection of the Adonis myth and a memorial to Shelley's recently deceased friend, poet John Keats. Using your library, the Internet, or other resources, find a copy of the poem and read it. How is Adonis portrayed in the poem? Do you think the poem tells the same story as the Greek myth?

SEE ALSO Aphrodite; Ares; Greek Mythology; Persephone

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