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Chapter 9: Aphrodite and Eros

In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite No. 5 (MLS, pp. 198–205), the powerful goddess herself proclaims that she is the greatest deity of all, for she can bend not only humans but even the gods (including almighty Zeus) to her amorous will. Only three goddesses, Athena Artemis, and Hestia, defy her subjection.

The Aphrodite of Sappho of Lesbos. Female homosexuality in Greek and Roman mythology and society is as important a theme as male homosexuality, but it is not always as visible. Sappho, a lyric poetess from the island of Lesbos (sixth century B.C.), in a fervent and moving poem (MLS, pp. 216–217), invokes Aphrodite’s help to win back the love of a young woman with whom she has been involved; and her relationships with women as evident both in other poems and in the biographical tradition have been the subject of endless interpretation. From Sappho comes the term Lesbian and the association of Aphrodite with Lesbian love.

Lesbianism is a latent motif in stories about the strong bond of affection between Artemis and her band of female followers, which we shall encounter in the next Chapter (10). The atmosphere is virginal and the relationships pure, although the success of Jupiter with Callisto, when he takes the form of her beloved virgin goddess Diana, is fraught with Freudian overtones and makes one wonder.

Athena, another virgin goddess, has close female companions as we have seen in the tragic story of her relationship with Pallas (Chapter 8); and she was also closely linked to the nymph Chariclo, who became the mother of Tiresias (MLS, pp. 433–435).

Because of the avowed purity of these two virgin goddesses, it seems appropriate that Aphrodite (and not Artemis or Athena) preside over more sensual female relationships.

The society and mores of the warlike Amazons may also be subjected to Lesbian interpretations, if one so desires.

Eros as the god of male homosexuality is an important subject in this Chapter and the theme of male homosexuality has been seen in the myth of Zeus and Ganymede (Chapter 5), and will appear again elsewhere, especially in the famous love story of Apollo and Hyacinthus (Chapter 11) and in the homoeroticism of Narcissus (Chapter 13).

Cupid and Psyche. Here are some of the universal motifs in this tale that are common to mythology and particularly folktale:

  • The element of romance with a happy ending.
  • The fairy tale atmosphere.
  • The beautiful princess awakened from sleep.
  • The wicked sisters.
  • The mysterious lover.
  • The bride who is too inquisitive.
  • The imposition of tasks or labors.

As will become apparent from a study of saga, usually the hero, not the heroine, must perform extraordinary labors, especially the conquest of death, a visit to and return from the Underworld.

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