The story of Venus, the Roman counterpart of Greek Goddess Aphrodite, and Adonis is one of the most popular classic Greek myths about lust and rejection. The tragic story is rather an example to indicate that, not even Gods and deities could escape the powerful arrows of God Eros and fell in love with mortals with catastrophic results.
Adonis, a young and energetic man with incredible masculine beauty was the incestuous son of King Cinyras of Paphos in Cyprus and his beautiful daughter Myrrha or Smyrna. A version of the story says that Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, love and passion, mischievously compelled the girl to fall in love and unite with her own father, as she was envious of her beauty. Desiring her own father, Myrrha used to creep to his bed under the cover of darkness and Cinyras, without knowing her identity, had sex with her. However, after several nights, as the king stealthily brought a lamp to catch a glimpse of his secret lover, he became horrified to discover his own daughter in his bed and chased the helpless pregnant girl, intending to kill her. In that disastrous situation, Aphrodite, repenting her deed, transformed the girl into a myrrha tree. After that, a baby boy was born out of the tree, with some help from the goddess Lucina and was named Adonis.
In the course of time, Adonis grew up to become a strong and handsome man, obsessed with the habit of hunting. He had reason to believe that, he was invincible and nothing can do any harm to him. However, contrary to the law of nature, he was not at all interested about love and women. He was only interested in hunting and riding over the hills and the dales, chasing the deer and the fox.
According to Ovid’s version, the physical beauty of Adonis charmed even Aphrodite and she was compelled to desire him. The story goes, one day while playing with her boy Cupid, the god of desire and erotic love, Venus, the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite, carelessly scratched her bosom with one of his arrows, and before it healed, she accidentally had a glimpse of Adonis and immediately fell headlong in love with him.
As her infatuation and lust for Adonis got out of control, she left heaven, followed the man of her desire, and tried her best to cast her seducing charm to persuade Adonis to love her. However, Adonis was not interested and as she talked of love and craved for a kiss, he was all set to go out for hunting. Somehow, Aphrodite was apprehensive about his hunting spree, so she warned him and asked him not to attack the beasts that Nature has armed with weapons.
Next day in the morning, as she was wandering through the woods in search of Adonis, Aphrodite could hear barking if the dogs from a distance. She rushed to the spot to find the bleeding body of Adonis, killed by a fierce wild boar with large tusks.
In some of the versions, either Ares, the God of War and Aphrodite’s frustrated lover, or Hephaestus, her husband, disguised as the boar, killed Adonis out of jealousy. Nevertheless, Aphrodite was devastated, but she did not resign herself to the loss of her beloved. She transformed him into a beautiful red flower growing from his blood, which remains a symbol of her frustrated love.
Adonis, along with Venus started to appear in different forms of art from the late 5th century BC. The mythological story of Adonis was a very popular subject, especially among the post-classical painters. Their works mostly depict the goddess restraining Adonis in the hunt or mourning his death. From the late 5th century BC, Adonis begins to appear in art together with Aphrodite. Painters interested in the mythology of Venus and Adonis include Rubens, Boucher, Poussin, Giordano, Titian, Veronese, and many others. Venus's desperate love for Adonis also became the inspiration for many literary portrayals in Elizabethan literature.