Study Guide

Venus and Adonis Summary

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How It (Supposedly) Went Down

  • There's this dude named Cinyras; he's got a daughter named Myrrha. (The trouble begins.)
  • It turns that out Myrrha likes her dad way too much; the young girl passionately lusts after her own father. (In some versions, Myrrha's incestuous love is inflicted on her by Venus (Aphrodite) as a punishment for neglecting her worship of the goddess.)
  • Eventually, Myrrha becomes so ashamed of her lust that she decides to hang herself.
  • At the last minute, her nurse busts onto the scene and stops her from doing it.
  • Myrrha tells her nurse what's wrong.
  • At first, the nurse is like, "Ew gross! You're totally insane," but Myrrha keeps whining about it, so the nurse finally agrees to help the girl.
  • During a festival of Ceres (Demeter), the nurse approaches Cinyras when he's blisteringly drunk and lookin' for love.
  • The nurse says "Hey big fella, I know a little lady who is all about some Cinyras."
  • Cinyras is definitely interested.
  • So Cinyras unknowingly sleeps with his daughter for several nights. (He never knew it was her, because the lights weren't on.)
  • One night, he gets curious though, and he brings an oil lamp in to check out who it is. (That's always a bad idea. Doesn't he know the myth of "Cupid and Psyche"?)
  • He's so grossed out when he sees that it's his own daughter that he pulls out his sword and tries to kill her.
  • Myrrha hightails it out of there and avoids getting chopped up by her father.
  • She wanders all around for a while.
  • Things get more complicated when Myrrha discovers that she's pregnant.
  • As the baby grows inside her, life just gets to be way too exhausting for Myrrha. She prays to be punished for her actions, and her prayer is answered: some god or another turns her into a tree.
  • Her tears turn into sap that drips down the bark. To this day, that sap is known as "myrrh." (Just like the myrrh the Three Wise Men are said to have brought to baby Jesus.)
  • "But isn't this supposed to be about Venus and Adonis?" you ask. Hang on a second, we're almost there.
  • Guess who Myrrha's baby is? Yep, he's Adonis.
  • With some help from the goddess Lucina, Adonis is born from the tree.
  • (In some versions, Cinyras actually splits the tree with a sword.)
  • Some versions also tell us that Persephone and Venus are both struck by a maternal instinct when they see baby Adonis. They bicker over who will care for him. Eventually, Zeus has to step in and rule that Persephone can have Adonis four months of the year, Venus can have him another four months of the year, and Adonis can be on his own for the final four months of the year.
  • Adonis grows up to be the hottest guy the world has ever seen. He's so hot that Venus, the goddess of love, falls for him hard. When her son Cupid accidentally scratches her with one of his love arrows, Venus' infatuation gets totally out of control.
  • Venus stops hanging out in places she usually hangs out and starts only chilling with Adonis, who basically just wants to hunt all day. She even starts dressing like the huntress goddess, Diana (Artemis), probably because she hopes that Adonis will think her new look is sexy.
  • Venus warns Adonis to not hunt dangerous animals: "Just kill the little fluffy ones," she tells him.
  • Before she leaves him one day, Venus tells Adonis the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes, whom she turned into lions when they were ungrateful. Then the goddess of love flies up into the air and leaves Adonis alone.
  • Adonis is all, "Fluffy ones! Whatever. Adonis doesn't hunt the fluffy ones."
  • Then he comes upon a wild boar and stabs it with his spear.
  • He doesn't spear it well enough, though, and the boar jabs Adonis with his tusks.
  • Venus hears Adonis's death groans and hurries back to him – but it's too late.
  • The goddess is crazy sad.
  • She turns Adonis's blood into a bright red flower called an anemone to honor him.

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