It is said that Adonis was born of the illicit union between King Theias of Smyrna and his daughter Myrrha at Byblos. Urged on by Aphrodite herself, the goddess of beauty, love and sexual desire, who had been offended when King Theias forgot to make a sacrifice for her, Myrrha had made unsuccessful amorous advances towards her father. One night, she managed to lure him out into the open and there under cover of darkness she laid with him. As dawn broke, Theias discovered to his utter disgust the deception of his daughter and with sword in hand chased her into the wild, wanting to punish her.
Sensing Myrrha’s necessity, Aphrodite transformed her into a tree, the myrrh tree. Still in anger, Theias shot an arrow into the tree trunk, splitting it wide open and it was from there that Adonis was born. Since there was no one to look after him, Aphrodite took him under her wing. So obsessed was she with him that she began neglecting her duties as a goddess. As a remedial measure, she sent the child to be looked after by Persephone, the Queen of the Dead in the Underworld. However, Persephone, too, fell dearly in love with Adonis and refused to give him up when Aphrodite came for him. There was a bitter argument and Zeus had to intervene, deciding that every year Adonis would spend 4 months first with Persephone, the next 4 months with Aphrodite and the last 4 months he would be left alone, so that he may learn to look after himself.
Adonis grew up to be a very handsome young man in the hills above Byblos. He loved the great outdoors and was a master of the hunt. Once, when Aphrodite was to go away for a few days, she warned Adonis not to stray too far into the forest while hunting. At the same time, she told him to stay away from any beast that did not run away from him. However, neglecting Aphrodite’s warning, he plunged deep into the forest. There he came upon a wild boar and no matter how much he tried, he could not scare it away. The boar attacked Adonis and with one massive heave of its head pierced the young man with its tusk. It is said that the boar, was the god Ares, who was one of Aphrodite’s many lovers. Jealous of her passion for Adonis, Ares disguised himself in the form of a boar and attacked the young man.
Hearing the screams of her beloved Adonis, Aphrodite immediately headed for the forest, kneeling by his side, she sprinkled nectar over the wound. A smile caressed Adonis’ countenance, as he silently passed away into the Realm of the Dead. The nectar that Aphrodite sprinkled on Adonis’ wound had turned the droplets of his blood into beautiful red anemones, while the rest of his blood flowed, becoming the River Adonis, which is today known as the river Nahr Ibrahim.
Persephone greeted Adonis with arms wide open as he entered the underworld. Aphrodite, knowing that her Adonis must be in the clutches of Persephone, rushed to the underworld to bring him back. Once again, Zeus had to intervene and stop the women from quarrelling over who would have rightful possession of Adonis. They agreed that Adonis would spend half the year with Aphrodite in the hills of Byblos during spring and summer and the other half with Persephone.
With Adonis’s death comes spring and at this time in a small village, Afqa, there is an ancient grotto where every spring the river swells and runs red with the iron from within the mountains. This natural phenomenon is associated with being the blood of Adonis, who according to the myth turned into this short lived flower, Anemone coronaria, which leaves’ are blood red and originates from around the Mediterranean.
In his honor “Adonis gardens” were grown by sprouting seeds in a dish, which sprang up bright and green, but then perished. This was done every year in memory of his life and death. At the same time, a period of mourning was declared during which women would wail and expose their breasts in an expression of grief. After seven days of mourning, Adonis was reborn amid effusive celebration and festivities.