Roman Mythology

Ovid and the Metamorphoses

What is the myth of Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus, and Adonis?

Book Ten contains the myth of Venus and Adonis, Ovid’s embellished version of an earlier Greek Adonis myth. Leading up to the Adonis myth is a complex background. A man named Pygmalion is disgusted by the immorality of women, so he decides to make his own perfect woman in the form of a statue. He falls in love with the statue and begs the gods to bring it to life for him. The gods comply and the result is a beautiful son, Cinyras. Cinyras eventually has a daughter, Myrrha, who unfortunately falls in love with him and tricks him into several nights of incestuous love. When her father discovers the trick he tries to kill Myrrha, but the gods turn her into a tree to save her. As she had been pregnant, her child, Adonis, is born from the tree.

This complex tale of uncontrollable love then continues when Cupid inadvertently pierces his mother, Venus, with one of his arrows, causing her to fall desperately in love with Adonis. When Adonis is killed by a wild boar while hunting, Venus mourns her loss. She sprinkles his blood with nectar and a blood-red flower emerges from the earth.


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