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

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”.

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 shares or 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.