Adonis, Incest, and Myrrh

Like a blood diamond, this vision of beauty was plucked from the mire of tragic circumstance.

By Rudolf Ernst -, Public Domain,

Did you know Adonis was born of an incestuous union between his grandfather and sister? That is, a daughter deceitfully slept with her father. Legend has it that the princess Myrrha tricked her father into having sex by disguising herself as a young veiled maiden in his court. To her credit, she tried to deny her own feelings for a long time but she could not help herself. When done with the deed, she could not stand the shame—doubly so when her father learned the truth of what he had just been tricked into doing. Pregnant, Myrrha fled the land and roamed ancient Arabia till she fell to her knees, unable to stand herself.

               In a prayer to the gods, she asked that she be punished, requesting to neither curse the living nor the dead with her disgraceful presence. The gods took pity on her case. So, she was transformed into a tree as she prayed this, doubled over in agony, crying, and swollen in her pregnancy. This form can oft be seen in the myrrh tree to this day, which has a slight bend in its trunk. Her penitent tears honored the gods and transformed into the sap of the tree—the famous myrrh of Baby Jesus’ gold, frankincense, and myrrh—and became infused with benevolent properties useful in medicine and perfumery

               As for the baby in utero, he was saved. The goddess of childbirth, Hymen, plucked the innocent babe from the swollen trunk of the tree. And Adonis was its name. Yes, that mythological Adonis we have been taught was the ideal of male beauty.

               Now don’t go getting any ideas out there, ladies. You may want to have a beautiful son for yourself, but cool your jets. Ovid, the Roman writer who once popularized this tale labeled it an outright fiction, and—as if more precaution be needed—he warned that the taboo deed done by Myrrha was among the most wicked deeds a human being could commit, incest being a heinous act. And Dante placed her in his Inferno. Ovid explained that Myrrah struggled with her desires, but they were impossible to avoid because the Fates had decreed this torment for her. So, let us learn from her sins.

               The glimmer of the taboo may catch your eye, but digesting its bitter fruit is a tortuous affair. Enjoy the story from afar if on moral ground you stand.

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