In Greek mythology, Adonis was a remarkably handsome youth who was loved by the goddess Aphrodite. He was popular throughout the Greek world, and colorful festivals took place in honor of his death and supposed rebirth.
According to legend, Aphrodite fell in love with Adonis when he was an infant. To keep him safe from harm, she hid him in a box and left him with Persephone, the goddess of the underworld*. After looking into the box, Persephone also fell in love with Adonis and refused to return him to Aphrodite. To settle the conflict between the goddesses, Zeus decided that Adonis would spend spring and summer with Aphrodite and autumn and winter with Persephone. During the time when Adonis was with Aphrodite, crops and plants flourished. During his time with Persephone, vegetation died. The Greeks used the myth to explain the seasonal changes.
* underworld kingdom of the dead; also called Hades
Adonis loved to hunt, but his passion for hunting eventually led to his death. Although Aphrodite warned him of the dangers of hunting, he ignored her advice. He was killed by a wild boar, probably Hephaestus (Aphrodite’s jealous husband) in disguise. As Adonis lay dying, drops of his blood fell upon the soil and a beautiful flower—a red anemone—sprang from the spot. The blossoming of the anemone each year in the autumn symbolized his death.
The festival of Adonis, celebrated mainly by women, included various rituals, such as mourning his death, rejoicing at his symbolic rebirth each spring, and placing pots of herbs and flowers (called gardens of Adonis) on rooftops. At the end of the festival, worshipers flung the ceremonial plants, along with images of the dead Adonis, into the sea. (See also Divinities.)