Posts Tagged ‘Youth’

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Dove

December 3, 2009

A young boy swings,
Kicking his foot against the tree.
The nymphai chastise him;
He lifts his gaze and speaks.

“Why, of all birds,
Is the soft dove the creature
That Erotes have chosen
To dance with them in this world?”

The nymphs scoff, for he
Has answered his own question;
And yet he does not understand truly
The impact of which he asks.

One drifts down from the cherry-laden boughs,
Takes his hand in her soft, red hands
And smiles into the boy’s face.
“Love is the answer.” He frowns; she laughs.

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Philostratus the Elder – Imagines 1.20

November 22, 2009

“He sleeps after having played his flute, a tender youth lying on tender flowers, whilst the moisture on his forehead mingles with the dew of the meadow; and Zephyros summons him by breathing on his hair, and he breathes in response to the wind, drawing the air from his lungs.”

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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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Aphrodite: Goddess of the Body

September 24, 2009

When Aphrodite is discussed—as is often inevitable in Hellenic Polytheist circles; for who can truly say they have never felt anything for this goddess?—the subject of her influence is, of course, always key. She is named the goddess of beauty, of love, of sex; and even of war, grief, death. I propose, though, that we push aside these names and dub her, for simplicity’s sake, Aphrodite: Goddess of the Body.

As the daughter of Ouranos (as asserted by writers such as Hesiod, Cicero, Apuleius and Nonnus)—born of his castrated genitals plunging into the sea—Aphrodite would be, in terms of power and influence, on the same level as the Titanes; in truth, she would belong to a generation between Titan and Olympian, for she would have been born in the period between Kronos’ castration of his father and the birth of Zeus. Her mythologies regarding the time between her birth and her arrival at Olympos are not extensive: the classical writers speak only of her love for the sea-god Nerites and of her arrival at Rhodes, where she ‘was prevented from stopping there by the sons of Poseidon’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 5. 55. 4). In retaliation, Aphrodite struck them with madness. Immediately thereafter, it seems, she returned to the sea and continued on until she reached Kypros, where she was met by the Horai (according to the Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite) or Peitho and Eros (according to Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5. 11. 8). Finally, a child- or youth-Aphrodite of the seas is mentioned by Pausanias, as a depiction on the base of Poseidon’s statue: ‘Thalassa holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side as the nymphs called Nereides.’ (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2. 1. 8.)

Alternatively, Aphrodite is borne of Zeus—who is first and foremost king of the skies or heavens, and as thus can be identified with Ouranos, Protogenos god of the heavens—and Dione, whose name springs from Dios, which means Zeus or Divine One. (I, personally, would argue that Dione is the goddess of divinity, and as thus her name is so deeply connected with Zeus’ own because one of his primary influences is as guide or leader of fate—Moiragetês—and the keeper of the order of the cosmos –Kosmêtês.) As the daughter of Zeus, she would be level simply with the other second-generation Olympian gods – Apollon, Ares, Artemis, Athene, Dionysos, Hephaistos and Hermes, and as the daughter of Dione she would be on par with the other minor Titanes. As such, Aphrodite loses much of her immense power under the constraints of this myth of her birth; I, personally, choose to focus on her as Aphrodite Ourania (‘the heavenly’) rather than Aphrodite Pandêmos (‘common to all’).

As both Aphrodite Ourania and Pandêmos, it is undeniable that Aphrodite’s concerns seem more to be with the body than anything else. As Aphrodite Ourania, she holds together the atoms in the bodies that the gods adopt; without her pull, the gods would all be abstract, shapeless beings much akin to the Protogenos god Khaos. As Aphrodite Morpho (‘shapely, of the form’), she holds together the human body, too: the human form. As Aphrodite Ambologêra (‘delayer of old age’), it is she who brings about the constant cycle of cells dying and being replaced in the body, and she too is responsible for youth and the young; and as Aphrodite Despoina (‘the ruling goddess’ or ‘the mistress’), she is blatantly responsible for the body as the goddess who ‘rules’ it. Further evidence comes from the myth of Pandora’s creation: Aphrodite ‘shed grace upon her head’ – shed life upon her; gave her life – ‘and [gave her] cruel longing’ – desire – ‘and cares that weary the limbs’ – menstruation; the cycle of fertility in the female human body. Thus, it can be concluded that she who so inflames the body is responsible, too, for its continued existence; without her, there would be no shape to the body—we would all just be a random mesh of DNA strands clinging together—and, even if by some miracle the body was shaped, it would be incapable of fighting illness, or remaining fertile, or producing young, and so on.

It is as Aphrodite Pandêmos that she becomes a simple—if ‘simple’ is a word that can ever be used to describe a goddess, and a goddess such as Aphrodite at that—goddess concerned only with the matters of the heart. She becomes common to all the people; she strikes, or sends her son Eros to strike, any whom she pleases, be they god or mortal, with the shaft of desire. ‘This is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods,—the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.’ (Hesiod, Theogony, 176 ff.) If you whittle her down just to Aphrodite Pandêmos, that is all she is: the goddess who presides over love as a collective, and love affairs, desire, love poetry, sensuality.

As Epistrophia (‘she who turns to love’), Apostrophia (‘averter of unnatural desires’), Nymphia (‘bridal’), Migôntis (‘[of the] marital union’), Hêrê (‘of Hera’), Apotrophia (‘the expeller [of unnatural desires]’) and Gamelii (‘of marriage’), Aphrodite becomes, well and truly, a goddess of marriage and marital love. That is, though, to be expected: she is the goddess who binds people together – on an molecular level, as Aphrodite Ourania, keeping the body together; on a sexual level, Aphrodite Philommeidês (‘genital-loving’), keeping lovers together; on a communal level, as Aphrodite Pandêmos, keeping the community together; and on a marital level, as Aphrodite Gamelii, keeping married partners together. Indeed, Aphrodite’s influence as a goddess of marriage is clearly very strong; Pausanias described ‘a cave [in which] Aphrodite is worshipped, to whom prayers are offered . . . especially by widows who ask the goddess to grant them marriage’ (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10. 38. 12) and Aeschylus once stated that, ‘she [Aphrodite], together with Hera, holds power nearest to Zeus, and for her solemn rites [of marriage] the goddess of varied wiles is held in honor.’ (Aeschylus, Suppliant Woman, 1030.)

That, though, is still not all there is to Aphrodite. She also holds the epithets Symmakhia (‘ally’), Areia (‘warlike’) and Hôplismenê (‘armed’). Thus, with these titles—as well as her relationship with Ares, the Olympian god of masculinity, passion, war and blood—she becomes a goddess not just of love and form, but also of war. She becomes a goddess of grief and mourning—the love for those who have died—and she becomes a goddess of nationality – the love of one’s nation. As such, she, by association, becomes also a goddess of hate: hate for those that the soldiers fight, for love and hate both stir the body with equal vigour, and the body is undeniably Aphrodite’s tool.

Then there are her associations with the sea to consider. Her very name comes from the word Aphros, meaning sea-foam. She held several epithets alluding to her nature as a sea goddess: Anaduomenê (‘rising out of the sea’), Euploia (‘fair voyage’), Limenia (‘of the harbour’), Pontia (‘of the sea’) and Xenia (‘of the foreigner’). At a very basic level, she could be considered connected to the sea only because of one of the myths of her birth—from Ouranos’ castrated genitals—but with Aphrodite, nothing is only skin-deep. She holds sway over the four realms: the sky, as Aphrodite Ourania, the heavenly; the sea, as Aphrodite Pontia, of the sea; the earth, as Aphrodite Porne (‘fleshy, of flesh’); and the Underworld, as the khthonic Aphrodite Androphonos (‘killer of men’).

It is that final influence—over the Underworld—that seems so alien in connection to Aphrodite. But the connection does hold: as well as the epithet Androphonos, she is also Aphrodite Anosia (‘unholy’), Epitumbidia (‘she upon the graves’), Melainis (‘black, of night’), Skotia (‘dark’) and Tumborukhos (‘gravedigger’). Thus, one cannot deny her khthonic aspects – the question simply is how, exactly, she influences the Underworld. It is primarily because love—and therefore she; or Eros, at her command—kills; wars are never waged for anything but the love of oneself, or one’s country, or of money, or of one’s religion, etc, etc. Love is the primary force behind everything, and it is love that Aphrodite commands: thus she is the goddess of death, deadly love, and the grief for that which it leaves behind.

For me, personally, it is only when you take all of these aspects into account that you finally get the full picture of who Aphrodite is. She is a goddess of the heavens, a goddess of the earth, a goddess of the sea, a goddess of the Underworld, a goddess who keeps the body together, a goddess who directs love and desire, a goddess who rules over marriage, a goddess of the community and a goddess of war. And yet she is more than that: she influences love poetry, music, dance, festivity – she is a goddess to whom no doors are closed, and to whom there are no boundaries. All of the emotions and states that affect the body—life, hunger, desire, fury, hatred, humility, embarrassment, blood, madness and death, to name but a few—are under her command: the body is her vessel, her plaything, and, to her devotees, there is no forgetting that. If you are impious, she can literally unravel you at the seams – and although it is always better to treat gods with respect, as opposed to disrespect, I think that especially applies here!

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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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Thoughts on Eros

August 11, 2009

Eros: one of the oldest gods, and one of the youngest. He brings love and hate with his arrows of gold and lead, shot straight into the hearts of the unwary. He is, like Aphrodite, quick to judge and quick to forgive; and he is, like Khaos, endless and infinite. He is at once the winged babe, the dancing boy and the sleek youth of love. He carries lovers’ gifts in his arms and fondly ruffles the hair of those he passes. He is Aphrodite’s more human face, and yet he is far older than her, born from Khaos’ creeping mists.

He is the bitter-sweet love of life, of love, of the world and of one’s soul. He draws his arrows and loosens them on the hearts of those who do not respect him – and those who do respect him. No one, god or mortal, is safe from his touch. Only his respect of Choice forces him to stay his hand when he would otherwise strike at the virgin goddesses with his all-consuming arrows.

He leads the winged loves, the Erotes, in their fluttering flight in Aphrodite’s footsteps. He treads child-delicately and youth-heavily, and he throws himself into love with the reckless abandon of Love itself. He sneers at those who would refuse his passions, and spreads his wings to cover those who follow where he walks. He lives in the company of the gods, but often prefers the touches of humans. He is sharp and cold and hot and soft, wild and civilised, dangerous and peaceful. He is the quick-fingered child-keeper of the heavens, the earth, the sky and the seas.

He is the reaction, the fizzling catalyst who inspires love and hate – equally, and at the command of his laughing sometimes-mother, Aphrodite. He is the playmate of Ganymedes, cupbearer of the gods, and the husband of Psyche, the love of oneself, the soul. He is the father of pleasure and the son of beauty, of night, of nothing and everything. He brushes his hands, feather-light, over the cheeks and lips of his flushed, open, beautiful wife and inspires lovers everywhere to follow his example. He is masculinity and he is feminity, he is the eternal child who gives cheeky smiles and wears his heart on his sleeve.

He throws himself into everything—love, tantrums, joy, pain—and expects the same of his Erotes. He dances with nymphs and muses and plays at the feet of the Moirae. He holds himself to a moral code at once distant and similar to our own, and he refuses to rest his red-hot lips on the brow of those who do not do him justice. He is sin and virtue, platonic and sexual love, he is passion and need and thrumming, pulsing love.

He wraps his arms around his wife and daughter, and all he asks of those who would follow him is that they do not hurt the ones they love. He kisses his little-girl daughter on the forehead and his butterfly-wife on the lips, and he smiles up to his smiling, golden mother. He plays in night and day, dusk and dawn, and his influence is always circling, a hazy red smoke that curls around the skin of lovers and lets them bask in his glow. He blesses with his delicate fingers and draws his teeth over intertwined bodies, and he laughs and basks in his own glow.

He is Eros: the child, the lover. Love.