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An Exploration of Peitho

October 17, 2009

As the goddess of seduction, Peitho is intimately connected with fertility, sex, pleasure and love. She is also connected to the natural order, to the workings of the kosmos and the continued survival of the human race – and, of course, it is by her will that humans (and certain other animals) are able to have sex simply for the sake thereof.

In myth, Peitho is commonly paired with Aphrodite – either as her daughter (as indicated in the Sappho, Fragments 96 and 200; and Aeschylus, Suppliant Women, 1039) or, else, as her companion. They share the sacred attribute of the dove, too. Peitho’s sacred ball of binding twine is interestingly linked to Tykhe’s ball of fate; the goddesses are quite often given the same parentage, and the links between love–or, at least, sex–and chance or fate are extremely strong.

A further, interesting parallel between fate and Peitho is shown by Nonnus when Aphrodite enters a weaving contest against Athene: ‘Pasithea made the spindle run round, Peitho dressed the wool, Aglaia gave thread and yarn to her mistress. And weddings went all astray in human life.’ (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 24.261.)The three Moirai–Klotho, the spinner of the thread of life; Lakhesis, the apportioner of lots; and Atropos, the cutter of life–are sometimes said to be led by Aphrodite (in the Orphic Hymn 55 to Aphrodite; in Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.19.2; and in Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 41.155). Here, then, Pasithea can be identified with Klotho, Peitho with Lakhesis, and Aglaia with Atropos. Plato has this to say regarding the Moirai: ‘The Moirai, daughters of Ananke, clad in white vestments with filleted heads, Lakhesis, and Klotho, and Atropos, who sang in unison with the music of the Seirenes, Lakhesis singing the things that were, Klotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be.’ (Plato, Republic, 617c.) Peitho-as-Lakhesis, then, controls that which has passed–such as the birth of the kosmos, the ability of humans to enjoy sex for the sake of itself and the tried-and-true methods of seduction–, Pasithea-as-Klotho controls that which is–the blurring of the now: reality and imagination, hallucination and truth–, and Aglaia-as-Atropos controls that which will be–the beauty of tomorrow, the joy of a heavily pregnant woman, the opportunity of marriage.

Peitho was, in Classical times, portrayed merely as the goddess of seduction, persuasion and charming speech – this was emphasised by the titling of her, in the works of some Classical authors, as ‘winning Peitho’ (Aeschylus, Suppliant Woman, 1035; and Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 41.250), and ‘she to whom nothing is denied’ (Aeschylus, Suppliant Woman, 1035).

A modern contemplation of Peitho allows for further consideration of her nature and her influence.

As the goddess of seduction, Peitho naturally presides over the methods of seduction: hers are the candle-lit dinners, the love poetry, and the first spark of desire, the seduction that wings through the veins as eyes meet. She is mostly unconcerned with animals and the behaviour of them – they offer her no incense and worship her with their hands and lips, as humans do, honouring her in all of the pleasures that the body can indulge in. It is no surprise, then, that Peitho is sometimes numbered among the Kharites (Hermesianax; Pindar, Eulogies Fragment 123; and Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 24.261) – for she presides over pleasures, but hers are the pleasures of the body, rather than of the spirit.

As the goddess of persuasion and charming speech, Peitho acquires influence over bribes, persuasive speech, compliments and flattery. Anacreon outright identifies Peitho as a goddess of bribes and bribery – ‘And in those days Peitho did not yet shine all silver.’ (Anacreon, Fragment 384) This indicates that, ‘in those days’, Peitho had no care for money–beyond how it could be used to gain pleasure–and yet, with the changing times, she took more of an interest in it for how else it could be used. Further to this, and as a goddess of the pleasures of the body and the sensations that affect it, Peitho is easy to name as the goddess of prostitutes; Pindar, in Eulogies Fragment 122, identifies ‘guest-loving girls’, i.e. courtesans and prostitutes, as ‘servants of Peitho in wealthy Korinthos.’

In combination with Bia–the goddess of force, might, strength and compulsion–Peitho, also, is the, or rather a, goddess of rape. One could say that Peitho is the goddess of rape victims, and Bia the goddess of rapists; this is somewhat confirmed by the depiction of Peitho as fleeing rape scenes in Greek art. Ibycus expands on this idea of a softer, maternal Peitho in his Fragment 288: ‘Euryalos, offshoot of the blue-eyed Kharites, darling of the lovely-haired Horai, Kypris and soft-lidded Peitho nursed you among rose-blossoms.’ Nonnus, in Dionysiaca 3.84, calls Peitho ‘the friend of marriage’ and the ‘nurse of the baby Erotes’.

One can identify Peitho as a goddess of wisdom – in the wisdom of marriage, the knowledge of the human body, and the understanding of pleasure and love. Pindar, in Pythian Ode 9.40, states that, ‘Secret, great Phoibos, are the keys of wise Peitho to love’s true sanctities.’ This somewhat blurs the idea of Peitho as a mindless creature who cares only for sexual gratification–a stereotype linked also to her mother and/or mistress, Aphrodite–and adds to her nature as a goddess of marriage. Nonnus, in his Dionysiaca 25.150, notes that ‘Peitho shook a brazen spear and turned into Pallas Athena to stand by Minos in the fray.’ Athene, of course, is the Olympian goddess of wisdom, strategy and rationality (among other things) – and combining these two quotes, by Pindar and Nonnus, gives the revealing identification of Peitho as a goddess of the wisdom of marriage, sex, pleasure, love and so on; she holds ‘the keys’ to true love, and she is unafraid of deferring gratification in becoming ‘Pallas Athena’ in order to fight for her mistress/mother.

In conclusion for this exploration, Peitho is, like all of the Theoi, an extremely complex and multi-layered divinity. She is not a mere ‘daimona’, or a goddess, of just persuasion, seduction and charming speech, but of all of the pleasures (and, inversely, the pains) that affect the human body (and soul) – the love, marriage, sex, war-for-love, wisdom, and so on. She is, I hope I’ve proved, a goddess worthy of honour and praise, and a goddess not to be taken lightly.

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