Thoughts on Hebe

September 6, 2009

She is the essence of youth, of life. She is the gay laughter of children, the merry smiles of not-quite adults, and the blushing cheeks of brides-to-be. She is, herself, neither child nor woman: she is the in-between youth with small, firm breasts, a shy mind and an even shyer smile. She does not part her lips and show her teeth when she smiles–it is thin and gentle, wavering with her indecision, as though every move she makes is carefully analysed. And yet there is a joyous, childish freedom in her: her limbs twirl through the air with perfect abandon; her lips part in breathless delight; and she sings and laughs with the careless spirit of a babe.

She is not all gentle, though. She is rival to Geras, apathetic old age. She snarls and strikes with her shining nails – but he is, of course, unperturbed by her rages. She falls in and out of love at the drop of a hat, at the touch of a feather. Her lips taste of immortal ambrosia and her veins are filled with contradictions–blood and ichor, mortality and divinity, life and death.

She is the daughter of Hera and Zeus. She, along with her sister Eileithyia, is her mother’s loving attendant and handmaiden; and she is one of the two cupbearers of the gods. She can bestow youth on any who pleases her, with her breathy kisses and eager smiles–and she can whisper to Geras to snatch the youth away again.

She is the sister of Ares: she bathes him in blood and dresses him in silks. She kisses his spear-slashed skin with her warm, young lips and feels youth slide from her limbs to his. She lets him borrow from her youthful nature at times; secretly, she delights in bloodshed almost as much as he, and she smiles radiantly down on warriors who lift spears and knives and guns and charge bravely forward.

She is the nature of war-dances, and she is the nature of the eternal quest for immortality. She is the goddess who grants immortality–the others can offer only temporary divinity with nectar and ambrosia, with drinks poured by her hand. It is she, eventually, who gives full immortality – with her hands and lips she grants it, kissing and biting at the skin of those who seek her favour until they bleed their last for her. Immortality, after all, comes only in the face of death.

As the patron of young brides, she is companion to both Artemis and Aphrodite. She is, perhaps, a gentler companion than Artemis is used to: but she is no less capable of fury and pulsing, simmering hate than any of the delicate-wild nymphai that laugh and kiss and scream around their goddess.

She is the beauty of youth – the rosy lips and soft thighs, the barely-there freckles that dash over cheeks and shoulders, and the gentle slope of waists and hips. Aphrodite loves her; she dances–flashing her slim, lovely ankles with skirts barely long enough–with the goddess and with Aphrodite’s boys. The Erotes are of her nature as much as they are of Aphrodite’s – frozen in eternal youth, they sing and laugh as they dance, dance, dance with her. She shares kisses with Harmonia and the Kharites, and she glowers at Eris – for she–warm, pleasant youth–has little patience for one as hard-hearted as Eris.

At weddings, she does not cry or hold solemn silences. She laughs and spins and dances – she holds the bride’s train with hands that shake from her endless, youthful energy. She smiles for gods and mortals alike; and the only beings that make her delight falter are the war gods – and the khthonic deities.

Youth, after all, has no influence on the dead.

She raves against death: it is her undoing. Of all the gods, perhaps it is she who fears death the most. She–the essence of immortality, of youth, of life–has the most to lose from dying. And so, artfully, she refuses to do it. She does not hold attendance with Persephone, rising into the sunlit world as Kore; she backs away from Thanatos; and she even flinches from Hermes when he returns from the Underworld. It is her undoing, and so it has become her fear.

She cannot live and dance and laugh and sing in the Underworld – and if she cannot do these, the things that she truly loves, what is the point of it? There is none.

And so, twirling, dancing, smiling Hebe refuses to ever die. It will not happen: she draws the reborn back from the Underworld but she does not touch them. To touch them would be to lose herself – and where would the others be without her dancing, her laughter, and her spinning, heady, intoxicating youth? They simply wouldn’t be: they simply could not exist without her. She knows that and she smiles gratefully for it – for there is no chance of her death whilst there is still desire–need–for her company.


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