From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Modern association with physical beauty and youth
An extremely attractive, youthful male is often called an Adonis, often with a connotation of deserved vanity: "the office Adonis". The legendary attractiveness of the figure is referenced in Sarrasine by Honore de Balzac, which describes an unrequited love of the main character, Sarrasine for the image in a painting of an Adonis and a castrato. The allusion to extreme physical attractiveness is apparent in the psychoanalytical Adonis Complex which refers to a body image obsession with improving one's physique and youthful appearance.
Myth of Adonis
In the central myth in its Greek telling, Aphrodite fell in love with the beautiful youth (possibly because she had been wounded by Cupid's arrow). The most detailed and literary version of the story of Adonis is a late one, in Book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Aphrodite sheltered him and entrusted him to Persephone. The latter was also taken by Adonis' beauty and refused to give him back to Aphrodite. The dispute between the two goddesses was settled by Zeus (or by Calliope on Zeus' behalf): Adonis was to spend one-third of every year with each goddess and the last third wherever he chose. He chose to spend two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite.
Adonis was killed by a wild boar, said to have been sent variously by Artemis, jealous of Adonis' hunting skills; by Ares, who was jealous of Aphrodite's love for Adonis; or by Apollo, to punish Aphrodite for blinding his son, Erymanthus. Adonis died in Aphrodite's arms, who came to him when she heard his groans. When he died she sprinkled the blood with nectar, from which sprang the short-lived anemone, which takes its name from the wind which so easily makes its petals fall. And so it is the blood of Adonis that each spring turns to red the torrential river, the Adonis River (modern Nahr Ibrahim in Lebanon). Afqa is the sacred source where the waters of the river emerge from a huge grotto in a cliff 200 meters high. It is there that the myth of Astarte (Venus) and Adonis was born.
Cultural references to the rebirth mythology
The myth of the death and rebirth of Adonis has featured prominently in a variety of cultural and artistic works. Giovan Battista Marino's masterpiece, Adone, published in 1623, is a long, sensual poem, which elaborates the myth of Adonis, and represents the transition in Italian literature from Mannerism to the Baroque. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the poem Adonais for John Keats, and uses the myth as an extended metaphor for Keats' death.
Such allusions have continued to the present day. Adonis (an Arabic transliteration of the same name, أدونيس) is the pen name of a famous Syrian poet, Ali Ahmad Said Asbar, who was nominated more than once for a Nobel Prize for literature, including in 2006. His choice of name relates especially to the rebirth element of the myth of Adonis (also called "Tammuz" in Arabic), which was an important theme in mid-20th century Arabic poetry, chiefly amongst followers of the "Free Verse" (الشعر الحر) movement founded by Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. Adunis has used the myth of his namesake in many of his poems, for example in "Wave I", from his most recent book "Start of the Body, End of the Sea" (Saqi, 2002), which includes a complete retelling of the birth of the god.
The Adonis myth and associated artwork is the subject of an episode of the anime series DNAngel. In specific homage paid to the undead archetypes of the myth, an Adonis statue comes to life and lures young girls with vampiric overtones.