Posts Tagged ‘Change’

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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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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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Thoughts on Lyssa

August 16, 2009

Lyssa is madness. She is perfect imperfection, unbalanced balance, sane insanity. She is everything and nothing; she is man and god and the entire world. She does not care for trivialities such as sin and virtue – she is beyond thought, beyond emotion, beyond comprehension. She thrives in disorder, in chaos, and she nursed both Love and Strife in her manic, quivering arms. Heat and cold means nothing to her; love and hate plays no part in her world; she is beyond the whims of the other gods and yet bound by them, bound to do their will.

She is the world, the chaos, the pulsing need to live or die. Children and gods alike feel her pulsing fury. She drives sword against sword, child against child, and laughs as she dances on the graves of those who aren’t strong enough to stand against her. (But who is strong enough? Certainly not a mere human – she is Beyond such things as humanity and infinity.) She leans on the arm of War and kisses his cheeks with her blood-stained lips, then spins away to whisper to in Wisdom’s uncaring ear.

She lives: she thrives in disorder, in upsetting the balance. She doesn’t just blur the lines: she smashes them apart with her fists and her teeth, and she snaps at the throats of any who would try to stop her. She is Art, she is the Abyss. She does not stop to think about consequences, or the right way, or the greater good. She lives for herself, for her own pulsing hungers, and she does not care who knows that.

She is life, she is death; for what is living if not insanity? She nips at and kisses those who succumb to madness, who spend their days in her circling, smiling darkness. Her Maniai dance around her, cracking the bones of those who dared to enter her lair – and died for their impiety. She does not waste time with fancies; she is those fancies. She is fetishes, she is sex; she is slick, thrumming blood. She is eternal, and she is In This Moment. She breathes rot and insanity into the air, and she strokes at her dog-skin hat with truly loving hands.

She is born of Ouranos’ pain. She is the twin of Aphrodite and the Erinyes, born of blood and loss and love and hate. Aphrodite drew the dominion of love and hate; the Erinyes drew loss and blood; and she drew all and none, everything and nothing. She is not rooted to the world by material need – she seeps from the veins of one man to the next, rousing murderers and sending minds into her domain of madness. She is sent by the other gods to torture the impious; she dances between Hades, the human world and Mount Olympus, moving faster than lightning, faster than fire, faster than life.

She visits asylums and torments those who gaze upon her bloodied face, smiling and laughing at them with her jagged shark’s teeth. She is not concerned with a single mortal life; and yet, paradoxically, she is deeply concerned with those who snare her interest. She is madness, she is obsession, she is insanity, she is frenzy. She crashes her hands over the ears of animals and man alike and makes them spit with her fury – a bare sliver of the rage she feels (always feels), but enough to make their minds spin and their eyes roll. She is life, she is death: she is sex, she is despair: she is love and she is hate, and she is nothing at all.

She is madness. She is Lyssa.