The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

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I’ve been reading a mythology based fiction novel to the child again. She simply can’t get enough Greek mythology. She’s discovered that our library has the entire Percy Jackson collection on cd and even though I have read them to her, and she has read some of them herself, she’s decided to start at the beginning and hear them again.

The book I am reading to her places the Greek gods and goddesses in a special high school where they are supposed to learn about their gifts and to be “better” deities. It’s a series and this particular volume deals with Aphrodite trying to atone for her faux pas with Paris and Helen, which launched the Trojan War, by helping a young sculptor named Pygmalion find true love.

Of course, the story of Pygmalion and Galtea has nothing to do with the Trojan War (or the Egyptian Goddess, Isis), and I have to give the author an “A” for her knowledge of myths in general and the clever idea of plucking them all in a high school setting. The gods of Ancient Greece were nothing if not teen-like in their demeanor and outlook.

Aphrodite is a fitting Valentine’s Day topic. Her Roman son, Cupid, after all, is one of today’s symbols and his arrows are supposedly the root cause of what we call romantic love. She herself, however, is not such a simple creature. To the Greeks she represented more than just love and superficial beauty. She is in fact one of the oldest deities in human history and might be among the first gods human beings worshipped.

According tot he Greeks, Aphrodite’s birth was the direct result of Kronos’s gelding of their father. As his manhood sunk to the bottom of the sea, semen and blood mixed with the salty waves and Aphrodite rose from the stew riding a conch shell. Like the goddess Athena later on, Aphrodite has no mother. She was sired only and as a result is quite a forceful deity who wore the pants in all her relationships.

She has many aspects that run the gamut of female existence, but she also held dominion over male potency and war. Currently an exhibit of her history and the art it’s inspired is running at a museum in Boston. One of the sculptures has never been out of Italy before and depicts Hermaphrodite, her son with Hermes. From the back it appears to be a sleeping woman but walk around to the front and there is a penis protruding from between the sleeper’s legs.

Dee is a bit young for Aphrodite’s full history. Rick Riordan, who authors the Percy Jackson series, deftly works around the fact that his demi-god characters are all products of adultery. Last night, Dee and I discussed the fact that Percy’s father was married but had girlfriends. She didn’t seem to think this was too awful until I asked her what she would think of Dad having girlfriends on the side. She wrinkled her nose in her most disapproving manner,

“I wouldn’t like that.”

I wouldn’t care for it much myself.

“So that’s why Hera is also so angry at Zeus then,” she continued as more pieces fell into place.

“Exactly,” I said.

“But why does Hephaestus need to spy on Aphrodite all the time to catch her with Ares if he has girlfriends too?”

“He’s just being mean.”

More puzzled forehead frown lines and pursed lips followed but no more questions – yet.

11 thoughts on “Aphrodite

  1. Yup, Hestia was a virgin. It’s funny you should mention that the Percy Jackson series tackles the fate of Olympia, and chooses Hesita as the arbiter. Before my husband died, I was working on a draft for a novel on the EXACT same theme. I chose Hestia, because Zues rewarded her virginity with the keys to Olympus, so she was the caretaker. It seemed natural that she should decide. It’s interesting how she disappeared from her role as one of the original six supereme deities, and how Olympus similarly gave way to Rome. I don’t even know if they had an Olympus with Roman deities. There’s always so much more to learn on this topic! I wanted Hestia to be my favourite, but I’m inclined to believe the “gods” choose you. Ask Dee what she think? Did she choose Hestia, or did Hestia choose her?

    1. Hestia is mostly represented in a child’s form in the book and that is what attracted Dee. She likes Artemis for the same reason. They remain little girls and my wee one is in no hurry to grow up.

      She is drawn most to the water b/c of Percy, I think, b/c she also had a difficult time learning to read. It was a bonding point. When I started reading the series to her, she was struggling academically and a bit socially. Poseidon’s son was set apart as a mortal and as a demi-god. She saw herself in him in some ways, I think. I don’t think that at nine she could articulate this however.

      I do agree with you that deities choose us. If we are open to the universe, what/who we need finds us. Most of the time anyway.

      1. Included “I don’t want to grow up”, a Holly Cole version of another famous singer. The line that stands out for me: “Seems like folks turn into things they never want.” I’m not in a hurry to grow up either, but unlike Dee, best I move on that. I enjoyed your blog and look forward to keeping abreat of your entries.

    1. I wondered b/c I was pretty sure that Hestia was a virgin deity. She is Dee’s favorite character in Riordan’s The Last Olympian b/c she is the one who counsels Percy and whose advice he ultimately takes when making his decision about the fate of Olympus. I don’t know if you enjoy young adult works based on the Greek myths but you make like the Percy Jackson series. I enjoyed them.

  2. It occurred to me that Hestia was also a Titan originally, and was also horribly thwarted in love, by Zues. I don’t even know if they had children, but they MUST have, because Zues raped her. But then, Hades also raped Persephone, Persephone who was also originally a Titan, but betrothed to Hades by Zues. So you might say she was also frustrated in love. They myths say they fell for eachother in the end, but there’s tons of evidence to suggest that niether love, nor conusmation happened. It seems that only Zues was allowed to impregnate Titans – wouldn’t be interesting if evidence bears that out??

    Judging by my own collossally failed love life, I’d say Zues similarly singled me out for punishment, lol. He didn’t just have it in for the Titans…

  3. You reminded me that Aphrodite was a titan before she became the daughter of Zeus. I can’t remember exactly why, as Zeus’s daughter, she was forced to marry Hesphestus, but considering how Zeus treated the titans that didn’t end up in Tatarus, that seems consistent. He seems to have a habit of wating to frustrate them in love. Consider also Eos, the dawn, and another Titan, as well as Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus, a Titan, who was tricked into marrying Pandora. I guess he didn’t want more Titans running around, by the looks of it! I was also thinking of how the “gods” influence society, even though people are so unaware of that, they scoff at the notion, and also wondered, like your daughter, would society be different if we re-wrote the script for them? When you look at love and war in this day and age, Aphrodite is fallen…fallen. Hey! Happy Valentines day!

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