What Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis can teach you about compound interest

Matthew Partridge looks at what lessons Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis holds for investors.


Venus and Adonis: love and money
(Image credit: This content is subject to copyright.)

Venus and Adonis is a narrative poem, published in 1593. It is generally agreed to be Shakespeare's first sole publication (though he may have collaborated with other playwrights earlier).

Based on a story mentioned by the Roman poet Ovid, it tells the tale of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, who falls in love with Adonis, a mortal. Although he is initially reluctant, she succeeds in winning his affections by pretending to be dead, thus getting him to kiss her. However, tragedy ensues when he is killed during a hunt something she foresees in a vision. Devastated by his death, she orders that love will forever be mixed with bitterness.

The key moment

During one of her attempts to seduce him, Venus argues that by scorning love, Adonis is wasting his youth and good looks. However, if he becomes her lover, the passion will produce more pleasure for both of them. To help her argument she makes a financial analogy, declaring that "Foul-cankering rust the hidden treasure frets/But gold that's put to use more gold begets". Adonis is unconvinced by this, declaring, "Your treatise makes me like you worse and worse".

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

The lesson for investors

This particular piece of investment advice may not have charmed Adonis, but it could help you make money. If you sensibly invest your money, it should gradually grow over time, provided you don't make a drastic error, or are particularly unlucky. However, if you stick it under the mattress, or in its modern equivalent, the current account, then it won't increase at all. While the value of gold has outpaced inflation since 1900, US investors would have been better off investing in sharesor even in short-term government bonds.

Other financial wisdom

During the poem Venus talks about jealousy being "this sour informer, this bate-breeding spy". Generally, it's a good idea to focus on your own portfolio rather than trying to copy what others are doing. Indeed, jumping on the latest investment bandwagon is a surefire way to maximise your chances of losing money, as bitcoin has ably demonstrated.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri