Greek MythologyMythologyPlant Lore

5 People in Greek Mythology Who Turned Into Plants

Greek mythology features an oddly large number of people being turned into plants. It’s rarely presented as a punishment, unlike other forced transformations. Often it was done after someone died to honor them. In at least one case it was presented as a gesture of love between a couple.

Table of Contents

1. Syrix

Pan flute Gibonus FP-12

Syrix was a forest nymph who caught Pan’s eye. Unfortunately. Pan “pursued” her, but she transformed into reeds to escape. This didn’t really help. Pan cut the reeds to pieces and turned them into an instrument. Yikes.

2. Daphne

Pollaiolo, Piero del - Apollo and Daphne

Daphne was another unfortunate nymph, this time an ocean nymph that Apollo wanted. Ovid’s version said that he was influenced by Cupid’s powers as revenge for insulting his archery skills. Not that that absolves him, and the feeling was not mutual. She pleaded with her father, a river god (or Gaia herself, in some stories), to help her. Her father transformed her into a laurel tree. Which…kinda worked? Apollo, at least, didn’t chop it to pieces. Though he did create a wreath out of the branches, and this later became one of his sacred symbols.

3. Philemon and Baucis

Janus Genelli - Philemon und Baucis' Verwandlung (1801)

In a story with some striking parallels to Genesis, Zeus, and Hermes disguise themselves as peasants and ask the locals for a place to sleep. All refused them, except for the poor couple Philemon and Baucis. This ended up saving them. Zeus, in retribution for how the townspeople had treated him (violating xenia was a major deal in the ancient world), flooded the town and led the couple safely up a mountain. Their small house had become a temple, and the couple asked to stay there, being its guardians and having their fates bound together. Zeus agreed and turned them into a pair of intertwining trees.

4. Adonis

Venus and Adonis by Titian

This one is a bit of a stretch since Adonis didn’t turn into a plant himself, but his blood did. Adonis was a mortal loved by Aphrodite. As far as I’m aware, the feeling was mutual (for once) but ultimately doomed. On a hunting trip, Adonis was gored by a wild boar, sent by either Ares, Artemis, or Apollo as retribution against Aphrodite for some slight. He died in her arms, and she caused anemones to grow where his blood fell.

5. Hyacinthus

The-death-of-hyacinthus-italian-school

Hyacinthus was one of Apollo’s lovers, a mortal spartan prince who was eventually resurrected but, before that, created flowers from his spilled blood. The story goes that Apollo and Hyacinthus were playing with a discus one day, and Apollo accidentally fatally injured him. Apollo was unable to save him and, like Aphrodite and Adonis, Hyacinthus’ died in his arms. Apollo created flowers, hyacinths, from Hyacinth’s spilled blood in honor of him.

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