Even the Boar Loved Adonis

Marcantonio Franceschini - "The Birth of Adonis," 1690. Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Aphrodite and Adonis, Attic red-figure aryballos-shaped lekythos by Aison, ca. 410 BC, Louvre. PD Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Aphrodite and Adonis, Attic red-figure aryballos-shaped lekythos by Aison, ca. 410 BC, Louvre. PD Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen.

I can just imagine the gods talking amongst themselves about consequences: “Well, Zeus, pater, you do know that if you do that, mater Hera will give you the look and make you look elsewhere for sleeping quarters.” Zeus’ eyes begin to sparkle — but not with tears: “Exactly, my wise son!”

What difference would it make to Zeus if his wife punished him for his infidelities by sending him out to engage in more?

The gods and especially the goddesses seemed to take it very badly when a mortal neglected their rites. The scenario always reminds me of the fairy who was not invited to Sleeping Beauty’s infant reception who then vented her wrath with a potent curse on the kingdom. In Greek mythology, the story goes that Eris, goddess of Strife, started the Trojan War because she was not invited to the wedding of the future parents of Achilles. Eris was,  like Zeus, a Teflon-god, but not all gods were so impervious to risk and damage.

Because she could feel love, Aphrodite was less fortunate. Zeus might say, about a murdered offspring, “Meh! What’s it to me? I have a million others out there.” Aphrodite is a different matter, but even so, she required her due and she didn’t stop to think there could be consequences. Thus, she failed to see that a curse, of sorts, she had put on a mortal woman (sometimes called Myrrh or Smyrna) would bounce back at her.

Pseudo-Apollodrus tells what happened when this young, unmarried woman failed to give Aphrodite her due: Aphrodite caused the mortal to conceive a passion for the one person towards whom it was expressly taboo.

In consequence of the wrath of Aphrodite, for she did not honor the goddess, this Smyrna conceived a passion for her father, and with the complicity of her nurse she shared her father’s bed without his knowledge for twelve nights. But when he was aware of it, he drew his sword and pursued her, and being overtaken she prayed to the gods that she might be invisible; so the gods in compassion turned her into the tree which they call smyrna (myrrh).
Pseudo Apollodorus, translated by J.G. Frazer

So Myrrh paid the price and Aphrodite might have been content, especially now that she had been delighted with a new woody fragrance. But Aphrodite was not so fortunate. Having disposed of the insolent young woman, who had conceived by her father, Aphrodite thought it was the end of the story. She was wrong. Once a pregnant woman, the myrrh was now a pregnant tree without a woman’s delivery system, so in due course, the tree could do nothing but split itself to let the infant come tumbling out. This neonate was a beauty and so the goddess of love and beauty was captivated.

She wanted him all to herself, but he needed to grow up first, so she sent him off to his rearing as was the traditional story of what happened to children in the myths, hidden in a chest, as had happened in Greek myth about Perseus and his Zeus-impregnated mother, Danae, and in the Hebrew Bible with Moses, more or less. She sent the chest off to her good friend Persephone, the wife of the god of the Underworld, Hades.

Persephone helped the love goddess on occasion and willingly took on the new charge, but that was until she saw the child. Oh, she wold rear him all right, but give him back to Aphrodite? Never. He was too gorgeous and she was too smitten. One look at him was all it had taken. Instead of giving him back to Aphrodite, she wanted him to share her fate. As a young goddess, she had once been abducted and almost forced to stay below forever when she broke the taboo against eating in the Underworld. To save humanity, the other gods intervened. Now, Persephone planned to trap the child below, but the gods intervened, again, and devised a similar arrangement to the one Persephone had followed. She and and the child, Adonis, would live in the Underworld for part of the year and on Earth in the other part.

“Those who, by permission of the Parcae [Moirai, Fates], returned from the lower world … Adonis, son of Cinyras and Zmyrna, by wish of Venus [Aphrodite].
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 251:

Zeus settles the custody battle over Adonis, but Persephone appears not to have been too happy. That may have been why she sent the boar after Adonis: once he was dead, Persephone would no longer have to let him return to the land of the living.

Ten months afterwards the tree burst and Adonis, as he is called, was born, whom for the sake of his beauty, while he was still an infant, Aphrodite hid in a chest unknown to the gods and entrusted to Persephone. But when Persephone beheld him, she would not give him back. The case being tried before Zeus, the year was divided into three parts, and the god ordained that Adonis should stay by himself for one part of the year, with Persephone for one part, and with Aphrodite for the remainder. However Adonis made over to Aphrodite his own share in addition; but afterwards in hunting he was gored and killed by a boar.

The boar may not have meant to kill the lovely lad. He may just have wanted to give him a peck on the cheek. Doesn’t matter. The love goddess was distraught and that boar was going to pay for it, since Aphrodite couldn’t reasonably injure the queen of the Underworld.

When the Cytherean saw Adonis dead, his hair dishevelled and his cheeks wan and place, she bade the Loves go fetch her the boar, and they forthwith flew away and scoured the woods till they found the sullen boar. Then they shacked him both before and behind, and one did put a noose about the prisoner’s neck and so drag him, and another belaboured him with his bow and so did drive, and the craven beast went along in abject dread of the Cytherean. Then upspake Aphrodite saying, “Vilest of all beasts, can it be thou that didst despite to this fair thigh, and thou that didst strike my husband?” To which the beast “I swear to thee, Cytherean,” answered he, “by thyself and by thy husband, and by these my bonds and these thy huntsmen, never would I have smitten thy pretty husband but that I saw him there beautiful as a statue, and could not withstand the burning mad desire to give his naked thigh a kiss. And now I pray thee make good havoc of me; pray take and cut off these tusks, pray take and punish them – for why should I possess teeth so passionate? And if they suffice thee not, then take my chaps also – for why durst they kiss?” Then had Cypris compassion and bade the Loves loose his bonds; and he went not to the woods, but from that day forth followed her, and more, went to the fire and burnt away those his tusks away.
The Greek Bucolic Poets. Translated by Edmonds, J M. Loeb Classical Library Volume 28. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. 1912.

  • “The Sexuality of Adonis,” by Joseph D. Reed; Classical Antiquity, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Oct., 1995), pp. 317-347.

Based on one of my Myth Mondays,  at http://ancienthistory.about.com/b/2012/06/11/myth-monday-adonis.htm.


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