Friday, March 11, 2011

Affairs of the Gods: Aphrodite and Adonis

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon 005
Aphrodite/Venus and Adonis
You can't really expect a goddess of love to stay loyal to her husband, whether or not her husband is a crippled Hephaestus or some perfect specimen of manliness. Aphrodite has a history of affairs, and poor Hephaestus probably didn't have any chance of stopping her (not that he didn't engage in his own um, adventures, but Aphrodite seems to have him outnumbered by quite a lot.)

Adonis is one of the many men who captured Aphrodite's attention and affection. Adonis is, of course, the son of Myrrha/Smyrna by her father, who, discovering it was his daughter coming to him in the night as a lover, would have killed her if she hadn't fled. Ovid tells us (in the Metamorphoses book X) that Myrrha begged the gods to transform her, and she was turned into a tree, from which Adonis was birthed later and described as:

The lovely babe was born with ev'ry grace,
Ev'n envy must have prais'd so fair a face: 
and then later:

A babe, a boy, a beauteous youth appears, 
And lovelier than himself at riper years. 
Now to the queen of love he gave desires, 
And, with her pains, reveng'd his mother's fires. 

The queen of love obviously meaning Aphrodite/Venus, who is described thusly, after falling in love with Adonis:

Ev'n Heav'n itself with all its sweets unsought,
Adonis far a sweeter Heav'n is thought.
On him she hangs, and fonds with ev'ry art,
And never, never knows from him to part. 
 And for a change, we get a romantic, even tender, view of the love between these two, when Ovid goes on to describe one of their particular moments together. Maybe because Aphrodite is a woman, and so it isn't all about the sex, though there is certainly the impression of desire, but this is a far cry from the down and dirty they-got-it-on that we usually get with Zeus and Poseidon:

We may secure delightfully repose.
With her Adonis here be Venus blest;
And swift at once the grass and him she prest.
Then sweetly smiling, with a raptur'd mind,
On his lov'd bosom she her head reclin'd,
And thus began; but mindful still of bliss,
Seal'd the soft accents with a softer kiss. 
Of course, Adonis manages to get himself gored to death in spite of the fact that Aphrodite warns him EXPLICITLY to be careful of boars and other beasts while hunting. (Apollodorus says Artemis had him killed out of anger, but not what in particular infuriated her about him. Probably something to do with how he hunted, considering the rest of the story.) In any event, Adonis was doomed, and Aphrodite was heartbroken.

I imagine however that Adonis didn't have it all that bad in the Underworld since Persephone was in love with him, too. Poor, poor boy, how he suffers!


  1. Aw, this one is sweet. Usually the gods are disguising themselves or doing sneaky things. No wonder books and TV shows refer to Adonis as the almighty hunk. (Forgive me if I'm totally wrong - I don't know much about mythology but I'm learning thanks to you!)

  2. No, you're right. The tone of this myth is totally different. But of course you wouldn't really hear about a man being raped. And also, Aphrodite was pricked by Eros and made to fall in love with Adonis (according to Ovid, but Apollodorus just says he was that beautiful she fell in love because of it), so she's the one who is kind of the victim still, between that and losing Adonis to the boar.

  3. My guess is Aphrodite *was* taken with Adonis's beauty but wanted to blame someone else for her lust, so she came up with the story about Eros pricking her. Women are funny like that. :) Okay, maybe not.

    Fun post, Amalia, despite the unhappily ever after.


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