Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An anemone for Adonis


[Parts of this have been edited for readability with a bit added.]

Metamorphoses 10 closes with the pathos of the immortal goddess Venus losing her beloved Adonis. Thus end the tales of Orpheus, with the death of Venus's young lover mirroring the singer's loss of Eurydice at the beginning of this book.

Orpheus's Venus creates the anemone from Adonis's blood with nectar - from the Greek, nektar, said to derive from "overcoming death." The mention of the pomegranate - punica granatum - recalls the seeds eaten by Proserpina, whose tale, sung by Calliope, closed the first five books of the poem.

The linking of Orpheus, Venus, Adonis, and Proserpina is probably quite intentional.
The myth of Proserpina, the most extensive Latin version of which is by Claudian (4th century AD), is closely connected with that of Orpheus and Eurydice. In Virgil's writings; it is Proserpina, as Queen of Hades, who allows Orpheus to enter and bring back to life his wife Eurydice after she is killed by a venomous snake.[5] Proserpina played her cetra to quiet Cerberus,[6] but Orpheus did not respect her order never to look back, and Eurydice was lost. (WP: Proserpina)
See also the Orphic Hymn to Adonis:
Rejoicing in the chace, all-graceful pow'r,
Sweet plant of Venus, Love's delightful flow'r:
Descended from the secret bed divine,
Of lovely-hair'd, infernal Proserpine.
Here's the ending of Book 10:

Add caption
When, from the heights, she saw the lifeless body lying in its own blood, she leapt down, tearing her clothes, and tearing at her hair as well, and beat at her breasts with fierce hands, complaining to the fates. “And yet not everything is in your power” she said. “Adonis, there shall be an everlasting token of my grief, and every year an imitation of your death will complete a re-enactment of my mourning. But your blood will be changed into a flower. Persephone, you were allowed to alter a woman’s body, Menthe’s, to fragrant mint: shall the transformation of my hero, of the blood of Cinyras, be grudged to me?” So saying, she sprinkled the blood with odorous nectar: and, at the touch, it swelled up, as bubbles emerge in yellow mud. In less than an hour, a flower, of the colour of blood, was created such as pomegranates carry, that hide their seeds under a tough rind. But enjoyment of it is brief; for, lightly clinging, and too easily fallen, the winds deflower it, which are likewise responsible for its name, windflower: anemone.’

punica granatum

questaque cum fatis "at non tamen omnia vestri
iuris erunt" dixit. "luctus monimenta manebunt          
semper, Adoni, mei, repetitaque mortis imago
annua plangoris peraget simulamina nostri;
at cruor in florem mutabitur. an tibi quondam
femineos artus in olentes vertere mentas,
Persephone, licuit: nobis Cinyreius heros        
invidiae mutatus erit?" sic fata cruorem
nectare odorato sparsit, qui tinctus ab illo
intumuit sic, ut fulvo perlucida caeno
surgere bulla solet, nec plena longior hora
facta mora est, cum flos de sanguine concolor ortus,              
qualem, quae lento celant sub cortice granum,
punica ferre solent; brevis est tamen usus in illo;
namque male haerentem et nimia levitate caducum
excutiunt idem, qui praestant nomina, venti.'


  1. The Orphic hymn is interesting, and IMO deserves fresh literal translation. germen amoris means like "sprout of love" or "bud of love" rather than "flower of love," although it is the plant of love, so any part of the plant is love-linked. I think what is generally related is a growing cycle. The last sentence intriguing: Huc sis flaminibus deducens germina terrae. Does flaminibus like "by the blasting winds" or "by the priests?" Are the winds or priests driving sprouts or buds "to the ground," or does germina terrae mean "sprouts of the earth?" Stumps me.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. Where did you find the Latin version? It must be an attempt to translate this:

    56. Ἀδώνιδος, θυμίαμα ἀρώματα
    Κλῦθί μου εὐχομένου, πολυώνυμε, δαῖμον ἄριστε,
    ἁβροκόμη, φιλέρημε, βρύων ὠιδαῖσι ποθειναῖς,
    Εὐβουλεῦ, πολύμορφε, τροφεῦ πάντων ἀρίδηλε,
    κούρη καὶ κόρε, σὺ πᾶσιν θάλος αἰέν, Ἄδωνι,
    σβεννύμενε λάμπων τε καλαῖς ἐν κυκλάσιν ὥραις,
    αὐξιθαλής, δίκερως, πολυήρατε, δακρυότιμε,
    ἀγλαόμορφε, κυναγεσίοις χαίρων, βαθυχαῖτα,
    ἱμερόνους, Κύπριδος γλυκερὸν θάλος, ἔρνος Ἔρωτος,
    Φερσεφόνης ἐρασιπλοκάμου λέκτροισι λοχευθεῖς,
    ὃς ποτὲ μὲν ναίεις ὑπὸ Τάρταρον ἠερόεντα,
    ἠδὲ πάλιν πρὸς Ὄλυμπον ἄγεις δέμας ὡριόκαρπον·
    ἐλθέ, μάκαρ, μύσταισι φέρων καρποὺς ἀπὸ γαίης

    The entire edition can be downloaded here

  3. You can find it paired with the Greek at gbooks under titles like:

    Orphei Argonautica Hymni Libellus De Lapidibus Et Fragmenta

    There is an issue whether it is a translation. Some say Scaliger translated it from Greek. Or did Scaliger or others just gather the Latin version? More importantly, the English translation "Love's delightful flow'r" is wrong. ἔρνος Ἔρωτος means "sprout" or "shoot" "of love."
    The Latin version has it in agreement, "germen amoris." But where the Greek ends καρποὺς ἀπὸ γαίης "fruits of the earth," the Latin has "germina terrae" shoots or buds "of the earth" or "to the ground." If it was just a translation, why not use a Latin word for fruit? Also, why membra for ὡριόκαρπον? I looked at this briefly a while back for a project, but dropped it. I will go back to the Scaliger issue whether he did some weird translation, or he collected the Latin, and it is the real goods. One thing for sure, there is not much care out there about the Latin Orphic hymns, and whether or not Scaliger translated them. My small research came via interests in botany and Adonis, not the hymns.

  4. I can see now there is more than one Latin "translation." Klutstein in her book Marsilio Ficino et la Theologie Ancienne shows a few songs (31, 87)from two Latin sources, a Laurentian source, and from Vaticanus, the latter clearly a poetry-avoiding translation. I cannot find either Latin text available on line, so I cannot compare to the Latin first avaiable in Gesper's 18th c. book seems at hand. Later edition add Scaliger's annotations, which might be the source of the idea Scaliger created the Latin text. It's a jumbled affair, and that's it for me, so on an off chance someone interested in the Latin traditions of the Orphic Hymns comes upon this page, I hope I helped you a little.

    Tom, I like your blog much.

    1. Thank you for your observations and notes. Your projects sound quite interesting.

      I'm not familiar with Klutstein's work, but will have a look. Currently there is some sort of access issue with Blogger - at least for me - so things might be quiet around here for a while. - tm

  5. French and theatrical version of the myth here:
    "Poetic theater, the meter is the French alexandrine with caesura. From Louis Latourre's script 'Adonis' "

  6. Thank you, lilias - I take it this is the source: