Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Birth of Adonis

In his version of an ancient Greek myth, Ovid tells what he calls the horrible story of Myrrha developing an incestuous passion for her father, the king of Cyprus. After becoming pregnant, she flees to escape punishment and appeals to the gods to take pity on her. She is transformed into a myrrh tree, whose bark later bursts open to give birth to Adonis.

Baby Mary being given to her mother
Marcantonio Franceschini (1690), The Birth of Adonis, Dresden State Museum

According to legend, the tree has ever since shed tears in the form of aromatic myrrh. It should also be mentioned that in another myth Adonis was so handsome that he caused Venus to fall in love with him, but neglected her warnings and is fatally gored by a boar.

Baby Adonis being born from the Myrrh tree
Titian (detail) National Gallery, London
Adonis being born from the Myrrh tree
Sebastiano del Piombo. Museo Civico, La Spezia




Summer 2016   |  Sections  |  Birth, Pregnancy, & Obstetrics

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