Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 46

Venus and Adonis.

Venus, however, did not lavish all her love upon Mars, for she is said to have felt a tender passion for a young man named Adonis, a bold young hunter, whose rash pursuit of dangerous game caused Venus many anxious alarms. In vain she besought him to forego the pleasures of the chase and remain with her. He laughingly escaped, and continued to join the other hunters in his favorite sport. But, alas! one day, after an exciting pursuit, he boldly attacked a wild boar, which, goaded to madness, turned upon him, buried his strong tusk in the youth’s unprotected side, and trampled him to death.

“The white tusk of a boar has transpierced his white thigh.
* * *
“The youth lieth dead while his dogs howl around,
And the nymphs weep aloud from the mists of the hill.”
Bion (Mrs. Browning’s tr.).

Venus ran straight to the scene of his tragic death, rushing through underbrush and briers, tearing her delicate skin, and her blood tingeing all the white roses along her way to a faint pink. When she arrived, she found her beloved Adonis cold in death, and her passionate caresses met with no response. Then she burst into such a passion of tears, that the wood and water nymphs, the gods, men, and all nature in fact, joined with her to mourn the beloved youth.

“Her loss the Loves deplore:
Woe, Venus, woe! Adonis is no more.”
Bion (Elton’s tr.).
Refer to caption


Very reluctantly Mercury at last appeared to lead the soul of the departed down into the Infernal Regions, where it was [110] welcomed by Proserpina, queen of the realm, and led to the place where pure and virtuous mortals enjoyed an eternity of bliss. Venus, still inconsolable, shed countless tears, which, as they dropped upon the ground, were changed to anemones, while the red drops which had fallen from Adonis’ side were transformed into red roses.

“As many drops as from Adonis bled,
So many tears the sorrowing Venus shed:
For every drop on earth a flower there grows:
Anemones for tears; for blood the rose.”
Bion (Elton’s tr.).

As time did not soften Venus’ grief, but, on the contrary, made it more and more unendurable, she went to Olympus, where she fell at Jupiter’s feet, imploring him to release Adonis from death’s embrace, or allow her to share his lot in Hades.

To allow Beauty to desert the earth was not possible, nor could he resist her pleading: so he finally decreed that Adonis should be restored to her longing arms. But Pluto, whose subject he had now become, refused to yield up Adonis; and after much dispute a compromise was agreed upon, by virtue of which Adonis was allowed to spend one half of the year on earth, providing he spent the remaining six months in the Elysian Fields.