Posts Tagged ‘Adonis’

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Adonis

November 28, 2009

Hand-in-hand, the queens of soft roses and
Sharp thorns stand over the youth Adonis,
Killed whilst his face was still as soft as that
Of one of Artemis’ dark nymphai.

Blood and nectar pours down between them, held
Aloft by Peitho and Hekate. Kind
Thanatos waits; Hermes and Iris, the
Messengers of the gods, stand by his side.

Anemones curl over the youth’s body,
Blowing in the gentle breaths of the winds.
Aphrodite and Persephone kneel
And, together, kiss their boy’s dying lips.

Life streams over his face; his eyes open.

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Nossis’ Epigrams – Aphrodite

November 25, 2009

(PALAT. ANT. BOOK V – 170)
Nothing is sweeter than Love; and every other joy
is second to it: even the honey I spit out of my mouth.
Thus Nossis says: and who didn’t love Kypris,
doesn’t know what sort of roses her flowers are.

(PALAT. ANT. BOOK VI – 275)
With pleasure Aphrodite received the lovable offering
of the small bonnet which wound the head of Samyta:
It’s really of exquisite workmanship and it gently smells of the nectar
with which the goddess sprinkles the handsome Adonis.

(PALAT. ANT. BOOK IX – 332)
Arrived in front of the temple we gaze at this statue of Aphrodite
embellished by a dress embroidered with gold.
Polyarchis offered it, having made out a large fortune
from the beauty of her own body.

(PALAT. ANT. BOOK IX – 605)
In the temple of the blonde Aphrodite Kallò dedicated this picture
painted with a portrait exactly alike her.
What a tidy attitude! And which grace pervades her!
Hail! Of all your life nothing could be blamed.

More here.

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Gender-Changing in Gods and Daimones

November 21, 2009

The theme of gender-changing, whether by one’s own hand or choice or by another’s, occurs frequently in Hellenic mythologies. It is accompanied, often, by gender-reversal; by gods and daimones acting as the opposite gender, rather than actually becoming the opposite gender. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the gender fluidity of the gods (and certain gods in particular), and part to the necessity of their act for their own gain, or for the gain of the entire kosmos. In this essay, I will be discussing, in-depth, the three most notable occurrences of gender-changing – Hermaphroditos’, Agdistis-Rhea-Kybele’s, and Attis’.

The most memorable case of gender-changing is that of Hermaphroditos, the god of hermaphrodites, effeminate men, masculine women, transsexuals, transgenders, etc. Hermaphroditos’ gender-change (or, more correctly, gender-merge) is also his primary mythology. He is rarely named in the literature that points to the Erotes, although he is numbered among them, both by his parentage and divine function; and even the mythology of his birth is short and barely-considered. His pre- and post-merge mythology is barely touched upon; despite his Olympic parentage, he seems to have been all but forgotten by the Classical writers, in all respects other than detailing his merge with the nympha Salmakis.
Hermaphroditos (or Atlantius, as he was once/otherwise known, according to Hyginus, Fabulae, 271), ‘whom in Mount Ida’s caves the Naiades nurtured’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4.28ff), was a youth comparable in beauty only to Adonis, Ganymedes, Endymion, Hyakinthos, Narkissos, Hylas and Khrysippos. It is interesting to note, here, that several of these most beautiful youths–Adonis, Hyakinthos and Ganymedes and, to a lesser extent, Hylas–all experienced a gender reversal, which will be discussed in Gender-Reversal in Gods and Daimones.
When he was fifteen–‘when thrice five years had passed’ (Met, 4.28ff)–Hermaphroditos ventured from Mount Ida, ‘eager to roam strange lands afar’ (Met, 4.28ff), and eventually came upon Salmakis’ ‘limpid shining pool’ (Met, 4.28ff). Salmakis, upon seeing the beautiful youth, declared her love for him. He, who ‘knew not what love was’ (Met, 4.28ff), rejected her as she ‘besought at least a sister’s kiss’ (Met, 4.28ff). Pretending to accept his rejection, the nympha Salmakis withdrew from sight; and Hermaphroditos, thinking himself alone, stepped into her pool and ‘stripped his light garments from his slender limbs’ (Met, 4.28ff). Salmakis watched him until he dived into the pool; and that–in succumbing to the pull of her water–made him hers, seemingly, for she ‘flung aside her clothes and plunged far out into the pool and grappled him’ (Met, 4.28ff). Hermaphroditos struggled to free himself and, at last, she managed to gain such a hold on him that ‘her clinging body seemed fixed fast to his’ (Met, 4.28ff), and she beseeched the gods to never let their bodies part. The gods (though it is unknown which gods) accepted the prayer and ‘both bodies merged in one, both blended in one form and face . . . they two were two no more, nor man, nor woman–one body then that neither seemed and both.’ (Met, 4.28ff) Hermaphroditos, now merged with Salmakis, emerged from the pool, saw that ‘the waters of the pool, where he had dived a man, had rendered him half woman’ (Met, 4.28ff) and beseeched his divine parents, Hermes and Aphrodite, that ‘whoso in these waters bathes a man emerge half woman, weakened instantly’ (Met, 4.28ff). His parents agreed; and ‘drugged the bright water with that power impure’ (Met, 4.28ff).
Diodorus Siculus described Hermaphroditos, after the merging with the nympha: ‘Some say that this Hermaphroditos is a god and appears at certain times among men, and that he is born with a physical body which is a combination of that of a man and that of a woman, in that he has a body which is beautiful and delicate like that of a woman, but has the masculine quality and vigour of a man.’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 4.6.5.) Diodorus Siculus then continued to note that ‘there are some who declare that such creatures of two sexes are monstrosities, and coming rarely into the world as they do they have the quality of presaging the future, sometimes for evil and sometimes for good.’ (Library of History, 4.6.5.)

The above quote of Diodorus Siculus can be applied, in turn, to the monster-god Agdistis, born of the Phrygian Sky God and Earth Goddess–Ouranos and Gaia–who would later become Kybele, equated with Rhea as Rhea-Kybele, mother of the gods.
Agdistis was, according to Pausanias, born when Ouranos (or, rather, the Phrygian sky god – who Pausanias equates with Zeus, strangely), ‘let fall in his sleep seed upon the ground, which in course of time sent up a Daimon, with two sexual organs, male and female.’ (Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 7.17.8.) Fearing Agdistis–the bi-sexed, and therefore aggressively, and by some accounts, literally insanely, sexual god–the other gods ‘cut off the male organ’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8), thus effectively changing Agdistis, a bi-sexed god, to Rhea-Kybele, a solely female god. An almond tree grew from Agdistis-Kybele’s castrated organ, and a nympha daughter of the river-god Sangarios ‘took the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child.’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8.)
The child born was the youth Attis; and as he grew, his beauty, which was ‘more than human’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8) drew Agdistis-Kybele’s eye. She fell in love with him; and he ‘conquered the towered goddess with pure love’ (Ovid, Fasti, 4.222). Attis swore to her that he would ‘desire to be a boy always’ and that if he ever cheated, the one ‘I cheat with [will] be my last’ (Fasti, 4.222). He cheated, either by having an affair with the nympha Sagaritis (Fasti, 4.222) or by an attempt at marrying a king’s daughter (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8).
Agdistis-Rhea-Kybele, in divine wrath and madness, either then killed Sagaritis–by cutting down the nympha’s tree; ‘her fate was the tree’s’ (Fasti, 4.222)–or showed up at the wedding of Attis and the king’s daughter, whilst ‘the marriage-song was being song’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8); either version, though, caused Attis to descend into instant madness. Attis ‘bolts to Dindymus’ heights’ (Fasti, 4.222) and ‘went mad and cut off his genitals’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8), until ‘no signs of manhood remained.’ (Fasti, 4.222.) According to Pausanias, she then ‘repented of what she had done to Attis, and persuaded Zeus to grant the body of Attis should neither rot at all nor decay’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8); effectively, then, immortalising him.
This myth–beginning with Agdistis’ conception and ending with Attis’ immortal rebirth–has several common themes. The first, of course, is gender-changing; Agdistis, the bi-sexed, became Rhea-Kybele, a mother goddess, and simultaneously impregnated Sangarios’ nympha daughter, and thus became a father goddess, too. Attis, the boy born of the nympha and Agdistis’ castrated genitals, castrated himself, in turn, and ‘became a model: soft-skinned acolytes toss their hair and cut their worthless organs’ (Fasti, 4.222), thus effectively changing his own gender – and although his gender was changed by his own hands, it was caused by Agdistis-Rhea-Kybele. The second important theme is accidental pregnancy: the Phrygian Sky God’s/Ouranos’ impregnation of Gaia, the Earth, creating the bi-sexed Agdistis; and then Agdistis’ castrated genitals’ impregnation of Sangarios’ daughter, creating the lovely Attis. The entire myth continues the theme of ‘creatures of two sexes are monstrosities’, as suggested by Diodorus Siculus; and is a reoccuring theme within Hellenic mythology. Perhaps the other gods are wary the raw, fertile, mad power of bi-sexed gods; or, perhaps it was simply the prejudices of Classical society, made into divine acceptance through the mythos.

In Gender-Reversal in Gods and Daimones, I will be further exploring the gender switches in the Greek mythos; including Zeus’ gender-switch into Artemis, Adonis’ androgynous nature, Ganymedes’ and Hyakinthos’ apparent femininity and feminine values; and others.

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Why Persephone?

October 6, 2009

In my quest to better understand Persephone, I have found myself pausing at this particular point. Why is it that Hades chose Persephone—or Kore—to be his wife? It was not merely her maidenhood, her sexual innocence; and nor was it her gentle, sunlit nature. To boil it down to her as the ‘essence of spring’ does an injustice to this goddess – for she is the embodiment of change, of all of the seasons, of the natural order. But as Kore, she was not such things. She was just Demeter’s daughter, just the maiden accompanied by nymphs. And yet Hades saw something in her, this girl—or rather, this pretty puppet, a flower not yet opened—and he fell in love with her. The heart of one such as Hades was warmed by her and, inflamed by Eros’ eager smiles, he stole her away.

I believe that Hades recognised his equal in Persephone. He did not part the earth and incite Demeter into almost killing gods and humans everywhere just so that he could have a pretty little doll sit on his lap. No: he brought her into the Underworld and helped her become his equal. And she, in return, accepted the pomegranate seeds—Hera’s seeds; the seeds of marriage—and they were wed.

One might wonder how, and why, Hades and Persephone are equals. Prior to his abduction of her, they were not: in spirit they were, but in terms of influence they were all but opposites. Persephone was responsible only for spring growth, for the gentle blossoming of flowers; and Hades was the King of the Underworld. Persephone was also living her immortal life in Demeter’s shadow; she was watched constantly by her, and those that vied for her hand were turned away by her mother, not by her. If Hades had not abducted Persephone she, arguably, might never have reached her full potential: she would have likely lived forever in her mother’s shadow, responsible only for the beginning of spring.

With the help of Zeus and Gaia, according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hades was able to steal away Persephone, unnoticed by all but Helios and Hekate. There is significance in this: Helios, lord of the sun, sees everything that occurs throughout the day; Hekate, queen of necromancy and ghosts, would know of everything that occurs throughout the night. Thus the transition of Kore to Persephone—girl to woman—is echoed not only in Persephone’s annual return from the Underworld and the awakening of the earth, but also in the time in which she was taken: at dusk or dawn, the in-between times.

In art and myth, Persephone is often described as a “young” goddess. She is a youth; stolen from the sunlight before she can achieve her true form, and yet she is not a child. She is at the in-between stage, the ‘dawn’ of womanhood: she is the quintessential woman-child. In abrupt, modern terms, she is a teenager. She does not yet know the delights and sorrows of being a woman; she is not a matron, and she will never be a crone. She is caught at a stage of hormones, a twist of cool logic and sharp emotions – and thus can be seen in how she behaves as Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone’s relationship with Adonis (which I will discuss in more detail further on) is an echo of this transition. After his death, he spends half of the year in the Underworld with her, and half with in the world above with Aphrodite. To coincide with this, Adonis would spend the autumn winter months with Persephone, and the spring and summer months with Aphrodite: thus their relationship echoes the themes of life-death-rebirth that are so common in the Greek mythologies.

When Persephone is stolen from the world, Demeter proves that she is willing to go to any lengths to get her back. She refuses to let the living things taste fruit and feel warmth—both fruit and heat here symbolising life, as food and energy are required for most, if not all, life-forms. (It is also ironic, then, that the only fruit that can be found in the Underworld—the pomegranate—still grew without Demeter’s influence; if she had killed that, too, Persephone might never have become the Queen of the Underworld.) Thus both Demeter and Persephone are here goddesses of winter; of the hard, cruel, cold months where—and this would have been particularly true in antiquity—jagged, icy death reigns and humanity becomes the prey, rather than the predator.

And then, when Persephone returns from the Underworld, she and her mother bless the earth with life – the flowers begin to grow; the fruits shine; the snows recede. Demeter and Persephone, then, are goddesses of the seasons—for Demeter brings about the changes of summer and winter and Persephone rules spring (as Kore, the maiden, goddess of spring growth) and autumn (as Persephone Karpophoros, the bringer of fruit, goddess of the harvest).

As Queen of the Underworld, Persephone is a much more merciful, benevolent ruler than Hades – and such is shown in how she treats the (would-be) heroes that find their way into the Underworld. When Herakles entered the Underworld, he was ‘welcomed like a brother by Persephone’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History); and according to Apollodorus in his Bibliotheca, Herakles passed up victory in his wrestling competition with the Underworld god Menoites ‘at the request of Persephone.’ When Psykhe reached Persephone’s palace, she ‘declined the soft cushion and the rich food offered by her hostess,’ (Apuleius, The Golden Ass) and when she reported the trial that Aphrodite had tasked her with, Persephone immediately filled the box of beauty for her. Persephone took favour on Sisyphus and released him from the Underworld; and when Orpheus sang of his love for Eurydice, he ‘persuaded her to assist him in his desires and to allow him to bring up his dead wife from Haides’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History).

However, Persephone also proves that she is not a goddess with whom one can trifle with; when Peirithoos plans to kidnap her from the Underworld for his wife, the youth Persephone blossoms into a woman and deals swiftly with him: ‘Peirithoos now decided to seek the hand of Persephone in marriage, and when he asked Theseus to make the journey with him Theseus at first endeavoured to dissuade him and to turn him away from such a deed as being impious; but since Peirithoos firmly insisted upon it Theseus was bound by the oaths to join with him in the deed. And when they had at last made their way below to the regions of Haides, it came to pass that because of the impiety of their act they were both put in chains, and although Theseus was later let go by reason of the favour with which Herakles regarded him, Peirithoos because of the impiety remained in Haides, enduring everlasting punishment; but some writers of myths say that both of them never returned.’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History).

In discussing Persephone and her transition—after her abduction at Hades’ hands—from child to woman, it is inevitable that one must discuss who she has ever taken as a lover. Unlike many of the gods, Persephone did not have numerous lovers – only Hades (to whom she gave birth to the Erinyes, according to the Orphic Hymns 29 and 70), Zeus (to whom she birthed Zagreus, according to the Orphic Hymn 29, Hyginus, Diodorus Siculus, Nonnus and Suidas; and Melinoe, according to the Orphic Hymn 71) and Adonis.

Persephone’s infamous love-affair with Adonis produced no children, and, strangely, did not incite the jealousy or wrath of her husband Hades (though Ares, only the paramour of Aphrodite, was envious enough of Adonis to kill him, according to some classical writers). It could be argued that Persephone’s relationship with Adonis is symbolic of the process of rebirth. Before his death, Adonis spent a third of his year with Persephone—I suggest that this third was the very end of autumn, the whole of winter, and the very beginning of spring. As such, Aphrodite would be cold and in mourning in the months when sex and love would, especially in antiquity, have not been at the forefront of the minds of humankind; and his emergence from the Underworld would coincide with Persephone’s own. Thus the relationship of Adonis, Aphrodite and Persephone would symbolise the entire theme of life-death-rebirth: Aphrodite as the ruler of life, Persephone as the ruler of death, and Adonis as the transition between their realms. Adding to this, both Aphrodite and Persephone share the epithet Despoina—the ruling goddess, or the mistress—and this, I think, lends further credence to the idea proposed.

Persephone’s relationship with Zeus was one of the most devastating of unions: the King of Life and the Queen of Death. As such, perhaps Zagreus was doomed from the very offset – born of trickery and lies, for, according to such authors as Nonnus, Zeus took the shape of a drakon (a dragon; a serpent) and ravished Persephone. Zagreus was a colossal explosion of Fate—for Zeus and Persephone both influence it, and have been influenced by it—as well as the primal stirrings of desire. Thus Zagreus—and, in turn, Dionysos—is a god with influence over life, death and fate, for he commands his followers to take their destinies into their own hands and twist them into oblivion.

In answer to the question proposed by the very title of this essay—Why Persephone?—I give this: Hades chose Persephone because she was his perfect opposite: feminity to his masculinity, warmth to his cold and light to his darkness. Between them, Hades and Persephone are, also, the very embodiment of two principles that rule supreme in the psyche of humans – the notion of life after death, and the promise of rebirth. They are fair rulers of the Underworld and just governors of fate; and in their capable hands, I am assured that the flow of life, death and rebirth will continue as long as the Moirai—the Fates—see fit.

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Thoughts on Aphrodite

August 11, 2009

Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. She is the kisses between lovers, the smile on a newborn’s lips, and the endless beauty of all. She is present in anything and everything, and she is a goddess both divine and strangely mortal. She averts unlawful desires and puts a stopper on age and death. She is common to all, the blush in the cheeks of never-been girls and boys alike. She is armed with her unstoppable love, and yet she does not create it: she does not create the spark between lovers, but she massages it, soothes it, until it blazes like a bonfire. She is sensuality and hunger, she is addiction, youth and bounty. She is the goddess of all, of mortality and infinity alike, and she strikes with hard kisses and unrelenting love.

She is not brainless and foolhardy. She is Apatouros, the deceptive one, and she is Makhanitis, the deviser. She laughs and loves with equal vigour. She repays ills in the way she best knows how; she loosens her children on those who would take advantage of her laughter-loving nature, and she presses hazy kisses to those who ask for her love. She does not accept the uglier things; simmering rage and poisoned words have no place in her house. She forgives with readiness and golden smiles, and she plucks at the heartstrings of humans and gods alike. She is born again and again, in the hearts of men and women, in the laughter of babes. She is ever-present, ever-strong, and ever-ready to fall in love, time and time again.

She is not weak. She is a force which threatens even the oldest of the gods. She is born of heaven alone, of fate and prophecy, of the endless sky and the brilliant day. Even the dead cannot resist her touch, her whispers. She is the most loyal subject of Phanes, reborn as her most loyal subject after Zeus devoured him. Perhaps she is Phanes: perhaps she truly is everything. She is music and sex, blood and honey, life and death. She is the climax of passion, she is the beating of hearts. She drives everything, kisses everywhere, touches everyone.

Her children drive the world. Without her, and without them, there could be nothing. There would be no children to spread their fingers and wave at their anxious parents, hovering nearby. There would be no laughter, no desire, no love. Her children and her train are her better sides: it is easy to overlook her birth from fury and blood. She is drawn to the soft curves of her own vengeance – to Adonis, her beautiful hunting boy – and, simultaneously, to the violence and hatred of War. She explodes with life, fills human shells with richness and longing, and she softens it all with her golden laughter. She is guilty of all and yet entirely blameless, a child and a mother, a lover of all.

She brings reciprocal and unrequited love, Anteros; terror and panic, Deimos and Phobos; longing and desire, Pothos and Himeros; harmony and strife, Harmonia and Eris; seduction and fertility, Peitho and Priapos; and love, Eros.

She is the goddess of prostitutes and hermaphrodites, of anyone who would dare to be different. She commands respect without inspiring terror, and she blesses marriages and heroes alike. She is the ally of any who would ask, she joins the Mousai in their dances and song, she plays a role, even, in the workings of the Moirae. She is the unavoidable love, the unstoppable kiss, the endless passion and desire. She is the war and the peace, the terror of oneself and the greater world, she is the child and the crone, the always-ready nursemaid and the patron of voyagers and brides. She pushes for individuality without alienating oneself from one’s family, and yet she smiles and accepts when one reaches one’s limits. She is cruel and gentle, lovely and hateful, and she brings victory in love and war alike with her soft hands and ready smiles.

She is Aphrodite.