Readings for reflection: Aphrodite

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 1.15
At Eryx in Sicily, where the holy and venerable temple of Aphrodite stands, the inhabitants of Eryx at a certain season of the year celebrate with sacrifice the Anagogia (the Embarkation), and they say that Aphrodite departs from Sikelia for Libya. At that time the pigeons disappear from the locality as if they were departing with the goddess. For the rest of the year, however, it is a known fact that a great number of these birds are found at the temple.

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 21
Thrassa was daughter of Ares and of Tereine daughter of Strymon. Hipponous, son of Triballos, married her and they had a daughter called Polyphonte. She scorned the activities of Aphrodite and went to the mountains as a companion and sharer of sports with Artemis. Aphrodite, whose activities Polyphonte failed to honour, made her fall in love with a bear and drove her mad. By daemonic urge she went on heat and coupled with this bear. Artemis seeing her was utterly disgusted with her and turned all beasts against her. Polyphonte, fearing the beasts would make an end of her, fled and reached her father’s house. She brought forth two children, Agrios and Oreios, huge and of immense strength. They honoured neither god nor man but scorned them all. If they met a stranger they would haul him home to eat. Zeus loathed them and sent Hermes to punish them in whatever way he chose. Hermes decided to chop of their hands and feet. But Ares, since the family of Polyphonte descended from him, snatched her sons from this fate. With the help of Hermes he changed them into birds. Polyphonte became a small owl whose voice is heard at night. She does not eat or drink and keeps her head turned down and the tips of her feet turned up. She is a portent of war and sedition for mankind. Oreios became an eagle owl, a bird that presages little good to anyone when it appears. Argios was changed into a vulture, the bird most detested by gods and men. These gods gave him an utter craving for human flesh and blood. Their female servant was changed into a woodpecker. As she was changing her shape she prayed to the gods not to become a bird evil for mankind. Hermes and Ares heard her prayer because she had by necessity done what her masters had ordered. This a bird of good omen for someone going hunting or to feasts.

Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 2.5.10
At Rhegion a bull broke away and hastily plunging into the sea swam across to Sicily, and having passed through the neighboring country since called Italy after it, for the Tyrrhenians called the bull italus, came to the plain of Eryx, who reigned over the Elymoi. Now Eryx was a son of Poseidon, and he mingled the bull with his own herds. So Herakles entrusted the kine to Hephaistos and hurried away in search of the bull. He found it in the herds of Eryx, and when the king refused to surrender it unless Herakles should beat him in a wrestling bout, Herakles beat him thrice, killed him in the wrestling, and taking the bull drove it with the rest of the herd to the Ionian Sea.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.6.1
Now the ancients record in their myths that Priapos was the son of Dionysos and Aphrodite and they present a plausible argument for this lineage; for men when under the influence of wine find the members of their bodies tense and inclined to the pleasures of love.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.83.4-7
Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, when at a later time he was on his way to Italy and came to anchor off the island, embellished the sanctuary with many votive offerings since it was that of his own mother; after him the Sicanians paid honour to the goddess for many generations and kept continually embellishing it with both magnificent sacrifices and votive offerings; and after that time the Carthaginians, when they had become the masters of a part of Sicily, never failed to hold the goddess in special honour. And last of all the Romans, when they had subdued all Sicily, surpassed all people who had preceded them in the honours they paid to her. And it was with good reason that they did so, for since they traced back their ancestry to her and for this reason were successful in their undertakings, they were but requiting her who was the cause of their aggrandisement with such expressions of gratitude and honours as they owed to her. The consuls and praetors, for instance, who visit the island and all Romans who sojourn there clothed with any authority, whenever they come to Eryx, embellish the sanctuary with magnificent sacrifices and honours, and laying aside the austerity of their authority, they enter into sports and have conversation with women in a spirit of great gaiety, believing that only in this way will they make their presence there pleasing to the goddess. Indeed the Roman senate has so zealously concerned itself with the honours of the goddess that it has decreed that the seventeen cities of Sicily which are most faithful to Rome shall pay a tax in gold to Aphrodite, and that two hundred soldiers shall serve as a guard of her shrine.

Hesiod, Theogony 147-187
Then the son from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father’s members and cast them away to fall behind him. And not vainly did they fall from his hand; for all the bloody drops that gushed forth Gaia received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Gigantes with gleaming armour, holding long spears in their hands and the Nymphai whom they call Meliai all over the boundless earth. And so soon as he had cut off the members with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, they were swept away over the main a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew the maiden Aphrodite.

Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite
To Sea-set Kypros the moist breath of Zephyros the western wind wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Horai welcomed her joyously. They clothed her with heavenly garments: on her head they put a fine, well-wrought crown of gold, and in her pierced ears they hung ornaments of orichalc and precious gold, and adorned her with golden necklaces over her soft neck and snow-white breasts, jewels which the gold-filleted Horai wear themselves whenever they go to their father’s house to join the lovely dances of the gods. And when they had fully decked her, they brought her to the gods, who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife, so greatly were they amazed at the beauty of violet-crowned Kythereia.

Hyginus, Astronomica 2.7
Some also have said that Venus and Proserpina came to Jove for his decision, asking him to which of them he would grant Adonis. Calliope, the judge appointed by Jove, decided that each should posses him half of the year. But Venus, angry because she had not been granted what she thought was her right, stirred the women in Thrace by love, each to seek Orpheus for herself, so that they tore him limb from limb. His head, carried down from the mountain into the sea, was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos. It was taken up and buried by the people of Lesbos, and in return for this kindness, they have the reputation of being exceedingly skilled in the art of music. The lyre, as we have said, was put by the Muses among the stars.

Hyginus, Fabulae 40
Pasiphae, daughter of Sol and wife of Minos, for several years did not make offerings to the goddess Venus. Because of this Venus inspired in her an unnatural love for a bull. At the time when Daedalus came there as an exile, he asked her to help him. For her he made a wooden heifer, and put in it the hide of a real heifer, and in this she lay with the bull. From this intercourse she bore the Minotaur, with bull’s head but human body. Then Daedalus made for the Minotaur a labyrinth with an undiscoverable exit in which it was confined. When Minos found out the affair he cast Daedalus into prison, but Pasiphae freed him from his chains.

John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum Homiliae 7
For tell me, if anyone offered to introduce you into a palace, and show you the king sitting (there), would you indeed choose to see the theatre instead of these things? And you leave this and run to the theatre to see women swimming, and nature put to open dishonour, leaving Christ sitting by the well? But you, leaving the fountain of blood, the awful cup, go your way to the fountain of the devil, to see a harlot swim, and to endure shipwreck of the soul. For that water is a sea of lasciviousness, not drowning bodies, but working shipwreck of souls. And while she swims naked, you, as you behold, are plunged into the depths of lasciviousness. For in the first place, through a whole night the devil takes over their souls with the expectation of it; then having shown them the expected object, he has at once bound them and made them captives. If now you are ashamed, and blush at the comparison, rise up to your nobility and flee the sea of hell and the river of fire, I mean the pool in the theatre. And you, when there is a question of precedence, claim to have priority over the whole world, since our city first crowned itself with the name of Christian; but in the competition of chastity, are you not ashamed to be behind the ruder cities?

John the Lydian, De Mensibus 4.76-80
Those theologians who inquire into the nature of things wish May to be water. That it what it is called in the Syrian language and even today they call aqueducts meiouri. Also, they call feasting ‘to do the Maiuma’, from which we get the term Maiuma. The festival was held in Rome in the month of May. The leading men of the city went down to the shore and the city of Ostia to enjoy themselves by throwing one another into the waters of the sea. And so all festivals of this sort are traditionally called Maiuma.

Emperor Julian, Misopogon 362D
Yet all of you Antiochenes delights to spend money privately on dinners and feasts; and I know very well that many of you squandered very large sums of money on dinners during the Maiuma.

Ioannes Malalas, Chronicle 284-5
Likewise Commodus set aside a specific quantity of gold for torches, lights, and other expenses for the celebration of the nocturnal dramatic festival, held every three years and known as Orgies or the Mysteries of Dionysos and Aphrodite, which some call Maioumas because it is celebrated in the month of May or Artemisios.

Nonnos, Dionysiaka 33.4 ff
Pasithea was gathering the shoots of the fragrant reeds in the Erythraian garden, in order to mix the flowing juice of Assyrian oil with Indian flowers in the steaming cauldrons of Paphos, and make ointment for her Lady. While she plucked all manner of dew-wet plants she gazed all around the place; and there in a forest not far off she saw the madness of Lyaios her father. She wept for sorrow and tender affection, and tore her cheeks with her nails in mourning. Then she saw the Satyrs scurrying from battle, and saw Bassarides lying dead and she pitied Chalkomede fleeing with stormswift shoe from the blade of furious Morrheus. Sorrowing she returned to heaven, but she hid her grief for Lyaios her father in mournful silence. Pallor displaced the bloom on her rounded cheek, and dimmed the bright radiance of her face. Kypris, the lover of Adonis, saw Pasithea downcast, and understood the grief heralded by her silent face; then she addressed to her these comforting words : ‘Dear girl, what trouble has changed your looks? Maiden, what has made you lose your ruddy looks? Who has quenched the gleams of springtime from your face? The silvery sheen shines no longer upon your skin, your eyes no longer laugh as before. Come now, tell me your anxieties. Are you plagued by my son, perhaps? Are you in love with some herdsman, among the mountains, struck with desire, like Selene? Has Eros perhaps flicked you also with the cestus, like Eos once before?–Ah, I know why your cheeks are pale : shadowy Hypnos, the vagabond, woos you as a bridegroom woos a maid! I will not compel you if you are unwilling; I will not join Hypnos the blackskin to Pasithea the lilywhite!’ When Aphrodite had said this, the Charis weeping replied : ‘O mother of the Erotes! O sower of life in the everlasting universe! No herdsman troubles me, no bold desire of Hypnos. I am no lovesick Eos or Selene. No, I am tormented by the afflictions of Lyaios my father, driven about in terror by the Erinyes. He is your brother–protect Dionysos if you can!’ Then she recounted all her father’s afflictions to her mistress, and the countless ranks of Bassarides that Morrheus had killed, and all the fugitive host of Satyrs, even Dionysos lashed with the Erinys’ whip, and wailing Gigarto gasping on the ground, and Kodone gone before her season: with shame she described the sorrows and beauty of Chalkomedeia. Then sweetsmiling Aphrodite put off the wonted laugh from her radiant rosy face, and told her messenger Aglaia to call Eros her son, that swift airy flyer.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.686 ff
And Venus said, Did I not deserve especial thanks and incense in my honour from Hippomenes for my assitance in winning Atalanta for his bride? But he forgot; he gave no thanks and burnt no incense; then to sudden wrath I turned. Stung by his scorn and lest I be despised in days to come, I set my heart against them both, to warn the world by their example. A temple stands hidden in shady woods, which once Echion to fulfil a vow had raised to the Great Mother of the Gods. There they had journeyed and were glad to rest; and there ill-timed importunate desire, roused by my power, possessed Hippomenes. Beside the temple was a dim-lit grotto, a gloomy cavern, roofed with natural rock, an ancient holy shrine, filled by the priest with wooden statues of the gods of old. He entered here and with forbidden sin defiled the sanctuary. The holy statues turned their shocked eyes away and the tower-crowned Mother pondered should she plunge the guilty pair beneath the waves of Stygia. Such punishment seemed light. Therefore their necks, so smooth before, she clothed with tawny manes, their fingers curved to claws; their arms were changed to legs; their chests swelled with new weight; with tails they swept the sandy ground; and in their eyes cruel anger blazed and growls they gave for speech. Their marriage-bed is now a woodland lair, and feared by men, but by the goddess tamed, they champ – two lions – the bits of Cybele.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 599 ff
Carried by her doves across the sky, Venus reached the Laurentian coast, where through his thatch of reeds the Numicius winds his way down to the neighbouring shore. She bade the river wash from Aeneas all that death could waste and waft it in his silent stream to sea. Obeying Venus’ bidding the horned god purged in his waters every mortal part and washed it all away–the best remained. So purified, his mother anointed him with heavenly perfume and made her son a god.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.40.3-4
At Delos, too, there is a small wooden image of Aphrodite, its right hand defaced by time, and with a square base instead of feet. I am of opinion that Ariadne got this image from Daidalos, and when she followed Theseus, took it with her from home. Bereft of Ariadne, say the Delians, Theseus dedicated the wooden image of the goddess to the Delian Apollo, lest by taking it home he should be dragged into remembering Ariadne, and so find the grief for his love ever renewed. I know of no other works of Daidalos still in existence. For the images dedicated by the Argives in the Heraeum and those brought from Omphace to Gela in Sicily have disappeared in course of time.

Plutarch, Life of Antony 24
At any rate, when Antony made his entry into Ephesos, women arrayed like Bacchanals and men and boys like Satyrs and Pans, led the way before him, and the city was full of ivy and thyrsos-wands and harps and pipes and flutes, the people hailing him as Dionysos Carnivorous and Savage.

Seneca, Phaedra 112 ff
Phaedra, daughter of Pasiphae, laments: I recognize my wretched mother’s fatal curse; her love and mine know how to sin in forest depths. Mother, my heart aches for thee; swept away by ill unspeakable, thou didst boldly love the wild leader of the savage herd. Fierce was he and impatient of the yoke, lawless in love, leader of an untamed herd; yet he did love something. But as for me, what god, what Daedalus could ease my wretched passion? Though he himself should return, mighty in Attic cunning, who shut our monster in the dark labyrinth, he could afford no help to my calamity. Venus, detesting the offspring of the hated Sol, is avenging through us the chains that bound her to her loved Mars, and loads the whole race of Phoebus with shame unspeakable.

Severus of Antioch, Homily 95
But those who have gone up to Daphne in pagan fashion have had no regard for the truth, which is so terrible and on account of which everything moves and trembles. But in the dark moments of the night they even lit lamps of wax in the stadium and added incense, stealthily bringing about their own destruction; and it was certain strangers, take good note, who informed me of this while trembling and crying. Do you not see the nets of the Calumnator, and his hidden traps, which on the one hand have as a pretext the joy and pleasure at first sight and lead on the other hand to idolatry and the celebration of festivals in some ways criminal and harmful? And are you not ashamed, when we call ourselves Christians, we who were born on high for the purification which comes from the water and the Spirit and call ourselves children of God, to run equally to the solemnities of Satan, which we have renounced by divine baptism? For whenever you change your clothing and afterwards go up to the spactacle, dressed in a tiny linen tunic, which hides the arms but not the hands, waving about a wooden stick and with all skin shaved with a razor, so to speak – look, is it not quite clear that you have made the procession and participated in the celebration?

Sokrates the Rhodian, History of the Civil War Book 3 [Quoted in Athenaios, 4.29]
But Cleopatra having met Antony in Cilicia, prepared a royal entertainment, in which every dish was golden and inlaid with precious stones, wonderfully chased and embossed. And the walls were hung with cloths embroidered in gold and purple. And she had twelve triclinia laid; and invited Antony to a banquet, and desired him to bring with him whatever companions he pleased. And he being astonished at the magnificence of the sight, expressed his surprise; and she, smiling, said that she made him a present of everything which he saw, and invited him to sup with her again the next day, and to bring his friends and captains with him. And then she prepared a banquet by far more splendid than the former one, so as to make that first one appear contemptible; and again she presented to him everything that there was on the table; and she desired each of his captains to take for his own the couch on which he lay, and the goblets which were set before each couch. And when they were departing she gave to all those of the highest rank palanquins, with the slaves for palanquin bearers; and to the rest she gave horses, adorned with golden furniture: and to every one she gave Ethiopian boys, to bear torches before them. And on the fourth day she paid more than a talent for roses; and the floor of the chamber for the men was strewed a cubit deep, nets being spread over the blooms.

Codex Theodosianus 15.6.1-2
It has pleased Our Clemency to restore to the provincials the enjoyment of the Maiuma, provided, however, that decency and modesty and chaste manners shall be preserved (25 April 396). We permit the theatrical arts to be practised, lest, by excessive restriction thereof, sadness may be produced. But we forbid that foul and indecent spectacle which under the name Maiuma a shameless license claims for its own (2 October 399).