|Orpheus & Eurydice (1864)
Hymen did not bless the wedding of Orpheus, and what a mess! (I’m losing my narrative tone, aren’t I?) His bride, Eurydice, while crossing the meadow with her Naiad friends, stepped on a viper and died. After his weeping ceased, he travelled to the Underworld to seek his cherished wife. Playing sweetly on his lyre, he begged the gods to restore her to life, and so beautiful his song that even the bloodless shades shed tears and the Furies wept. By his skill and love, Orpheus won his wife back, but was warned as he was leading her out, to only look straight ahead or she would be reclaimed by the dead. Nearly in the upper world, Orpheus could not resist looking at her, and as his eyes fell upon her, he watched her sink back into the abyss. Frantic, he ranged the banks of the Styx like a shade, then finally left the Underworld.
Three years went by and Orpheus, in his grief, shunned the love of women. He spent days playing his lyre, and playing it so sweetly that even the trees came to listen. We learn of a youth, Cyparissus, who had a stag he treated almost like a pet. Tragically, one day his javelin accidently pierced the stag, killing it, and Cyparissus was so distraught that he begged the gods to let him grieve forever. In response, they transformed him into a cypress tree.
source Wikimedia Commons
Opheus now goes into a prologue, plucking his lyre and announcing that he will sing of “boys the gods have loved, and girls incited by unlawful lust and passions, who paid the penalty for their transgressions.”
Singing, Orpheus tells how the lusts of Jove raged for the Phrygian, Ganymede, so he transformed himself into a bird, “one with force enough to carry Jove’s thunderbolts,” and snatched up the Trojan boy. Even now, Ganymede is a page for Jove, preparing nectar for him and filling his cups.
Phoebus Apollo loved Hyacinthus, a Spartan boy, and was his close comrade. In competition, as Phoebus threw a discus, Hyacinthus recklessly rushed to pick it up, only to have it rebound with great force back into his face, killing him. Phoebus, blaming himself, wished to die as well, but death was denied him so he claimed the boy would be a new flower on which his lament was inscribed: “Ajax” would be stamped on his petals. With his own hand, he wrote “AI” and Sparta honours Hyacinthus each year with the Hyacinthus festival.
The Cerastes polluted the altar of Jove with the blood of guests, appalling Venus who made ready to leave Cyprus. But thinking awhile of the dear sites and towns, she instead transformed them into savage bulls.
The Propoetides declared that Venus was not a goddess, and for their audacity, the girls, who were the first prostitutes, were transformed into hard stones.
|Pygmalion & Galatea (c. 1890)
Repulsed by the shameful acts of women, Pygmalion is determined not to take a wife, instead, carving a beautiful woman from a block of ivory. Enchanted with his creation, he desires a wife like her, and Venus, understanding his prayers, answers. This time when Pygmalion kisses the statue, as usual, he feels warm lips and flesh. After the wedding, his wife gives birth to Paphos and since, Cypress is called the Paphian isle.
The son of Paphos, Cinyras, would have found happiness where it not for his misfortune of having daughters. Myrrha, loves her father in an unnatural way. To subdue this perfidy, she attempts to hang herself but her nurse interrupts the deed and pledges her assistance. During the feast honouring Ceres, they trick the king into sleeping with her, until he finally recognizes her, and drawing his sword attempts to kill her but, Myrrha flees. Pregnant, she escapes “palm-rich Arabia and Panchaea’s lands” coming at last to the Sabaeans’ land where she prays to be denied both life and death. At this prayer, she is metamorphised into a Myrrh tree.
Even though Myrrha is now a tree, her child is still ready to be born and Lucina, goddess of chidbirth, speak a spell and Adonis is born. Set in a meadow by the Naiads, he is anointed with myrrh, his mother’s tears, and his beauty is unsurpassed.
|The Awakening of Adonis (1899)
John William Waterhouse
Adonis grows into manhood and as he grows, so does his beauty. Venus, the goddess herself, is in love with him. She is scratched by Cupid’s arrow and cannot suppress her desire for this mortal, and neglects all her duties, sinking into a pining admiration for him. She warns him against being reckless and about wild animals, then cuddling him on the grass, she tells him a story.
John William Godward
Atalanta is a girl faster than the fastest of men. The oracle instructs her to shun marriage and if she does not, she will remain alive but lose herself. Terrified, she lives in the shadowy forest but suitors still seek her out so she devises a plan, telling all that she would marry the one who could best her in a footrace, but those who lost would surely die. Hippomenes, at first scoffs at the contenders, but when he sees Atalanta’s splendid “form”, he too desires her for a wife. Atalanta bests all the suitors, but Hippomenes challenges her to a one-on-one race. Atalanta enjoys his attention and agrees, yet while they prepare for the race, Hippomenes prays to Venus who gives him three golden apples. During the race, he drops an apple at a time and Atalanta, drawn by their beauty, swerves to pick them up. With the first two apples, she is able to catch up but with the last apple’s distraction, Hippomenes is able to win the race and his bride. Stupidly, the hero forgets to thank his benefactress, Venus, who causes him to have an overwhelming desire for his wife near a shrine and they defile it with their lovemaking, causing the goddess Cybele to change them into two lions. The story is a warning to Adonis to avoid wild beasts, and Venus sails away in her chariot.
Adonis youthful ignorance supersedes all warnings and he hunts the wild boar, wounding the animal but not killing it. The boar turns on him, impaling him in the groin (ouch!) and his life ebbs away. Venus, hearing his groans, rushes to him but he is dead. She transforms the blood of the young man into the Anenome flower, a flower that is brilliantly beautiful but quickly fades to death.
|Venus Weeping Over Adonis (c. 1625)