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This week on Crash Course World Mythology, it's the Circle of Life. And Death. And sometimes, Life again. Mike Rugnetta is teaching you about Dying Gods, by which I mean gods that die, and then return to life. You'll learn about the Corn Mother from Native American Traditions, Adonis of the Greek and Roman pantheon, Odin of the Norse, and a little about the most famous dying deity, Jesus. These aren't all the dying gods in the world, but it's a good introduction to the archetype.

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Hey there. I'm Mike Rugnetta, this is Crash Course Mythology, and today we're going to talk about the dying god, a specific archetype of god that might seem counterintuitive considering lots of the myths we've already talked about feature gods who are immortal. The dying god trope, though, is one found in many regions throughout the world, but especially in the Greco Hellenistic Roman, which includes Egypt. Don't worry though, Thoth is fine. He's just more of like a death secretary. Alright, let's go.

[theme music]

The dying god is - you guessed it - a god who dies, and is often, but not always, reborn. Sometimes gods die for the benefit of their people, in which case they're a savior, as we discussed in a previous episode. Other times the god is reborn, actually or symbolically, so these stories also have something in common with the myths that represent regeneration or seasonal rebirth. 

In the West, the most well-known story of a dying god is, of course, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We're not going to get into that one here because it's a widely studied story that y'all are likely familiar with. Instead, let's start with an iconic dying god from ancient Greece, the story of Adonis. Nowadays, calling some dude an Adonis is shorthand for saying that he is super hot, but originally, Adonis was the Greco-Roman version of a Semitic god, sometimes identified with Osiris. In Semitic languages like Hebrew, Adonis's name is Adonai, or Lord, so Adonis's significance goes way beyond killer abs.

In some versions of the Adonis story, his mother was a virgin. In others, he's the result of incest between his mother and her father, a king. Still other versions claim that Adonis may have been born out of a myrrh tree. So for those of you keeping track at home, we've had several brain babies, a thigh baby, one stone baby, and now, our first tree birth.

Probably the best known version of the Adonis myth comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which details Venus's mad love for the beautiful young god. However, we can't give Adonis all the credit. Venus only fell for him after one of Cupid's arrows grazed her breast. She leaves Olympus to chase Adonis around the woods. She warns him not to be too risky in his hunting, but, as you can probably guess, Adonis does not listen. He's killed by a boar that gores him in the groin. Yeowch! 

When she finds him dying, Venus is distraught. Ovid writes that she ripped "her garments, tore her lovely hair and bitterly beat her breast," and vowed, "memorials of my sorrow, Adonis, shall endure; each passing year your death repeated in the hearts of men shall re-enact my grief and my lament. But now your blood shall change into a flower." Brutal. Venus, history's first black metal lyricist.

She then sprinkles nectar on Adonis's blood and it transforms into a red anemone flower. This flower is born, lives, dies, and is reborn again each year, like flowers do, so it's a symbolic reminder of the cyclical nature of the seasons, and perhaps our grief. Thoth! You getting all misty-eyed? Or is it just allergies? Seeing the same flower die every year might be kind of sad, but in another way, it's a hopeful symbol for the idea that maybe death isn't final after all.
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