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Eris and Aphrodite: The Gods of Survival

August 16, 2009

Aphrodite and Eris: love and discord. One might think that these two goddesses share little in common – the former is concerned with bringing people together; the latter with tearing them apart – but they have more to do with each-other than one would assume.

For several years, the idea that Eris is Aphrodite and Ares’ daughter has stuck with me. I am unsure where the idea came from—Eris is described as Ares’ sister, and therefore as Zeus and Hera’s daughter, or else as Erebus and Nyx’s daughter by the classical writers—but it is an idea that has pervaded my thoughts for as long as I’ve known of their mythologies. Perhaps it is that Eris’ name is so similar to Eros’, or that she seems the opposite of both Harmonia and Eros, who are both described as children of Aphrodite. Perhaps it is none of these – just a whim inspired by nothing at all. Perhaps not.

Aphrodite and Eris share something that can, and is, offered to them: apples. The myth of Eris’ role in the Trojan War—the golden apple of discord, inscribed with the word kallistē, which was awarded to Aphrodite by Paris—is infamous. Apples, of course, have the symbolism of sexuality, sexual seduction, forbidden things and knowledge. It is fitting, then, that it went to Aphrodite, mother of Love and Seduction, as opposed to Hera or Athena.

Both of the goddesses are linked also by their domains. Aphrodite rules the heart – love, hate, obsession, need; and Eris, too, rules the heart – fury, discontent, anger, rivalry. Aphrodite caresses those who gain her favour, bringing them carefully to their full potential; and Eris takes a different approach, striking with tooth and nail until their skin is hard enough to protect their fragile souls from those who would harm them.

As goddess of love, Aphrodite overlaps her domain with Eris: both can be seen as goddesses of rivalry and competition. Aphrodite holds the epithets of Makhanitis and Apatouros – deviser and the deceptive one, respectively. Both, then, as goddesses of rivalry, are also goddesses of survival: for how can anything survive if it not constantly challenged and forced to change? These goddesses both contribute to the survival of everything—the flowers that become brightly coloured to attract bees; the rabbits that develop faster legs; the primates that walk upright and begin to develop speech—nothing is without their influence, and so nothing can legitimately claim existence beyond their influence.

Finally, both Eris and Eros are credited, sometimes, as being children of Nyx; and at the same time, Aphrodite holds the epithet Melainis (black; of night). Aphrodite, then, is linked to the Protogenos goddess of night, and Eris and Eros are named children of night. Both Aphrodite and Eris are called companions of Ares, too; as goddesses of rivalry, of strife, of pulsing hate.

Regardless of whether or not they are mother and daughter, though, there is no denying that they are closely linked. Without them, there could be no survival; without them, there would be nothing.

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