The very different figures of Artemis and Echo are brought together in the last of the three myths relevant to Dorian's encounter with Sibyl. This is Ovid's version of the myth of Adonis, to whom Lord Henry likens Dorian on first seeing Basil's portrait of him (p. 3, cf. p. 114). The myth tells how Cupid, while kissing his mother, Venus (= Aphrodite), happens to scratch her breast with an arrow protruding from his quiver. The next person whom Venus sees is Adonis. She immeditately falls in love with him, and leaves Mount Olympus to follow him in his pursuits:
Though her wont has always been to take her ease in the shade, and to enhance her beauty by fostering it, now, over mountain ridges, through the woods, over rocky places set with thorns, she ranges with her garments girt up to her knees after the manner of Diana (= Artemis). She also cheers on the hounds and pursues those creatures which are safe to hunt, such as the headlong hares, or the stag with high-branching horns, or the timid doe; but from wild boars she keeps away. [1984, p. 103]
One day, Venus warns Adonis to beware of wild beasts, for "Neither youth nor beauty, nor the things which have moved Venus, move lions and bristling boars and the eyes and minds of wild beasts" (p. 103). But the boy's "manly courage would not brook advice" (p. 115). He goes hunting, is gored by a wild boar, and killed.
Once again, the myth reveals a male perspective. Adonis is the mortal; Venus, a goddess. Thus, her infatuation with him primarily represents a male experience of the feminine. The personification of sexual love has come down from Heaven, so enamoured with Adonis that she is prepared to dress herself as Artemis so as to be able to join him in his pursuits. In psychological terms, this means that the anima as sexual passion has emerged from unconsciousness. But, because the male subject is not ready to relate to this new element "as she is", he retains her in an Artemis-stage of development.
The parallel with the story of Narcissus and Echo is obvious. Both Narcissus and Adonis avoid sexuality. Adonis refuses to commit himself to Venus, and the myth suggests that the price for evading such a relationship is death: cf. Lord Henry's reflection "There was something fascinating in this son of Love and Death" (p. 36). Sibyl tells Dorian of her love for him; he responds by leaving her, Adonis-like, to search for other 'sensations that would be at once new and delightful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so essential to romance" (p. 132). He is an example from literature of what Jung called the extraverted intuition type. He abandons Sibyl because she no longer represents "romance" for him: "You have spoiled the romance of my life," he tells her (p. 87). Just as Venus warns Adonis against hunting lions and boars, so Sibyl warns Dorian against her brother:
"Don't go away from me. I couldn't bear it. Oh! don't go away from me. My brother ... No; never mind. He didn't mean it. He was in jest ..." [p. 87]
But James Vane does mean it, and it is only an accident which prevents him from his revenge. In Ovid, the boar suggests nothing more than Adonis's unconscious lust. But in the version of the story recorded in The Library, which is usually attributed to Apollodorus, Adonis is "wounded and killed in hunting by a boar through the anger of Artemis" (p. 85). James Vane is prompted to revenge by Sibyl as "Artemis".
The most intriguing aspect of Ovid's version of the story of Adonis is that Venus behaves as if she were Diana (Artemis). Adonis prefers his familiar pursuits to the company of Venus. Hunting symbolizes a quest to understand one's instinctual nature, and Artemis is also a huntress. Thus one arrives at a paradoxical formula: because Adonis is not ready to "value" relationship as sexual union, he condemns himself to an eternal quest of self-discovery, whose objective is the discovery of the "value" of sexuality. Adonis is punished because his Desire is not sufficiently developed to contain (= respond to) an image of Aphrodite.
- Introduction: Fear of the Feminine-Private in the Picture of Dorian Gray
- Music: Emotion and Feeling
- Actaeon and Artemis
- Narcissus and Echo
- Adonis and Venus
- Fear of the Feminine
- Confusion of the Anima and the Self
- Wilde: The Persona and the Authentic Unconscious
Last modified 7 March 2002