Adonis is a complex figure, for the outlines of his tale were fully as a part of the sub-Olympian Greek mythology by Greek and Roman authors, and yet he also retains many deep associations with his Semitic origins. The name "Adonis" is a variation of the Semitic word "Adonai", which means "lord", and which is also one of the names used to refer to YHWH in the Old Testament.
At the beginning of his appearance in Greek myth, there is some confusion as to his parentage and his birth. Hesiod considers this Greek hero to be the son of Phoenix and Aephesiboea, while Apollodorus calls him the son of Cinyras and Metharme. The generally accepted version is that Aphrodite compelled Myrrha (or Smyrna) to commit incest with Theias, her father, the king of Assyria. Her nurse helped her with this trickery to become pregnant, and when Theias discovered this he chased her with a knife. To avoid his wrath the gods turned her into a myrrh tree. The tree later burst open, allowing Adonis to emerge. Another version says that after she slept with her father she hid in a forest where Aphrodite changed her into a tree. Theias struck the tree with an arrow, causing the tree to open and Adonis to be born. Yet another version says a wild boar open the tree with its tusks and freed the child; this is considered to be a foreshadowing of his death.
Once the child was born Aphrodite was so moved by his beauty that she sheltered him and entrusted him to Persephone. She was also taken by his beauty and refused to give him back.
The dispute between the two goddesses, in one version, was settled by Zeus; in others it was settled by Calliope on Zeus' behalf. The decision was that Adonis was to spend one-third of every year with each goddess and the last third wherever he chose. He always chose to spend two-thirds of the year with Aphrodite.
This went on till his death, where he was fatally wounded by a wild boar, said to be caused by Artemis. In some versions his death was caused not by Artemis, but by Aphrodite's lover, Ares, who was jealous of Adonis. Apollo is also said to be responsible because his son, Erymanthus, had seen Aphrodite naked and she blinded him for it. The story of Adonis provides a basis for the origin of myrrh and the origin of the rose, which grew from each drop of blood that fell.
The story of Adonis, despite its variants, is certainly another example of the dying vegetation god (see: Tammuz). The close association with Aphrodite or Persephone also brings his myth into line with the many other mated couples, where the male partener dies and is reborn, that is spread across North Africa and the Near East.